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Comment: Re:Is this legal? (Score 1) 631

by dgatwood (#48210721) Attached to: FTDI Reportedly Bricking Devices Using Competitors' Chips.

First, there's no such thing as "illegal access to software". The customer may be violating a licensing agreement, but as a rule, that's not a criminal offense.

Second, I'm pretty sure there are third-party FTDI drivers out there. So you really can't make the argument that the clone chip vendors don't have an alternate driver. The best you can do is state that if a clone gets bricked, it means that the commercial FTDI driver was loaded at least once by the customer for some reason (possibly with the intent to use it with the clone hardware, but possibly to use it with some other device), and that it matched the clone because it was attached while that driver was loaded.

Comment: Re:Is this legal? (Score 1) 631

by dgatwood (#48210693) Attached to: FTDI Reportedly Bricking Devices Using Competitors' Chips.

Actually, if you sell it as a "USB/Serial converter", then you are, because the USB mark is trademarked.

Only if they use the USB trident mark. The letters "USB" are likely to be held as descriptive.

If some medical device manufacturer uses a consumer-grade FTDI chip - counterfeit or not - in a medical appliance, then that manufacturer is the one who would be liable, as FTDI has already made it clear that these chips are not certified for such uses.

Liability is not binary. If the failure were accidental, you'd be correct. Because it is deliberate, at best, both companies would be held liable—the medical device vendor for choosing an unsuitable part and FTDI for deliberately breaking it, and at worst, FTDI would be held solely liable for deliberately breaking it.

Comment: Re:How hard is it to recognize a stoplight? (Score 1) 259

by dgatwood (#48210663) Attached to: Will the Google Car Turn Out To Be the Apple Newton of Automobiles?

No, I haven't solved any of the hard problems, because determining whether a colored ball or arrow is meaningful really isn't one of them. The hard problems are things like:

  • recognizing and handling road signs
  • dealing with potentially contradictory lane markings
  • dealing with rain on the cameras
  • determining which way to swerve when avoiding obstacles (like a dog running across the road), and whether to brake instead, or do both
  • choosing whether it is better to hit the object in the road or swerve into the next lane (including computing the distance and speed of an oncoming vehicle correctly, even if it is a motorcycle)
  • handling four-way stops when other vehicles don't follow the rules
  • determining weather conditions sufficiently to compute braking distance correctly (Is it rainy or just cloudy?)
  • recognizing that there are kids playing by the side of the road and you should probably slow down just in case one of them falls out into the street....

Traffic lights are relatively straightforward by comparison, so long as they are working.

Comment: Re:How hard is it to recognize a stoplight? (Score 1) 259

by dgatwood (#48210355) Attached to: Will the Google Car Turn Out To Be the Apple Newton of Automobiles?

Describe for me, programmatically, the difference between a stoplight and a taillight.

That's easy. The stoplight is above you. Two cameras at different angle provide sufficient parallax to tell the difference between something far away on a hill and something nearby above the car. And you're done.

and a police light

Same answer.

and a neon sign

Same answer, plus the stoplight is not on the side of the road, as computed based on distance to the edge of the road when looking forward.

and also, please include all the many shapes and sizes of the various stoplights all over the country.

No need. Humans can't see the shape of the fixture when driving at night, but that limitation has never been a problem. You just need to know the color and to be able to figure out which colored light corresponds with which lane.

Comment: Re:How hard is it to recognize a stoplight? (Score 1) 259

by dgatwood (#48210313) Attached to: Will the Google Car Turn Out To Be the Apple Newton of Automobiles?

its video cameras can sometimes be blinded by the sun when trying to detect the color of a traffic signal.

So can people. One possible solution would be radio signals in every traffic light to indicate the light's state. No signal and can't see the light? Stop the car and tell the driver to take over. This would be useful for eliminating confusion when you have multiple lights as well, so it might be worth pursuing.

That said, the simpler fix is to use a higher quality camera with better lens coatings. I can't remember the last time I saw lens flare that blew out a picture to the point that it was truly unusable except when using old camera gear with uncoated lenses. For additional robustness, put more than one camera on the front, pointed in different directions. That way, lens flare should never be a problem, in practice. (Lens flare tends to be angle-specific, and the sun is in one spot, so if a lens at one angle is in a position to flare badly, a second lens at a different angle probably won't be, assuming your lenses aren't old, uncoated nightmares.)

it can't tell the difference between a big rock and a crumbled-up piece of newspaper

Neither can people, reliably, unless it is blowing. Whatever you see in the road, it is best to avoid it. :-)

Comment: Re:How hard is it to recognize a stoplight? (Score 1) 259

by dgatwood (#48210251) Attached to: Will the Google Car Turn Out To Be the Apple Newton of Automobiles?

Really, the problem is that "when children are present" is kind of ambiguous. What if there's only one child? And is the concern really all children, or just unaccompanied children? Are high school students children? Do kids in strollers count? And so on.

Most drivers would assume that the intended purpose is to increase safety around the time when kids are arriving at school or leaving school en masse. So they would interpret it to mean "Speed Limit [X] on Monday through Friday, from 7:15–8:00 and from 2:30–3:15". If the signs just said that instead of "when children are present", then automated cars could easily do the right thing every time. Also, by being more concrete, the signs would eliminate the selective blindness that causes many human drivers to ignore the lower speed limit.

Comment: Re:backup for 911 (Score 1) 115

by dgatwood (#48207123) Attached to: Software Glitch Caused 911 Outage For 11 Million People

The monthly cost of a landline is cheap insurance in the event of an emergency. Cell towers go down, fail, become over-congested, and cell phone batteries die.

Not around here. I'm paying about $40 per month for a nearly bare-bones land line (only Caller ID). Even if I were on a $0.35 per text plan, I'd spend more money on that land line every month than I would on texting for ten years. Cheap, it ain't.

Comment: Re:Is this legal? (Score 5, Interesting) 631

by dgatwood (#48206827) Attached to: FTDI Reportedly Bricking Devices Using Competitors' Chips.

One, the cloned FTDI subcomponents are in and of themselves essentially indefensible.

Not necessarily. It is not a crime to use the USB ID of a competing product. It is a violation of the rules set by the USB standards body, but if you are not a member of that organization and have no prior business relationship with them, you are under no legal obligation to comply with those rules. More to the point, reusing a USB ID is absolutely not the same thing as counterfeiting. As far as I know, no country in the entire world has a law that says that devices are counterfeit merely because they conform to another device's programming interface. For something to be counterfeit, it has to be designed and marketed as the real thing, with the intent to defraud the purchaser.

What this means is that if the outside of the packaging claims that the part was made by FTDI, then the counterfeits are indefensible. However, if they were sold as FTDI-compatible chips, then the chips are almost certainly not in violation of counterfeiting laws. And if there's no way for the software to know the difference between those two, and if even one single device that was sold legitimately as a clone gets bricked, then FTDI is committing the crime of destruction of property. And if their actions ends up destroying medical equipment, they could be charged with even more serious crimes, up to and including manslaughter.

The reality is that in this sort of cat-and-mouse game, nobody wins, because everybody loses. It is vital that the authorities in Scotland take immediate legal action against FTDI to ensure that other companies are not tempted to pull similar stunts in the future. Their actions are clearly indefensible criminal actions, and should be treated as such, regardless of who fired the first salvo or how much harm they believe they have suffered at the hands of the counterfeiters.

Comment: Re:It may not be a *significant* factor ... (Score 2) 379

Ebola's almost complete lack of aerosol transmission is and will remain a substantial barrier to the population risk the disease poses

The thing is, what you're saying there is just plain implausible unless the air itself kills the viruses with remarkable efficiency, in which case it would survive for only minutes on a hard surface (like HIV), rather than hours (like influenza). From what I've read, it survives for hours on hard surfaces, which lends serious doubt to any claim that Ebola exhibits an "almost complete lack of aerosol transmission".

Just to be clear, I'm not saying that Ebola is airborne. It currently is not (or at least it is not currently believed to be). However, it is unsafe to assume that the way a virus behaves in Africa (hot weather, high humidity, little use of HVAC, mostly rural, families that stay home to care for the sick) will match the way it would behave in the United States (highly variable air temperatures, potentially low humidity because of the use of HVAC, heavily urban, people who go to work even when sick). Such a conclusion would be fundamentally invalid because it doesn't control for an absolutely insane number of variables.

In particular, with airborne diseases, propagation by aerosol transmission increases rather dramatically when the air is cold and the humidity is low (particularly when it is insanely low because of HVAC). That's one reason why the cold and flu season in the U.S. spikes markedly during the winter. In the parts of Africa where Ebola is currently found, the hot air temperature and relatively high humidity don't lend themselves to aerosol transmission. So there's a distinct possibility that the exact same strain of disease that is not airborne in Africa would be airborne in the United States.

Such temperature-dependent and humidity-dependent behavior would also be consistent with researchers' conclusions after an October 1989 lab incident in which the closely related Ebola Reston virus spread rapidly among physically isolated populations of lower primates. "Due to the spread of infection to animals in all parts of the quarantine facility, it is likely that Ebola Reston may have been spread by airborne transmission." (Beltz, Lisa. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 253)

We don't know one millionth of one percent about anything.