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Comment Data Fusion Confusion (Score 1) 214

I have attempted to use Walkscore for this very task: moving to an area, sight unseen. I have found it incredibly lacking. It computes "nearby" locations using either as-the-crow-flies distance or an automobile driving map; I'm not sure which. While this might be acceptable in a gridded downtown area, which has ample sidewalks and pedestrian signals, it does not work everywhere.

Here in the deep South, we tend to place multi-lane, high-speed highways everywhere and anywhere we can. These roadways are nearly impossible to cross on foot. The result is that many places listed in Walkscore will not be reachable without exposing yourself to considerable danger.

In a perfect world, everything you needed to know about housing would be on the internet. Unfortunately, not everyone lists their rentals on Zillow et. al., and I've had a hard time dealing with realtors over the phone. Other factors like noise, crime, and general ambiance are very difficult to judge. If you have access to just one person who knows the area quite well, suddenly these things become much easier.

While data fusion techniques might help, any results need to be very rigorously cross-checked, by hand, using Street View, aerial photography, online comments, and as many other sources as you can find.

Comment Re:Buying a car (Score 2) 455

Craigslist can get you a great deal on a used car: if you're going to buy one as-is, there's no need to pay the dealership markup. With that said, in my area the Craigslist listings for vehicles is packed mostly with unlicensed dealers who are masquerading as private parties. Some of them are even blatant enough to line up several cars they have for sale and photograph them all at once.

I would be wary of this sort of activity, since there's no telling where these people get their cars. For all I know, they could be buying junkers, putting a coat of paint on them, and flipping them. The best way to avoid these dealers is to:

  • Run a search on the phone number / email address and see if it appears in any other for-sale listings
  • Look for listings with similar wording
  • Check an NVMTIS provider to see how long they have owned the vehicle
  • When you call, inquire about "the car" they have for sale—if they ask, "which one?" walk away.

With that said, the existing dealership industry has every incentive to try and block smaller competitors. A major campaign to eliminate these unlicensed dealers is backed by a group which "manages access" to wholesale auctions to shut out buyers who aren't licensed car dealers. Presumably, if a smaller outfit could buy cars from one of these auctions, they'd be just as good as the ones a car dealership would sell.

When you get down to it, a car is a major purchase which carries with it an amount of financial risk that is difficult to quantify, or know, before you buy. They're typically sold by scum of all flavor who don't really care what you get stuck with. After all, why would someone sell a perfectly good car? If I was given a choice, I would rather not own a car.

Comment Re:Awesome (Score 1) 295

Of course, they have to compete with the brighter headlights of today.

It would be nice if the emergency strobes used some type of beamforming to cast most of the light directly behind (and in front) of them. That way, it would be very bright when you are far away and the incident angle is small, but would be dimmer when you are up close. None of the existing lights seem to do this either, of course.

Comment Re:Awesome (Score 1) 295

+1. In recent years, I have noticed a distinct upward trend in the headlight output of new vehicles produced here in the States. The worst offenders are high-profile SUVs and trucks, which have headlights that are set very high, but even late-model sedans have very bright lights. It has gotten to the point where oncoming traffic, on the other side of divided highways, is annoyingly bright in my windshield—to say nothing of the ones that are behind me. When I drive my '02 wagon on the interstate, I cannot see my own headlights' beam pattern: the vehicles behind me drown it out.

I fear that automakers are engaging in an arms race to build the brightest lights: clearly, you can see the best when your headlights overwhelm any other source. I don't believe this is particularly safe, since you have more to worry about from a vehicle that can't see clearly around you than you do from any unlit object you are likely to encounter. For all the carnage they can cause, a deer poses much less of a threat and carries much less momentum than a car going 70 mph. In urban settings, having the brightest lights prevents you from seeing anything not in your main beams. Pedestrians don't have headlights.

There are times when high-powered lights are useful, such as in daytime running lights or for driving on unpopulated back roads. But this is why we invented the "high beam" switch. These "laser headlights" will be nothing more than a fancy selling point and a nuisance to other drivers. A real improvement would be an IR illuminator or a collision avoidance sensor.

There is one added benefit to these new lights, however. Drivers with those high-intensity, high-set lights are surprisingly unwilling to tailgate me. I suspect that whenever they get dangerously close, my mirrors reflect their own headlights right back into their faces.

Comment Re:Google HANGOUTS drop xmpp support (Score 1) 416

But will I still be able to xmpp through google with other xmpp users?

Maybe, maybe not. But I imagine that most GTalk users connect via GMail, Android, or can use Chrome. When they've all jumped ship for Hangouts—and on these platforms it is no more complicated than pushing a button—will there be anyone left on XMPP?

A public, federated XMPP server is probably the way to go. There are lots to choose from, and they all interoperate. Does ichat support such servers?

Comment Re:Fuck. (Score 1) 416

I would think that having access to real-time presence information (at keys versus not at keys), status messages, and personal communication would be a marketing winner for Google. All of this is information that can be used to direct targeted ads to you contextually, anywhere on the internet. There's no need to present ads in the client itself for the service to have a good ROI.

Submission + - Google Drops XMPP Support (

Cbs228 writes: During last week's Google I/O conference, the company announced a replacement for its aging Talk instant messenger: Google Hangouts. Hangouts, which is only available for Android, iOS, and Chrome, offers closer integration with Google+. Unfortunately, the new product drops support for the XMPP instant messaging protocol, which has been an integral part of Talk for over ten years. XMPP delivers instant messages to desktop clients, like Pidgin, and enables communication between users on different instant messaging networks. Hangouts users attempting to communicate with contacts on non-Google servers, such as, have found that all communications have been suddenly and inexplicably severed. A Google account is now required to communicate with Hangouts users.

Google Hangouts joins the ranks of an already-crowded ecosystem of closed, incompatible chat products like Skype.

Comment XMPP, not Jabber (Score 1) 1

Some remarks:
  • "Jabber" is a trademark owned by Cisco, inc. The generic term is "XMPP" and should be used throughout the article.
  • A good third-party article about the problem has been posted here:
  • It is also worth mentioning that there is no native desktop client—only a Chrome app which won't work for Firefox users.
  • Google made no attempt to warn users that they would lose all communication with their federated contacts.

Submission + - Google drops support for Jabber in latest Hangouts ( 1

hypnosec writes: Google is busy replacing its Talk chat client with the recently announced Hangouts, which was introduced last week at the Google I/O 2013 conference and will bring an end to Talk, Google+ Messenger and the original Google+ Hangouts. The new app, available as a Chrome extension as well as for Android, iOS, and Windows, has a serious disadvantage to the previous Talk client – it doesn’t support the XMPP open source chat protocol aka Jabber. Support for XMPP allowed Talk to communicate to XMPP accounts that were not registered with Google servers thereby allowing users to communicate with their contacts outside of Google.

Comment Re:Primitive Tech (Score 2) 235

I recently built a decoder for EAS/SAME messages. You can read about the protocol it uses at the National Weather Service. Forget about cryptographic signatures; SAME has absolutely no concept of message integrity. There is no CRC or checksum—not even a lowly parity bit.

Of course, it's difficult to use a checksum when you can't figure out when the message ends. Most systems use some kind of flag byte to tell the decoder where the end of the frame is, but SAME doesn't even have that. The decoder has to figure out where the end of the message is by parsing it and lopping off the garbage from the end. Messages are "redundant" in that they are repeated three times, but this doesn't improve redundancy very much. SAME also depends on a voice message to convey the content of the alert, which is hardly ideal in today's environment.

But SAME does have one thing going for it: You can actually get the messages. Its heir-apparent, IPAWS, seems more heavily focused on making sure people can't get the alerts. There are no public distribution hubs—you have to have a certificate from FEMA to get any data. Even with a certificate, there is, reportedly, no data to be had. I hope they make a SAME 2.0, even if it's only for end delivery to the general public via weather radios.

I've built the EAS decoder into a new version of multimon, which is available here. It can't generate messages; it only decodes them. From the YouTube video, here is what the zombie apocalypse man had to say:

ZCZC-CIV-LAE-030077-030007-030043-030049-030059+0015-0422133-KRTV -

Please don't spoof EAS messages. The system is fragile enough without you messing with it.

Comment Re:Just keep calm... (Score 1) 1059

While exercising your right to protest is admirable, there are other more effective methods to consider. While the VIPR teams may be authorized and financed by the federal government, they are not law enforcement. As such, they require the active cooperation of your transit police, your municipal police, and your state police to carry out their warrant-less searches. (The FBI and federal marshals have better things to do, really.) Without the authority to stand around in a fake badge and remove naysayers from the premises, just how effective can VIPR be?

So talk to your city council representative. Be polite, presentable, and logical. If you're lucky, you might be able to make a presentation or get a sponsor on some legislation. If you can get even a small group of people together, your chances of success will improve. Your state or city may give you some additional tools with which to affect change: Initiative and Recall. Use them.

While the 4th amendment is nice, in principle, that's not what is going to get the attention of your city government. Focus on the fiscal impact of the TSA's presence. How much time does the MBTA police spend assisting the VIPR teams? Does the city need to hire any staff to support them? If just one staffer has to spend ten minutes of their day dealing with this stuff, the TSA's presence is not revenue-neutral. Even if you can't get these numbers, bring it up. It will get them thinking, if nothing else.

Focus also on the impact on commerce. Does the TSA delay trains, or make people late for work? Does the TSA significantly reduce the number of riders on the subway and put them on already-congested roads? Point out the potential for theft and harassment—there have been a number of news articles about this very topic. Once that is finished, all you need to do is prove that the TSA does not actually increase security. Bring in expert testimony, if you can get it.

Once you have proved that VIPR is unpopular, decreases city revenue, negatively impacts commercial interests, and is disruptive to the public order (i.e., "don't grope me"), you will have lots of momentum behind a city ordinance. The goal of the ordinance should be to (1) prevent any municipal law enforcement from cooperating with these searches, and (2) actively remove anyone conducting such searches from the transit system. In the absence of any overriding law, city ordinance prevails and—good news—it's an election year.

VIPR will, having been removed from the city, need to spend time, effort, and money passing overriding legislation. If you're lucky, they'll just go away and find someone else to tyrannize. Even if they don't go quietly, the REAL ID Act is a great example of what states can do to a federal program if they refuse to support it. So go ahead, take back your city.

Comment Re:News Via Wiki? (Score 4, Interesting) 75

Sure, but how many Wikipedia users—not editors or regular contributors, but users—actually check the revision logs or old versions of the page? Even writers who are using Wikipedia as a primary source don't do that much fact checking. Users don't always have the greatest attention span in the world, and burying stuff on another page is a sure-fire way to get people to ignore it. If you put revision information three or more clicks away, or sequester it in a registration-required (or paywall-required) page, how many people will follow it? News-gathering organizations have a reputation to maintain, and they have every incentive not to admit that they are (or ever were) wrong.

I think that wikis should have a visualization tool for paragraphs, highlighting text like a spell-checker in a word processor or a syntax-checker in an IDE. The visualization tool should represent how new, and how frequently-revised, a particular section of text is. This will allow casual readers to easily spot points of contention and text that may require further validation.

Comment News Via Wiki? (Score 5, Insightful) 75

I seem to recall another civilization where news stories were subject to constant, behind-the-scenes revisions. I read about it in a book. One must always take care to interpret the past correctly, through the darkly-tinted lenses of our current social and political mindset. After all, it would simply be unsettling if there were anything at all in our history that happened to be politically insensitive or inconvenient for our current religious, economic, or secular leadership. Simply revising or "reinterpreting" key facts and events go a long way towards removing all of that troubling cognitive dissonance; such dissonance could cause people to question the way things are right now. Sadly, I can't really remember any more details about this civilization, because my e-books retailer erased every copy of it.

News via Wiki? I don't think so.

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