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User Journal

Journal Journal: Panhandling

I've worked in an urban area of a major US city for years, and I've seen a lot.

We like to think that the panhandlers are a representative cross-section of the poor. They are not.

Panhandlers have their own heirarchy. It is often enforced with violence. I personally have seen one panhandler pull a butcher knife from his pack and chase another panhandler away who dared to beg on 'his' block.
I regularly see another group, two men and a woman, who troll the streets. She walks ahead alone, asking for money, looking helpless. They follow 20-30 feet behind. Every half hour or so they catch up with her and direct her into a side alley and collect the money. I saw these three for years before I by chance happened to see the transfer. It took me a while to recognize a what I was seeing. She is a virtual slave; she has no income, no home, and lives in fear of what will happen to her if she should displease them.
If you watch closely, and watch long enough, you will see that almost every female panhandler has one or more male companions who protect her and/or control her. It is much like the prostitution business: there are very few free-lancers, and almost everyone has a 'pimp' or protector. Some guys have 'stables' of women who collect for them, they go about making the rounds, collecting the money, so that the women have very little money at one time.

We seldom see the dark side of the hierarchy. But when we go back to our homes at night, and they go back to their encampments under bridges, scores are settled and order is maintained. Prime panhandling spots are valuable, as are women who look frail and vulnerable. So most of them are controlled by somebody. And that conrol is usually maintained by violence.
User Journal

Journal Journal: First Get

First Get!

I always use the method called 'get'
When using HTTP on the net;
Regardless of host
I've never used 'post',
And I haven't had problems...yet.
User Journal

Journal Journal: Public security cameras

Cameras have a significant impact on criminals, but they take effect slowly. I speak from experience.

I own a business across the street from an unused building. For years it had been a site for heroin dealing, vandalism, aggresive panhandling, multiple assults and batteries, and at least one mugging in broad daylight. This, of course, was not good for business.
The cops wouldn't do much. They frequently had higher priorities. ( When a crime was being committed and we called, they would often ask if a weapon was present. This, I learned after awhile, was dispatcher-speak for: "We're too busy with more important things.")

So I got a high quality netcam, put the camera feed live on a web site, and informed anybody who cared to listen ( this included neighbors, cops, drug sellers and buyers, etc ). It took several months for the problem to go away.
First to disappear were the most obviously affluent buyers. Then, over several months, there was a gradual decrease in traffic, and the last to leave were the most desperate looking ones of the entire crowd - the stone junkies with half their teeth rotted away.
That was about two years ago. Every month or so, someone shows up, still thinking that it is active. They sit there for an hour or so, then give up and go away.

What initially surprised me was how long it took to have an effect. I've thought about it a bit since then, and below are my conclusions.

First, a camera, even at its best, is merely an influential tool. It puts a drag on the crime business only if someone follows up on what they see, or if the criminals think that someone might do so. It doesn't actually stop crime immediately
The combination of a person and a camera is very effective.
This last one I have tested up close and in person. After seeing the success of the netcam on one storefront, I started carrying a camera around the neighborhood and taking pictures of drunks, junkies, etc. They hate it. The most common response is to protest innocence and leave. The second most common is to threaten me with bodily harm and then leave. Oddly enough, nobody asks why I am doing it. ( This really surprised me. Do they understand why, or are they completely incurious? I have no idea. ) But nobody stays except those too drunk to move.
Second, I expect the attendance of criminals at high-crime-rate sites to sort of follow a bell-curve distribution, much like any group of attendees at any informal gathering place with no posted hours; a few are there every day, the majority show up something like weekly or monthly, and there are a few who make it every year or two. That is roughly what we saw before the camera was installed.
So there will be people who don't know about the camera for a long time.

Third, there is not a very wide variation in the response to a camera.
PS: Please note that any pro-camera comments above are about a privately owned camera. I share the concern, expressed by many, that cameras will be misused by governments. The solution is to make them all public netcams with no password, available to anyone with a browser. The cops can use information, but it is less likely for them to misuse it, because anybody could have copies.

PPS: The astute reader will note that there is an implied 'broken windows' theme embedded in the above text. Yes, I think that Keller's broken windows theory is correct, and that numerous municipalities - particularly NY - have implemented it badly. In my experience, if you engage the sub-criminal or semi-criminal behavior like panhandling or littering, you discourage many of the people who would otherwise commit serious crimes.
User Journal

Journal Journal: Robots

The best robots will stay specialized. The capable-of-doing-everything-that-a-human-can robots are science fiction and should stay that way. Why would we want something with lots of ability but poor judgement? I mean, we already have teenagers.
User Journal

Journal Journal: How patents should work

The following is an attempt to improve the patent process by adding competition to it. It is essentially a public test of non-obviousness.

A patent application should be composed of two documents. The first document should say what the invention does. The second document should say how it does it ( or in some cases how the manufacturer made it ). Both documents would be submitted privately to the patent office at the same time.

The patent office would then do a brief examination to sort out the dumb stuff ( like perpetual motion ) and the duplicates and infringements of existing patents in much the same way that it currently does. This might involve several rejections and resubmissions. When the application passes, then the patent office releases the first part to the public.

There would be a standard period of time between the release of the first part and the issuance of the patent. During that period, if someone else can show how it is done, then the application is denied and all documents become public domain - both of the applicant's documents, and the second person's explanation.
If nobody else can show how the patent idea could be done within that time, the idea is judged to be really non-obvious and the patent is issued, and the second part is thereby made public.

The exact period of time would vary depending on the field of research. For a software patent, a month should suffice. For medicines, a year or two might be better.

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