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Comment Re:Self-fulfilling Prophecy (Score 1) 314

How were you middle class without any savings?

Outside of the "upper middle class", middle class Americans on average have minimal liquid savings -- they might have an IRA and some home equity, but almost no "savings".

If you look at how student aid is calculated, the formula expects a 4-year degree program student to spend nearly all student assets on tuition -- Student assets disclosed on FAFSA reduce eligibility for need-based aid by 20 percent of the net worth of the asset, each year. Any savings a student has, and 5.64% of the parent's non-IRA savings, is counted towards the "Expected Family Contribution" (EFC) each year.

I had savings when I first enrolled in college. To pay my first year's EFC, I wiped out my savings account and drew my checking account down to the minimum "no fee" balance.

Comment Re:Self-fulfilling Prophecy (Score 1) 314

If you are middle class you can't get financial aid.

If you are upper middle class, your aid options are very limited, regular old middle class can get some financial aid. Our family income was smack dab in the center of "middle" class for Chicago metro area, but I qualified for a few need-based financial aid programs.

I attended IIT, a moderately expensive private research/tech school, and I received a Federal Pell grant, a subsidized (Stafford) loan, and made up the rest from the Federal Work-Study program, and of course wiped out my personal savings account. If I had instead attended University of Illinois at Chicago, a public research university, I would have received a full scholarship -- based primarily on my test scores, not on need.

Comment Secure and Available:related, yet not synonymous (Score 1) 146

"Secure" and "Available" are related but not synonymous.

It is possible to have a system that is secure against data exfiltration, but still susceptible to intentional corruption. I'm not saying this is necessarily true in this case, but it is certainly a possibility.

Fear of data leakage is just one of many reasons why a black market will continue to exist, even with "medical" and decriminalization. There's still a social stigma against pot and THC users (stronger in certain areas and cultures than others). I still want to see Obama reschedule it, not so much because I care about the legal status of marijuana, but more because it would really piss off Mike Pence.

Comment Re: Never saw this coming (Score 1) 168

The chips from Sensory date back to around 2010, at which point they were all of two bucks each. I don't recall which Android phones do or do not have chipset based hotword detection, but suspect that it's all but ubiquitous these days.

The iPhone 6/6S build "Hey Siri" recognition into the same co-processor (really a subprocessor as it's part of the M9 CPU) as the step counter and other always-on features, so even when sleeping it is always checking the stream from the microphone for the hotword.

This reduces power consumption significantly, and only starts spooling audio to a buffer in RAM after the hotword is detected. Once the possible command is in RAM, some phones will at least attempt to do speech recognition locally, while others always ship the audio buffer up to a cloud service for analysis

Comment Re:Never saw this coming (Score 2) 168

You got an android phone? It has the ability to listen when the phone is off to hear you say "OK Google".

When the phone is off? Either you are confusing "locked" or "asleep" with "Off", or intentionally spreading FUD.

Most newer Android phones implement "OK Google" hotword detection using hardware, meaning that a dedicated low-power chip listens for the hotword to wake up the audio processor, but is not constantly recording audio to storage in order to analyze it for the hotword.

Amazon Echo and Apple products have their own mechanism for hotword detection. Some of these do record a continuous multi-second rolling buffer, others do it in a dedicated chip. It's not just a Google thing. In any case, the always-on listening buffer isn't stored, but some devices will upload what it thinks is a query or command, an audio stream containing all the audio after it detects the hotword.

So I guess the moral of the story is that if you are being strangled in a hot tub, you could do worse than yelling "Hey Siri! Call the police!" with your final breath.

Comment Ignores the ulterior motive of traffic stops (Score 3, Interesting) 311

This ignores the unspoken policy that traffic stops are not always about enforcing traffic law and collecting small fines, but rather the police want that interaction with the driver so they can fish for bigger violations. Traffic stops are "pretext stops", a loophole to get around the 4th amendment.

Running your plate and taking your ID isn't about making sure they assign points to the right person, but also about looking for wants and warrants. Getting you to roll down the window and talk to the officer isn't really about checking whether you smell like booze or pot, or seem nervous. There is no right to remain silent when an automobile is involved., and traffic stops are one of the most productive ways to find and arrest people with outstanding warrants.

Comment Re: How can this work with European smart cards? (Score 1) 181

... we all have to have mag stripes on our cards as well just in case we ever go there. I never go to the USA, so the mag stripes on my cards are entirely useless other than for skimmers. Does anyone know of any UK banks which offer a "I am never going to go to North America so please send me a card with a blank mag stripe" service or even a "I sometimes go to North America so please send me two cards, one with mag and one without" service?

In the time that it took you to type that post, you could have erased all the mag stripes on all your credit cards. It doesn't take much -- a strong magnet will do it, or you could just use a bit of fine sandpaper to physically remove the stripe.

Comment Re:Home Server (Score 1) 183

I haven't kept track, but ISPs used to shit bricks if you tried to run a home server (without paying for a business class connection). Their (somewhat legitimate) reasoning was that home servers were more likely to be hacked and used for things like anonymous e-mail relays for spam.

For the most part, American ISPs have backed down from this, and block inbound only for TCP/25 and the high-risk Windows ports. A few block port 80.

For just accessing your home network for the purpose of automation, there are plenty of workarounds to get past ISP blocking, they really don't care if you run a "server" that is only ever accessed by two iPhones, one for you and one for your SO.

Comment Re:Depends on the devices (Score 1) 183

Many cloud-tethered products have no documentation for their protocols, no supported way to modify the firmware, and use public-key encryption to make it very difficult to "spoof" the cloud service so you can run them without talking to the vendor's proprietary server. Many vendors have realized that consumers will shop on price and ignore privacy. For example, Y-cam used to manufacture IP cameras, but based on feedback from customers now only offers a smart cloud-based security solutions, in both free and paid subscription versions

Is it really 'the cloud' that's the problem - or is it just that funding it all through advertising is the problem. If Google had all the data it currently has, but used it strictly for providing its services - and you paid for those services rather than letting Google place ads based on what it knows about you, would that be less of an issue?

Cloud based home automation and similar services would still be almost as much as an issue without the "privacy" concerns. For example, in 2014 Nest bought Revolv, a "smart home hub" maker whose product was entirely cloud-tethered. Then Google (owners of Nest) decided they didn't want to support Revolv, and so announced the End of all cloud services for Revolv customers, essentially bricking the revolv hub. So when you own a cloud-tethered device that doesn't have the option to run the essential services on your own hardware, you don't really "own" anything at all.

Regardless of business model, nearly all cloud-tethered products cheap out on protocols and update mechanisms and local components, with the concept that the smarts can be handled by the remote server so the hardware price is reduced. This is great for the vendor's ability to scale up, but not so great if they stop supporting your device, or if your connectivity to the Internet is intermittent, or if their are issues with their cloud service or cloud provider.

What gets really annoying is how many products are designed to be cloud-tethered with no provision to keep working when they can't reach the public internet.

Comment Re:X10 (Score 1) 183

X10 is not up to the task because it is a one-way protocol. You can not verify that the commands you send to a device are received (or successfully executed) by the device. The best you can do is send the same command multiple times and hope that at least one of them got through. And if the commands are not idempotent (as in you need to send a sequence of commands that depend on the success of the previous command) then it becomes very unreliable.

Its nice for turning on the light in the room you are already in, but that's about it.

Correct. This is why X-10 has been almost universally retired, supplanted by Insteon. And most people just getting into HA today are going with one of the newer wireless-only protocols, usually Z-Wave (Smartthings, Wink, Vera, Securifii), sometimes Zigbee (Philips, GE) or WiFI.

Comment Re:Yes, there is software that does just that - (Score 1) 183

Similar setup here. Custom "IoT" devices, communicating using MQTT mainly (mosquitto as a broker). The downside is that it requires electronics knowledge, prorgramming knowledge and also too much free time (that's my main problem really).

Or if you don't want to get into soldering your own mains current devices and writing your own broker, there's Insteon and Z-Wave with both standalone and cloud-tethered control hubs. Neither Insteon nor Zwave sensors and load controls are directly internet linked, the devices don't phone home to the Internet and will run fine without cloud connectivity. Some of the management hubs are very much dependent on cloud services, but the more expensive ones can talk multiple automation protocols and will work fine without the Internet.

I was at ISC West earlier this year, the primary automation focus was on Z-Wave, with just about any type of sensor you can imagine being available in a Z-wave integrated package.

Comment Re:What's the great thing about a "smart" home (Score 2) 183

Making home infrastructure smart has plenty of utility, beyond simple laziness.

A smart thermostat connected to other home automation can know when nobody is home, automatically switch to energy saving mode, and then be notified when a resident is heading home so it can enter recovery mode and be back to a comfortable temperature by the time you arrive. Same goes for water heating -- if nobody is around, water in the storage heater tank can be allowed to cool down, and then brought back up to temperature before it is needed.

Speaking of hot water, having my own "smart meter" and monitoring allowed me to detect when the water heater was failing (energy use increased significantly), long before it stopped working entirely. Keeping track of power consumption by the AC system and fan can tell you when a filter is clogged or if a pump or fan motor is failing. By monitoring water usage (flow rate), you can detect plumbing leaks as well as notice when a hose is left running.

A one-way-feed out from an alarm system can be useful. If an alarm is triggered in the basement or first floor while system is "Armed-Home", then all lights on only that floor are turned on at full brightness. If "Armed-Away", all lights on all floors go into full disco stroboscope mode, and outside lights start blinking slowly on and off in the traditional S-O-S pattern. You can literally have an air gap between your alarm and home automation by using a photodiode to read the alarm LED state if you want to be paranoid.

My next step is to install powered insulated window blinds that open on sunny winter days for passive heating, then close at night to keep the heat in, and a UV sensor that closes the blinds on really sunny days to reduce UV fading of my furnishings.

Comment The iPhone was a triumph... of marketing (Score 3, Informative) 397

The first iPhone was launched January 9, 2007, a full year after the LG Prada (and 15 years after the first touchscreen phone). LG's Prada included many of the UI, design, and functional elements claimed as iPhone "firsts".

I'm sorry but PalmOS and even Windows Mobile did all of this way before the iPhone even hit the drawing board. There were even mobile phone versions in the the form of the Treo and Tungsten C.

The only revolutionary thing about the iPhone is it broke out of the techie niche that previous devices had been trapped in and brought it mainstream, but I suspect the biggest reason for that is fashion rather than technical.

Exactly. Multi-touch aside, the iPhone wasn't particularly innovative technologically, but it was the first mainstream non-techie smart phone.

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