Jailbirds: Scooters and Sidewalks

Bird Scooter


As most residents are now aware, a few weeks ago the city of Raleigh become one of the few lucky (?) municipalities to get rentable electric scooters. These scooters (mostly of the Bird brand at this point) have been zipping merry residents from one end of town to the other for a small fee. While many are pleased that this new mobility choice has possibly decreased the number of car trips, others have pointed to the dockless nature of the scooters and how this inevitably leads to the scooters blocking sidewalks.

The City Council has not yet weighed in on the legality of scooters making their home on the sidewalks without having first been given official permission. Thus, they are operating in kind of a gray area. I decided to look into the Raleigh Municipal Code to see what laws we have on the books regarding sidewalks and motor vehicles.

It didn’t take long to find the relevant section in the Raleigh Municipal Code (and conveniently linked to from the links page of my EastRaleigh.Org website – I am awesome). Emphasis is mine:

Sec. 11-2171. – PARKING PROHIBITED IN CERTAIN PLACES.

(a) Obstructing traffic.

It shall be unlawful for any person to stop, stand or park any motor vehicle upon a street , or alley, in such manner or under such conditions as to obstruct the free movement of vehicular traffic, except that a driver may stop temporarily during the actual unloading of passengers or when necessary to obey traffic regulations or signs or signals, or signals of a police officer .

(b) Designated places.

No person shall stop, stand or park a motor vehicle (attended or unattended) except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic or in compliance with the directions of a police officer or traffic-control device in any of the following places:

(1) On a sidewalk, in the area between the roadway and the sidewalk, in the area between the right-of-way line and the roadway or in the median area of a divided roadway

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The peddlers of fear and outrage

Trash your TV

Two things took place during my hospital visits with my Dad this week. One was becoming captivated with an unlikely Trump voter. The other was gaining some insight into how he got that way.

I visited my Dad when the nightly news was on. Our local ABC affiliate, WTVD, was ticking through its top stories from around the country. Dad soon changed the channel and offhandedly stated his reasoning.

It was all about crime. Robberies, murders, carjackings, shootings. For some reason, our local affiliate thought it important to alarm us with news of misfortunes that took place hundreds, or in some cases, thousands of miles away, far from any possibility of them affecting us.

Why was the news doing this? Was it just laziness, being that chasing a cop or an ambulance is an easy way to a story? If there was airtime to fill, why weren’t there more local stories to fill it? Why fill viewers’ heads with stories that have no practical value?

Unless the point is to … stoke fear?

I’d been thinking lately that many Trump voters seem to be under some sort of spell. That’s one way I can account for the cognitive dissonance. Why do these folks seem so fearful all the time, thinking the boogeyman is at their door?

The answer was staring me in the face. It’s the television coverage.
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Is Silicon Valley done?

The headline is bombastic, of course, but there is a grain of truth to the idea that Silicon Valley is imploding. By this I don’t mean that business there is dying out; on the contrary business there is booming. The issue is these companies are victims of their own success, boosting Valley wealth so high that they’re pricing themselves out of their own backyards.

Apple is rumored to be inking a real-estate deal in Cary. San Francisco-based Slack is opening a Denver office. Word from folks I know who are working in Bay-area companies tell me there is a push for these companies to expand in other cities because the talent competition on their home turf is intense. I keep reading stories about people escaping from Silicon Valley and these stories seem to keep coming.

Amazon may be Seattle-based but it’s in the same boat with its search for a secondary headquarters. The ever-rising prices in Seattle have made it more attractive for Amazon to invest away from its birthplace.

Of course, it could all be a blip, or nothing at all, but lately there seem to be lots of reasons why not being in the Valley is a competitive advantage.

Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index – Digiconomist

According to these numbers, a single Bitcoin transaction uses the same amount of electricity as thirty-one U.S. households use in one day. Insanity.

Bitcoin electricty consumption

The continuous block mining cycle incentivizes people all over the world to mine Bitcoin. As mining can provide a solid stream of revenue, people are very willing to run power-hungry machines to get a piece of it. Over the years this has caused the total energy consumption of the Bitcoin network to grow to epic proportions, as the price of the currency reached new highs. The entire Bitcoin network now consumes more energy than a number of countries, based on a report published by the International Energy Agency. If Bitcoin was a country, it would rank as shown below.

Source: Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index – Digiconomist

Google AI Blog: Google Duplex: An AI System for Accomplishing Real-World Tasks Over the Phone

Google’s AI has gotten so good, it’s scary.

A long-standing goal of human-computer interaction has been to enable people to have a natural conversation with computers, as they would with each other. In recent years, we have witnessed a revolution in the ability of computers to understand and to generate natural speech, especially with the application of deep neural networks (e.g., Google voice search, WaveNet). Still, even with today’s state of the art systems, it is often frustrating having to talk to stilted computerized voices that don’t understand natural language. In particular, automated phone systems are still struggling to recognize simple words and commands. They don’t engage in a conversation flow and force the caller to adjust to the system instead of the system adjusting to the caller. Today we announce Google Duplex, a new technology for conducting natural conversations to carry out “real world” tasks over the phone. The technology is directed towards completing specific tasks, such as scheduling certain types of appointments. For such tasks, the system makes the conversational experience as natural as possible, allowing people to speak normally, like they would to another person, without having to adapt to a machine.

Source: Google AI Blog: Google Duplex: An AI System for Accomplishing Real-World Tasks Over the Phone

Goldman asks: ‘Is curing patients a sustainable business model?’

When I first confronted my GERD stomach issues a few decades ago I had a choice: I could simply take an antacid pill each day for life or I could get surgery to fix it. The pill would’ve been easy, painless, and relatively inexpensive but I chose the surgery simply because I didn’t want to be dependent on Big Pharma.

This Golden Sachs analyst’s remarkable candor shows, in a nutshell, what’s wrong with a capitalistic health care system. What’s good for the patient is not always good for the investor. In fact, pretty frequently it’s not.

If you had any illusions about the true motivation of the medical industry you should now know the truth.

Wall Street greed is often why we can’t have nice things.

Goldman Sachs analysts attempted to address a touchy subject for biotech companies, especially those involved in the pioneering “gene therapy” treatment: cures could be bad for business in the long run.

“Is curing patients a sustainable business model?” analysts ask in an April 10 report entitled “The Genome Revolution.”

“The potential to deliver ‘one shot cures’ is one of the most attractive aspects of gene therapy, genetically-engineered cell therapy and gene editing. However, such treatments offer a very different outlook with regard to recurring revenue versus chronic therapies,” analyst Salveen Richter wrote in the note to clients Tuesday. “While this proposition carries tremendous value for patients and society, it could represent a challenge for genome medicine developers looking for sustained cash flow.”

Source: Goldman asks: ‘Is curing patients a sustainable business model?’

Pahrump-based radio host Art Bell dies at 72 – Las Vegas Review-Journal

North Carolina native, talk show pioneer, and fellow explorer Art Bell has passed away, or as we in the amateur radio field say, W6OBB is now a “silent key.”

I started listening to Art Bell’s Coast to Coast show back around 1995. Much of what I heard was off-the-wall nonsense but some of it was truly amazing. Life-changing amazing, in fact.

He was always a gentleman on the airwaves, no matter whom was his guest. In the depths of those dark nights you always felt like you had a friend out there, somewhere in the desert of Nevada.

Thanks for all the stimulating conversation and for shining a light on some of the most interesting topics imaginable.

He was awake when most of the country was asleep, cultivating a loyal following while sharing his fascination with the unexplained on his nighttime paranormal-themed show.

For the better part of two decades, longtime late-night radio personality Art Bell was his own producer, engineer and host of his show, “Coast to Coast AM.” He later launched his own satellite radio program from his Pahrump home after retiring from full-time hosting duties in 2003.

On the airwaves, Bell captivated listeners with his fascination for the unexplained, such as UFOs, alien abductions and crop circles. He died Friday at his home at the age of 72.

“As he begins his journey on the ‘other side,’ we take solace in the hope that he is now finding out all of the answers to the mysteries he pursued for so many nights with all of us,” Coast to Coast said in a statement Saturday.

Source: Pahrump-based radio host Art Bell dies at 72 – Las Vegas Review-Journal

Facebook caught spying on conversations again

I was in need of wheelbarrows for a company project two weeks ago, so I pulled up the webpage for the Lowe’s hardware store on my work computer and perused their offerings. A day later, just like magic, Facebook presented me with a Facebook ad from Lowe’s featuring the same brand of wheelbarrows I looked at! The social media company made the connection between my work computer and my personal phone, even though I was not logged into Facebook on my work computer when I made the search. Apparently I had left some Facebook cookies behind on my work computer and Lowe’s webpage uses Facebook integrations to read those cookies.

Lowe’s wheelbarrow ad on Facebook

Creepy? Perhaps for some, but at least I can understand how this magic was done. I might not necessarily like Lowe’s sharing my searches with Facebook but I understand how and why it happened. I chalk this up to good, clean, targeted advertising. It’s fair game.

But there’s apparently another, more nefarious kind of targeted advertising done by Facebook, whether or not they care to admit it. A friend had lunch with a colleague yesterday and they were waiting for their meals when his colleague casually mentioned that his car was in need of a new ignition coil. Upon returning to his office, my friend checked Facebook and was astounded to find a Facebook ad for an ignition coil!

What are the odds of this happening by chance? I mean, I know that a recent story on this by Digg has pointed to the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon as a possible explanation. This theory might apply to more common phrases or objects, like cat food, but ignition coils? How often does anyone ever utter the words “ignition coil” in their lifetime? Saying I hear it maybe once every ten years would be generous. It’s pretty damn uncommon phrase.

An ignition coil ad, surely just a coincidence


My friend insists that he never searched for ignition coils, typed it in, or did anything active that would’ve drawn the ad to him. He also was not on any WiFi networks at the restaurant and had no other overt ties to his colleague and their conversation. While it may be possible his colleague Googled it at the restaurant my friend doesn’t think so, and certainly he didn’t use my friend’s phone to do it. The odds against this being coincidence are simply staggering.

I’ve seen the video of the couple who talked about dog food and summoned dog food ads to their Facebook page. That’s interesting to be sure, but I don’t know these people the way I know my friend. I can certainly vouch for my friend’s honesty.

The Facebook app has been banned from my phone since I caught it using the photos on my phone that I didn’t share to send me ads. That was too creepy for me, but it appears that listening in on what people say now feeds the social media giant’s insatiable appetite to know everything about you.

Are you frightened yet?

How a group of neighbors created their own Internet service | Ars Technica

When you live somewhere with slow and unreliable Internet access, it usually seems like there’s nothing to do but complain. And that’s exactly what residents of Orcas Island, one of the San Juan Islands in Washington state, were doing in late 2013. Faced with CenturyLink service that was slow and outage-prone, residents gathered at a community potluck and lamented their current connectivity.

“Everyone was asking, ‘what can we do?’” resident Chris Brems recalls. “Then [Chris] Sutton stands up and says, ‘Well, we can do it ourselves.’”

Doe Bay is a rural environment. It’s a place where people judge others by “what you can do,” according to Brems. The area’s residents, many farmers or ranchers, are largely accustomed to doing things for themselves. Sutton’s idea struck a chord. “A bunch of us finally just got fed up with waiting for CenturyLink or anybody else to come to our rescue,” Sutton told Ars.Around that time, CenturyLink service went out for 10 days, a problem caused by a severed underwater fiber cable. Outages lasting a day or two were also common, Sutton said.Faced with a local ISP that couldn’t provide modern broadband, Orcas Island residents designed their own network and built it themselves. The nonprofit Doe Bay Internet Users Association (DBIUA), founded by Sutton, Brems, and a few friends, now provide Internet service to a portion of the island. It’s a wireless network with radios installed on trees and houses in the Doe Bay portion of Orcas Island. Those radios get signals from radios on top of a water tower, which in turn receive a signal from a microwave tower across the water in Mount Vernon, Washington.

Source: How a group of neighbors created their own Internet service | Ars Technica

Amazon built its hyper efficient warehouses by embracing chaos — Quartz

Good look at how Amazon takes advantage of randomness in its warehouses.

Amazon has completely redefined warehouse efficiency and customer convenience. Through its Prime membership, it has promised tens of millions of customers free two-day shipping on more than 100 million products, and, last year, it shipped 5 billion items to them. “That was the major innovation,” says Daniel Theobald, who cofounded a warehouse robotics company called Vecna in 1998 and counts major retailers and logistics companies as clients. “As soon as people realized, you can order something and get it tomorrow, that turned the industry upside down.”

The core of this disruptive efficiency, though, is not Amazon’s automated shelf-moving warehouse robots, which is the innovation that gets the most attention. And it isn’t, on its surface, something that you would associate with a well-oiled machine. It’s not even a breakthrough technology. In fact, some version of it was already in place when Alperson worked in Amazon’s early warehouses.

What makes Amazon’s warehouse work is the way they organize inventory: with complete randomness.

Source: Amazon built its hyper efficient warehouses by embracing chaos — Quartz