Thursday, 10 July 2014

What are the cyclists building? Surveillance State 2.0

Out in Twitter Land, one of those paranoid characters accused the cyclists of "building a police state". They are, but not the toy one he imagines from helmet cameras and ANPR recognition. No, those are surface dressing, something to get irate about while the real mass surveillance state gets "deployed" -as the developers call it, "for the duration of the emergency"

Because this new police state is special.
  1. The cost of storing the data is offloaded to to private companies, its a privatised police state.
  2. It's designed to scale: it is now affordable to store a "record" about every SMS message, or HTTP connection opened up. 
  3. We, the population, are paying for the privilege of having the companies record everything we do, and the state being able to ask for it when we get it back.
  4. We've moved on from Irish nationalists and communists to "paedos" and "jihadists" as the enemies. There's something dubious about the paedo one, what with the BBC of the 1970s being worked out, and the attention moving towards the houses of parliament. As for the Jihadist rising, yes, we do have idiots who are getting politicised by watching online videos. But the number of people killed by these naive fools is still a fraction of those killed in the troubles: a we didn't have a mass surveillance state then.
So what's changed since the 1970s? The back infrastructure for mass surveillance states now has O(1) scalability; the front end consumer electronics

In computational complexity theory, there's a notation, Big O Notation, used to describe the scalability of system. It doesn't describe how hard things are, but how much harder things get as the problem gets bigger.

The Deutschland Demokratic Republik, the DDR, is notorious for having the worlds most comprehensive mass surveillance society. But they did it by hand. 

For every citizen to watch, they needed a watcher, so the scalability of their state was linear, written down as O(n) scalability. Double the population, double the watchers, double the costs. That's if you trust the watchers. If you want to keep an eye on them, well, if we assume one monitor per 8 stasi members -and that those monitors need watching too, the scale becomes O(n)+O(n/8)+O(n/64)+... You get the point: it doesn't scale. The DDR tried, but it placed too much overhead on their economy, and even being the most efficient of the communist states wasn't enough. Eventually the population chose they wanted those consumer toys rather than the police state, the army felt the same way, and because the russians chose not to send their tanks in, down came the wall.

Nowadays though, we can build a police state with O(1) scalability, where the 1 has a name: Google.

Yes, everyone views them as a search engine, or an email service, but behind the scenes they've been developing that infrastructure for storing a snapshot of the web, indexing it's cross page links ("metadata", as they call it). The Google File System, GFS, and its computation layers on top: MapReduce, Pregel and Caffeine,as well as most recently, Spanner. As the abstract there says, "it is the first system to distribute data at a global scale".

What else have google done? Android: a smart phone OS, that they give away, indeed, they even sell their nexus phones at a loss. Why? Because it is profitable for them to give away the OS and sell phones at a discount, in exchange for you to carry a little device wherever you go. One that checks in with Google regularly, giving Spanner data to replicate, Google FS something to store, Pregel something to join together.

We are all paying every month for the right to carry a bit of electronics that continually reports to your mobile phone company where you are, who you call, who you text, when you connect to facebook, twitter, whatever. Even everything you look up in the map. Google want that data because the more they record about you, the better they can get about predicting you (remember those Markov Chains?), the better they can target advertising at you.

And government? They want that same data. If they said "every adult has to carry a machine that tells us where you go, what you look up in maps and who you talk to", even the Daily Mail commenters would be up in arms, the UKIP protesting about it being european, and not even the Lib Dem apologists could think of any way to pretend it was good.

Yet we are already carrying those machines that tell google all this stuff -all the government want to do is get that same information. Which they do by pretending it's minor, "metadata", "call records", "web connection information", phrases that aren't obvious to people the same way "where you are", "who you speak to" and "what you do on your computer".

That's what they are after though -they are just hiding the fact so you don't wake up screaming, realising that you are already living in a mass surveillance state that even the DDR would be jealous of -jealous because of its scale, the information it collects, and best of all, the subtlety.

That's the police state the cyclists have built -those bay area pedal pushers- and anyone complaining about CCTV surveillance is simply so woefully innocent it's actually quaint.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Is is a good text?

Now that summer is here, the car windows are down and people can engage in spontaneous conversation.

Here, we can see a tax dodger having the rudeness to walk over a zebra crossing and lights, then, as they set off, decide to talk to one of their superiors -here the driver of Audi WR11FGG.

It's always hard to think of an opening for an impromptu conversation, but here the driver has left a way open by virtue of the fact she appears to be reading email on her smart phone as she drives down the road.

Admittedly, she does seem a bit surprised by the way the cyclist tries to strike up a friendly banter -but then as she was looking at the phone while driving down Whiteladies Road, she was unaware that were any tax-dodgers in the area.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Get your tanks off my lawn!

As d-day for the Clifton RPZ rollout approaches, already tempers are getting hot. What will happen? Will it be tanks up Whiteladies road a-la Soviet Liberation of Berlin, or will be house-to-house battling like Stalingrad?

We know this: it'll be noisy.

Clifton Resident James Gadd sends us this video of one of the pre-RPZ skirmishes -one where the Clifton Popular Front and their tank are nowhere to be seen. Here it's commuter vs resident, soon escalating to the police and then finally the builders. As anyone who has spent time in the city will know, builder's trucks are some of the most damaged out there, and so have little qualms about banging up against someone's car while they get their scaffolding out. Which is why that's the time even the police should consider their exit strategy.

Part one: opening skirmish

Part two: the residents come out with their pitchforks

Part 3: here come the Polis

Part 4: I see your police car and raise you a Builder's Lorry

Part 5: call it a draw

James -thank you for these, and we look forward to more as rollout day arrives!

Sunday, 29 June 2014

First Self-Driving car seen in Bristol!

There's lots of hype about "Autonomous Cars", the UAVs of the tarmac, but who in the UK has seen one? Bristol-Resident RedVee has, here in Stokes Croft

As you can see, the driver of W845PDS can safely text on their commute, safe in the knowledge that the car itself will make decisions as to when it can and cannot go.

Sadly, a small firmware error in this model means that it is "red/green colour blind", so has been known to unintentionally drive through a red light.

Google have reassured us that this will be fixed in a later software update -all the owner will to do is hook up the car's USB port to a laptop, download the 17GB firmware patch, wait for the four hour update to take place and then accept the dialogs about changes in privacy policy for the car.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Questions for anyone claiming RPZs devalue houses

There's a 3500+ petition up on the council web site demanding a rethink to RPZs in Bristol. This shows how effective the Clifton people at organising defence of their rights. Or, as the late Glaswegian father of this team member said "The extension of the M1 to Swiss Cottage was stopped because it went through Hampstead. The inner glasgow motorways went through the Gorbals because it went through the Gorbals". Anyone who thinks this petition is about RPZs anywhere outside Clifton are wonderfully naive.

Again, this petition is repeating the claim that an RPZ is bad for your house price.

Some questions for anyone who repeats that claims?

-Why is nobody from Cotham or Kingsdown protesting about the RPZs, saying "the RPZ devalued our house prices"?

-Have house prices in Cotham South and Kingsdown either fallen since the RPZ -or even just increased at a lower rate than Cotham North?

-Why do estate agents in Clifton emphasise off-street parking as a feature when selling houses?

-If, as is claimed, an RPZ will eliminate shop staff and commuter parking on weekdays, is that £50/year going to buy you the ability to park near your home, without having to pay that off-street parking premium?

-When the asking price for a house in or near Clifton is £1.5M+, who is suffering here? Because the only people that can afford a house like that is going to be someone selling up a flat in London and moving west,  someone in Clifton earning large amounts of money and still overcommitting on the mortgage -or someone with money making an investment in buy-to-let and expecting prices to continue to rise.

-Why are the Clifton RPZ protesters so concerned about the limit of the number of cars/household, or the cost of registering an overweight car, when a large fraction of the inner city don't even own one car, let alone three?

As the Bristol Blogger observed the last time we covered this, the RPZ is potentially going to increase value of your house. "In the Clifton West RPZ" means that you are officially in Clifton, and will have the right to drive your SUV round the corner to Clifton village for a latte.

More interesting is not so much "what will it mean for Clifton houses costing £1.5M", as "what will it mean for St Pauls houses?" Or, phrased differently, "will all-day residential parking it St Pauls increase gentrification and so break up the community there?"

That's something to discuss, but it's hard for the Cliftonians to complain about a destruction of community, as there is none. Everyone hates their neighbours as they are competing for the same parking spaces. And that's speaking as a former resident who was taken aback when moving to Horfield that neighbours actually say hello to each other.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

A&S Police: this is not a crime. Move along now

Some people ask if a 20 mph speed limit is bringing the city to its knees. The answer is no: all you have to do is overtake any car driving too slow for you

The driver of L861CDW demonstrates the correct way to do this, overtaking the Fiat 500 which had slowed down to let a school-running family, a family signalling to turn right.

We aren't going embed it as there is a lot of swearing at the point when the cyclist thinks they are about to get hit by the car. 

If you see the discussion afterwards, the driver runs over the cyclists foot (so they assert), and state this to the driver, who looks back and just swears.

After going to A&E that evening to make sure that their foot was not broken, the parent visited the police, who, after taking a statement and a copy of the video, went to the driver and got his statement

  1. The driver of L861CDW overtook the Fiat 500 because he felt it was going too slowly.
  2. At the time he started to overtake, he had not seen the cycling family.
  3. He did see the cyclists during the overtake, but chose to continue as they were not actually turning.
  4. He asserts that if they had been turning, he would have given way to them. This is not an assertion that can be tested, of course.
  5. Apparently the driver felt intimidated by the cyclist going "why are you trying to kill me and my family?"
  6. Apparently the cyclist damaged the wing mirror of the car as the driver drove off in terror. As he works in the motor industry -runs his own garage- he fixed this himself and is not going to bill the cyclist.
  7. The reason for the driver swearing at the cyclist is not because the cyclist just told them that they'd driven over their foot -it merely looks like that in the video. In fact the driver was unaware that he'd done such a thing, therefore "failure to stop and report an accident" does not arise.
As result of his statement, in combination with the hi-definition head-cam video, the police are not going to prosecute the driver for careless driving or any other offence. 

There is not, apparently sufficient evidence that he meets the legal standard of "driving without due care and attention"

If the family had actually been turning, and the driver had failed to give way to us -that is hit them- it would have constituted careless driving and he would have been prosecuted. But the driving seen on the video is not sufficient.

Furthermore, the cyclist swearing at the car as he thinks that he and his son is about to get run over does not put the cyclist in a good light. This means that any claim "they drove off as they felt intimidated" is defensible, even when that driving off includes over the feet of the cyclists.

Lessons for drivers
  1. If you are driving in a 20 mph zone, it is acceptable to overtake cars going at a speed you consider too slow.
  2. Even if you cannot see more than one vehicle in front of you, the overtake does not constitute "careless"
  3. And during the overtake, even if you see that you misjudged what was in front, you can continue with the manoeuvre -provided you don't actually hit anyone in front.
As for the cyclist
  1. Even if you are about to get run over, don't swear at the driver.
  2. If you follow up a near-hit with the driver, don 't ask intimidating questions like "why are you trying to kill me and my family". As something more subtle and polite.
  3. If someone drives over your foot, do make sure you get that on camera too.
It also has some interesting implications:
  1. It shows that either it is police policy or the legal system, but videos of driving like this are not considered sufficient for A&S  Police to prosecute the driver for careless driving or other offences. 
  2. Cyclists in Bristol may as well give up on the head cameras if they expect it to fulfil any role other than be entertainment for others, or use in an inquest.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Yes but who will think of the children? (part 1)

Say what you like about Tank Commander "Wolfie" Miles and his right-to-commute-to-work campaigners, call them "lost in time" or "selfish and missing Clifton's underlying issues" -they are good at PR.

They've realise that demanding the right to park outside the estate agent where you work, where you can charge a premium of thousands of pounds for any form of guaranteed parking, makes you look hypocritical. So instead they've found a commuter group that they can call on: school teachers.

The best one yet is how the introduction of an RPZ will force a teacher in Colston Primary School to resign as she'll have nowhere near to park after 45 minutes driving from Bath.

We've covered Colston Primary before, showing our datasets go back years, and can so place things in a historical context. We also know that the school is already in the CM zone, so can do before and after footage. So over today past the traffic jam chaos that was the st michael's hill school run jam, and what do we see -and how does it compare with the equivalent photos from 2009.

Before: Parked cars provide exciting things for small children too look at

After: empty crossing with good visibility

Before: congested dropoff zone outside the school, with the only place for parents to pull over the keep clear zone


After: emptiness. Those parents do doing dropoff can do it without going on the yellow lines -and so risk earning a ticket.

This carries on up the hill -where you can see the small kid scootering up and down while waiting for a parent with a push chair to catch up.

Finally, rotate pi radians  from the first photo -that's 180 degrees to people that stopped doing maths at 16 and don't understand data science- and what do you see behind the pleasant park with a play area where the younger brothers and sister of the colston primary age kids are playing on their scooters?

A train station.

Colston's Primary is three minutes walk from the Severn Beach line, which has a regular service to and from Templemeads -it takes 12 minutes, costs 1 pound 60 or thereabouts return, and hooks in to the trains to bath. If you do make the choice to live in Bath and commute into Bristol, this school is one of the few places where you can actually do it by train conveniently.

Whereas the parents with they schoolkids? They get a no-worry area where they can walk their kids to school, without fearing for the kids running ahead, without having to cross roads with zero visibility -roads congested with cars driving round in circles waiting for a space freed up by a resident.

This gives them a low stress stretch of the journey, which lasts until they get to the No-RPZ areas, such as Montpelier

That's why we think this sob-story is just that: something dredged up by tank command to make a point, but which doesn't hold up to scrutiny
  1. Colston's primary is served by both a train system 3-5 minutes walk away
  2. It's 15 minutes walk from the central bus station, where buses go to bath
  3. The primary users of the school -the families nearby- benefit, where they are walking, driving or cycling their kids there.
  4. There's nowhere that says it is compulsory for schoolteachers to live in bath
Central Bath has been nothing but RPZ for ages -anyone who lives in Cotham and who works in Bath isn't going to find any free parking except out past Victoria Park or other places more than half an hour's walk from the centre.

If the teacher lives in central Bath, she's going to have an RPZ permit on her own car. If she lives out of the core, well, she'd be just as inconvenienced teaching at a school in Bath as she would be in Bristol, so doesn't make a defensible case for the Tooting Clifton Popular Front.