24 posts categorized "Location"


According to my phone, it's as warm right now in Seattle as it is in San Francisco. 52°.

12482874693_05a4a60602_cWhat's more, that's only 3° cooler than the current temperatures in Los Angeles and Orange.

And it is sunny in Seattle.

Too early to call spring in Seattle.

Over this past weekend, visiting Los Angeles, I saw small, streetside cherry trees blossoming in (I think it was) Culver City.

There are many gorgeous, old, beautiful cherry trees in the neighborhood I live in Seattle, rows and rows of such trees lining several side streets.

When my eyes start to itch from the cherry tree pollen, I'll know spring in Seattle is near.

Pictured: construction site at 8th and Seneca this morning in Seattle.

Geeks on buses: Seattle v. San Francisco edition

Seems like every newspaper is now writing about the luxury coach controversy in the hipper neighborhoods of San Francisco.

I was last in San Francisco last spring, only for a week, and I saw plenty of these unmarked buses on the roads.

They shuttle Googlers, Applers, Facebookers, to and from the city to the office parks and campuses farther south. These are not carriages licensed to serve the general public.

I've heard of similar coaches, equipped with wi-fi, shuttling to the Microsoft campus in Redmond from Seattle, and back. I've known people who worked at Microsoft but live in Seattle who rode them. But I don't think I've ever actually seen one.

12259256883_dc47057f83_zSo I'm acknowledging, in advance, that my point today is drawn from anecdote, and may not be supported by data. For all I know, vast swaths of Microsofties and Kirkland Googlers are being transported secretly from sleepy Ballard to Redmond every morning.

Here's my point: if you walk through Amazonville - the emergence of which is effectively shifting the center of commercial Seattle northward - you see Amazons waiting for the Metro King County bus.

Not the Amazon bus, but the same bus anyone with $2.50 may board.

What's more, based on my unscientific, anecdotal observations, the Seattle employed are boarding routes to other parts of Seattle.

They aren't leaving town.

They don't treat the city like a bedroom, merely.

Speed and distance

During the flight down from Seattle to San Francisco this morning, I watched a commercial jet flying north, the opposite direction. It was moving fast, much faster than I'm used to seeing planes fly when watching from the ground.

Hard to say how far the fast jet was from where I sat, but, from its relative size in my eye, it looked farther than jets typically fly over Seattle approaching SeaTac.

I told myself that the fact that my plane was moving in the opposite direction accounted for (at least some of) the impression of the other jet's unusual speed. That is, although I felt I was viewing from a fixed position, in fact I was not. The two planes were pulling away from each other, but my eye was attributing all of the speed to the other plane.

But that other plane still looked like it was moving three times faster than normal.

Speed and distance

Some minutes later, I focused my attention to a dotted line of waves on the California coast. For many beats, they were as still in my eye as they are in this picture. Even when I finally picked up some movement, it was within a single wave, not the entire formation.

Weird. I know waves move slowly, even from the perspective of pier or beach, but I can't account for the perception of stasis from, what, 37,000 feet.

More notes from the plane trip: as we approached the San Francisco airport from the south, the plane rode along the edge of a cloud bank, such that I could see the bright sky and white topped surface of the clouds in the top half of the frame, as it were, and the marsh and muddy water of the overcast East Bay at the bottom. It was oddly beautiful, and a study in the diffraction of light.

I wished I had the gumption to snap a photo of that, but the protocol of course is to have your phone shut down during landing (think of all the landing photos that will be on Flickr once that rule is changed!). Then again, the camera wouldn't have been able to deal with the contrast.

Making slow and idling electric cars noisier

This is really interesting:

Earlier this week, a federal agency proposed rules to set standards for, and require, noise to be emitted by electric and hybrid cars when traveling at speeds under 18 mph.

According to a Department of Transportation press release, "At 18 miles per hour and above, vehicles make sufficient noise to allow pedestrians and bicyclists to detect them without added sound." But there's a problem when electric and hybrid cars travel more slowly: pedestrians can't hear them.

Quiet_Vehicles_NPRM (1)

Here's a graphic from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's notice of proposed rulemaking that illustrates how blind pedestrians, in particular, depend on the sounds gas-powered cars make at intersections. The basic concept, as I understand it, is that a pedestrian can place, by hearing, which cars are idling, and which are accelerating or decelerating. From that information, a pedestrian can know the direction of traffic flow and make decisions to walk, or not walk, accordingly.

The proposed rules are suitably technical. Here's a sampling:

"S5.1.2 Backing. For vehicles capable of rearward self-propulsion, whenever the vehicle’s gear selection control is in the reverse position, the vehicle must emit a sound having at least the A-weighted sound pressure level in each of the one-third octave bands according to Table 2 as measured according to the test conditions of S6 and the test procedure of S7.3.

"S5.1.3 Constant 10 km/h pass by. When tested under the conditions of S6 and the procedures of S7.4, the vehicle must emit a sound having at least the A-weighted sound pressure level in each of the one-third octave bands according to Table 3 at any speed greater than or equal to10 km/h, but less than 20 km/h.

"S5.1.6 Pitch shifting to signify acceleration and deceleration. The fundamental frequency of the sound emitted by the vehicle must vary with speed by at least one percent per km/h between 0 and 30 km/h."

And below is a link to a brief audio file of "a synthesized 10 km/h, constant speed, pass-by sound that is generated by passing broad band noise through a single one-third octave band filter centered at 5000 Hz . . . processed so that it included level changes and Doppler due to the approach towards the pedestrian," one that "meets the minimum proposed requirement in the 5000 Hz band only."

Download 9

More information:

Flight tracking

Interesting analysis this morning from Doug Cornelius, on the legalities of tracking the movements of corporate jets, or hanging out in airports to spot the arrival of investment bankers.

Doug's post sits inside the broader topic of illegal stock trading on insider information.

I learned a few things I did not know before, but the money quote for me is this expression of common sense:

"Those bankers could just easily be coming to offer bankruptcy financing as they could be to trigger an event that would increase the stock price."

The topic of tracking flights for their information value reminds me of the Dutch radio communications expert who last year live tweeted NATO sorties over the Mediterranean and into Libya. Far more at stake than financing in that kind of tracking.

Vertigo05The topic also reminds me of the Fourth Amendment jurisprudence over whether it is okay for police, acting without a warrant, to slap a GPS tracking device on an unsuspecting suspect's car.

Now obviously in the context of police surveillance we are talking about what government can and cannot do, not what private behavior may or may not be legal. But courts considering the proper constitutional limits on government often go back to discuss older court decisions which seem to take as commonplace that police have unrestricted discretion to physically tail - visually surveil - a car by getting into another car and following it. Just as Jimmy Stewart stalks Kim Novak in Vertigo. There's an implicit assumption there, that roads are public places, that you can't disqualify information for having been gleaned by movement in public places.

I think Doug is saying something similar about airports.

Austin 6th St

I'm in Austin, Texas, for the Angel Capital Association 2012 Summit.

Here is a collage of some pics I took on a walk up 6th Street last night. Just taking things in, from the sidewalk.

Collage 6th St

Comments, clockwise from top left:

  1. There were probably a dozen bars like this on East 6th. A few were being reconfigured in one way or another, perhaps taking advantage of a Monday to prepare for SXSW crowds?
  2. I don't know why I am so drawn to Barcelona chairs. These in the lobby of an office building housing Austin Ventures and the Akin Gump law firm.
  3. This is an eatery called Hoffbrau that serves five cuts of steak and not much else. I may have to go back there for lunch.
  4. This last pic, the sign tells the story.

Tiny Constables in Gigantic Coaches

If you read the headlines this week about the Supreme Court's decision in its GPS surveillance case, you might be forgiven for thinking the Justices rang a bell for the expansion of civil liberties and privacy rights into digital territory.

Now it is true, the Court ran up the score, 9-0, in deciding against the government.

But the Justices were split over the legal rationale that should apply.

Three agreed with Justice Scalia, that the police, by surreptitiously placing a tracking device on a car outside the parameters of a judicially issued warrant, had "trespassed" on the property rights of the suspect. Scalia's reasoning relied heavily on an opinion written in 1765 by an English lord.

Three others sided with Justice Alito, who found it absurd to be asking how the Framers of the Constitution would have applied English property law to the remote harvesting of electronic signals. For Alito, the better (if imperfect) framework for analysis would have been found in more recent jurisprudence, which requires a court to weigh "reasonable expectations of privacy."

Justice Sotomayor, expressing more concern than her colleagues that existing legal precedent may not be up to the job of protecting privacy and civil liberties as mobile social networking habits become normative, found that the best thing to do with the case at hand was to agree with Scalia and Alito both. (Pending development of a suitable framework, she might say, any and every legal theory that gets you there in the meantime will have to do.)

You might ask, does the lack of a unified, coherent legal theory in this case really matter?

2678366310_bf3bf4233e_zIf you are a police chief, and you want to place a GPS device on a suspect's private vehicle without his express permission, then, arguably, no, the wrangling among the Justices is for you an academic matter. You know you need a warrant. Your GPS device, to paraphrase Alito's mocking analogy for Scalia's views, is like a tiny 18th Century constable who, having trespassed and hidden himself somewhere unseen in your oversized, horse-drawn coach, goes without food and water for weeks at a time in order to monitor your public outings.

But if you are an official with the Department of Homeland Security, asking Ford if you might tap into the GPS reporting capability built into the latest makes and models of car, then, yes, the lack of a consistent legal theory makes a difference to you, and provides choices. That is to say, you may or may not need the warrant. Under Scalia's standard, there would be no trespass. The suspect property, the car (or cars), would have included the GPS capability when the owner(s) first took possession. You need not touch or even approach the car.

Similarly, were you a government agent amassing a history of Foursquare checkins in order to compile a profile of an individual, you would probably not be concerned with tresspass. At the same time, if you skip the warrant, you run the risk that a court will find a "reasonable expectation of privacy" to protect the Foursquare checkins.

Alito feels that societal norms of privacy are better measured and codified by legislators. Sotomayor, on the other hand, is more adventurous, willing to float the exceptional idea that privacy and secrecy might be de-coupled. That is to say, Sotomayor feels it should be possible for certain information, depending on purpose or context, to remain legally protected, notwithstanding that it may be publicly accessible online or through technical means.

Appellate lawyers and Court watchers will tell you the Justices do this all the time. That is, they often decide cases on narrow and abstruse grounds, pushing the law forward as grudgingly as possible.

Such caution may be one of the few remaining factors of stability left in what now passes for American politics. But it's also a reminder to not expect too much of United States v. Jones. The lower courts will likely be wrestling with location tracking for some time.

Pictured: a constable who is too big, a carriage that is too small. (Flickr photo, George Eastman House.)

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