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Drones, Cameras, Computers Fighting California Wildfires

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The plane —  at 10,000 feet, out of signal range — sends the information to a smaller aircraft below, which relays it to a UC San Diego research team running a lab known as WIFIRE. The lab’s supercomputer produces mapping and heat-detection data within minutes, and it generates a model of how the fire might spread based on a number of factors — Eventually, such information will go to a wildfire warning center created under a new state law.

The planes are part of a pilot program. In the state’s new landscape of more frequent and more ferocious fires, it takes a village to combat the menace: private technology, state and local fire agencies and computing know-how at California’s universities.

California has already signed the program’s first two contracts. One project will use advanced computing to predict a fire’s path; the other will fund a network of “sky sensors” to detect fires as soon as they ignite and send alerts to emergency officials.

In addition to the plane pilot program, UC San Diego operates the ALERT Wildfire system with the University of Nevada and the University of Oregon, a network of almost 300 high-definition cameras trained on high-fire-threat areas. The remotely operated cameras can see up to 70 miles in daylight and 100 miles with infrared at night.

SAFR The Female Friendly UBER Alternative

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Female-friendly alternative to Uber, Safr, launched last month in Boston.  With all the disturbing news concerning Uber and Lyft drivers the timing is just about right for Safr. A new report revealed that thousands of Uber and Lyft drivers in Massachusetts have failed the state’s new background checks,

Safr riders can choose which gender they feel most comfortable riding with via the app—drivers have the same gender preference option—and can also take advantage of a number of built-in safety features, including a feature that can call 911, send a text to a pre-assigned contact, or dial Safr’s 24-hour command center. A color-matching system, which sends riders and drivers a color-coded message during pickups, also helps ensure passengers get into the correct vehicle.

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Safr , which are currently all women, go through a more extensive recruitment, vetting, and training process than competitors.

Safr isn’t the first such startup to gear their service toward women. In 2014, New York-based SheTaxis, also known as SheRiders, tried to launch, but faced gender discrimination issues and has since folded. See Jane Go, based in Orange County, California, and conceived of by a father-daughter team worried about rider safety, began operating last September.

Driverless Cars Not Ready to Become Driverless

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A report released by the DMV Wednesday reveals that driverless cars have a long way to go before they can actually become driverless.

The data from the Department of Motor Vehicles includes autonomous vehicle test results from 11 companies. The information includes details of when drivers had to take control of the cars, either because the test driver felt uncomfortable or due to a glitch in the technology. The data only includes miles traveled on public roads in California, and doesn’t include testing at private facilities or outside the state.

Bryant Walker Smith, scholar for Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society says”there are more questions that need answers; such as what would happen if the driver didn’t intervene. Would the car know to pull to the side of the road to avoid a collision? how ‘bad’ the hypothetical outcome avoided by a driver-initiated disengagement needs to be for Waymo (for example) to include such a disengagement in its count,” he said. “In other words, if the driver hadn’t intervened in any given instance, would a crash have necessarily resulted?”

Delphi Automotive Systems, for example, reported several instances where the cars could not read traffic signals due to “poor sun conditions,” or when the cars had trouble changing lanes during heavy traffic. Google’s Waymo, on the other hand, said the human drivers had to take over most often due to software discrepancies, followed by an unwanted maneuver of the car or the reckless behavior of another driver. Other times, humans took over because there was heavy pedestrian traffic or out of extra caution for a cyclist sharing the road.

Honda and Volkswagon — said they never tested the vehicles on public roads. The others ranged from 530 miles logged by Tesla during only one month in 2016 to the 635,868 miles traveled by Google’s Waymo vehicles.

Fed Say NSA Surveillance, Too Secretive For Court

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The US government filed documents in two long-running cases (both in California’s Northern District) related to National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance. As the New York Times notes, these filings mark the first time the government acknowledged that the NSA “started systematically collecting data about Americans’ e-mails and phone calls in 2001, alongside its program of wiretapping certain calls without warrants.The government continues to evoke state secrets privilege—the right to prevent certain, potentially harmful information from being used in court even if it means a case might be dismissed—despite previous rulings against this argument. In Jewel v. NSA, a judge ruled against the state secrets claim back in July—before the Snowden revelations. Jewel v. NSA dates back to 2008, and it’s still proceeding despite plenty of stops and starts. The EFF identifies the fundamental question in the case as “whether the spying program is legal and constitutional.” After its filing in 2008, the government moved to dismiss the case in 2009, a judge in the Northern District of California agreed in 2010, but the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals eventually reinstated the case in 2011. The government renewed its attempts to dismiss Jewel v. NSA in 2012, but that argument was rejected earlier this year.

 

LinkedIn Sued

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LinkedIn, the social network for professionals, is being sued  by users who claim the company hacked into their email address books. Users who are a part of the lawsuit say the company emailed their contacts on their behalf and invited recipients to join the network.

They want the federal judge in San Jose, California, to force LinkedIn to put an end to this behavior as well as to return any revenue they may have earned from advertisers by promoting the service to non users. The complaint even points to LinkedIn’s website as evidence, noting multiple users have criticized the network after several of their contacts received unsolicited invitation emails.

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In a   blog post, LinkedIn denounces the arguments and says they never email contacts without a user’s permission.The complaint also points to a former LinkedIn employee who used his profile to brag about his job which allowed him to devise “hack schemes to make lots of $$$ with Java, Groovy and cunning.” According to a LinkedIn spokesperson, the engineer in question left in May 2012.

Mobile Technology Dominates The Home Buying Business

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According to the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®’ (C.A.R.) “2013 Survey of California Home Buyers,”more than eight out of 10 home buyers are accessing home information on their smart phones and computer tablets.  More consumers using mobile devices and mobile technology, such as apps and social media platforms, buyers are increasingly using their smartphones and computer tablets to view comparable house prices, search for properties, take photos, and create videos of homes and amenities, as well as research communities and real estate agents,” said C.A.R. President Don Faught. 

The survey found 85 percent of buyers used a mobile device during the home buying process, with the majority of buyers (70 percent) accessing the Internet from their smart phones and 15 percent accessing it from their tablets. 

The majority of buyers (61 percent) found their home through an agent and the percentage who found their home online more than doubled from 16 percent in 2012 to a record high of 37 percent in 2013.

About one-third (30 percent) of buyers rated Realtor.com as the most useful website, followed closely by Zillow at 28 percent.  Broker and agent websites were also helpful in the home buying process as buyers increasingly seek local expertise and information.

 

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