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Monday, January 25, 2016

UPDATED Muni Has Facial Detection Technology for its "Traffic Cameras"

Posted By on Mon, Jan 25, 2016 at 11:44 AM

Muni's new toys. - SAMSUNG SECURITY
  • Samsung Security
  • Muni's new toys.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this post had a headline that said SFTMA wants facial "recognition" technology, when in fact the new "traffic cameras" have merely facial "detection" technology. As in: the cameras can see that you have a face, but not whose face it is. In traffic. The original post follows below.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has been busy adding to its stock of surveillance equipment.

The agency, which oversees Muni and the myriad street closures currently in effect to make way for the Super Bowl, has set up new "traffic cameras" in the areas along Market Street that will be closed to traffic for all the big deal surrounding the big game.

That set off alarms among privacy advocates — why do you need a traffic camera in an area closed to traffic? — who also pointed out that the SFTMA was, for some reason, also seeking "traffic" cameras with "face detection" technology. 

Bids are due today for prospective entrepreneurs to supply Muni with an additional 150 high-tech Samsung security cameras. In addition to the ability to pan, tilt, and zoom, the $1,700 cameras also have the face recognition ability, as the Chronicle noted today.

So why do you need a traffic camera with face recognition detection technology — if it's only for traffic, never to be shared with police, and does not have the ability to record, as Muni officials continue to insist?

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Those Cameras On Market Street? For Traffic, Not Security (Really).

Posted By on Tue, Jan 12, 2016 at 12:59 PM

Looking at you, looking at me. - CHRIS ROBERTS
  • Chris Roberts
  • Looking at you, looking at me.
Sometime after Christmas, denizens of Market Street in downtown San Francisco noticed something new hanging from the light poles along the city's grand boulevard: cameras.

New cameras, to be precise, aimed at the street between First Street and the Embarcadero, the area that will in a few weeks be closed down to traffic to make way for the Super Bowl and the "Super Bowl City" "fan village" intended to occupy well-heeled football fans' time before they make the trek down to Santa Clara for the big game.

Owing to the timing and the location — just before the Super Bowl, where the super crowds are going to be — Twitter users, naturally, assumed the worst and went agog. Under the hashtag #SuperBowlSurveillance, users decried the cameras as security-state intrusions. 

But according to the cameras' operator, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the cameras aren't sinister. They're not even "security cameras" — they're traffic cameras, according to SFTMA spokesman Paul Rose, and are meant to keep an eye on buses and trains, not people. Nevertheless, privacy advocates aren't convinced, and fear the cameras could fall victim to mission creep.

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Identifying the Human Remains Found in Alamo Square Requires A Lot of Science and A Bit of Luck

Posted By on Fri, Dec 18, 2015 at 2:39 PM

  • mauro.bosio/Flickr

A gruesome surprise for an Alamo Square woman yesterday — human remains unearthed in her planter box — poses something of a forensic puzzle today: How do police begin an investigation when there’s not yet enough information to determine if a crime was committed?

Granted, human bones don’t usually appear in the yard through a series of legal events. But stranger things have happened, albeit few recently. (SFPD spokesperson Grace Gatpandan admits she can’t remember the last time something like this came up.)

Police will confirm only that the recovered bones are human. Previous reports identified the first remains as the jawbone and teeth of a child (more apparently turned up later), but SFPD says that only the medical examiner can confirm that, while a clerk in the medical examiner’s office says they can’t confirm that statement because it was made by the police. So we’re going to have to just stick a pin in that for now.

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Friday, December 11, 2015

California’s Sea Lions are Starving. This is What We’re Doing About It.

Posted By on Fri, Dec 11, 2015 at 1:52 PM

  • David Cook/Flickr

It’s shaping up to be another terrible year for California sea lions. The Chronicle reports that NOAA scientists recently finished weighing the pups in our coastal waters and discovered that once again they’re quite unhealthy.

(Yes, if you have a degree in marine biology you get to go around putting young sea lions onto a little scale, which has to be pretty adorable no matter how grave the research you’re doing.)

Our regional pinnipeds are having trouble keeping themselves fed, possibly thanks to climate change, which drives fish populations farther north as temperatures rise. Young sea lions expend more energy chasing fewer fish and end up malnourished and sick.

When they’re too unhealthy to swim anymore they flop onto shore, a phenomena called “stranding.” Despite the name, stranded pups are not kids who have been abandoned by their parents. Rather, they’re usually at the age when they have to start fending for themselves but find they can’t keep up with the rest of the colony.

The number of distressed sea lions (that’s the technical term: “distressed marine mammal”; the institutions that care for distressed marine mammals are known as the “stranding network”) on our beaches has exploded in recent years.

In the spring of 2005, NOAA Fisheries recorded 280 stranded sea lions. This year, they had 3,340, almost three times the previous worst year (1,262 in 2013). Next spring isn‘t looking great either.

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Monday, December 7, 2015

Here's What Could Happen When a Small Drone Meets a Big Airplane

Posted By on Mon, Dec 7, 2015 at 2:54 PM

A California Highway Patrol's helicopter’s near-miss with a drone over Martinez, Calif. on Saturday is raising hackles. The drone was flying above 700 feet, according to the Chronicle  — nearly twice the legal altitude — and the operator may face charges.

We often hear that drones are a potential threat to aircraft, but to laymen with neither a pilot’s lic
  • Crash Symbols/Flickr
ense nor a degree in aeronautical engineering, it suggests a puzzle: The drones most of us have encountered are handheld toys made chiefly of foam and weighing roughly as much as a Frisbee. How can they endanger a professionally engineered aircraft weighing several tons?

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

King Tides Give Bay Area a Sneak Peek at Rising Sea Levels

Posted By on Wed, Nov 25, 2015 at 10:40 AM

The Embarcadero on Monday, Nov. 23 - DAVE R/FLICKR
  • Dave R/Flickr
  • The Embarcadero on Monday, Nov. 23

"The sun, moon and the earth are in proper alignment," sayeth the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admistration's latest San Francisco weather alert, not to urge you to start a new fitness routine or get back in touch with an old friend, but to "encourage the largest tidal cycle of the season." The so-called King Tides, which began yesterday and will continue through tomorrow afternoon, have prompted coastal flooding warnings throughout California. 

Tides in Northern California could increase water levels by as much as 8 feet, according to the California King Tides Project. The group (a coalition of government agencies and non-profits) wants Californians to use this opportunity not just to gawk at the admittedly exciting view of water spilling over the Embarcadero, but to imagine our future when the sea level rises — a future scientists generally agree is imminent.   

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Monday, August 3, 2015

Monday, July 20, 2015

Russian Tech Billionaire to Give $100 Million for Alien Research Led by UC Berkeley

Posted By on Mon, Jul 20, 2015 at 10:20 AM

  • JD Hancock/Flickr

Yuri Milner, a Russian billionaire and tech entrepreneur, announced today that he’s donating $100 million to a 10-year international effort led by UC Berkeley to make contact with extraterrestrial life. As the Chronicle reports, Berkeley has a major Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project at its Science Space Laboratory.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Free MDMA in Marin! (That Is, If You're Terminally Ill)

Posted By on Tue, May 26, 2015 at 11:48 AM

Alexander and Ann Shulgin, MDMA pioneers. - ALEX GREY
  • Alex Grey
  • Alexander and Ann Shulgin, MDMA pioneers.
Like most of the substances forbidden in our free society, MDMA was accepted medicine before it became contraband. And unlike heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, MDMA was legal and legitimate in (many of) our lifetimes: It wasn't until the mid-1980s that MDMA, the active chemical ingredient in Ecstasy, was added to Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

Prior to that, therapists and sufferers of various mental traumas — depression and anxiety as well as PTSD — sung MDMA's praises as an unparalleled aid to therapy. The drug had many influential supporters, including East Bay chemist Alexander Shulgin, who figured out how to synthesize MDMA in the 1970s and described the state of unabashed openness that resulted after its use as a "completely magical place."

Magic is happening again, right in our backyards. Ecstasy's utility as a healing tool for sufferers of PTSD and crippling anxiety is being studied around the world — including in Marin County, where a psychiatrist is recruiting up to 18 people for a clinical trial.

The only hitch is that you must have a life-threatening illness in order to feel Shulgin's feeling of total honesty.

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