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Say Hello to the Crime Footage Index
crimefootageindex project
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I've been collecting a lot of footage from my Arlo home camera system the past couple of months, the most dramatic being from that burglary in May.

Recently I openly wondered in a Next Door post to my neighbors if there was a better way to handle all this footage that I myself and others with these "Ring-like" home camera systems that didn't involve making every instance of a mere trespasser or overnight creeper through our garage a 9-1-1 call. At least for me, it turns out there is too much activity detected to make that practical for myself, the community, or the police department.

My proposal in the lengthy Next Door posting was for someone in the city or the police department to concoct an online repository that people could submit their footage to in order to create a database. The police may well find that post in their online rounds and actually do it. However, the mere white-papering of the service in an open forum caused me to smack my own head: Why don't I come up with a service? Hell I wasn't talking about anything complicated.

Capture of my posting to Next Door

My posting to Next Door.  It turned into an effective white paper 
for my project.

That epiphany led to one of my weekend coding frenzies, which I have not experienced in quite awhile now and which has now resulted is this. Very much a work in progress -- but as it is -- it all kind of works well enough to introduce and let people know what I'm working on these days.

This is another in a series of useful web services that I'm trying to develop using the simple concept of MumblerCore HTML, so yeah it looks like shit. At least compared to the conditioned taste of web audiences to graphic-heavy websites that take too long to do anything and likely look horrible for their own set of reasons. By using MumbleCore HTML I was able to bang out an entire first iteration of the service in just one weekend.

We'll see how far I take this one, I really think it will serve the community and maybe even the cops well. It will be a concentrated place for security footage that doesn't require a social media account of any kind. Feel free to sign up (if you're in Buffalo, for now). Once I learn where all the security and other bugs are, I'll begin rolling out iterations for other cities -- Wilkes-Barre and Tampa come to mind, followed by NYC.

Defining Agnostic Computing
agnosticpc
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The battle rages on! I'm struggling to define "agnostic computing" and am unsure if the currently accepted general definition that agnostic computing is hardware and software designed to be compatible with multiple systems, or non-specific or dependent, is enough for me.

Screen capture of Google search results for Agnostic Computing

There actually are no hit results for "agonstic computing"
in Google.  Only very similar concepts.

Or, maybe it's too much for me.

There is "computing" or digital life in the Google, Apple, or Microsoft ecosystems. By the looser definition each one of these is agnostic -- you can live life under any umbrella while dipping into the ways and means of any of the others at any time. So, sure, they are technically agnostic platforms, but attempting to live digital life agnostically under each of them means fighting their insistent ecosystem-specific feature set.

Under a stricter definition, agnostic computing is to be using applications or approaching digital life using tools which focus on their baseline service without attempting to branch the user experience into other disparate services and functions that they operate. A clear example would be between photo sharing/storing services Google Photos and Photobucket. Both are designed to be a place where you upload pictures and share them, but Google of course requires your indoctrination into the Google ecosystem and is allowing you to use its service with the underlying drive to get you using GMAIL, Contacts, Google Drive, etc., etc. at all times. Photobucket by contrast is focused on its core service offering and thus leaves you feeling completely free as you go about your serious digital distribution work.

There are really countless examples like the Google Photos/Photobucket comparison and it really makes me wonder how far a person could enforce the philosophy on today's user and enterprise platforms. Or, for that matter, would it even be worth it to try.

Day One for O'Malley Means Day One for Tampa
tamparail
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The hope for bringing high(er) speed rail to Tampa actualized a bit more last week with the announcement that a CSX executive has left the company to join Brightline, starting today (July 16). It's being widely impressed in the reports that this is in some way a direct result of Brightline's strategy to connect Tampa and Orlando as part of the same high(er) speed rail network it is building on Florida's east coast.

Picture of O&qt Malley

Bill O'Malley profile picture from Twitter account.

O&qtMalley Tweet capture.

Fairwell CSX Tweet.
Track Maritime Ship Traffic Online
WWW justneat
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Everyone knows that you can track airlines online -- there are several websites for that. But did you know you can also track ships? Here's a website that lets you key in any port (feel free to do it by city name if your city has one) and bring up a map of all the live ship traffic.

Ship tracker by MarineTraffic.com

You can click on each ship icon to bring up specific information about that ship or maritime craft. It's a nice way to kill a few minutes if you're a maritime aficionado.

Unfortunately I've yet to find one that does as equally a thorough job for trains -- though Amtrak will allow you to track its own trains specific routes in a similar way (I note that it's unclear how to actually use the Amtrak web service, but this private version of the same seems to actually work).

Wilkes-Barre Broke
wbrail
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Wilkes-Barre went broke this week. Here's the Times Leader and Citizens Voice coverage.

Technically it didn't go bankrupt broke, but in filing for Act 47 Distressed City status to avoid just that sort of thing from happening, bankruptcy was on the horizon.

Mayor Tony George completed the paperwork and sent it to the Department of Community and Economic Development. Now, basically, everyone sits back and waits for the State to begin running city finances.

If the State agrees that is.

Everyone's sexiest conversation right now is how this happened. The anti-taxers (of which consists of both Democrats and Republicans in Wilkes-Barre; the city has been too poor for so long that political identifcation along any philisophical validation of the tax concept has been blended away -- to me, everyone sounds like a fiscal conservative) say that too many people work in local government and have it too good. The city leaders blame union inflexibilities and lack of support from city council members.

To some degree I blame the times, and lack of imagination. Wilkes-Barre has been perpetually on the decline since my childhood such that hitting bottom now, it actually feels kind of good . Now everyone can stop pretending that there are enough people to pay for city services living in or working in Wilkes-Barre. Finally something creative and tangible might be done to fix that.

Like, a modern rail project for example. Like a push for consolidation of many local townships and boroughs into the city proper. The establishment of a countywide sheriff patrol (more a county level baliwick, sure, but the overall composition counts), and the overhaul of Wilkes-Barre itself to specifically connect to New York City and Philadelphia as a sort of bedroom community or education center for either.

As new transit solutions evolve and the cost of living in those cities continue to rise, there's no reason Wilkes-Barre cannot begin to poise itself as a center point between the two regions, and get out of the business of always relying on government grants for this or that to get by.

Great (Rick) Scott!
tamparail video
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The Tampa Historic Streetcar Board met on the 20th and the bulk of this meeting was a stand up report by HART Interim Director Jeff Seward regarding the stunning development that the Teco Line Streetcar would be fare-free for a whopping three years.

Here's the video embed of that meeting that starts with Seward's presentation.

Jeff Seward explains to the Tampa Historic Streetcar Board 
the details of the streetcar system's upcoming 3 year 
free-fare period.

The free-fare period will likely begin in October of this year and is possible through a Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) grant aimed at, among other things, exposing user preference for the streetcar and setting up for a more solid argument toward the development of a modern system similar to one already operating in Kansas City.

Seward is careful to pause over the point that the grant had to be, and, obviously was, approved by Florida Governor Rick Scott.

So, this is the second time this week that we are hearing about Rick Scott's sudden involvement in turning Tampa into a transit rail town. First with a push to put a high(er) speed commuter rail system in the city, and now with a grant that will almost certainly prove a point that will then lead to Tampa's own "light" light rail system in the form of a modern streetcar. If this strange twist of pattern continues, I am going to believe it completely possible to find Scott showing up in Tampa to build a rail system himself.

Yeah it's gotta be politics. Scott wants to be a Senator or something, or maybe President (which makes him the sane choice if it ever comes down to him or Trump). Or, more positively speaking, it may be a legitimate recognition that with the eastern half of Florida well on its way, it's time to finally balance the State's investment in transportation choice by finally, finally , paying attention to the western half. All of this bodes extremely well, suddenly, for Tampa commuter rail and light rail.

The free-fare period is a ... "fair" ... way to ask the question of whether or not people are willing to use the system for serious transportation, given both economic and physical friction-free access to it. The fares aren't just going away, so is the entire fare process and even the onboard fare equipment . As near as I can tell that will make the system a simple "step aboard" one, from the designated stops of course.

It's important research because indeed, modern streetcar systems are volatile. Ft. Lauderdale's planned system has been stopped (there was a limit on how much they were willing to spend for it and the cost estimates began exceeding that) and in Atlanta, who went from free to charging $1.00 on its system, is now struggling with ridership big time (loosely analyzed, the line is too short and operates in mixed traffic -- Tampa's system does not). Therefore a demonstration on solid footing will be sure to put any future Tampa system on par with the successes such as Portland or Kansas City.

Brighting Past Wrongs
tamparail
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The guy who dashed the nation's first true high speed rail connection in the country between Tampa and Orlando made headlines today by being the same guy who is now facilitating high speed rail between Tampa and Orlando.

In a nutshell, Governor Rick Scott, in what some are regarding as an expense-free political ploy, is now behind efforts to let a private company build a line. The argument being made for this about-face is that unlike the package he killed upon taking office in 2011, he is backing a private industry approach, similar to the Brightline model currently in play on Florida's eastern coast.

Here's the key gist from Scott's posted announcement.

Picture of Florida Governor Rick ScottGovernor Scott said, “This is an exciting opportunity for Orlando, Tampa and our entire state. When I became Governor, the Obama administration was trying to use federal taxpayer dollars to pay for a rail connection that had an extremely high risk of overspending taxpayer dollars with no guarantee of economic growth. This is exactly what we’re seeing in California, a state which took this bad deal from Obama, and in Connecticut where taxpayers had to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars for their rail line. Instead of placing taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars, our goal is for the private sector to invest in this project. Through private investment, we ensure that this major project has zero financial risk to Florida taxpayers.”

Personally I much appreciate this attitude - however six years later - that if you're going to cling to an ideological premise (even if I'm sure it's nuts), at least provide a solution by that ideological premise for what anyone otherwise agrees is a good thing. If Scott and his administration were really so foiled by the idea of a federally funded rail system, then it makes good sense to me that they welcome a system built within the private framework they so religously believe in.

I mean, the original rejection was still bat-shit crazy, and, seemingly reliant on "theories" of failure that flew in the face of studies about ridership at the time, not to mention the ultimate responsibility in the event of overruns (which were always to be on the private builders, much as they will be for any private company that builds today). The decision to not build had all the evidence of being pure politics then, just as the decision to build now does.

But really, if it means a rail terminus in Tampa at long last, Tampa Rail will not quibble. I've always known that political wind defines the rise and fall of these systems and long-time readers of TR in past iterations know that I've always preached a "holding out" strategy specifically in the event something like today's developments come to be. No effort to kill progress on transit rail, light, high speed, or otherwise, should ever be taken as permanent.

If I'm piecing the reports together right, the genesis of this renewed opportunity has to do with the reception of an "unsolicited proposal" from a private company seeking to use the same I-4 corridor that was put aside for the original federally funded project in 2011. It's this solicitation that serves to activate the entire process of high-speed-rail-procurement by the Florida Department of Transportation. And part of that activation is to open up bidding for 120 days for potential HSR builders to provide their proposals.

TampaBay.com is reporting that the opening activation bidder is in fact none other than Brightline, the nation's first private transportation rail operator in something like 100 years or so who, as mentioned above, is working on that new system on Florida's east coast (technically the system they are launching there is something people now comfortably refer to higher speed rail not "high speed rail"). Brightline has long been on record indicating their ambition to include Tampa and Orlando in their evolving network (note the blurb near the end of this article) so this should be no surprise to anyone.

PWAs Could Well Save the Web
pwa WWW development
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Could my assumption about the collapse of the WWW in the mobile era be completely wrong? It looks like Progressive Web Apps (PWA) may turn the ship around.

The concept is incredible -- and, it explains something I've never understood about Google's seemingly whimpy acquiescence to the fact that people weren't spending time on the web any more. Turns out, Google appears to have had a plan all along to fix that (or, just have a plan now ).

That plan is PWAs, web-based and web-hosted applications written in good old fashioned HTML. This guy pretty much explains it all well.

Explaining Progressive Web Apps and why everyone wants them.

The idea is that people "install" an "app" simply by visiting a website once and then in a manual or somewhat even automated process install a home screen shortcut to it. When the shortcut is tapped on moving forward it opens the PWA in such a way that it looks nothing like a web page and everything like a traditional mobile app.

Some Chrome browser engineering by Google (and in due course, Microsoft Edge) works in combination with the website to render most if not all the same functionality as a native app; a typical user cannot notice any difference although the early consensus is that PWAs are faster than native apps.

Not all smartphone hardware functionality can be replicated by a PWA but it seems most of the important and widespread ones can be, and right now we're only talking about the first generation.

PWAs don't restore the social browsing of the open WWW, people are still working one-to-one with their apps and not likely to jaunt about away from them. But Google's interest is more about keeping people on the web to keep web advertising tied to a healthy flow of web traffic. The Google Play store that you figure is a cash cow for them is evidently not as much in their financial interest as a thriving traditional WWW is.

So sure, granted, it is not about people web page hopping and clicking advertising banners like before 2008. But I see PWAs as a way to keep HTML and the concept of an open WWW alive so that publishers and more importantly, web developers, have cause to stick with the platform. If PWAs take off, the WWW isn't going anywhere.

For Microsoft, it means not being killed off by Android. In a PWA world they can continue to thrive, and, I wonder even, if PWAs were not actually on their mind when they decided to abandon Windows smartphones.

It's because of the World Wide Web's universality that makes PWAs a no-brainer. Companies don't have to front the cost of building dedicated iOS or Android applications and then suffer additional cost through endless bug and security fixes.

So, all this time perhaps, it was just trusting that the flexibility and open nature of the web would find its way into the economics of development philosophy. If all goes well the period between 2008 - 2019 will be regarded as nothing more than an era of flirtation with phone-side applications. Hallelujah!

Fault Tolerant Society Promotes Resilience
regurgitation
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Some people's response to a report that there isn't a single place in the U.S. where minimum wage pays for a modest 2 bedroom apartment is that people should not be in a position as a person where they come to having to live on minimum wage in the first place. That they make all the right choices for themselves and lead perfectly optimized lives.

Capture of CNN website report on minimum wage.

The problem with those people is that they're right, exactly right. Too right. Their sentiment is a problem because in any free society people, and I mean on the dominant scale, not the exceptions, are just not that optimized. People make mistakes, people fall to compulsions, people experiment with different lifestyles to their peril, people start with no learned information about life's true priorities and screw up their launch, and so on and so on and so on.

Yet, there is not a single world we want where somehow we control against all that to iron out the trouble caused by people who travel through their mistakes -- very possibly the entire point of their life if you believe in a higher process of any kind. A world that did that would be a dark one.

True you can't eliminate the stress and consequence of mistakes (where would the challenge be then?) but people can avoid preaching for a completely fault-free society, or a society that does not give a reasonable shot at individual resilience. And, most critically, people can avoid giving unjust social institutions a blank check nod because a more just system cannot be imagined.

Streetcar Modernization and Expansion Update
tamparail video
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Here's the YouTube of a presentation given to the Tampa Historic Streetcar board about a month ago regarding the streetcar modernization and expansion project. The full video of that meeting is posted here but my embed below cuts straight to the part to the presentation itself.

Steve Schucraft provides update on status of
the streetcar expansion/modernization effort.

Key Highlights

Don't be a slouch, watch the whole thing. But if you're in a hurry -- these things stuck out to me:

  • Phase I is complete, they've submitted a letter to the FTA for entry into project development (which is apparently to say, they formally put the evolving concept on their official may-one-day-be-funded-by-them radar - they hope to receive a letter in return that says the FTA recognizes the effort)
  • The study focuses exclusively on a one-seat ride from end to end. This means that the study does not take into consideration the possibility of mixing the current heritage streetcars with modern ones (an idea I personally liked, but, now that I understand that it might split rides between vehicles, gives me pause for obvious reasons)
  • An extension would serve an additional 5,500 residents and 16,000 jobs over the existing nostalgia system.

Capture of the presentation&qts Next Step slide

Click on image for larger viewable detail.

The prospects of an extension and modernization are exciting for Tampa, particularly those who live in the core. It is good to see both fronts being taken so seriously and with apparent stride.

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