New Worry for Home Buyers: A Party House Next Door

[Note:  This item comes from friend Bob Frankston.  DLH]

From: “Bob Frankston” <>
Date: October 10, 2015 at 12:32:09 PDT
Subject: New Worry for Home Buyers: A Party House Next Door – The New York Times

How do we find balance? What happens when Airbnb et al are arbitraging others’ property values?

New Worry for Home Buyers: A Party House Next Door
By Ron Liber
Oct 9 2015

AUSTIN, TEX. — The houses are often among the nicest on the block, or at least the biggest. They may be new construction where a smaller structure once stood, or an extensively renovated home with cheery paint in shades of yellow or blue.

But then the telltale signs appear, including an electronic touch pad on the door that makes it easy for people to get in without a key. The ads on HomeAway or Airbnb eventually confirm it: A party house has come to the neighborhood.

Some neighbors have warmed in recent years to travelers dragging suitcases through their residential neighborhoods, and they are happy that the visitors spread their money around. But when profit-seeking entrepreneurs furnish homes they do not live in to make them attractive to big groups and then rent out those houses as much as possible, parties and noise are nearly inevitable.

And so it goes here in Austin, where a group of enraged and occasionally sleepless residents have taken their complaints to the city. Austin made rules in 2012 that were meant to keep short-term rentals under control, but the neighbors argue that many of the rules are unenforceable.

This week, I rented one of the most notorious party houses in Austin and invited some of the neighbors over for a chat to ask a few questions. Where do the rights of property owners to rent out their homes end, and where do those of quiet-loving neighbors begin? Do all home shoppers now need to be on the lookout for nearby problem properties? And if so, what might happen to home values when revelers can bunk up next door on any given night?

These are not new questions. In resort areas in particular, people have been renting out investment properties for ages. What’s new is how easy it has become for people to make money by listing rooms or homes and for visitors to save money by staying there. This is particularly true in good-time destinations like Austin, Nashville, New Orleans and other bigger cities.

When Austin tried to bring some order to the proceedings three years ago, it limited the number of unrelated people who could stay in one place at one time to six. (It also capped the number of certain listings in many neighborhoods, albeit with a loophole that has allowed many unregistered properties to hit the market.)

Nevertheless, listings began appearing all over the city advertising beds for 10 or 15 people, or more. Austin has become a popular bachelor party destination, and the website Thrillist described one Airbnb listing as “the perfect place to bed down for a bonkers bachelor party, as it’s a short bike ride from downtown, just the right blend of weird & huge, and not at all unaccustomed to rowdy entertainment.”

Emmy Jodoin lives next door to that house with her family. “It is loud, and there is live music and karaoke stuff, and it’s all done outside because of the pool,” she said. “They’re out in front at 4 in the afternoon waiting for their Uber to come, drunk on the front lawn.”

Homeowners had other complaints about guests, including trash bins overflowing with beer cans, public urination, catcalling, foul language, racist remarks, companies throwing events and the appearance of a rainbow-colored painted pony. “Sometimes, when they are outside, they’re playing beer pong just wearing their underwear,” said Hazel Oldt, age 11, who can see them next door from the third-floor rooftop garden of her house.

Many of the complaints result when there are well over six people staying at these houses. So how do owners get away with renting to more people than city rules allow? “Determining how many are occupying versus just visiting is almost impossible,” Carl Smart, who is the director of Austin’s code department, said, chuckling as he did so.


Do Robotic Cars Dream Of The Electric Sheep?

Do Robotic Cars Dream Of The Electric Sheep?

Google’s robotic cars learn from each other when they are back in the garage, and train in simulated worlds at an accelerated pace. Our future will be inhabited by smart machines using their time much differently than we do.
By David Orban

Oct 11 2015

Robotic cars may pose many challenges, but if they deliver even a fraction of what they promise, then it should be a very high priority to put them on the roads quickly. According to a report by the World Health Organization, there are over 1.2 million deaths and over 50 million injuries due to traffic accidents every year. According to many estimates self-driving cars have the potential to eliminate 90% of them. That’s a staggering new opportunity to save lives, comparable to curing malaria, or eradicating polio.

Many people are concerned with entirely theoretical conundrums, applying sociological thought experiments to the picture. But even if those questions are somewhat valid, their importance is dwarfed by the sheer volume of human suffering that can be avoided with these self-driving cars. How would any politician in the next election cycle answer the question “Why are you still letting our children die?” (Unless the car companies realize that we’ll also need radically fewer cars, and they mount some NRA-style lobbying effort to save their industry’s human-killing aspects.)

Google’s cars have traveled about 1.2 million miles (1.9 million km) on California’s roads, and the dozen or so accidents they were involved in are all due to human drivers crashing into them. While the cars are on the road they are very focused on the task, no chitchat allowed. They follow high-resolution maps, comparing them with their GPS signals, as well as 360-degree LIDAR images perceived at very high time-resolution.

After a day’s work is over, they go back to their garages in Mountain View, as their human passengers go to sleep. Instead of turning off their machine senses, similarly to what we do when we dream, they disconnect their wheels and start to dream. The are fed simulated worlds—but how can a robotic car’s brain tell what LIDAR map is real and what is a simulation? From their sensors to their decision modules, robotic cars go through rigorous training every night. They both recap what happened during the day and face new types of scenarios to be a better robotic car the day after—to the tune of over 3 million miles (5 million km) per night!

And those simulations are not done in isolation. With complete access to the shared experiences of the entire fleet of robotic cars, each of them carries forward the sum of the learning of all. The mistakes and triumphs are not of an individual car, but of all of them together. Their goals can only be meaningfully reached as a community of problem-solvers, not as a hero-worshipping group admiring the lone genius.

Virtual reality’s massive adoption hasn’t even started yet, but already the space-time opportunities of these simulated universes, interlocking with their augmented reality, are already being colonized by our smart machines. They feel perfectly at home in it. They will train, explore, learn, share together, overcome the boundaries of their individuality and leverage their lack of preconceptions. Unshackled from the weight of consciousness, they’ll soar.

Just 158 families gave nearly half the early money in the presidential race. We reveal who they are.

[Note:  This item comes from friend Linda Wellstein.  DLH]

Just 158 families gave nearly half the early money in the presidential race. We reveal who they are.
Oct 10 2015

They are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male, in a nation that is being remade by the young, by women, and by black and brown voters. Across a sprawling country, they reside in an archipelago of wealth, exclusive neighborhoods dotting a handful of cities and towns. And in an economy that has minted billionaires in a dizzying array of industries, most made their fortunes in just two: finance and energy.

Now they are deploying their vast wealth in the political arena, providing almost half of all the seed money raised to support Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. Just 158 families, along with companies they own or control, contributed $176 million in the first phase of the campaign, a New York Times investigation found. Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign, most of it through channels legalized by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision five years ago.

These donors’ fortunes reflect the shifting composition of the country’s economic elite. Relatively few work in the traditional ranks of corporate America, or hail from dynasties of inherited wealth. Most built their own businesses, parlaying talent and an appetite for risk into huge wealth: They founded hedge funds in New York, bought up undervalued oil leases in Texas, made blockbusters in Hollywood. More than a dozen of the elite donors were born outside the United States, immigrating from countries like Cuba, the old Soviet Union, Pakistan, India and Israel.

But regardless of industry, the families investing the most in presidential politics overwhelmingly lean right, contributing tens of millions of dollars to support Republican candidates who have pledged to pare regulations; cut taxes on income, capital gains and inheritances; and shrink entitlement programs. While such measures would help protect their own wealth, the donors describe their embrace of them more broadly, as the surest means of promoting economic growth and preserving a system that would allow others to prosper, too.


Apple Is Said to Deactivate Its News App in China

[Note:  I see that it still is reported to work in Hong Kong.  Go figure…  DLH]

Apple Is Said to Deactivate Its News App in China

Oct 10 2015

HONG KONG — Apple has disabled its news app in China, according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation, the most recent sign of how difficult it can be for foreign companies to manage the strict rules governing media and online expression there.

The Apple News app, which the company announced in June, is available only to users in the United States, though it is being tested in Britain and Australia. Customers who already downloaded the app by registering their phones in the United States can still see content in it when they travel overseas — but they have found that it does not work in China.

Those in China who look at the top of the Apple News feed, which would normally display a list of selected articles based on a user’s preferred media, instead see an error message: “Can’t refresh right now. News isn’t supported in your current region.”

Apple, based in Cupertino, Calif., declined to comment.

Greater China is now Apple’s second-largest source of revenue after the United States, with sales of more than $13 billion in the third quarter. That means the company is most likely taking a careful approach to delivering new content, like that on its news app, within China.

Beijing generally insists that companies are responsible for censoring sensitive content inside China. In Apple’s case, that would mean it would probably have to develop a censorship system — most Chinese companies use a combination of automated software and employees — to eliminate sensitive articles from feeds.

For now, Apple seems to be avoiding the problem by completely disabling the service for users in China.

Still, even if the company is moving carefully to appease the government, the move is already troubling some users. Larry Salibra, an entrepreneur who founded Pay4Bugs, a software testing service, pointed out the issue last week on Twitter. In a written interview, Mr. Salibra said he found what Apple was doing “very disconcerting.”

In a post on Reddit, Mr. Salibra went further, writing, “They’re censoring news content that I downloaded and stored on my device purchased in the USA, before I even enter China just because my phone happens to connect to a Chinese signal floating over the border.”

On device censorship is much different than having your server blocked by the Great Firewall or not enabling a feature for customers with certain country iTunes account,” his post continued. “That Apple has little choice doesn’t make it any less creepy or outrageous.”

FBI takes down alert on chip credit cards after bankers complain

FBI takes down alert on chip credit cards after bankers complain
Original FBI announcement urged use of PIN with a chip-embedded card, which banks oppose
By Matt Hamblen
Oct 9 2015

The FBI posted an online advisory about vulnerabilities with new chip-enabled credit cards, but then removed the message on Friday, less than a day later, following concerns from U.S. bankers that back chip cards.

The original online post was headlined, “New microchip-enabled credit cards may still be vulnerable to exploitation by fraudsters,” and was replaced by a “page not found” message as of mid-day Friday.

The FBI didn’t offer any comment Friday on what happened to the original post, which raised the need for PIN (personal identification number) security included chip-embedded cards. Use of a PIN instead of a customer’s signature to bolster a chip card has become a heated battle between the nation’s major retailers, which back a PIN, and powerful credit card companies and the major banks they support, which back signatures. 

The American Bankers Association contacted the FBI on Thursday urging it to revise and clarify its original post, which was in the form of a public service announcement (PSA), to reduce confusion over the use of PINs with chip cards, an ABA official told Computerworld on Friday.

“We saw the PSA yesterday and spoke to the FBI after we saw it and we thought it was not really reflective of the U.S. marketplace and thought there would have been some level of confusion with the use of PIN,” said Doug Johnson, senior vice president of payments and cybersecurity policy at the ABA, in a telephone interview.

Johnson said it seemed likely the FBI would revise its PSA, but he had no idea when.

Spokeswomen for both Visa and MasterCard said Friday that the FBI was expected to revise the original statement, and had no further comment. 

Of all the major card companies, Visa, notably, has supported having consumers provide a signature instead of a PIN to secure an in-store payment with a new chip card. Retailers, including the National Retail Federation and the Merchant Advisory Group have supported the use of a PIN with the chip-embedded card to improve security.

“Retailers have long argued that PINs are essential to providing cardholders with the security that they deserve,” said Brian Dodge, executive vice president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, in a statement issued Friday. Reacting to the FBI’s original alert, which has since been removed, he said it was a “wake-up call to the banks and card networks that continue to stand in the way of making PIN authentication the standard in the U.S. just as it has been around the world for years.”

But Johnson asserted that PINs won’t be used in the U.S. “PIN is not going to be adopted in the U.S.,” Johnson flatly said.

In the FBI’s original PSA, there was language that consumers “should use the PIN, instead of a signature, to verify the transaction,” even though banks have not been issuing PINs with new chip credit cards. Four-digit PINs are used with debit cards, however, but many merchants are still not accepting chip-enabled debit cards.

“The suggestion and recommendation from the Bureau that a customer request to be able to use their PIN would be confusing…and creates confusion in the market,” Johnson explained. 

The original FBI statement also noted that while chip cards “offer enhanced security, the FBI is warning law enforcement, merchants and the general public that these cards can still be targeted by fraudsters.”

The purpose of the chip on newer cards is to prevent counterfeit fraud when thieves steal card data from merchants’ computer servers and manufacture fake cards with stolen 16-digit card numbers and four-digit expiration dates. Because the chip allows a unique code to be used with each transaction, it is difficult for thieves to steal card numbers from merchants’ servers.


‘Great Pause’ Among Prosecutors As DNA Proves Fallible

‘Great Pause’ Among Prosecutors As DNA Proves Fallible
By Martin Kaste
Oct 9 2015

Over the summer, the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which sets standards for physical evidence in state courts, came to an unsettling conclusion: There was something wrong with how state labs were analyzing DNA evidence.

It seemed the labs were using an outdated protocol for calculating the probability of DNA matches in “mixtures”; that is, crime scene samples that contain genetic material from several people. It may have affected thousands of cases going back to 1999.

At first, they assumed the update wouldn’t make a big difference — just a refinement of the numbers.

But when a state lab reran the analysis of a DNA match from a murder case about to go to trial in Galveston, Texas, it discovered the numbers changed quite a bit.

Under the old protocol, says defense lawyer Roberto Torres, DNA from the crime scene was matched to his client with a certainty of more than a million to one. That is, you’d have to go through more than a million people to find somebody else who’d match the sample. But when the lab did the analysis again with the new protocol, things looked very different.

“When they retested it, the likelihood that it could be someone else was, I think, one in 30-something, one in 40. So it was a significant probability that it could be someone else,” Torres says.

The change didn’t affect the outcome of that case because there was other evidence against his client, but officials in Texas have just begun the process of correcting the mistake.

“We have to go back and identify which of those cases involved DNA mixtures where the lab may have given incorrect results,” says Jack Roady, the district attorney in Galveston. “It’s going to be a herculean task, but we’re gonna do it.”

Roady has been cooperating with the Texas Forensic Science Commission on fixing the problem, and he recalls the scene in September when he described the situation to a meeting of his fellow prosecutors.

“There was sometimes moments of collective gasps,” he says. “The fact that this science may not have been done correctly in the past gives us great pause.”

It’s unsettling to find out DNA analysis can vary like this because it threatens to undermine the deep faith people have placed in the technology.

“And it’s not faith they should not have had to begin with,” says Keith Inman, who teaches forensic science at California State University, East Bay.

Inman has worked with DNA evidence since the 1980s. He says forensic DNA-matching is based on sound science, but sometimes labs can get ahead of themselves. What happened in Texas, he says, is that labs have been using cutting-edge “testing kits” that can extract tiny traces of DNA from crime scenes, but those samples were then analyzed with math that’s not suited to “weak” samples that combine DNA from many people.

He says the problem isn’t limited to Texas. He says the newest, best analysis method — called “probabilistic genotyping” — takes time to roll out, and that’s put labs in a quandary.

“There’s this interim time that cases are coming up and the analyst has to do something with it, and they know by definition that there is a better approach,” Inman says.

Meanwhile, the justice system’s hunger for DNA evidence just keeps growing. There are now police departments that have made swabbing for DNA part of their routine.

“We collect DNA evidence daily,” says Jim Ferraris, deputy chief in Salem, Ore. His department has taken advantage of quicker testing provided by the state lab, and he says every officer in town is now trained to collect DNA. They even swab stolen cars and burgled homes.


Obama administration won’t seek encryption-backdoor legislation

Obama administration won’t seek encryption-backdoor legislation
“The administration has decided not to seek a legislative remedy now.”
By David Kravets
Oct 9 2015

FBI Director James Comey told a congressional panel that the Obama administration won’t ask Congress for legislation requiring the tech sector to install backdoors into their products so the authorities can access encrypted data.

Comey said the administration for now will continue lobbying private industry to create backdoors to allow the authorities to open up locked devices to investigate criminal cases and terrorism.

“The administration has decided not to seek a legislative remedy now, but it makes sense to continue the conversations with industry,” Comey told a Senate panel of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Thursday.

Comey’s comments come as many in the privacy community were awaiting a decision by the administration over whether it would seek such legislation. Many government officials, including Comey himself, have called for backdoors. All the while, there’s been intense lobbying by the White House to guilt the tech sector for a backdoor. And Congress has remained virtually silent on the issue that resembles the so-called Crypto Wars.

The president’s public position on the topic, meanwhile, has been mixed. Obama had said he is a supporter and “believer in strong encryption” but also “sympathetic” to law enforcement’s need to prevent terror attacks.

The government’s lobbying efforts, at least publicly, appear to be failing to convince tech companies to build backdoors into their products. Some of the biggest names in tech, like Apple, Google, and Microsoft, have publicly opposed allowing the government a key to access their consumers’ encrypted products. All the while, some government officials, including Comey, have railed against Apple and Google for selling encrypted products where only the end-user has the decryption passcode.

According to a letter to Obama from the tech sector: