Hop On the Upgrade Train!


As computers and AI recognizers get better and faster, recognition techniques will continue to get better and faster; I think that’s a given. But it’s also a given that as procurement managers keep throwing more money at a system that doesn’t quite work, they will …  Well, they’ll have spent more money! It doesn’t necessarily mean that the system will work better.

My spider-senses (I was bitten by a radioactive wolf spider and occasionally have the uncontrollable urge to dance around with my arms over my head) keep tingling when I encounter these stories regarding security technology. It sounds a whole lot like: “sell them the system on spec, before it works completely, then sell them upgrades once their dollars have been captured and the decision-makers’ careers are in jeopardy.”

There are several ways to read this: [ars]

Forget scanning license plates; cops will soon ID you via your roof rack
ELSAG LPR upgrade can ID “spare tire, bumper sticker, or a ride-sharing company decal.”

When you realize that it’s very difficult to tell state license plates apart, and states issue the same plate-numbers on different cars, you’re suddenly staring at the whole system completely failing to function as advertised. As I described [stderr] these system errors could have serious consequences – my car came up as “stolen in Virginia” even though my license was fine in Pennsylvania – so I had 2 cops goon-walking up to me with their hands on their guns ready to shoot me full of holes. Because with a license plate frame, you can’t see the state with the camera.

ELSAG has not yet implemented a “search by the driver’s skin color” feature. But I’m sure the Mississippi state police are already asking for it:

On Tuesday, one of the largest LPR manufacturers, ELSAG, announced a major upgrade to “allow investigators to search by color, seven body types, 34 makes, and nine visual descriptors in addition to the standard plate number, location, and time.”

I just needed something to illustrate. See, the match would fail: no roof rack. (the yellow rover, I sold it back in 2010)

This is just adding more matching functions into the categorizer. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for those additional categories to be useful, you have to already know what you’re searching for. [stderr] If you were to tell it “check every car that goes through here and notify me if you see a Land Rover Series 1 with a Brownchurch roof rack, color screaming bumblebee yellow” then there’s a decent chance the system will be able to make that match. But that’s not how the police want to use the system.

The police want to use the system in a completely different mode. They want: “look at every car that goes by and tell me if it matches any car we have anything interesting on.” In other words, a multi-way match, not a single item match.

It seems natural for us to assume that a car-recognition system is going to work that way – after all, it’s what our brains do – but it seems quite suspicious to me that the cops don’t appear to realize that the system is not going to work the way they appear to think it will. Unless, as I hypothesized before, they simply don’t care and are just looking for a good excuse to pull people over.

The solution is to keep upgrading and paying for maintenance while the software provider keeps struggling to make it work. They’re going to throw a lot of money at this and it’s still not going to work the way they want it to.

------ divider ------

License plate frames are not just ornamental crap. Some cars’ license plate holders are suspended so that the plate can vibrate and if the resonant frequency of the plate is wrong, the metal screw-holes will just snap off. I know this because a friend of mine’s motorcycle plate did that, once, when I was behind him, and the license plate bounced right off my helmet.

Comments

  1. DonDueed says

    “Better to pull over ten innocent citizens rather than let one wanted perp go free.”

    Wait, is that not how that saying goes?

  2. Dunc says

    It sounds a whole lot like: “sell them the system on spec, before it works completely, then sell them upgrades once their dollars have been captured and the decision-makers’ careers are in jeopardy.” […] The solution is to keep upgrading and paying for maintenance while the software provider keeps struggling to make it work.

    In fairness, this is the model adopted by a lot of the software industry…

  3. says

    Daz@#3:
    Commenting purely to vent my jealousy at the Series I Landy.

    Those things are a blessing and a curse. Mostly, BAJA7 was a money sink but I had a few great times with it. Currently it resides in Annapolis MD, with an IT data center engineer whose daughter “loves wrenching on it.” So all’s well that ends, well.

  4. says

    Dunc@#2:
    In fairness, this is the model adopted by a lot of the software industry…

    Yep. But that’s only because they haven’t studied the F-35 procurement process and sharpened their technique.

  5. says

    DonDueed@#1:
    “Better to pull over ten innocent citizens rather than let one wanted perp go free.”
    Wait, is that not how that saying goes?

    I’m trying to somehow work the “good guy with a gun” trope in there, and I’m failing.

  6. cvoinescu says

    I’m trying to somehow work the “good guy with a gun” trope in there, and I’m failing.

    Better have the good guy with a gun shoot ten innocent citizens full of holes, than let one wanted perp go free.

    Duh.

  7. says

    cvoinescu@#7:
    Better have the good guy with a gun shoot ten innocent citizens full of holes, than let one wanted perp go free.

    Sam Harris, is that you?

  8. militantagnostic says

    I see you had the tropical roof.
    Did you Land Rover have a Positive Earth?

  9. says

    militantagnostic@#9:
    Did you Land Rover have a Positive Earth?

    Negative. It was a NADA model (north american dollar area) so it had the driver’s seat in the correct place and everything. As you probably know, the electrical systems in those things were so bad that books of jokes have been written about them. By the time I was done with it, I had re-wired most of it with soldered and sealed silicone boat wire. By the time I was done with it, I hated it with a flaming passion, which is why I sold it. I still feel like I somehow betrayed some of my ideals when I did that.

    The tropical roof was a mess when I got it; someone had cut a hole in it for a viewing platform, so one of the pieces needed to removed and a replacement crafted and re-riveted into place. There was much cursing.

  10. says

    Marcus Ranum #10:

    As you probably know, the electrical systems in those things were so bad that books of jokes have been written about them.

    Lucas, prince of darkness! How well I recall the fun of trying to get home by moonlight and a dim flicker of headlamp on me old BSA.

    Dunno about whole books, but, for instance, this.

    Learned summat new today though; I never knew that they were changed to negative earth for the US market.

  11. says

    Daz: laughing my butt off at the slow-blow fuze. I bet Len Beadell was all over that.

    In the 70’s my rover was owned by a retired aircraft engineer. He did fascinating but unspeakable things to it, and used it to haul his family around Baja California and Mexico. It’s interesting when you realize your car has more experience than you do. I owned it from 1998 to 2010.

    I got it from a listing on Ebay, where it lived in a barn in Fort Wayne. The seller said it ran fine, so I decided to drive it home to Maryland. I made it as far as Delphos, OH where the starter circuit failed and I hot-wired it. Then the water pump began to leak. By the time I got to Cumberland it would only start by being parked on enough of a hill to bump it. Then, at a gas station in Noplace it got dark and I turned the headlight switch. >>pop<<. It finished the trip on a flatbed trailer. When I got home I learned that the software engineers had organized a deadpool, and one of them won quite a bit. Repairing the damage from the drive home kept it off the road for 3 years...

  12. jrkrideau says

    @ Daz,

    Ah, Lucas. The overheating light on my Mini was permanently on for the four years I owned it. Lovely car though.

  13. cvoinescu says

    jkrideau@#14: One does not “stabilize” software. Software is not a hole in the ground, or a crumbly pile of, erm, soil. Or maybe this one is.

    I am encouraged by the fact that the guy in charge with building the new system seems to be good at buzzword bingo.

    “I have learned from the experiences of the Phoenix pay system to inform a modern, agile, digital approach, including a procurement approach which will create a very different result.”

    I knew IBM were kind of a dinosaur, but their system is not even digital? Analog computers aren’t just old school, they’re so old school they’re cool!

  14. Raucous Indignation says

    That’s a beautiful Rover. I know someone who wants one of those.

  15. says

    Raucous Indignation@#17:
    That’s a beautiful Rover. I know someone who wants one of those.

    Here’s how to put ${someone} kid through college: if someone’s going to buy a vintage rover, tell them they have to put 1£ (or equivalent) in a can every time they think “I wish I had never bought that thing.”

Leave a Reply