Barely Legally

confessions of a moot court bailiff

Yellow Bellied Varmints

A couple of interesting statistics jumped out at me in this Village Voice story about the rise and decline of illegal cabs in New York City, against the backdrop of the two existing fleets. Essentially, you have the Yellow cabs, which have been around for decades and are licensed to serve the entire city, and you have the newer Green cabs, which are licensed for “everywhere but Manhattan.” You also have the illegal cabs, which are the focus of the story, and it’s very compelling and you should read it but I’m not touching here.

So yes, New York City has two separate taxi fleets. This might seem a little silly if you haven’t spent a lot of time in New York City. If the Yellow cabs serve the entire city, why did they make another set of taxis just to serve a subset of the city? Well, there are reasons. One of them is that the Yellow cabs can serve the entire city, but they don’t:

A [Taxi and Limousine Commission, the regulatory body for all taxis in New York City,] analysis released in 2012 found that 95 percent of yellow-taxi pickups happened either in central and Lower Manhattan or at airports, leaving the outer boroughs badly underserved.

In 2012, there weren’t any Green taxis at all. So that’s almost all of the taxis in New York City serving just one small area of the city. (Specifically, the area with all the money.)

Well, is that because there are just a lot of people in Manhattan? Maybe it has almost all the people?

When the green cabs finally arrived, in August 2013, they were met with immediate praise from residents of the outer boroughs, where more than 80 percent of the city’s population resides, according to U.S. Census data. In the program’s first year, the green cabs collectively made more than 43,000 trips a day. They flocked to popular neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Harlem and Astoria, though they also fanned out into the further reaches of the outer boroughs.

So that’s a no. Most of the people don’t live in Manhattan. Okay. So not only does the vast majority of New York City not live in Manhattan, but when Green taxis hit the streets, there are more than 40,000 people every day that want a ride. It sounds like that’s a lot, but the Yellow taxis do 485,000 trips per day. That’s absolutely insane.

The Yellow taxis do 95% of their pickups in Manhattan, and then when Green taxis are out and about, the Yellow taxis have 93% of the combined Green and Yellow rides. It may be that the 20% of the population living in Manhattan just needs to use taxis more than the 80% living outside Manhattan.

One last fact, I promise:

And [Green taxis] proved that they weren’t a major threat to Yellow taxis, which only saw their fares and tips dip by 2 percent from the previous year.

So, to recap, Green taxis only serve the parts of New York City where 5% of Yellow taxi pickups happen (despite those parts having 80% of the population). Green taxis are now 7% of all taxi trips in the city, a change which has cut into taxi revenues by 2% year over year. Inflation last year was 1.7% – so Green taxis ate into the Yellow taxi business just about as much as a sluggish recovery from a global recession.

Of course, they’re both happening at the same time; the Yellow taxi lobby can’t do anything about inflation, but there are ways to do something about Green taxis.

Ungoogleable

By way of the best Intellectual Property newsletter you’re probably not reading, Five Useful Articles, a tale search engine optimization, but not the kind you’re used to:

Google has announced some changes to its search algorithm aimed at making “pirate sites” slightly harder to find, either by pushing them down further in the results or by removing words associated with them from the autocomplete feature. Experts predict that the movie and music industries will be totally satisfied with these efforts and stop scapegoating the search company for every perceived dip in possible revenues in markets real or imagined.

Just kidding! Presumably those industry groups will not be satisfied until searching for the title of a film—say 2005’s Will Smith classic Hitch, a favorite film of approximately 50% of the Five Useful Articles team—produces a blank page and automatically dings your credit card for $3.50.

Seriously, Sarah Jeong and Parker Higgins write this (almost) week, and it’s always hilarious. Easily my favorite newsletter.

Published in the news on

Crowdsourced Surveillance

The Electronic Frontier Foundation takes a look at sketchy software that local law enforcement agencies are handing out to parents. This software is designed to track and report kids’ internet activities, and there are some problems:

As security software goes, we observed a product with a keystroke-capturing function, also called a “keylogger,” that could place a family’s personal information at extreme risk by transmitting what a user types over the Internet to third-party servers without encryption. That means many versions of ComputerCOP leave children (and their parents, guests, friends, and anyone using the affected computer) exposed to the same predators, identity thieves, and bullies that police claim the software protects against.

This is a catastrophically huge problem. The whole point of the internet is that it’s full of strange computers. When you load a web page or send a photo, that information is bouncing all around from one computer to another until it hits you.

If that information is, for example, everything you type? And it’s not encrypted at all? That’s your username, your password, your credit card information, every site you go to, etc. That sounds pretty criminally negligent to me.

In investigating ComputerCOP, we also discovered misleading marketing material, including a letter of endorsement purportedly from the U.S. Department of Treasury, which has now issued a fraud alert over the document. ComputerCOP further claims an apparently nonexistent endorsement by the American Civil Liberties Union and an expired endorsement from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Oh, and fraudulent, too.

That’s Just Wrong

The New Yorker has a curious article about copyright which begins with a discourse on the Statue of Anne, the 18th century British copyright law.

I say ”curious” because the article starts out strong before taking a stunning nose dive in accuracy when it gets to the part about copyright on the World Wide Web: it claims linking to articles online is a form of copyright infringement.

Huh. Well, let’s hear it, then:

When you click on a link, you have the sensation that you no longer are at a place called awesomestuff.com but have been virtually transported to an entirely different place, called newyorker.com. A visual change is experienced as a physical change. The link is treated as a footnote; it’s as though you were taking another book off the shelf.

You’re mixing your metaphors, but I’m with you so far.

Some courts have questioned the use of links that import content from another Web site without changing the URL, a practice known as “framing.” But it’s hard to see much difference.

Okay. Whoa. Pause. Giant error number one. There’s a titanic difference between me linking to your article and me embedding your article in a frame on my web site. A link does not intrinsically have anyone else’s copyrighted content. How is anyone’s copyright violated with this link? Should I anticipate a cease and desist order from Ms. Swift’s attorneys? How about this? Linking is not embedding full stop.

Procurement Hell

On the occasion of Healthcare.gov (neé Obamacare dot com)’s first anniversary, Pomona College Magazine has a story about how the web site was fixed.

Healthcare.gov, the sign-up website that was the signature element of President Obama’s signature initiative, was a technological disaster. People couldn’t sign up even if they wanted to-the site would break, or fail. Delays were interminable. Information got lost. Customer service was about as good as you’d expect from a cable TV company. The Department of Health and Human Services, responsible for the new health care system, couldn’t seem to get it working.

The fact that the solution was so mundane and unremarkable speaks to two things. One, that the government’s rules for procuring I.T. projects are horrifically broken. The people who were initially hired (for hundreds of millions of dollars) were absolutely unqualified and egregiously incompetent.

Two, that the only reason the government keeps hiring these people is because their in-house capabilities are even more lacking. The article dips its toe into the sales pitch to get more nerds into government:

[Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America and the current Deputy CTO of the United States] thinks the pitch might actually work—and not just because of capitalism. “The consumer internet has influenced the way a generation feels about doing things together,” she says. “You have a generation of people who value collective intelligence and collective will—not necessarily collective political will, but the ability to actually do things together.”

Software designers and engineers are already political, Pahlka and Dickerson are saying; it’s just that the web generation is ignoring the greater good. Going to work at Twitter is a political choice just as much as going to work for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I give the worst sales pitch,” Dickerson says. “I tell people, ‘This is what your world is going to be like: It’s a website that is a Lovecraft horror. They made every possible mistake at every possible layer. But if you succeed, you will save the lives of thousands of people.’”

That is absolutely slanderous. Summoning the Old Ones is far less painful than federal I.T. procurement.

Published in gov 2.0 on