Small Bites

A collection of small items that don’t seem to warrant entire posts of their own.

Engadget reported last week that, as their headline put it, “Researcher finds huge security flaws in Bluetooth locks”. Briefly, he found that twelve of sixteen locks he bought at random had either no security or absolutely horrible security. That doesn’t mean, by the way, that those remaining four locks are safe, just that the researcher, Anthony Rose, didn’t immediately find problems.

Does this come as any surprise? It shouldn’t. Given how often we’ve seen Internet of Things manufacturers give no thought whatsoever to security, the surprising thing is that four of the locks weren’t trivially hackable.

Police and alarm manufacturers will tell you that it’s impossible to actually secure your house against a break in. The goal is to make it a harder target than your neighbors’ houses. Clearly, your best bet today is to buy a bunch of Bluetooth locks–and give them to all your neighbors!

Moving on.

I said that the new Ghostbusters movie wasn’t doing as well at the box office as it deserved. Apparently Sony agrees. According to Gizmodo (among many sources), the direct loss–before figuring add-on income from licensing and merchandise–could be as much as $70 million.

As a result, plans for a sequel are on hold. Instead, Sony is focusing on an animated TV show for 2018 and an animated movie for 2019.

OK, yeah, animation is potentially cheaper than live action, especially if you don’t have to pay full price for the actors. But it does rather make Ghostbusters something of a second-tier property.

And if you’re the betting sort, the smart money says neither the TV show nor the movie will feature the women who starred in this year’s film–and then, if the animation does well, it’ll be held up as further “proof” that women can’t carry a movie without male help.

Complete change of subject.

Audi is going to launch a new feature in some of its 2017 cars. Correction: IMNSHO, it’s a misfeature. They’re going to add a countdown timer on the instrument panel and heads-up display to let drivers know when red lights will turn green.

Seriously. And if Audi does it, you know everyone else will follow suit.

I don’t know how people drive where you are–or near Audi headquarters–but around here, people stretch yellow lights well beyond any rational limit. Give drivers a timer, and they’re going to accelerate as soon as it hits zero, without even looking at the traffic light, much less checking for oncoming traffic that didn’t even enter the intersection until their light was red.

The only way this could even begin to be sensible or safe would be if automakers lock out the accelerator (and horn!) until the onboard sensors confirm that the light is green, the car in front (if any) is beginning to move, and there’s no vehicle in the intersection. I regard this as highly unlikely to happen.

So, given my grumpiness in regard to new technological “advances,” you may be surprised to hear that I’m strongly in favor of this next announcement.

According to Ford CEO Mark Fields, the company is actively developing fully autonomous cars intended for ride-hailing services. They expect to have them on the market by 2021.

I’ll be blunt here: I dislike taxis and their modern would-be successors in large part because there’s no way to know whether the driver will (just to pick a few examples at random) cross solid lines changing lanes, speed, use the mirrors before changing lanes, or come to full stops at red lights and stop signs.

There’s no guarantee that an autonomous car will drive any better than any random human–and, putting on my QA hat for a moment–you can be certain that every single automaker’s self-driving car will have buggy software.

But at least autonomous cars will be more consistent. Get in a car that drives itself, and you’ll know what to expect from the driver. I find that idea soothing.

Finally, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about this last item.

It seems that the Hacienda Mexican Restaurant chain in South Bend, Indiana thought it would be a good idea to put up billboards advertising their food as “The Best Mexican Food This Side Of The Wall.”

The signs are coming down. According to Executive Vice President Jeff Leslie, the company “didn’t expect the backlash.”

Let that sink in for a moment. This is a chain of Mexican restaurants that’s so out of touch with Hispanics, that they thought associating themselves with Trump’s Wall was a good advertising strategy.

I know the connection between an ad and the product it’s hyping is tenuous at best, but this really takes the tortilla. If the company has that big a disconnect with its roots, what are the chances that it’s food is any good at all, much less the best north of Nueva León? Small bites, indeed.

Good News / Bad News

Apparently it’s a Good News/Bad News sort of day.

First up, the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee has released a draft of their report on the Bay Bridge’s 2,200 bolts.

  • Good News: The report concludes that the bolts can “safely remain in service”.
  • Bad News: Caltrans’ credibility is so badly damaged that Jaxon’s article in today’s Chron gives almost as much space to a dissenting opinion. That opinion, provided by Yun Chung, a retired Bechtel engineer, takes issue with the design and extent of the tests Caltrans conducted.
  • Good News: At least Caltrans has documented the tests. That’s a major step forward from their previous practices on the Bay Bridge eastern span.
  • Bad News: The release of the draft report comes just a few days after the minimal “management shakeup” that’s been widely panned. Regardless of the Committee’s intent in releasing the report, it comes across as an attempt to distract the public’s attention from Caltrans’ failings throughout the bridge’s construction.

Next, we need to turn our attention the other end of the Bay Bridge.

  • Good News: The popular “Bay Lights” display on the western span will not end in March. Thanks to a $2 million dollar matching donation, the $4 million cost of making the installation permanent has been raised.
  • Bad News: That $4 million doesn’t include anything to cover the maintenance and power costs of the lights, estimated at $250,000. That money will be coming from bridge tolls. The same tolls that are pledged to cover maintenance of the entire bridge, including, one presumes, the “continued inspection and maintenance” of those 2,200 bolts. How long will it take for Caltrans to propose another increase in tolls to maintain “Bay Lights”?

There’s more news on the international scene.

  • Good News: President Obama is taking steps to normalize relations with Cuba. I’m too young to remember the Cuban Missle Crisis and the other Cold War era events that led to the U.S. policy of pretending Cuba didn’t exist. Maybe if I did remember those years, I’d understand how a unilateral embargo–ignored by the rest of the world–coupled with an ongoing series of incompetent attempts to foment a public uprising against Castro could possibly weaken Cuba’s ties to the Soviet Union and improve conditions for its citizens.
  • Bad News: There’s no way Obama is going to get a Republican-controlled Congress to support the plan. It’ll be spun as Obama being soft on Communism and illegal immigration. Given the Right’s ongoing attempts to demonize Obama, it’s only a matter of time before somebody starts explaining in all seriousness how normalization of relations with Cuba is part of a plot to turn Americans over to alien mind-controlling lizards.

Still on the international front,

  • Bad News: Sony and theater chains have decided to shelve “The Interview”. Nobody has presented any evidence that North Korea is behind the Sony hacks, nor is there any credible evidence that the hackers could carry out their threats to bomb theaters. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Sony and the theater owners have acceded to a terrorist demand despite the total lack of proof that the terrorists could actually carry out their threat. Now that the precedent has been set, look for a string of unsubstantiated bomb threats leading to the cancellation of any film project that could possibly be considered controversial.
  • Good News: By shelving “The Interview,” Sony has spared us the prospect of TSA-style security screenings at movie theaters. At least for now we’ll be spared the need to take off our shoes and wade through spilled soda and popcorn on our way through the X-ray machines.