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San Diego cuts off all streetlight sensors over privacy concerns



This article was originally published by Sarah Wray on Cities Today, the leading news platform on urban mobility and innovation, reaching an international audience of city leaders. For the latest updates follow Cities Today on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube, or sign up for Cities Today News.

The City of San Diego has deactivated all sensor services, including cameras, on its 3,200 smart streetlights until a new ordinance is in place governing the program.

“At this time, no data can be transmitted from the streetlights,” Gustavo Portela, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office, told Cities Today.

San Diego’s smart streetlight program was announced in 2017, in partnership with GE Current, and touted as “the world’s largest smart city IoT platform”. The sensor installation was part of a broader project to upgrade thousands of streetlights to LED lighting. Through the initiative, more than 3,000 lights became part of the city’s data-gathering infrastructure with the addition of CityIQ nodes, including cameras and sensors. Ubicquia acquired CityIQ and the contract from GE Current earlier this year.

The total cost of the project was approximately US$30 million, to be paid off over thirteen years through the energy savings from the lighting. The sensors made up about US$10 million of the total, the city said.

As well as cost-savings, leaders aimed to use insights from the data captured to improve mobility, parking, public safety and to drive app-led innovation. However, the program has drawn mounting criticism over privacy and surveillance concerns. It sparked further controversy recently relating to San Diego police accessing video footage from streetlights to help solve crimes, including homicides, sexual assaults and fatal accidents, as well as vandalism and looting during protests.

Before cutting off sensor services, “special and limited access to video/image data existed exclusively for the San Diego Police Department (SDPD),” Portela said. This allowed authorized personnel in SDPD to request access to specific video/images within a five-day period at the discretion of the Chief of Police for criminal investigations. Raw video and image data have not been accessible to general city staff or any members of the public, he said.

The city’s contract with Ubicquia expired in June and the company has turned the sensors off until a new deal is in place but it agreed to continue to fulfil police requests for video footage of serious or violent incidents.

But cameras were also switched off earlier this month, after a proposal to pass management of the streetlight program over to the police was quickly scrapped.

“Police have used smart streetlights to hold violent criminals accountable. I support — and proposed — clear rules for this tech, but the City Council stalled on legislation. They won’t approve funds without legislation, so there’s no choice but to turn them off until Council acts,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer tweeted.

He added: “My staff proposed a surveillance policy to the City Council nine months ago. Council still hasn’t adopted one. We’ve seen killers caught, innocent people exonerated, and crimes solved. I’m calling on the Council to vote on surveillance legislation and this tech contract ASAP.”

Where next?

City Council rejected the initial draft policy, calling for a surveillance ordinance to cover more types of technologies and to carry more weight than a policy.  The City Attorney reviewed the draft ordinance recently and requested further clarifications.

“The surveillance ordinance is going through the legal review process. It will go to City Council for approval this fall,” said a spokesperson for Council member Monica Montgomery Steppe, who is sponsoring the ordinances to regulate surveillance technology.

Ian Aaron, CEO of Ubicquia, told Cities Today: “We are committed to working with the City of San Diego to make the city smarter, safer and more connected, and we are in continuing dialogue with the city and city stakeholders to ensure the city’s needs are met.”

Making streetlights smart through the addition of sensors is a growing trend in the US and elsewhere. Northeast Group forecasts that US$1.4 billion will be invested in smart streetlighting in the US over the next decade, and US$600 million in additional smart city applications.

The situation in San Diego also comes as several other cities are beginning to introduce stronger oversight of data-gathering technologies, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has increased debate about these systems, and in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Portland City Council recently unanimously voted to pass two ordinances that prohibit the use of facial recognition technologies by both city departments and private companies. In July, inspired by related initiatives in cities such as San Francisco, Boston and Helsinki, London announced it is developing an Emerging Technologies Charter – a set of criteria that digital innovations should meet if they are deployed in the capital.

Aaron said: “We believe that the surveillance and privacy policy initiatives [San Diego] is working to put in place with input from the community, City Council and the police will serve as a best practice for cities of all sizes.

“Ubicquia is extremely proud of the work we are doing with more than 100 cities across the US and Latin America to make communities smarter, safer and more connected.” He did not specify which are using the CityIQ platform.

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Published October 13, 2020 — 07:34 UTC


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Fitbit Sense review



The Versa helped Fitbit reverse its fortunes after a long, gradual slide. The company was slow to embrace the smartwatch, and stumbled somewhat out of the gate with the Ionic. But the Versa found a perfect sweet spot that build atop generations of wearable health knowhow, key acquisitions like Pebble and a pricing sweet spot at $200.

In fact, other big-name smartwatch makers like Apple and Samsung have since followed suit, offering up more budget-friendly approaches to the category. The moves came as Fitbit and a slew of Chinese device makers were nabbing market share through budget plays. But while the competition zigs, Fitbit zags, I suppose. That’s where the Sense comes in. It’s a return to the premium pricing the company put on hold when it let the Ionic fade away.

At $330, the Sense falls under the lower end of premium — at least compared to say, the Apple Watch Series 6 and Galaxy Watch 3, which both start at $399. The premium market isn’t the most logical play for a company that has been successful at a lower price point, but it’s perhaps understandable that the company is interested in expanding on its fortunes, legacy software and health metrics and finally, properly trying to beat Apple at its own game.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

While Fitbit has a bit of a history flooding the market with different devices, I do think the decision to introduce an entirely new product makes sense here. Really, the worst Fitbit could have done was add a bunch of features to the Versa and raise the price by $100, thus removing one of the product’s primary selling points in the process (though the Versa’s price has also increased to $220).

The truth is, the Sense and Versa 3 are actually more alike than they are different. The similarities start with the casing. The two products look virtually identical, aside from some different color options. The Sense comes in, arguably, classier colors with either gray or gold. The display is the company’s familiar squircle, which is only available in the one size.

I suspect Fitbit learned its lesson about unwieldy watch designs with the Ionic. The device sports a 1.58-inch display, which feels about right. And the square design makes it feel more compact than Apple’s comparably sized watch. That said, more watch sizes is always a good thing, particularly for a product like the Sense that’s attempting to appeal to a wide range of wearers.

Unlike Samsung and Apple’s smartwatches, there’s no standalone dial-button for navigating through screens. There is a pressure-sensitive button on the side of the device, though that ultimately was a bit of a nuisance. I found myself repeatedly accidentally triggering it while moving my wrist. And honestly, for most actions, simply swiping across screens is perfectly fine.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

As the name implies, the biggest difference between Fitbit’s latest smartwatches comes down to sensors. The Sense has a lot packed in here. Both feature optical heart-rate monitoring, a temperature monitor and an SpO2 sensor — which was possibly the biggest upgrade announced for the Apple Watch Series 6. The Sense, however, is alone as the first Fitbit to adopt an ECG sensor, bringing it up to speed with the new Apple Watch on that front.

As is often the case with these sorts of sensors, I’m unable to really highlight it in the review. FDA clearance seems to be a bit more straightforward as the feature has become more and more common on consumer devices, but while Fitbit has cleared it, the functionality won’t be rolled out on the devices until next month. When it does arrive, you’ll get the kind of health readouts we’ve come to expect from these sensors, including heart rhythms and notifications for any usual activity.

Sleep tracking is one place Fitbit has had Apple beat for some time. The latter is attempting to change that with the latest version of watchOS, but still has a lot of work to do in order to catch up. The array of sensors go a long ways toward providing a more complete picture of your sleep over the course of the night. While Apple’s offering largely revolves around things like time in bed and time asleep, Fitbit provides a fuller picture, including, importantly, sleep quality, broken up by REM, light and deep sleep. SpO2 and heart rate are also factored into the picture. SpO2, in particular, will become an increasingly important factor in sleep going forward, as these devices look to track things like sleep apnea.

Another big piece of sleep is battery life. That’s something Fitbit’s been good at for a while. The Sense is rated at six days. Your mileage is going to vary considerably, however, depending on whether you opt for the always on display and other features. As it stands, I was able to get several days on a single charge with the feature switched off. Frankly, that’s a pretty big advantage over Apple’s stated 18 hours. Charging each night before bed or first time in the morning isn’t ideal.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

I appreciate Fitbit’s focus on mindfulness. I think it’s something we can all use a bit more of these days. I definitely include myself in that boat. Fitbit is one of a handful of smartwatch makers currently looking to push the concept beyond simple breathing exercises. That’s included in the Mindfulness tile. The company will quantify relaxation using the the on-board sensors. I honestly haven’t used it a ton, but anything that can help jumpstart a mindfulness practice is a net positive.

The Sense’s software continues to still be fairly basic. And while there are plenty of watch faces, the app selection lags behind some of the bigger names. It will be interesting to watch how Fitbit’s approach to software changes if/when the Google acquisition goes through. After all, wearOS has been around for a while and received plenty of updates, but still has its share of shortcomings.

The Sense’s strong suit is also Fitbit’s: a strong underpinning of health and fitness focus. The company certainly has a good, solid history of upgrades. But while it packs more sensors than the Versa 3, for many the difference will be relatively minor — and perhaps difficult to justify that $100 price gap. I’ve yet to spend a lot of time with the latest version of that device, but if past is any prologue, it’s a solid choice for those looking for an Android-compatible Apple alternative at a good price.


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A comprehensive list of reasons why pair programming sucks



This article was originally published on .cult by Mynah Marie. .cult is a Berlin-based community platform for developers. We write about all things career-related, make original documentaries and share heaps of other untold developer stories from around the world.

I fell in love with programming because of the feeling of losing myself in ideas and concepts while being completely alone for hours on end. There’s just something about it, you know?

When I decided to enroll in a coding Bootcamp, I thought it would give me the opportunity to meet other people just like me. Little did I know, I was about to meet my nemesis: pair programming.

There are a lot of things I like about Agile development. I even do, now, believe in the power of pair programming. But it’s not because I can see the benefits of this technique that I necessarily like it. In fact, I deeply hate it. Not because I think it’s not effective, just because, in my case, it took all the fun out of programming.

[Read: What audience intelligence data tells us about the 2020 US presidential election]

Here are some benefits of pair programming that I personally experienced:

  • It improved my communication skills and the way I work in teams.
  • I did see, first hand, some programmers drastically improve their skills by working consistently in pairs (but at what price for their partners…).
  • *Five minutes staring at my screen trying to find another benefit…* Sorry I think that’s it.

After a few days of Bootcamp, I had my first traumatizing pair programming experience.

We were solving basic JS challenges. I was the navigator and he was the driver. Even though I hated the fact of not being able to type the code myself, I tried to make the most out of the exercise by asking a lot of questions:

  • “Why did you name your variable like that?”
  • “Why did you write this in a separate function?”
  • “Can we try my way just to see if it works?”

At some point, without any warning, my partner got up and left the room leaving me to my puzzlement. Turns out, someone asking loads of questions every two minutes is pretty annoying to most people.

And there started my long descent to hell.

Goodbye, the good old days when I’d program for 18 hours straight from the comfort of my bed.

Goodbye, the peaceful moments with myself when I’d spend days, sometimes weeks before thinking of talking to another human being.

Goodbye, the joys of working on ideas of my own.

One day, while I was at an emotional all-time low, I confessed to one of the instructors and told him that, literally, I hate pair programming.

His answer couldn’t have surprised me more: “Oh! yeah… pair programming is horrible.”

Finally, my aversion was acknowledged!

I’m not against pair programming. In fact, I really do believe it’s great for some people. I even think it could’ve been great for me if I would’ve been paired with more experienced pair programmers. But since we were all learning, most students made horrible partners (me included).

I know there are other people like me out there, who suffered at the hand of this technique and never dared to speak up because, in some cases, it can close doors to potential jobs.

But I’m not looking for a job anymore, so I don’t care.

So for your entertainment, here’s a comprehensive list of the reasons why I hate pair programming:

  1. I hate typing on someone else’s computer. On my machine, I have my flow. Besides, some keyboards are really disgusting. If we’re going to pair program, cleaning up our keyboards every morning should be mandatory.
  2. I hate it when someone else types on my computer. Especially someone who I just saw eating a massive juicy burger 10 minutes before and who didn’t even bother washing his hands.
  3. What is it about these constant breaks after 20–30 minutes of work? Take a break. Come back. My turn to type. 10 minutes to figure out where we left off. 10 more minutes to figure out how to move forward. 5 minutes later, I start to get in the groove and 5 minutes after that: “Hey, can we take a break?” Arghhhh…..
  4. Egotistical partners. You know, the kind who thinks they know everything better than you, or the guy that mansplains everything, or the legitimate genius who’s definitely way smarter than you but does his best to come down to your level (I mean, it’s sweet, but still extremely annoying).
  5. Passive partners. The ones completely shutting down just because you know something they didn’t. Or the lazy ones more than happy to let you do all the work (honestly, that’s a best-case scenario). Or the person who really wants to learn but doesn’t get it at all, no matter how patiently you explain (remember what I said in the benefits above? Yeah, the price is high).
  6. The micro-managers. They tell you what you need to type before you even have a chance to type it (“Yes, I know I need to write a semi-colon, it was just a typo… LET ME TYPE THE DAMN THING BEFORE SAYING SOMETHING!!!!” That last screaming part was just in my head, though there were a thousand situations where I wished I could’ve bashed that person’s head against a wall, if I’m honest).
  7. Noise. Oh-my-god. A room full of people, working in teams, oscillating between having too much of a good time and arguing. The noise would get so out of control, someone literally (I’m not making this up) had to get up and yell “SHUT UP!” for everyone to quiet down for about 5 minutes. I’ve never had more intense headaches after a workday.

Agile, I love you. You taught me the value of working in teams and learning from one another. The experience was horrendous but meaningful nonetheless.

I’m now a freelancer. Back to peace, working for hours on end from the comfort of my home, with minimum human contact. The reality which became a dream is now my reality once more, with the added benefit of financial rewards.

I think I found my path.


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How unicorns helped venture capital get later, and bigger



The venture capital industry’s comeback from fear in Q1 and parts of Q2 to Q3 greed is worth understanding. To get our hands around what happened to private capital in 2020, we’ve taken looks into both the United States’ VC scene and the global picture this week.

Catching you up, there was lots of private money available for startups in the third quarter, with the money tilting toward later-stage rounds.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

Late-stage rounds are bigger than early-stage rounds, so they take up more dollars individually. But Q3 2020 was a standout period for how high late-stage money stacked up compared to cash available to younger startups.

For example, according to CB Insights data, 54% of all venture capital money invested in the United States in the third quarter was part of rounds that were $100 million or more. That worked out to 88 rounds — a historical record — worth $19.8 billion.

The other 1,373 venture capital deals in the United States during Q3 had to split the remaining 46% of the money.

While the broader domestic and global venture capital scenes showed signs of life — dollars invested in Europe and Asia rose, American seed deal volume perked back up, that sort of thing — it’s the late-stage data that I can’t shake.

To my non-American friends, the data we have available is focused on the United States, so we’ll have to examine the late-stage dollar boom through a domestic lens. The general points should apply broadly, and we’ll always do our best to keep our perspective broad.

A late-stage takeover


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