Saturday, December 17, 2016

Working for the machine

My dad was just in the Denver airport and ordered a beer. They carded him but he didn't have his ID with him. The waitress refused to serve him a beer and said that was their policy.

I recently tried to fulfill a prescription for pain medication at Walgreens. The pharmacist said she couldn't fulfill it because the doctor put the wrong date (30 days in the future!) on it. She called the doctor who said she was tired and made a mistake, but the prescription was valid (and, BTW, had today's date printed on it). And because it was a narcotic, they could not accept the doctors verbal or a fax. I had to go back to Stanford and pick up a new prescription.

I received a ticket from a red-light camera. The system provided picture and video evidence which showed that I ran the red light.

All three of these are examples of blindly following rules. As I told the pharmacist - there are two types of people in this world - the ones that figure out the right thing to do, and ones that can't see outside the box they have been put in.

In the case of my dad, he didn't have much recourse so the establishment lost revenue because someone over 80 didn't have an ID. In the case of the prescription, I wasn't in a good enough condition to go back to Stanford so went home and borrowed some pain medication from another source.

In the case of the red light, I challenged the ticket in court. The law is that if any part of the vehicle is touching the limit line when the light turns red, you did not run the light. The picture above which shows the light already red and my car on the limit line actually helps make my case. I don't know what algorithm they use to generate this photo, presumably, it's designed to be taken at the time the light goes red, and as you can see, the front of the car is touching the limit line.

So does the robot ticketing system have a bug? Is it writing tickets to people who did not run the light? Actually, no. They also provide a video:

Does it look like I ran the red light? When you watch it the first time, can you say that beyond a reasonable doubt I ran the light? I think that would be very difficult to be sure about, and I don't think an honest police officer would write a ticket in that situation even if they had a vantage point as good as the camera does.

If you single step it frame by frame, it's clear I'm guilty. Or, if you pick the first frame that shows the red light, my car is clearly before the limit line.

Interestingly, that's not the frame the ticket showed. Probably because to generate the ticket frame, the light tells the ticket system when it went red and the clocks between the light, the ticket system, and the camera are not synchronized. Most likely it's done with a signal rather than an absolute time, so you have the latency from the light to the ticket system and the ticket system to the camera. I think the original was at 25 fps, so 40ms/frame. From the video, the frame it chose was the 3rd or 4th frame after the light went red, so there is something like a 120 to 160ms delay from the signal to the frame capture, and this is why the image they sent does not prove I'm guilty, and is actually a good reason to have never sent the ticket to begin with: it's much too close for a human to call.

So the video clearly showed I was guilty, but I fought the ticket with the explanation that a human seeing this in real life would not have written a ticket. Fortunately, I had a judge who did not live inside a box as the above waitress and pharmacist did, and dismissed the case.

As it turns out, there are two types of judges in this world, and lawyers know who is who! The one's who figure out the right thing to do and find a way to achieve that outcome and the one's who are focused on the law and enforce it regardless of the circumstances. Of course, "right thing" is in the eye of the beholder.

Many thanks to Michael Somera from Somera & Associates for helping me with this matter.

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