Taken for a Ride: The taxi medallion system in New York and other cities raises fares, impoverishes drivers, and hurts passengers. So why can't we get rid of it?

Taxi Medallions: How New York's terrible taxi system makes fares higher and drivers poorer

When New York City first issued taxi medallions in 1937, they were just licenses, worth $150 in today's terms. In the years after, life was pretty good for cabbies, as it was for many low-skill employees in postwar America. Some drivers owned their cabs. The rest were unionized employees who worked on commission and received a full slate of employee benefits.

Crucially, the owners were in the taxi business and took on the risk that entailed. If gas prices went up, that came out of the owners' pockets. If drivers had a bad shift, the owners did too.

All that began to change in 1979. That year, New York's Taxi and Limousine Commission changed its rules to allow medallions to be leased out for 12-hour shifts, making cabdrivers "independent contractors" under federal labor laws. The move cost such drivers their benefits, but the real fallout was far more profound. Even for medallion owners who operated their own taxi fleets, the economic value of the right to pick up fares was now severed from the value of actually doing so.

It turns out that the former business is a hell of a lot better than the latter.

Under a medallion lease, the medallion owner has a constant stream of income. Drivers are the ones who suffer when gas prices rise or a cab gets stuck in traffic--they've still got to make their daily lease payments. More importantly, New York's tight limits on the number of medallions in circulation has suppressed the supply of cabs. There are 13,237 medallions now outstanding, a few hundred fewer than in 1937, but a huge supply of drivers competing to lease them.

It's amazing that NYC has the same number of medallions now as in 1937, but apparently SF has only 1,500! Which is more than I thought, I'd have guessed 60.


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Hacker uses malware built-in chat to toy with researchers

This is awesome. I assume there is a rollerblading date in their future.

Malware researchers investigating a Trojan linked in a gaming forum as a how-to video for Diablo III got a surprise when the hacker started chatting with them -- through a feature in the malware. Franklin Zhao & Jason Zhou of antivirus company AVG were looking for keylogging code in the malware with a debugger after downloading it to a virtual machine when a chat box popped up. The hacker asked, in Chinese, "What are you doing? Why are you researching my Trojan?"

The malware gave the hacker the ability to monitor the victim's screen, mouse, and keyboard input. It also provided access to other devices. The hacker apparently was online when the two researchers started poking around his code, and he decided to intervene. "I would like to see your face, but what a pity you don't have a camera," he typed to the researchers, as they tried to engage him in conversation. Eventually, he tired of the cat-and-mouse game and remotely shut down their virtual machine.

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Time Warner Cable patents method for disabling ffwd on DVRs

US Patent 8,180,200.

If I'm reading this right, the idea is that when the MPEG stream comes down the cable line, they will strip out any keyframes inside commercials. So instead of your keyframe interval being under a second, it would be several minutes long. I guess the assumption here is that DVRs implement fast-forward by scanning ahead to the next keyframe, rather than by decoding the whole stream and just not displaying some decoded frames, and the lack of keyframes at regular intervals would screw it up. But wouldn't this have exactly the opposite effect to what's intended? Wouldn't it make ffwd immediately skip the entire commercial block while scanning for the next keyframe, instead of showing the commercial in high speed as it does now?

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Drink up! Your new liver is almost ready.

Researchers Grow Functioning Human Liver Tissue from Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

The team's liver was grown from human skin cells reprogrammed to an embryo-like state and placed atop growth plates in a specially designed medium. Nine days later, the cells were expressing biomarkers indicative of maturing liver cells known as hepatocytes. With careful timing (informed by hundreds of trials) the team then introduced two more cell types that help recreate organ-like functions, including endothelial cells that line blood vessels.

Two days after that, the cells had assembled themselves into a 3-D, 5-millimeter-long tissue that mimicked early stage liver development. Though lacking bile ducts and not organized in exactly the same neat way natural hepatocytes organize themselves, the tissue did possess functional blood vessels that worked when the tissue was placed under the skin of a mouse. It was also able to metabolize some drugs that mouse livers cannot process but that human livers can.

By this measure, the team calls their tissue the first reported creation of a functioning human organ with working vasculature from pluripotent stem cells.

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

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NYCLU releases Android app for recording cops

Stop-and-Frisk Watch App

RECORD: This allows the user to film an incident with audio by simply pushing a trigger on the phone's frame. Shaking the phone stops the filming. When filming stops, the user immediately receives a brief survey allowing them to provide details about the incident. The video and survey will go to the NYCLU, which will use the information to shed light on the NYPD's stop-and-frisk practices and hold the Department accountable for its actions.

LISTEN: This function alerts the user when people in their vicinity are being stopped by the police. When other app users in the area trigger Stop and Frisk Watch, the user receives a message reporting where the police stop is happening. This feature is especially useful for community groups who monitor police activity.

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"Many machines on IV. Many Machines."

Fear the ScrewSucker. (Not to be confused with the BallSucker.)


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