How to watch TV patriotically

Summary:The State of Texas intends to install Webcams along parts of its 1,000+ mile border with Mexico. The hope is that random members of the public (that's us) will watch the feeds and call toll-free if they see anything suspicious.

The State of Texas intends to install Webcams along parts of its 1,000+ mile border with Mexico. The hope is that random members of the public (that's us) will watch the feeds and call toll-free if they see anything suspicious.

So what?

Texas would probably be happier with paid (possibly offshore) labor to watch the cameras. The problem with using regular folks is that--while we have the advantage of being vanishingly cheap--we're not all sober, responsible citizens: A significant percentage of us won't be able to resist calling in false alarms. And, of course, it can be hard to tell whether someone's out there...in the darkness...no matter how good the camera may be: was that a person crawling, or a tumbleweed rolling gently in the desert breeze? (Better not risk it! Call now!) The incoming alert volume could be infeasibly high. Another problem: It's not exactly informing on your fellow citizens (they aren't) but it sort of feels like it is. And, of course, the whole idea presupposes that people will be willing to watch mostly-unmoving video of night-time Texas desert for long stretches of time. (Maybe they will: It's indubitably Reality TV.)

The most intriguing part of this proposal is that the API (in the form of video feeds) is open, which means there's mashup potential. I can think of two possibilities. First, a video processing system that could spot incoming people automatically (difficult, granted) and sound the alarm. Second, an SMS-based application that would immediately signal when a particular camera feed went black (owing to malfunction, power failure, or outright destruction)--useful information for the aspiring border crosser (this of course presupposes that he or she can afford a cell phone).

I could be wrong about random members of the public, by the way: Maybe we'd take our civic responsibilities seriously after all. Though if that were true, more of us would probably bother to vote in national elections--a much more patriotic thing to do than staring at a TV all night. Oh, well.

Topics: Hardware

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