Adams County inquires about state oversight of county treasurers after suing its own

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Nancy Ciancio’s family has owned land in Adams County for nearly 100 years but when she tried to pay taxes this spring on four properties she owns in the county, her checks seemed to vanish into the ether.

Then the Adams County Treasurer’s Office charged her interest on the money they said she owed but that she insisted she had already paid.

“I left messages, I emailed and from April to July, I never heard back from anyone,” Ciancio said of her efforts to find out why the county hadn’t processed her payments. “I never heard back from them for months.”

It took a call to an Adams County commissioner to finally resolve the matter, but meanwhile, she had no idea that others in the county were facing similar roadblocks with the treasurer’s office — frustrations that were laid out in a lawsuit filed by the Adams County commissioners against Treasurer Lisa Culpepper on Thursday night alleging shoddy and sloppy safeguarding of millions of dollars of taxpayer money.

“It’s just incompetence,” Adams County Commissioner Eva Henry said Friday. “It was serious to get to this point.”

Serious enough that Henry said she has been in touch with state lawmakers to see if any are willing to run a bill that might give the state oversight of county treasurers, which is an elected position, akin to the authority the secretary of state has over county clerks.

A district judge this month upheld a lawsuit from Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold seeking to halt Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters from overseeing next week’s election because of alleged improprieties over voting equipment security.

State Treasurer Dave Young said his office would be the natural place to exercise that kind of authority over county treasurers, but he said it’s premature to comment on legislation that hasn’t been crafted. Commissioners or treasurers can come to his office now for guidance if they need it, he said.

“We’re always interested in the financial health of the state of Colorado,” Young said.

Culpepper, whose annual salary is $132,985, did not return several requests from The Denver Post via email and telephone for comment Friday. She won her election in November 2018 and took office on Jan. 1, 2019. Her term lasts until January 2023, unless she resigns or is recalled.

Meanwhile, veteran county treasurers in Colorado said they had never heard of a county board of commissioners suing their own treasurer, though Routt County Treasurer Brita Horn three years ago did the opposite — she sued her county commissioners over a tax abatement issue.

“I certainly don’t recall anything like this happening before,” said Patty Bartlett, Logan County’s treasurer for nearly 30 years. “I have a hard time wrapping my head around not having your books balanced every day. I don’t think I could sleep at night knowing the books aren’t balanced.”

Not only does the county’s lawsuit against Culpepper enumerate numerous bookkeeping problems — like sending more than half a million dollars to taxing jurisdictions that weren’t owed the money and failing for months to account for $90 million in federal COVID relief money — it also accuses her of not cooperating with efforts to audit her office and failing to file monthly tax receipt reports with the county.

“The limited information the board has been able to gather indicates the treasurer is not timely or accurate in performing statutory duties, which could negatively impact the county’s bond rating and financial outlook,” the county said in a statement accompanying its lawsuit.

In separate letters sent to Culpepper over the summer, Adams County commissioners wrote that at least five of her employees have come forward with complaints about her management, including accusations of bullying and belittling. They also said constituents complained about not being able to get a response about tax payments, tax liens and other business matters.

“I was surprised at all of it,” Morgan County Treasurer Bob Sagel said Friday. “If the allegations are true, it’s a shame.”

Sagel has not only been a county treasurer since 1983, but he’s president of the Colorado County Treasurer and Public Trustee Association. The fact that the Adams County commissioners felt they had no choice but to sue their treasurer tells him that the accusations at hand “are not a small deal.”

“I would think it would be pretty serious if it goes to this extreme,” he said.

The Nikon Z9’s new sensor could be the start of a big shift in photography

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Nikon’s Z9 pro mirrorless camera has no mechanical shutter, relying solely on an electronic shutter. | Image: Nikon

Nikon recently announced its new flagship camera, the Z9. This camera represents Nikon’s first mirrorless camera fully geared towards professional photographers and hybrid shooters, with a huge spec list designed for use in the demanding fields of photojournalism, sports, nature, birding, and any other use-cases that call for a camera that shoots incredibly fast at high resolution. The $5,500 Z9 is also Nikon’s first camera to omit a traditional mechanical shutter, allowing it to achieve new levels of speed and autofocus performance.

Faster speed is great, especially for sports photographers. But it’s interesting to think about where this technology could be used to take traditional-style cameras in the future. This might be the first…

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I’m not a pilot, but I just flew a helicopter over California

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By Cade Metz, The New York Times Company

CAMARILLO, Calif. — On a recent Wednesday afternoon, I flew a helicopter over Ventura County, just north of Los Angeles.

I took off from a small airport, climbed to about 10,000 feet and banked sharply toward the hills along the eastern skyline of Camarillo. Following a canal as it snaked through the orange orchards below, I sped across the valley, before circling back to the airport. I lowered the helicopter into a hover and landed gently at the end of a concrete runway.

The flight was short but remarkable. After all, I am not a pilot.

The helicopter was equipped with new technology meant to simplify and automate the operation of passenger aircraft. I flew using two Apple iPads and a joystick mounted inside the cockpit. I could take off, turn, swivel, accelerate, climb, dive, hover and land with a tap of the screen or a twist of the stick, much as I would when flying through the digital space of a video game.

The system, called FlightOS, provides a glimpse into the future of flight. The Southern California startup that designed FlightOS, Skyryse, said it was working with major aircraft manufacturers to deploy the technology on everything from helicopters to small jets. Other companies, including the venerable helicopter maker Sikorsky, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, are designing similar technology.

Some manufacturers say they will eventually remove the pilot from the cockpit, completely automating their aircraft while using many of the same techniques that underpin self-driving cars. But self-driving cars are still a long way from everyday reality, and so are self-flying aircraft. Most experts believe automated systems will require oversight from pilots for years to come — perhaps a decade or more.

Skyryse, a 50-person startup backed by $250 million in funding, spent years developing and testing a system that could fly on its own, using cameras, radar and other sensors to track and respond to an aircraft’s surroundings in flight. Many experts believe this kind of system is easier to perfect than self-driving car technology because there is less traffic and other activity in the skies. But the company has come to realize that regulators are unlikely to approve autonomous flight anytime soon.

Instead, Skyryse and companies like it are pushing toward a compromise. “We can build an autonomous aircraft and fly it,” said Mark Groden, chief executive of Skyryse. “But a human still needs to be the ultimate decision maker.”

Backed by billions of dollars in funding, a number of startups are building what are commonly called “flying cars.” Like helicopters, these vehicles can take off and land without a runway. Unlike today’s aircraft, they are completely electric. Many believe these aircraft can provide a quicker, cheaper and greener way of commuting across urban areas.

But this will require far more pilots than the 360,000 flying today. The total could climb to a projected 590,000 over the coming decade as new kinds of aircraft are deployed in U.S. cities, according to a study from McKinsey and Co.

Though some flying-car makers say their aircraft will fly without pilots, most experts believe regulators are unlikely to approve autonomous flight until the end of the decade at the earliest.

“We have a lot of the building blocks needed to automate flight,” said Ian Villa, chief product officer of the electric aircraft company Whisper Aero and former head of strategy for Uber’s electric aircraft project. “The real question is whether you can actually go to market.”

Groden hopes to fill the gap with FlightOS, a system designed for a wide variety of aircraft, including helicopters, jets and flying cars. This technology, which will cost manufacturers tens of thousands of dollars, will be integrated into multimillion-dollar aircraft.

By adding automation to the operation of these aircraft, Groden and his company can expand the pool of available pilots. If flying is easier and safer, novices can master the skill much quicker. And if a system like FlightOS is used widely, experienced pilots could quickly master new kinds of aircraft. But even this arrangement has yet to receive approval from regulators and may not for years.

I am not a video game player, much less a pilot. But I learned the basics of the Skyryse system in about 15 minutes while sitting in a hangar at the Camarillo airport. After another 15 minutes, I was strapped into the pilot seat of a sleek black helicopter.

Flying a 2,500-pound helicopter from an iPad was exhilarating, fun and a little nerve-racking. During a 30-minute flight, my biggest problem was the heavy glare of the Southern California sun off the iPad and, at other times, my glasses.

But there was a caveat: As I flew, a licensed pilot sat beside me. He talked me through the flight and generally kept me in check. At one point, I turned east and twisted the joystick with a little too much confidence. He reached over, grabbed the joystick and corrected my attitude.

The new technology required more than 15 minutes of training. Though I could turn and twist and climb, I could not handle the radio communication with air traffic controllers during takeoff and landing, and I needed help setting a course across the valley. Learning those tasks may ultimately be more intimidating and more difficult than flying the aircraft.

“You still need someone with training in communications protocols, what speed and elevation to fly and where the system is unsafe to operate,” said Jessica Rajkowski, head of artificial intelligence and autonomous systems at Mitre, a nonprofit that runs a research and development center for the Federal Aviation Administration.

The helicopter ride was a reminder that artificial intelligence is a work in progress. Even the most advanced technologies — everything from chatbots to robotics — are best used alongside humans, not in lieu of them.

Skyryse hopes to refine its technology in the coming years, further automating the operation of aircraft in ways that will reduce the dependency on air traffic controllers and piloting expertise. The goal is not autonomous flight. Thanks in large part of the enormous regulatory hurdles facing this technology, the goal is making anyone a pilot.

“Today, anyone can drive a car,” said Igor Cherepinsky, director of innovations at Sikorsky. “What if anyone could fly an aircraft?”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Google Pixel 6 review: Playing catch-up with the iPhone

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By Brian X. Chen, The New York Times Company

For half a decade, Google, the maker of Android, the world’s most widely used phone software, has had a dream to make a best-selling phone that rivals the gold standard, the iPhone.

Google’s Pixel phones have consistently received positive reviews but sell tepidly because of a major weakness: They have relied on off-the-shelf parts from other companies. As a result, they have felt sluggish compared with devices made by Apple, which tightly controls the quality of its iPhones by doing design in-house.

With the new Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, which cost $600 and $900 and will be available on Thursday, Google believes it now has phones that level the playing field.

These are the company’s first phones to include Tensor, its own computing processor, similar to how Apple designed the silicon that powers its iPhones. The Tensor chip enables the Pixel phones to rapidly perform complex computing tasks, like voice transcriptions, Google said.

Jim Wilson, The New York Times

The Google 6 Pro translating Japanese in Oakland, Calif., on Oct. 15, 2021.

After a week of testing, I concluded that Google has made serious progress with the Pixels — but it is still dreaming. Its advancements were not enough to make me switch from an iPhone.

The new Pixels feel zippy, but their computing power lags behind the iPhone’s speeds by as much as 50%. And while many photos produced with its camera looked clear and well lit, some looked overly sharp. The Pixel 6’s ability to immediately translate languages into one’s native tongue also felt unfinished — it didn’t work well with some languages, like Japanese.

Here’s what you need to know.

Meet Tensor

The Tensor processor is the result of Google’s long and expensive journey in smartphone technology, which included a $1 billion acquisition of the handset maker HTC in 2018. To speed things up, Google embedded its most complex algorithms into the chips, including advanced photography effects and language translation, eliminating the need to connect to its online servers to complete those tasks.

The speed increases were noticeable. The Pixel 6’s motion looked buttery smooth, compared with that of its predecessors, when scrolling through apps and websites. But when I tested some of the phone’s special features, like the ability to watch a foreign-language video and display subtitles translated into English in real time, the results were mixed.

When I opened TikTok and searched for videos of people giving language lessons in French, Italian and Japanese, the technology performed well with French and Italian. The software correctly translated casual ways to say “I am not” in French (pronounced “shwee pah” as opposed to the more formal phrase “je ne suis pas”).

But it struggled with Japanese. One TikToker demonstrated a basic conversation that, when properly translated, meant the following in English:

“Today is tiring.” “Yes, the workload is a lot.” “Yes, that’s true. Well, see you.” “Yes. See you tomorrow. Thanks for the good work.”

The Pixel 6’s translation came out like this:

“I’m tired today.” “Well, I had a lot of work.” “That’s right. See you soon.” “Thank you for your hard work tomorrow.”

That translation probably would have earned a C in a Japanese language class.

These results weren’t surprising. The Pixel software said that for translated captions, Japanese was in “beta,” meaning it’s a work in progress. In another sign that this feature was incomplete, I wasn’t able to test translated video captions for Mandarin speech, which I’m somewhat fluent in, because the Pixel has yet to support Chinese.

A nice camera that sometimes tries too hard

Pixel phones have always relied heavily on a blend of software, artificial intelligence and machine learning to produce clear and vibrant photos. The Tensor chip, Google said, would help the camera software take photos more quickly.

To test the new cameras, I took the Pixel 6 devices and two of the latest iPhones to a park on an overcast day to shoot hundreds of photos of my corgi, Max (who now holds the record as the most featured dog in The New York Times).

The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro’s cameras were fast, just as advertised, and many photos looked great, with realistic colors and nice shadow detail.

Yet the Pixel 6 photos often looked like the phones were trying too hard with more advanced effects. In some photos shot in “portrait” mode, which sharpens a subject in the foreground and gently blurs the background, my exceptionally cute dog looked overly sharpened to the point that he looked much older. The iPhone 13 Pro produced a more aesthetically pleasing portrait of Max, who is 8 years young.

Often, the colors of the Pixel 6 photos also looked too “cold,” making Max’s white mane appear blue. The color temperature could be adjusted in the camera software, but the iPhone cameras generally produced photos with more natural colors without any extra effort.

All told, the Pixel camera was very good. Zoomed-in shots looked clear on the 6 Pro, the more expensive model, which has an optical zoom lens.

Google was the first phone maker to introduce the ability to take photos in low light without using a flash, and the new Pixels still excel in this area. When comparing them with low-light shots taken with the new iPhones, I’d call it a tie.

Bottom line

In the end, the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro are solid products. Considering their starting prices, which are about $200 lower than competing high-end phones from Samsung and Apple, I can recommend them to Android fans.

But what will Google do with Tensor to make the Pixel stand out? Not only are parts of the software unfinished, but the parts that the phone excels at aren’t all that special.

The ability to transcribe foreign languages, for one, is useful, but it’s also something that older phones can do. When I visited countries like Thailand and Japan in years past, taxi drivers communicated with me by using Google’s Translate software — they spoke into their phones and played the English translation out of the speaker. It worked with some delay, but it was adequate.

You might enjoy other benefits of Google’s shift to its own silicon. Battery life in the new Pixels is much longer than in past models — after each long day of testing, plenty of juice was still left by bedtime. But again, this is not a differentiator from other modern phones that have equally long battery life.

Google’s competitors also have nice exclusives. Most notably, there’s the “blue bubble” effect, or iMessage, on iPhones. Over the years, Google has gone through several iterations of messaging apps, and none have been as seamless and enjoyable to use as iMessage.

That special something — something sticky, delightful and ubiquitously useful — is what Google needs to deliver to get hordes of people to switch to a Pixel. It’s hard to tell what that might be.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

iFixit actually tore down Apple’s backordered $19 screen cloth

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Image: iFixit

I can’t say I expected there to be more news about Apple’s $19 Screen Polishing cloth, but here we are. Not only has iFixit given it the teardown treatment and a (perhaps slightly tongue-in-cheek) repair score, but it’s apparently become one of Apple’s hardest-to-get products. And yes, to reiterate, we are still talking about a cloth made to clean your devices’ screens.

As noted by The New York Times, the 6.3-inch-sided square of fabric is now backordered, with Apple’s website saying that you won’t get it for 10-12 weeks, meaning it’ll get delivered sometime between January 7th and January 21st, 2022. If you order pretty much any configuration of the redesigned MacBook Pro that the cloth launched with, you’ll get your custom-built laptop…

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Mastodon puts Trump’s social network on notice for improperly using its code

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Mastodon has sent former President Donald Trump’s company a formal notification that it’s breaking the rules by using Mastodon’s open-source code to build its social network, named Truth. This news comes from a blog post by Mastodon’s founder Eugen Rochko, but others have previously pointed out that the organization behind Truth, the Trump Media and Technology Group (or TMTG), was violating Mastodon’s software license by not providing the source code for the site built on top of it. Trump’s group has 30 days from when the letter was sent to comply with the license or stop using the software, or it could lose the right to do so.

While Truth hasn’t officially launched yet, internet users discovered that a test version basically had the…

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Developers can now try on Google’s Jacquard smart fabric tech

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Swiping into new ideas | Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Google’s Project Jacquard touch-sensitive fabric technology, first revealed at Google I/O in 2015, now has a way for interested third-party developers to integrate the tech with their own software via the new Jacquard SDK.

Previously only a handful of companies signed up for Jacquard, including Levi’s, Samsonite, and Yves Saint Laurent. Now developers can use the SDK to integrate the Jacquard tag, connecting its sensors with their apps to communicate touch and motion data.

Photo by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge

Samsonite’s Konnect-i backpack is one of very few products to integrate the touch-sensitive fibers.

Google’s ATAP (Advanced Technology and Projects) team announced its first partnership with Levi’s in…

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