The following links are just news items and opinions that pass my desk throughout the week. I don’t necessarily support or advocate any of the items, they are just interesting reads.
Three Strikes: Ishikawa takes place beside Thomson in baseball history - It was Mark Twain, 149 years ago, who wrote, “San Francisco is a city of startling events.” His words never were truer than on Thursday night. Travis Ishikawa, a 31-year-old journeyman who was cut by the Pirates this year, became the West Coast version of Bobby Thomson, a name in Giants and baseball lore never to be forgotten. Days, years and decades from now, Ishikawa still will be asked about that 2-0 pitch from Michael Wacha in the bottom of the ninth of Game 5 of the National League Championship Series as if it happened yesterday.
Ishikawa joined Thomson as the only Giants ever to send their team into the World Series with a walkoff home run. Thomson’s clout, “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” ended a 1951 third tiebreaker game against the Dodgers and stands as one of the most famous home runs in baseball history.
As for this second lightning strike of a Giants walkoff, you need not have been one of the deliriously happy people at AT&T Park on Thursday night to appreciate the magnitude of the moment. A simple appreciation of the perseverance of the human spirit would do just fine to behold its real import.
What Ishikawa did in a baseball sense alone was immutable, an instant fixture in the oral and visual history of the game. He provided an iconic Giants moment on the date of two of the franchise’s most infamous, season-ending defeats. Read More > in Sports Illustrated
The Psychology Behind Costco’s Free Samples - In 2010, a Minnesotan named Erwin Lingitz was arrested in a Supervalu grocery store after spending an excessive amount of time at the deli counter. In the words of a Supervalu spokesperson, Lingitz had violated “societal norms and common customer understanding regarding free-sample practices.” While the charges were later dropped, the evidence remains incriminating: After a search, Lingitz was found to have stored in his pockets about a dozen soy sauce packets and “1.46 pounds of summer sausage and beef stick samples.”
Lingitz may have gotten carried away, but his impulse is more or less universal. People love free, people love food, and thus, people love free food. Retailers, too, have their own reasons to love sampling, from the financial (samples have boosted sales in some cases by as much as 2,000 percent) to the behavioral (they can sway people to habitually buy things that they never used to purchase).
…It’s true that free samples help consumers learn more about products, and that they make retail environments more appealing. But samples are operating on a more subconscious level as well. “Reciprocity is a very, very strong instinct,” says Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University. “If somebody does something for you”—such as giving you a quarter of a ravioli on a piece of wax paper—“you really feel a rather surprisingly strong obligation to do something back for them.”
Ariely adds that free samples can make forgotten cravings become more salient. “What samples do is they give you a particular desire for something,” he says. “If I gave you a tiny bit of chocolate, all of a sudden it would remind you about the exact taste of chocolate and would increase your craving.” Read More > in The Atlantic
Bay Area’s 25 highest-paid athletes 2014 - With baseball fever exploding in the Bay Area and the San Francisco Giants headed to a third World Series appearance in five years, it’s a good time to unveil which local athletes are earning their keep.
In Friday’s issue of the San Francisco Business Times, we rank the 25 highest-paid athletes in the Bay Area by compensation in the most recent season.
Wondering who made the cut? Check out our slideshow.
Notably, the No. 1 and No. 2 highest-paid athletes are Giants pitchers who aren’t even seeing playing time in the team’s whirlwind postseason: starting pitcher Matt Cain, who sees a $20.8 million paycheck but whose season was cut short with an elbow injury that required surgery; and starting pitcher Tim Lincecum ($17 million) who’s really more of a relief pitcher these days after being demoted to the bullpen in a rocky 2014 season. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times
Sperm whales spotted off O.C. coast in rare sighting - Whale experts on Monday raced to get to boats to follow socializing groups of sperm whales – a sight never before seen off the coast of Orange County.
The sperm whales – known to have the largest brain of any creature to have lived on the earth – weigh up to 45 tons and eat about a ton of squid a day. Most whales remain in tropical or subtropical water all year long.
Single male sperm whales are rare but not as surprising. When they’re spotted, it’s generally one but can include a second one traveling together in a sort of “bachelor pod.” A traveling group of sperm whales was spotted in March 2011 in the Catalina Channel, but unlike the current sighting, they were traveling not staying at the surface and socializing.
Warmer waters have brought other whale species not typically seen here to the coast. These include Bryde’s whales, sei whales, false killer whales, and pilot whales. These species likely have been drawn to these areas by an abundance of prey found here now – prey that may not be as abundant this year due to the abnormally warm waters of Baja. Read More > in the Orange County Register
Facebook ‘Safety Check’ Connects Users After Disasters - As frivolous as Facebook can be, it’s where many people turn when disaster strikes. Facebook announced a new feature Thursday to help users broadcast their well-being and check on friends and family members who may have been affected by natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, or tsunamis.
“Safety Check” will be available globally on iOS, Android, feature phones, and desktops, the social network said in an announcement. If you’re in the affected area when a natural disaster strikes, Facebook will send a push notification asking if you’re safe.
Facebook says it will determine your location based on information such as the city you list on your profile, the location where you’re using the Internet, and Nearby Friends, a feature that tracks your location, if you have it enabled.
If you receive a push notification and are not in the location of the disaster, you can mark that you’re outside the affected area. If you’re safe, mark that option, and Facebook will send a notification to your friends and post to their news feeds that you’re OK. Read More > at Information Work
Fear of Vaccines Goes Viral - Last month The Hollywood Reporter published an illuminating investigation on immunization trends in Los Angeles County, which revealed that vaccination rates on the city’s wealthy west side, in neighborhoods like Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, had plummeted, as incidents of whooping cough surged. The piece had the virtue of offering New Yorkers yet another opportunity to feel smugly superior to their counterparts in L.A., because of course here on the East Coast we like our science to come from scientists, not from former Playboy models and people who feel entitled to pontificate about public health because they drink kefir.
In an interview with NPR last month about her new book, “On Immunity: An Inoculation,” the author Eula Biss presented the idea that vaccinating your children on schedule was now seen as “an extreme position.”
New York State and city have strict immunization requirements, which have been further strengthened over the past two years. It is not possible here, as it is in California, to obtain a philosophically based exemption from those rules for your child. In January, the city health department decreed that all enrolled children from 6 months old through age 5, whether attending public or private schools, had to receive a flu shot before Dec. 31. Parents, though, can recuse their children from vaccination protocols with religious exemptions, which are relatively uncomplicated to obtain.
There is enough appeal in anti-vaccination thinking among members of the affluent class that certain pediatricians in the city, as they have elsewhere around the country, have made it a policy in recent years to refuse to see children whose parents won’t have them immunized. A few years ago Pediatric Associates of NYC, which has branches in Murray Hill in Manhattan and Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, chose this course, David Horwitz, a partner in the practice told me, in large part because it simply became untenable to have unvaccinated children sitting in waiting rooms. Read More > in The New York Times
New Saudi reality: OPEC isn’t a monopoly anymore - As oil prices continue to slide amid plentiful supply and faltering demand, crude exporters from OPEC—and most importantly, Saudi Arabia—have little room to maneuver and may put up with lower oil prices for now.
The latest figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA), published on Tuesday, showed that rather than cut production, Saudi Arabia increased its oil output by 50,000 barrels per day (bpd) in September to 9.73 million.
But for now, Saudi Arabia has indicated it may be willing to accept a period of lower prices. Not that everyone in the country is happy about that. Saudi billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal on his website this week lamented the Kingdom’s complacency in an open letter to the country’s powerful oil minister, Ali Al-Naimi. He condemned “statements designed to minimize or underestimate the negative effects” of a slide in oil prices, pointing to the precarious over-dependence of the state budget on petrodollars.
Apart from anemic growth in the global economy, other powerful shifts within the industry are giving the Kingdom incentives to tolerate lower prices—especially the threat posed by the burgeoning U.S. shale oil business. Read More > at CNBC
Census Bureau: California still has highest U.S. poverty rate - California continues to have – by far – the nation’s highest level of poverty under an alternative method devised by the Census Bureau that takes into account both broader measures of income and the cost of living.
Nearly a quarter of the state’s 38 million residents (8.9 million) live in poverty, a new Census Bureau report says, a level virtually unchanged since the agency first began reporting on the method’s effects.
Under the traditional method of gauging poverty, adopted a half-century ago, California’s rate is 16 percent (6.1 million residents), somewhat above the national rate of 14.9 percent but by no means the highest. That dubious honor goes to New Mexico at 21.5 percent.
But under the alternative method, California rises to the top at 23.4 percent while New Mexico drops to 16 percent and other states decline to as low as 8.7 percent in Iowa.
The only other state to approach California in the alternate rankings is Nevada at 20 percent, although Washington, D.C., is close at 22.4 percent. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee
Bulgaria’s Vampire Graveyards - In a 7,000-year-old town in Bulgaria, over 100 graves have been uncovered, revealing skeletons with stakes through their hearts and mutilated bones. Meet the vampires that almost were.
Vampires may be greeted with swoons today, but in medieval Eastern Europe they were dealt a metal spike through the chest.
Last week, Bulgarian archaeologists unearthed an unusual 13th-century grave in an ancient city named Thracian.
The bones are encrusted in dirt, revealing a bowed, partially crushed skull and a round stake emerging from the left side of the skeleton’s chest. The interred is believed to be a middle-aged man, who was incapacitated post-death—cause unknown—by a two-pound iron rod thrust through his heart and the removal of the lower half of his left leg. Both mutilations were meant to stop the man, who villagers believed was a vampire, from returning to haunt the town and prey upon its inhabitants, researchers say. Read More > in The Daily Beast
Anaheim takes to turning off power and water in effort to drive out pot shops - The City of Anaheim has taken a new tact in its ongoing effort to shut down pot shops. City officials have started cutting off water and power to the shops in an effort to get them to shut their doors.
Nine shops closed last month and eight others will likely shut down by the end of the week, Anaheim spokeswoman Ruth Ruiz told the Orange County Register. Another 11 will soon be ordered to close or lose their water and power.
“It’s worked so far, but if we find that they are still operating, then we will find a way to shut down these businesses,” Ruiz said.
California voters legalized medical marijuana 20 years ago, but many locals continue to oppose pot dispensaries in their cities or counties. The California Supreme Court ruled last year that cities have the right to ban the pot shops.
Anaheim has done just that, but that hasn’t kept them pot shops from doing business. So the city is taking to more drastic measures. Read More > in California City News
Tuck Versus Torlakson for State Superintendent Is a Struggle for Democrats’ Hearts - You might wonder why you should care about the Nov. 4 California State Superintendent of Public Instruction race. There’s a good chance you didn’t wonder, ever. But the heart of the Democratic Party is up for grabs, making this a bit of a big deal.
Party operatives and the two candidates, Marshall Tuck and Tom Torlakson, would dispute that assertion. But the race is, in fact, a battle between two distinct wings of California’s Democratic Party — the labor-union side and the reformer side — and the race is about two very different paths for California’s public schools and those who attend and teach in them.
Tom Torlakson, the incumbent from the San Francisco Bay Area, is backed by nearly every ring in the Democrats’ big tent -— more than 300 endorsements from teachers unions, special interest groups and Democratic politicians and clubs. He’s shored up the pro-choice vote, the firefighters, the police, the Teamsters and environmental groups. Yep, even Big Green is involved.
Meanwhile, Marshall Tuck of Los Angeles is backed heavily by billionaires — including the wife of Steve Jobs — and a much larger group of small donors. Tuck has far fewer endorsements, but charismatic Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson and former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are on his side.
…Torlakson says that California schools have improved under his leadership, albeit slightly, and that more change is coming. Graduation rates are up and he’s helped many financially distressed districts.
Tuck argues that improvement during Torlakson’s time as superintendent has been negligible at best. He’s pushing for reforms such as using student test scores to evaluate teachers’ competency and simplifying the state’s education code so that public schools can operate more freely, like charter schools.
He lauds his success in launching charter schools in L.A., as well as the Partnership for L.A. Schools, a nonprofit he ran (created by Villaraigosa) that is working to fix 17 failing schools and has seen substantial success at 99th Street Middle School, Jordan High and Roosevelt High.
The candidates also are on opposite sides of the state Superior Court’s Vergara decision, which struck down large parts of job-protection laws that in LAUSD grant lifetime tenure after two years of classroom experience. Read More > at LA Weekly
Lockheed says makes breakthrough on fusion energy project - Lockheed Martin Corp said on Wednesday it had made a technological breakthrough in developing a power source based on nuclear fusion, and the first reactors, small enough to fit on the back of a truck, could be ready for use in a decade.
Tom McGuire, who heads the project, said he and a small team had been working on fusion energy at Lockheed’s secretive Skunk Works for about four years, but were now going public to find potential partners in industry and government for their work.
Initial work demonstrated the feasibility of building a 100-megawatt reactor measuring seven feet by 10 feet, which could fit on the back of a large truck, and is about 10 times smaller than current reactors, McGuire told reporters.
In a statement, the company, the Pentagon’s largest supplier, said it would build and test a compact fusion reactor in less than a year, and build a prototype in five years. Read More > in Reuters
NBA Is Going To Experiment With A Radical Change That Could Make Games Even More Exciting - The NBA announced today that an upcoming preseason game between the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics will be just 44 minutes long instead of the standard 48 minutes.
According to the announcement, each quarter will be reduced from 12 to 11 minutes. In addition, there will be a reduction in the number of required timeouts in the second and fourth quarters, from 3 to 2.
This one-off experiment will allow the league see how the change will impact the flow of the game.
In addition to just making games quicker, what is potentially great about this idea is that it means the league’s best players will have a bigger impact on who wins games.
In theory, the Kobe Bryants, Kevin Durants, and LeBron James of the NBA will continue to play the same number of minutes. In a 44-minute game, those minutes will reflect a higher percentage of the game and less time spent on the bench. Read More > at Yahoo! Sports
Local marijuana measures could drive state, and ultimately national, pot policy - While other western states like Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana for recreational use, a coherent statewide policy for regulating medical marijuana remains elusive in California.
Increasingly, local governments are driving the policy efforts over how to regulate the substance which was legalized for medicinal use by state voters, but remains a Schedule 1 drug banned by the federal government.
Cities and counties across California are stepping into this legal and regulatory gray area. This fall in California, 13 local measures will go before voters aimed at setting medical pot policy.
That’s far more than voters have seen in the past. The increased local interest in growing out of the state’s failure to craft a coherent policy, and in the the shadows of an expected effort to legalize pot more widely, which could be on the state ballot as soon as 2016.
But for now, while the state has avoided the issue, local California governments are increasingly taking it on.
It’s no longer possible to just ban medical marijuana dispensaries. That’s really becoming an untenable situation But all this local activity may prompt the state to act.
We saw that happen on the issue of single-use plastic bans. About 100 localities banned the bags before Sacramento finally took action on the policy this year.
That’s exactly what’s going to happen with the pot issue. Read More > at California County News
Declining number of U.S. nuns, even among traditional orders, charted in new study - A new report shows that Catholic sisters in the U.S. face a more serious challenge to their existence than the Vatican-led investigation of the American nuns: A rapidly aging membership and a decline in vocations that afflicts even the most traditional orders.
…The CARA researchers track the widely noted rise and fall in the number of nuns, noting that membership in women’s religious orders grew rapidly in the first half of the 20th century, reaching a high point of 181,421 sisters in 1966. Since then, the numbers have steadily declined, to below 50,000 today, a 72.5 percent drop-off.
They also rebutted the common claim that more traditional communities — for example, those whose members wear the full habit — are growing “while those institutes that do not wear a traditional habit are declining.”
In fact, the researchers said, the more liberal, socially active communities of sisters are drawing about the same number of new entrants as the more conservative, tradition-minded communities. Read More > in the Religious New Service
A Pump War? – Is it just my imagination or is there a global oil war underway pitting the United States and Saudi Arabia on one side against Russia and Iran on the other? One can’t say for sure whether the American-Saudi oil alliance is deliberate or a coincidence of interests, but, if it is explicit, then clearly we’re trying to do to President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, exactly what the Americans and Saudis did to the last leaders of the Soviet Union: pump them to death — bankrupt them by bringing down the price of oil to levels below what both Moscow and Tehran need to finance their budgets.
Think about this: four oil producers — Libya, Iraq, Nigeria and Syria — are in turmoil today, and Iran is hobbled by sanctions. Ten years ago, such news would have sent oil prices soaring. But today, the opposite is happening. Global crude oil prices have been falling for weeks, now resting around $88 — after a long stretch at $105 to $110 a barrel.
The price drop is the result of economic slowdowns in Europe and China, combined with the United States becoming one of the world’s biggest oil producers — thanks to new technologies enabling the extraction of large amounts of “tight oil” from shale — combined with America starting to make exceptions and allowing some of its newfound oil products to be exported, combined with Saudi Arabia refusing to cut back its production to keep prices higher, but choosing instead to maintain its market share against other OPEC producers. The net result has been to make life difficult for Russia and Iran, at a time when Saudi Arabia and America are confronting both of them in a proxy war in Syria. This is business, but it also has the feel of war by other means: oil.
Neither Moscow nor Tehran will collapse tomorrow. And if oil prices fall below $70 you will see a drop in U.S. production, as some exploration won’t be cost effective, and prices could firm up. But have no doubt, this price falloff serves U.S. and Saudi strategic interests and it harms Russia and Iran. Oil export revenues account for about 60 percent of Iran’s government revenues and more than half of Russia’s. Read More > in The New York Times
Yelling ‘I have Ebola!’ on a bus can get you arrested - A man wearing a surgical mask and a woman got onto a bus in Los Angeles Monday afternoon. He proclaimed, “I have Ebola!” Moments later, he threw the mask on the ground, and they both got off the bus.
Now, the FBI is involved in trying to track down the man, with an investigation being treated as a possible terrorist or criminal threat, according to Los Angeles Metro officials.
“Assuming this is a hoax, if people think it’s funny to do something like this, they’re not going to think it’s funny when they are arrested and prosecuted,” Metro spokesman Marc Littman said. “It’s very disruptive to people’s lives and costs taxpayers thousands of dollars.”
Kidding around or not, such public declarations kick off a massive, and costly, response by law enforcement and public health officials. Littman said the Los Angeles incident has likely already cost thousands of dollars. A hazmat crew has to clean the bus before it’s put back into service. The FBI is looking at the bus’s surveillance video. Read More > in The Washington Post
Marriage rates hit new, all-time low - New data shows more young people are waiting to marry – and there’s no shortage of opinions on why that’s happening.
According to the latest available census data, the percentage of U.S. adults who have never been married has hit a new, all-time high.
In 1960, about one in ten adults over the age of 25 fell into that category.
By 2012, the number had jumped to one in five.
There’s no formal consensus about what’s driving the numbers, but data shows that among young adults who say they do want to get married, the economy is an issue.
34 percent of them cite financial security as an obstacle to tying the knot.
Other analysts point to the eradication of social taboos on cohabitation and out of wedlock childbearing.
Jennifer Marshall from the Heritage Foundation says: “Where there used to be a lot of social support for marriage and for couples interested in getting married, that doesn’t’t exist so much anymore.”
There is also an on-going debate about whether or not the same sex marriage issue has had any impact. Read More > at My FOX DC
Experts: No evidence dogs get, spread Ebola - Last week, Ronald Harty, associate professor of microbiology at Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine, said it is unlikely that a dog or any other companion animal can transmit the virus.
In humans, the primary cause of the Ebola virus outbreak is considered to be eating of wild animals, called bush meat, infected with the virus.
According to the World Health Organization, Ebola spreads from human to human “through close and direct physical contact with infected bodily fluids,” primarily blood, feces and vomit. The virus can enter the bodies of other humans through small cuts, unprotected sex, etc.
Dogs in Africa eat that same meat, too. But there is no evidence that dogs – wild or otherwise – can develop an active case of the virus by eating infected meat, and there is no evidence that they can spread it.
“The dog’s immune system reacted to the virus it came in contact with but did not replicate it,” Harty said. That means the dog’s body recognizes there was a threat present and created antibodies to fight it, but the virus didn’t create more copies of itself and spread, as a viral infection does. “It is highly unlikely a dog, cat or any other domestic animal could contract or transmit the disease.” Read More > at Delaware Online
Alameda County Measure BB garnering support for transit tax - When Alameda County voters cast their ballots in the Nov. 4 election, some might be puzzled by Measure BB, thinking it seems like something they’ve voted on before. Except for a couple of small but important changes, it is.
The $7.8 billion measure, which would extend an existing half-cent sales tax and tack on another half cent, is nearly identical to the transportation tax measure that captured the majority of votes but fell just 721 votes short of the required two-thirds standard in 2012. The biggest change is that proponents altered the tax proposal to expire after 30 years instead of making it permanent as in the defeated plan. They also strengthened oversight measures.
Those changes have transformed some opponents, including the League of Women Voters and the Alameda County Taxpayers Association, into supporters. Some environmental groups, which declined to endorse the 2012 measure because it included funding for a Livermore BART extension, have also chosen to back the measure this time. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Bay Guardian Closed by San Francisco Media Company - Employees of San Francisco Print Media Company, the parent company of the Examiner, SF Weekly, and San Francisco Bay Guardian were this morning informed that the latter paper will be shuttered after 48 years.
The paper was founded by husband and wife Jean Dibble and Bruce Brugmann — whose visage, urging locals to “Read my paper, dammit” — grew ubiquitous over the years. Its founding mission was to “print the news and raise hell,” and, as an independent paper, it ostensibly did just that for 46 years. In 2012 Brugmann and Dibble sold the Guardian to the San Francisco Media Company, which subsequently acquired the Weekly last year. After decades of lawsuits and acrimony, the dueling San Francisco weeklies were situated next door to one another, within the same office suite.
That situation changed today, however.
“Unfortunately, the economic reality is such that the Bay Guardian is not a viable business and has not been for many years,” wrote SFMC publisher Glenn Zuehls in the interoffice communique “When SFMC took over the publication, the company believed the publication’s finances could rise out of the red and benefit from joining forces with the Examiner and the Weekly. We have tried hard to make that happen over the past few years. … Since then, I have come to realize that this isn’t possible and that the obstacles for a profitable Bay Guardian are too great to overcome. The amount of money that the Bay Guardian loses each week is causing damage to the heart of the company and cannot justify its continued publication. The success of this company, providing the highest quality journalism for our readers along with superior results for our advertisers, is my sole priority.” Read More > in the San Francisco Weekly
Oh My Gourd: Napa Farmer Wins North American Pumpkin Record in Half Moon Bay - A California farmer broke a North American record on Monday when his large, bulbous gourd clocked in at 2,058 pounds during the annual Half Moon Bay pumpkin weigh-off, which has been drawing veteran growers and hobbyists alike since 1974.
The giant squash, dubbed by festival organizers as the “colossal ghost,” grown by John Hawkley of Napa — especially large for a drought year — was about 265 pounds shy of claiming the world record for largest pumpkin. That record was set Sunday in Germany, when Swiss grower Beni Meier turned in a pumpkin that weighed 2,323 pounds.
Still, Hawkley’s magnificent white pumpkin broke sacred ground statewide: It was the first time a pumpkin had smashed the ton-mark at the Half Moon Bay Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off, which has been running the contest for 41 years. Hawkley’s record also beat Tim Mathison’s 2,032-pound pumpkin at a nearby Uesugi Farms pumpkin weighoff this weekend. Read More > at NBC Bay Area
Confirmed: Snapsaved Hack Led to Snapchat Photo Leak - After word spread last week that some 200,000 Snapchat photos had leaked online, third-party site Snapsaved.com is now taking responsibility for the whole debacle.
In a Facebook post over the weekend, Snapsaved.com admitted that a recent hack of its systems led to the leak, and provided more clarity about the extent of the breach.
“I would like to inform the public that Snapsaved.com was hacked,” the post reads. “Snapchat has not been hacked, and these images do not originate from their database.”
The site’s creators said they “immediately” deleted their entire database upon discovering the breach. Some 500MB of images were stolen, and the majority of affected users are Swedish, Norwegian, and American. No other personal information was accessed, they said. Read More > at PC Magazine
Busy bars to benefit from ‘affordable’ robot bartender - The artificially intelligent robotic bartender named Monsieur, which was unveiled through a Kickstarter campaign at the start of this year, has been given a new lease of life after attracting significant funding from seed investors.
Among them are NBA star Glen Davis, NFL player Derrick Morgan, Base Ventures, Paul Judge, TechSquare Labs and BIP Capital leading the round.
The investment will enable the robot’s creators to roll out Monsieur to on-trade accounts across the US this year.
Barry Givens, Monsieur co-founder and CEO, said: “People want smart connected devices that provide great design, choice, and convenience.
“Monsieur is the first to deliver that for bartending and cocktails. This investment will allow us to accelerate our product development.”
Monsieur is something of an intelligent cocktail vending machine, able to dispense up to 25 cocktails while choosing the perfect option for users according to their personal preferences.
The robot also has the ability to make drinks to order remotely via Bluetooth, wifi and Zigbee, and offer commercial businesses business analytics and real-time usage monitoring. Read More > in The Spirits Business
4 Northern California faults primed for big quakes - Three fault segments running beneath Northern California and its roughly 15 million people are overdue for a major earthquake, including one section that lies near the dams and canals that supply much of the state’s water, according to a geological study published Monday.
The three fault segments and one other in the region are loaded with enough tension to produce quakes of magnitude 6.8 or greater, according to a geological study published Monday.
They include the little-known Green Valley fault, which lies near key dams and aqueducts northeast of San Francisco. Underestimated by geologists until now, the fault running between the cities of Napa and Fairfield is primed for a magnitude-7.1 quake, according to researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and San Francisco State University.
The water supplies of the San Francisco Bay Area, Southern California and the farm-rich Central Valley depend on the man-made water system that links to the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, noted James Lienkaemper, the U.S. Geological Survey geologist who was lead author of the study. The Green Valley fault is last believed to have ruptured sometime in the 1600s. Read More > in the Associated Press
Amazon to open first physical store in Manhattan - Online retail giant Amazon.com Inc. plans to open its first brick-and-mortar store, according to people familiar with the plans.
The site, set to open in time for the holiday-shopping season on Manhattan’s busy 34th Street, would mark an experiment by Amazon to connect with customers in the physical world. Amazon has built its business on competitive pricing and fast shipping. Until now, though, it couldn’t compete with the immediacy of a traditional store.
Amazon’s space at 7 West 34th Street, across from the Empire State Building in Midtown, would function as a mini-warehouse, with limited inventory for same-day delivery within New York, product returns and exchanges, and pickups of online orders. A customer could, for example, order a pan in the morning and pick it up that evening in time to use for dinner. Read More > at Market Watch
Societies Where Women Outnumber Men Are Just As Violent - There’s long been a common-sense idea — largely untested by science — that having a surplus of men in a society causes more violence. But now we have evidence that this isn’t true. Societies where the population is dominated by women are just as violent as ones dominated by men.
A group of anthropologists, Ryan Schacht, Kristin Rauch and Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, pored over a series of studies looking at violence and gender balance in a population. In the latest issue of New Scientist, they report that what they found surprised them: “Out of 20 studies, nine showed violence increasing with more men, but nine showed the opposite. Two were inconclusive.”
They explore possible reasons for this, noting first and foremost that violence is an extremely complicated issue — usually, it’s caused by many factors, so you’ll likely never find a scenario where it’s easy to see a direct relationship between gender balance and violence statistics. That said, studies do show that men are often less violent in cultures where there are more men than women. “When faced with a deficit of women, men can engage in much more positive social behavior to attract and keep a partner,” the researchers write.
Still, there is a troubling statistic: “There are higher rates of men killing men and sexual assault in female-biased sex ratios.” This flies in the face of the long-cherished notion that men fight less when there are lots of women to go around. The researchers believe that male-male violence may increase in these scenarios, as a result of the “aggressive pursuit of multiple sexual partners.” Knowing this might change the ways we attempt to reduce violence. Read More > at io9
Everyday Low (Banking) Prices - …It is called GoBank. Customers buy a $2.95 starter kit in Walmart, then receive a debit card that they can use wherever MasterCard is accepted. They can take out money at a network of tens of thousands of ATMs, deposit checks with a smartphone, and deposit cash at Walmart stores. The fees are not always dirt-cheap, but they are on the low side and straightforward. Best of all, there are no overdraft fees, perhaps the banking industry’s worst tax on poor and income-unstable individuals.
Walmart, for its part, is stressing how inclusive and low-cost it wants the financial product to be. “Customers want easier ways to manage their everyday finances and increasingly feel they just aren’t getting value from traditional banking because of high fees,” said Daniel Eckert, a Walmart executive, in a press release. “Adding the GoBank checking account to our shelves means our customers will have exclusive access to one of the most affordable, inclusive and easy-to-use checking accounts in the industry.”
Among many consumer advocates, the concern is that the checking account could be the cheap bait that comes before the hook of more expensive financial services — especially given that Walmart has been adding to its suite of financial products. But with GoBank, Walmart benefits from seeing more customers flowing through its doors, and Green Dot derives revenue through interchange fees.
It is other financial institutions — big banks, community banks, credit unions, payday lenders, and other fringe financiers — that have much to fear from Walmart’s expansion. Read More > in New York Magazine
AP Exclusive: California gives no-bid health pacts - California’s health insurance exchange has awarded $184 million in contracts without the competitive bidding and oversight that is standard practice across state government, including deals that sent millions of dollars to a firm whose employees have long-standing ties to the agency’s executive director.
Covered California’s no-bid contracts were for a variety of services, ranging from public relations to paying for ergonomic adjustments to work stations, according to an Associated Press review of contracting records obtained through the state Public Records Act.
Several of those contracts worth a total of $4.2 million went to a consulting firm, The Tori Group, whose founder has strong professional ties to agency Executive Director Peter Lee, while others were awarded to a subsidiary of a health care company he once headed.
Awarding no-bid contracts is unusual in state government, where rules promote “open and fair competition” to give taxpayers the best deal and avoid ethical conflicts. The practice is generally reserved for emergencies or when no known competition exists. Read More > from the Associated Press
Review site Yelp battles extortion claims - First the chefs of a small Italian restaurant got mad at online review site Yelp. Instead of trying to get better reviews, they decided to take a different approach: get terrible ones.
The campaign helped Botte Bistro get a rating of one out of five stars, as more than 1,000 reviewers left hundreds of tongue-in-cheek reviews panning the Richmond, California, eatery, said chef Michele Massimo, adding that it boosted business.
It was the latest protest among businesses who for years have complained that Yelp was extorting them by raising or dropping ratings depending on whether they advertised with the Internet’s most popular review site.
Yelp has persistently denied those claims on its website, in court and at every opportunity when the question is put publicly to the company.
Yelp has had a complicated relationship with merchants, restaurateurs and other small businesses on which the company depends on for advertising revenue. To attract advertising, Yelp needs to maintain a popular and credible site.
To do this, Yelp says, its uses an algorithm to weed out fake reviews submitted by business owners, relatives and friends that is often misunderstood. The automated removal programs accidentally erase many positive reviews written by legitimate customers.
Yelp concedes that removing legitimate reviews is not ideal, but argues that’s the price it pays for its credibility. Furthermore, Yelp keeps details of its algorithm under wraps so its review system can’t be easily exploited and gamed. Read More > in the Assoicated Press
This Device Could Detect Dozens of Cancers With a Single Blood Test - Early detection, we’re often told, is the surest way to beat cancer. It’s the reason why, year after year, men and women of a certain age dutifully visit their doctors and undergo uncomfortable tests to screen for things like prostate and breast cancer.
But what about the other hundred or so types of cancer out there—the brain cancers, the ovarian cancers, the leukemias and lymphomas? And what of the millions of young people who never get tested at all, even though they’ve been found to have worse outcomes than adults?
That’s why a new startup, dubbed Miroculus, is building a device that could easily and affordably check for dozens of cancers using a single blood sample. Known as Miriam, this low-cost, open source device made its public debut at the TEDGlobal conference in Rio De Janeiro on Thursday, with TED curator Chris Anderson calling it “one of the most thrilling demos in TED history.”
For the company’s founders—a global team of entrepreneurs, microbiologists, and data scientists—the goal is to make Miriam so simple that even untrained workers in clinics around the world could use it. The project is still in the early stages, but if the early trials of Miriam are to be believed, Miroculus could make regular cancer screenings as simple as getting blood drawn. Read More > in Wired