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.
Bill To Set Limit For Driving While Stoned Has A Good Chance - A plan is in the works to set a limit for people driving while under the influence of marijuana, and this time lawmakers say they’ll get it done.
There’s a lot of pressure on lawmakers after legalizing pot. As the number of users grows, there is growing concern the number of people driving under the influence will as well. In 2011, the most recent data available, 13 percent of deadly crashes in Colorado involved pot.
This is the third year lawmakers have tried to pass the bill, and they watered it down this time to make sure it gets through. Read More > at CBS Denver
IBM vastly improves delivery of nanomeds that kill bacteria where antibiotics fail - In 2011, IBM researchers and a research group in Singapore showed off a new kind of synthetic, biodegradable nano particle that doctors could use to attack bacteria cells that are resistant to antibiotics. Now, the same group of researchers have made the “nanomedicine” much more practical by delivering it in the form of a cream or gel that you can rub on wounds or inject into infected regions.
Call them nanomeds. They could save your life one day.
If this nanomedicine works as broadly as the scientists hope, it could save countless lives and protect vulnerable people such as hospital patients from illnesses that arise from bacterial infections, including staph. The medicine is based on a trick from chip manufacturing, where researchers can isolate certain kinds of cells and attack them. Too many of today’s drugs or disinfectants kill off both good cells and bad cells indiscriminately, but the synthetic polymers that IBM created can identify bacteria cells and destroy their membrane walls.
By itself, that’s a great discovery. But today’s development builds on this. James Hedrick, an advanced organic materials scientist at IBM Research at the Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., said in an interview with VentureBeat that a new antimicrobial “hydrogel” can completely eradicate drug-resistant bacteria on contact. On top of that, it forms spontaneously at body temperature and can be delivered in the form of a gelatin, such as a medicinal cream. It can also be injected into a colony of bacteria in the body and wipe it out. Read More > at Venture Beat
Searching for Novel Approaches to Transportation Funding - As we enter the New Year (and begin our 24th year of publication), the debate about transportation funding is taking a new turn. Talk of raising the federal gas tax has become muted and even the efficacy of the gas tax itself is being questioned. And no wonder: vehicles are becoming more fuel efficient, CAFE standards are becoming more stringent, vehicle use is leveling off, and hybrids and electric vehicles are expected to slowly but surely increase their market penetration. All these trends spell a reduced flow of fuel tax revenue both at the federal and state levels. There is a growing sense that the gasoline tax can no longer serve as a reliable long term source of highway and transit funding—indeed, that it has become something of a “dinosaur” in the words of the Speaker of Virginia’s House of Delegates, William Howell. It’s not surprising therefore that a growing number of states have begun to look for alternative approaches to funding their transportation programs.
By far the most unconventional and attention-getting of those ideas is Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s proposal to abandon the state’s 17.5 cent per gallon gasoline tax and replace it with a 0.8 percent increase in the sales tax — from 5 percent to 5.8 percent — with the increase dedicated to transportation. The move would make Virginia the first state in the country without a state gasoline tax. The Governor’s plan also calls for increasing transportation’s share of the existing state sales tax from 0.5 to 0.75 percent, increasing vehicle registration fees by $15 and an annual $100 fee on alternative fuel vehicles. McDonnell claims the switch would add $500 million annually to Virginia’s transportation budget and enable new construction projects, long delayed by the funding shortfall.
Critics have swifty condemned the proposal as violating the time honored “user-pays” principle of sound tax policy. They point out that the highway system should be treated just like other public utilities. People should be charged for the use of roads just as they are required to pay for the consumption of water, gas, electricity and telecommunications services. Critics further point out that shifting the burden from the gasoline tax to a sales tax would unfairly impact or “punish” transit users, telecommuters and other Virginia residents who do not drive. Defenders of the Governor’s plan reply that this criticism ignores the fact that everybody benefits from a road system: “groceries don’t just magically appear on the supermarket shelves,” one commentary noted. Read More > at Public CEO
Proposed Legislation Would Lower Voter Threshold for Local Public Safety Special Taxes - It might get a little easier for local voters to fund their police or fire agencies. Under a proposal from Assemblywoman Nora Campos, the state’s constitution would be amended to lower the voting threshold for police and fire taxes from two-thirds to a 55 percent majority. Not surprisingly, the bill is sponsored by the California Professional Firefighters, the California Police Chiefs Association, and the California State Sheriffs’ Association.
Revenue-raising tax proposals impacting the local level have been plentiful in Sacramento in this new legislative session, as this is not the first proposal to lower the threshold. And with a supermajority, Democrats may make ample use of their newfound power.
This new political dynamic certainly doesn’t sit well with anti-tax groups like the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which argues this latest tax proposal is yet another example of government’s greed. Read More > at California City News
Amazon to Employ Hundreds of Workers as Progress is Made on New Centers in CA Cities - True to its word, the online retail giant Amazon.com continues to place some roots in California cities, which is music to the ears of local officials who are desperate for an economic boost. We’ve relayed previously that Amazon already opened up a distribution center in San Bernardino and a facility is being built in Patterson that will make use of advanced robotics and employ 300-400 people.
Now the company has announced that a new facility in Tracy will employ hundreds of workers. It’s expected that as many as 500 could be employed at the new distribution center as Amazon tries to provide next-day and same-day deliveries.
And Amazon certainly isn’t wasting any time in building these facilities in California cities. The distribution center in San Bernardino was completed in 2012 and Patterson’s facility is expected to be complete in the autumn. The Tracy complex does not reportedly have a firm completion date but it likely will be up and running for the holiday season in 2013. Read More > at California City News
Drinking Doesn’t Lead to a Better Night’s Sleep - …Researchers analyzed information from 20 previously published studies that looked at the effects of alcohol on sleep. Together, the studies included more than 500 people who drank low, moderate or high amounts of alcohol before going to bed, and underwent testing while they snoozed in a sleep lab.
Regardless of how much people drank, alcohol reduced the time it took them to fall asleep. In addition, drinking alcohol, no matter the quantity, increased deep sleep during the first half of the night.
However, sleep disruption, or waking after falling asleep, increased during the second half of the night, the researchers found.
In addition, moderate doses (2 to 4 drinks) and high doses (more than 4 drinks) of alcohol reduced overall rapid eye movement (REM) sleep during the night. REM sleep is a stage of sleep during which dreams occur, and is thought to be important for memory. Read More > at My Health News Daily
The battle for CEQA - California’s core environmental protection law, a 43-year-old statute frequently denounced by developers and business interests as a tangle of red tape, is on a Capitol hit list once again.
But the political dynamic this year is unusual: Those pushing hard for change are Democrats, including Gov. Brown, the Senate and Assembly leaders and a farm-belt lawmaker.
At issue is the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, which requires builders and others to detail their projects’ potential impacts over time on the environment and offer ways to fix them – which helps local zoning commissions and city councils weigh the benefits and negatives of the proposals in their decision-making.
…But CEQA, long under fire from its traditional foes, is now taking hits from lawmakers, the Democratic allies of environmentalists and others who say – with some evidence – that the law can add years to the approvals needed for major projects to get under way. They argue that the law needs to be modernized. Read More > in Capitol Weekly
Panetta to lift ban on women in combat - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is ending the military’s ban on women serving in combat.
The move could open up more than 230,000 jobs that had been previously closed to women by overturning a 1994 ban on female servicemembers in small combat units.
A senior defense official confirmed that Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey would officially announce the policy change on Thursday.
Panetta’s decision gives the military services until 2016 to request special exceptions for positions they think should remain closed to women, according to the Associated Press, which first reported the move. Read More > in The Hill
America: The Next Energy Superpower? – From previously challenging the “tyranny of oil,” newly inaugurated U.S. President Barack Obama enters his second term in office as leader of a potential oil and gas superpower.
According to BP’s Energy Outlook 2030, unconventional sources will make the United States virtually energy self-sufficient by 2030, largely thanks to the shale gas revolution.
“The U.S. will likely surpass Russia and Saudi Arabia in 2013 as the largest liquids producer in the world (crude and biofuels) due to tight oil and biofuels growth…. Russia will likely pass Saudi Arabia for the second slot in 2013 and hold that until 2023. Saudi Arabia regains the top oil producer slot by 2027,” the London-based oil and gas giant said. Read More > at The Diplomat
Q&A: What the FCC’s Wi-Fi expansion means for you - Mobile devices like the iPhone 5 are embracing the 5GHz band, and that trend will expand as 802.11ac radios become prevalent even on smartphones starting in 2013.
The FCC announced a New Year’s Wi-Fi gift during the International CES show earlier this month: a proposal to dramatically expand the unlicensed spectrum in the 5GHz frequency band for use by Wi-Fi devices. The announcement comes as a growing number of vendors are announcing products that will support the “Gigabit Wi-Fi” 802.11ac standard in 2013.
To find out the implications of the FCC’s plan, we talked with Matthew Gast, director of product management for Aerohive Networks (responsible for the software powering Aerohive’s controllerless access points, and author of “802.11n: A Survival Guide“). Read More > in Network World
When will we all live to 100? – An article from John Appleby, Chief Economist at the Kings Fund, published on bmj.com today brings attention to the rising amount of those expected to live to 100 and asks where it will end.
According to the Office of National Statistics there seems to be “no end in sight” as far as the number of UK citizens reaching 100 years old is concerned. Approximately 13% of girls born in 1951 are expected to reach this milestone, increasing to 40% for girls born this year and a predicted 60% of those born in 2060.
Appleby attributes similar worldwide trends to the fact that people are dying at older ages. Deaths in children under five have fallen by 60% since 1970, and surviving early childhood makes it easier to live a much longer life.
Variations between men and women, social groups and countries have, however, remained significant with one UK study finding a difference of 11.4 years (80 years compared with 68.6 years) between women in the poorest and most affluent social classes. Read More > at Science Codex
New push for more public review of state legislation - Reopening a debate that stalled with the defeat of a November ballot initiative, a bipartisan duo of legislators wants an amendment to the state constitution requiring almost all bills to be in print for at least three days before any final vote.
That would put an end to the often used practice of drafting and enacting bills in a matter of hours, giving neither the public or all legislators a chance to review the proposed law.
“Last-minute changes to bills can leave legislators unsure of what they are voting on, and prevent the public from weighing in on proposals,” said state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, in a statement announcing the proposal.
Wolk is joined in the proposed constitutional amendment by Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto. A bipartisan group of co-sponsors also are endorsing the amendment, which would have to be ratified by voters in 2014. Read More > at News 10
Union membership falls to 70-year low - The nation’s unions lost 400,000 members in 2012 as the percentage of U.S. workers represented by a labor union fell to 11.3 percent, its lowest level since the 1930s – declining by 0.5 percent over the last year.
Michigan accounted for about 10 percent of the nation’s loss of unionized workers as the Wolverine State fell to the seventh most-unionized state, from fifth in 2011.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the biggest hit was in public sector unions, where many states and cities have cut back on their unionized workforce.
Among public sector workers, 35.9 percent are in a union – down from 37.0 percent in 2011, as the public sector shed nearly 250,000 union workers.
The public sector union rate is more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers. In the private sector, 6.6 percent are unionized, down from 6.9 percent in 2011. Read More > in The Detroit News
Apple May Face First Profit Drop in Decade as IPhone Slows: Tech - An earnings report tomorrow may show that fiscal first- quarter net income slipped 2 percent to $12.8 billion, or $13.48 a share, according to analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. That would be the first drop since 2003. In all except one quarter since that same year, profit has jumped more than 10 percent. Analysts project sales will rise 18 percent to $54.8 billion, the slowest growth rate since 2009.
Apple’s shares have dropped almost 30 percent since September, erasing about $190 billion in market value, on concern that demand for iPhones and iPads is ebbing. Cook, 52, overhauled most of the company’s product line ahead of the holiday shopping season, and results for the period will show for the first time whether the effort paid off.
“Sentiment could not be worse,” said Peter Karazeris, an analyst at Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, which owned about 647,000 Apple shares as of September. “It does take something fundamental to turn that, and we’ll see if they can deliver.”
Apple often reports results that surpass even the most optimistic projections, and it’s possible the company will do so again tomorrow. The company has exceeded analysts’ estimates for earnings in all but three quarters since at least 2006, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Read More > in Bloomberg
Polynesians reached South America, picked up sweet potatoes, went home - The sweet potato was one of a number of crops domesticated in the Andes and, like many of the rest, it became a global crop in the colonial era. But there were some hints that the sweet potato may have already started its global sweep before the Europeans ever took a bite out of one. Some of the early European explorers, including Captain Cook, reported finding it in places like Hawaii. All of which implies that the Polynesians, who managed to spread widely across the Pacific, had made it all the way to South America.
But it was difficult to be sure, given that European travelers later enhanced its spread within the Pacific and elsewhere. This has also created a complex genetic legacy that obscures its origins. Now, researchers have gone back and obtained DNA from museum samples, including some collected by Cook’s crew, and find that the DNA indicates that Polynesians made it as far as South America.
Archeological remains appear to place sweet potato cultivation in the core of Polynesia by the year 1200, and it spread with further migrations to places like New Zealand and Hawaii. It’s possible that the plant had naturally spread as seeds across the ocean and the Polynesians learned to cultivate it independently. One of the arguments against this is the fact that the Polynesian terms for the crop appear to be closely related to its name in Quechua, the language of the Peruvian Andes. (“Kuumala” and derivatives vs. “kumara” and relatives.) Read More > at ars technica
Extra money slated for future ferry service to Antioch, Martinez and Hercules – Plans to bring ferry service from San Francisco Bay to three Contra Costa downtowns recently received a sizable financial boost.
The Water Emergency Transportation Authority will provide Antioch, Hercules and Martinez with $27 million in capital funding over the next decade — part of $422 million earmarked for Bay Area ferry system improvements. That amount, approved earlier this month, is a far cry from the nearly $2 million set aside in earlier versions of the 10-year plan, drawing the ire of Antioch, East Contra Costa and county leaders, including state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord. Antioch officials originally estimated the nearly $750,000 it was slated to receive for environmental studies would rule out development until at least 2021.
“We’re excited about it. We feel like they listened to us,” said Antioch Mayor Wade Harper, crediting DeSaulnier for bringing concerned parties together. “I think it makes the (ferry prospects) more realistic.”
DeSaulnier, who heads the Senate’s transportation committee, requested a meeting with WETA, county transportation officials and the cities after the initial proposal raised concerns. Read More > in the Contra Costa Times
More pension reform not on tap yet - When Gov. Jerry Brown last year signed legislation to trim public pension costs, he signaled that he would build on the momentum.
“It’s not perfect because we don’t deal with perfection in politics. We deal with imperfection,” Brown said before signing the package, less ambitious than he originally proposed. “We’re taking as bold a step as the process would allow. And where more is needed down the road, then more will be proposed.”
…In his mostly favorable overview of Brown’s proposed 2013-14 budget, Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor warned the multiyear plan would not begin the process of addressing huge unfunded liabilities associated with the teachers’ retirement system and state retiree health benefits.
…Some believe meaningful savings can only come from peeling back benefits coming due to existing workers. A two-year-old study by the Little Hoover Commission, which reports to the Legislature, found that changes for new hires would not begin to deliver savings for a generation — even as pension costs multiply. Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune
Sergey Brin spotted on New York subway wearing Google Glasses - …Not to be confused with Google Goggles, an app for its Android operating system, Google Glasses have been developed in secret by technologists at the Californian search giant.
Capable of giving an “augmented reality” to viewers – or telling them lots of stuff about who and what they are seeing, they could transform our computer habits beyond even the astonishing advances of recent years.
…According to technologists, Google Glasses could allow humans to interact with their surroundings in a much more dynamic and instantaneous way.
A small screen sits on the right-size of the right lens, along with a camera, microphone and speakers, meaning, potentially, that the user could point the camera at, say, subway passengers and use facial recognition software to inform them of their name, occupation and everything else, such as the time they wore an embarrassing outfit on a train. Read More > in The Independent
What a difference a week makes - …Having a few hours to kill and many commercial opportunities between Pilot Knob Road – really – and home, I stopped first at Best Buy.
My wife said she needed a laptop so she could work at home in the evening without bringing the office laptop The clerk asked if he could help, and I said I was looking for a cheap virus-magnet laptop loaded with crapware. He asked me to repeat myself. He said the offerings on the showroom floor were scant, but I might try the website. He also said something interesting:
I don’t use a computer myself.
And this from a young fellow. Why so? Because he used his phone for everything except games, and for that he had an Xbox. The idea of a computer was . . . (shrug) whatever. I wandered around the store, looking at things I neither wanted or needed. This was the Best Buy flagship, the best store in the chain: it’s close to the corporate mothership, and they experiment here, put on their best face. I walked out thinking:
They really are doomed.
I don’t know why I thought that; I’ve always enjoyed the store. It always felt like a going concern. But they sell cameras. Laptops. Where once they had rows of media, now there’s little, because physical media is going away. Where once they had games they don’t have games, because – well, see above. Read More > at LILEKS
Scientists Discover Spectacular River on Mars - Planetary scientists at the European Space Agency have released 3D images of the “striking upper part of the Reull Vallis region of Mars,” which reveal a 932-mile-long (1500 kilometer) river running from the Promethei Terra Highlands to the vast Hellas basin.
This river was huge. The image data from ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft shows that, at some points, the riverbed is 4.3 miles (7 kilometers) wide and 984 feet (300 meters) deep. The stereo cameras onboard the satellite have also revealed “numerous tributaries” that fed the gigantic river. Read More > at Gizmodo
California death penalty: Will state follow Arizona, which has resumed executions after a long hiatus? - When Arizona prison officials injected condemned rapist and murderer Richard Stokley with a single, fatal drug dose last month, it marked the state’s sixth execution of the year in the nation’s second busiest death chamber.
Now that California voters in November narrowly preserved the death penalty, Arizona’s path could foreshadow the future for this state, where not a single one of the 729 death row inmates have marched to execution in seven years.
As in California, interminable legal tangles once shut down Arizona’s death penalty system as the state executed only one inmate, who volunteered to die, from 2001 to 2010. But Arizona emerged from numerous court battles that removed all of the legal roadblocks that remain in California.
The result has been 11 executions since October 2010, nearly the number California has carried out since it restored the death penalty in 1978. Significantly, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, often the last word for death penalty appeals in the Western states, has not intervened.
Now, legal challenges holding up California’s executions are expected to resume this year.
“I do think eventually the cases all come to an end,” said Dale Baich, who heads a unit representing Arizona death row inmates. “But (in California) it might be later than sooner.” Read More > in the Contra Costa Times
Feeling down? Blame it on Blue Monday: Today is the day we feel at our lowest ebb - How are you feeling today? Chances are, not that great…
Because this morning you woke up on what has come to be known as ‘Blue Monday’ – the day of the year on which most of us feel at our lowest ebb.
There is indeed not much going for the third Monday of the year.
If you struggled with travel chaos this chilly morning, that will only have added to the woes that come from feeling poorer after an expensive Christmas and minimal hours of daylight.
Added to failed New Year’s resolutions, a general drop in motivation, and the summer far away in the future, you could be forgiven for not wanting to get out of bed at all.
A report suggests that a major reason for a drop in motivation comes from the continued winter darkness after the brief highlights of Christmas and New year. Read More > in the Daily Mail