Sunday Reading – 08/10/14


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.

New Study Supports Links Between Dementia And Vitamin D Deficiency - Adding to an ever-growing body of evidence, a new study has found that vitamin D deficiency is associated with a substantially increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia. While previous studies have drawn similar conclusions, this is the largest, most robust study carried out to date. The results have been published in the journal Neurology.

Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that is produced by the body upon exposure of the skin to sunlight, but it can also be found in small amounts in certain foods such as oily fish. It plays a variety of roles in the body and over recent years our understanding of how it helps to maintain optimum health has dramatically increased. For example, it’s thought to reduce the risk of certain bone diseases, bacterial and viral infections and autoimmune diseases.

Interestingly, some studies have hinted that vitamin D may play a neuroprotective role. In support of this idea, several recent studies have found links between vitamin D deficiency and the risk of dementia and cognitive decline. However, one study also found no associations in men. Read More > at IFL Science

Today’s kids confused by old-fashioned typewriters -

With autonomy, will Power 5 bust up NCAA sports as we know them? – So it’s official. After two years of stump speeches and steering committee reports, the Power 5 conferences got their wish Thursday when the NCAA Division I Board of Directors approved a new governance system that allows those leagues legislative autonomy to expand benefits for their athletes.

…They’ll soon be able to do just that. Over the next year, if not sooner, expect the Power 5 to usher in measures like the ability to provide full cost of attendance scholarships, cover travel expenses for players’ families to attend postseason games, increase insurance benefits and more. Frustration with the NCAA’s cumbersome legislative process, specifically when the larger membership overrode a $2,000 scholarship stipend proposal passed in 2011, led to this day. In theory, those obstacles have now been removed.

…But football is the revenue-driving giant that continues to dictate conference and NCAA movement. In particular, the various antitrust lawsuits threatening the college sports model — most notably Ed O’Bannon’s and the still-nascent case being brought by prominent labor attorney Jeffrey Kessler — are focused almost entirely on redistributing some of the Power 5’s pot of football gold.

Many believe these external pressures may eventually force the big-money schools to start a new and more expressly commercial enterprise. Others believe those schools need to remain affiliated with the other 27 conferences to maintain the facade that they’re still primarily amateur and academic enterprises. Read More > at Fox Sports

2 California towns where chickens have free range - Some towns have pigeons, others have wild turkeys … and some have chickens.

At least two Northern California bergs are overrun with great flocks of feral fowl. They hang around street corners, waddle into stores, and beg for muffin crumbs at Starbucks. In one town, they’re even the subject of an annual festival.

“They run all over the place. You get used to it,” said Nan Danford, owner of a shop in Fair Oaks (Sacramento County) called Home 2 Roost, which sells chicken-themed gifts. “They give the town a homey feel. It’s something special other towns don’t have.”

Wild chickens have been part of life in Yuba City (Sutter County) and Fair Oaks for generations. Disagreement abounds on their origins, and what came first – the chickens, the eggs or escapees from a poultry processing plant. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Microsoft wants you to say farewell to ye olde Internet Explorer - Microsoft seriously wants users let go of older Internet Explorers and move on — so much so that the company has even set a deadline. Starting on January 12th, 2016, Microsoft will stop issuing security updates and providing tech support for any IE browser other than the most recent one (that’s IE 11, for the unaware). In a recent post on the IEBlog, Redmond listed a number of reasons why people should upgrade their browsers, including improved security, as IE 11 is more equipped to protect users from vulnerabilities compared to older versions. The company also explained that its latest browser is faster than its predecessors, and that website and app developers will be able to work more efficiently if everyone stops using ancient browsers that don’t support modern web standards.

In an effort to help make the transition easier, the company even listed a number of browser migration resources in the post. Enterprise customers who need to keep using web apps designed for older browsers, however, won’t have to worry about the 2016 cutoff. IE 11’s new Enterprise Mode provides backwards compatibility with legacy web apps and will continue working throughout the lifecycle of the computer’s operating system. Read More > at Engadget

High housing costs are a drag on California’s economy, report says - The pace of home sales in California should pick up in the second half of this year and into next, but a shortage of housing — especially at affordable prices — is becoming a bigger drag on the state’s economy..

That’s according to a new report out Thursday from forecasting firm Beacon Economics, which calls high housing costs “one of California’s biggest challenges” and one that’s driving low- and middle-income workers from the state.

The good news, Beacon says, is that home prices are cooling off. The firm predicts annual price growth of 4% to 6% for the next two years, a more sustainable pace than the double-digit gains seen for much of the last two years. Sales volume also should rebound as more homeowners have equity and banks loosen tough lending rules. And home building will continue to pick up, though it remains a long way from levels seen last decade.

But prices here remain high relative to incomes and relative to other regions that also have strong job markets. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

At about $600 a seat, 49ers tickets among priciest in NFL’s resale market - When the San Francisco 49ers announced that tickets at their new $1.3 billion Levi’s Stadium would go for $110-$479 a pop, sticker shock reverberated around Silicon Valley.

But secondary market prices are now revealing just how much people will pay for primo games at the sold-out, 68,500-seat venue in Santa Clara. The team is set to host two of the five most expensive games for the entire National Football League season, according to an analysis by New York ticket reseller TickPick.

Tickets to see the San Francisco 49ers play the rival Seattle Seahawks on Thanksgiving — currently the No. 2 most expensive NFL game this season — are trading hands for just below $600 on average. That’s actually down significantly from the peak in average ticket prices, which was in the $675 range earlier this year. Read More > in the Silicon Valley Business Journal

California Officials Fight Illegal Water Use by Marijuana Growers - Across California, parched counties and cities are targeting hundreds, if not thousands, of illegal marijuana operations. Previously, such drug busts were due to public safety and environmental reasons, but recently, police have been on a mission to save water. Marijuana cultivation requires a large amount of water, and amidst crippling drought and strict water-use regulations, communities are looking to save water in any way they can.

Illegal operations in Northern California counties such as Lake and Mendocino are a major problem for county officials due to the huge amount of water diverted to cultivate cannabis plants. Mendocino County Sheriff Thomas D. Allman has caught growers illegally taking water from springs after many wells had run dry in the wake of the drought. He recently has been having his team keep a close eye on rivers and other water sources in order to prevent the county’s precious water supply from further theft.

State numbers show that outdoor marijuana cultivation has doubled in the past few years in communities such as Mendocino County and Humboldt County, to what is described as “disastrous effect.”

Many marijuana growers, described as “old hippies” by Sheriff Allman, understand the problem, and have been taking steps to reduce their crops or to recycle their wastewater. But there are certain high-output marijuana growers who attempt to grow as much cannabis as they can, as fast as they can, in order to make as much profit as possible. These types of people, said Sheriff Allman, are the ones that have no regard for how much water they use or what kind of environmental impact they might have. Read More > at California City News

If California Cows Could Talk - The story of my California probably sounds a lot like yours. We’re still the number one state in dairy (as we are in so many other things), producing nearly 5 billion gallons of milk annually, more than a fifth of the American supply. The county where I live, Tulare (this piece was inspired by a stare down I had with a columnist there), is one of four California counties among the top five dairy counties in America.

But California’s continued leadership among cows is not assured. The end of the last decade was brutal for us, much as it was for you with that housing crisis and recession. Supplies got so high that prices dropped. Then the cost of feed soared, in part because of a lack of rainfall. The combination of lower prices and high feed costs was too much for many dairymen. Since 2007, as a result of foreclosures and consolidation, California has lost about a quarter of its dairies.

Some dairies actually left the state. That may sound strange—how can you pick up and move a farm?—but it’s not uncommon. More than a generation ago, my ancestors lived in Southern California’s Inland Empire, which was full of dairies, but they relocated here in the San Joaquin Valley where land was cheaper. Today, states like Utah, Colorado, and South Dakota seek to lure our dairies with promises of cheaper land and less environmental regulation.

The result: The one constant in my corral is change. Just as you probably have to do more with less in your office, today’s economics require dairies to produce more with fewer cows. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

California Economic Summit Releases How-To Guide on Proposed New Infrastructure Financing Tools - Long before water pipes began bursting in Los Angeles and dams started cracking in the Sierra foothills, the California Economic Summit has been exploring ways the state can make needed investments in California’s aging infrastructure.

With less than a month remaining in this year’s legislative session, the Summit sent a letter to the Governor and Legislative leaders this week urging lawmakers to move forward with one promising option—a proposal to create new local infrastructure development tools known as “Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts” (EIFDs).

Accompanying the letter is a How-to Guide created by the Summit detailing how local and regional agencies could use this new authority to invest in everything from sidewalk repair and water infrastructure (including, yes, next-generation water systems) to the implementation of sustainable communities plans.

“The Administration’s proposed EIFDs would give communities more authority to build the infrastructure California needs to achieve its growth and sustainability goals,” says Mark Pisano, a USC Price School of Public Policy senior fellow who coauthored the Summit report—and who was one of more than a dozen economic development experts signing on to the Summit letter.

“These financing districts would not only be able to build all public infrastructure, they could also serve as a platform for multiple funding streams—including private financing. The districts could also encourage the types of policy integration necessary to successfully implement regional sustainable communities strategies.” Read More > at Public CEO

How to Keep Data Out of Hackers’ Hands - The numbers sound abstract: Hundreds of millions of email addresses and other types of personal identification found in the hands of Russian hackers. For people worried that they are caught in the mix, however, the discovery by Hold Security of a huge database of stolen data is very personal. But personal doesn’t mean helpless. There are common sense steps everyone can take to keep the impact of hackers to a minimum.

How do I know if my personal information was stolen?

Assume it is. The latest breach is huge, and similar attacks and smaller thefts are happening all the time.

At this point, it is wisest to improve your online security immediately.

Should I change my password?

The first step, as always, is to change passwords for sites that contain sensitive information like financial, health or credit card data. Do not use the same password across multiple sites.

How do I create stronger passwords?

Try a password manager like LastPass or Password Safe, which was created by security expert Bruce Schneier. Read More > in The New York Times

Two deaths from West Nile virus reported in Northern California - Two people have died of West Nile virus in Northern California — the first reported deaths linked to the illness in the state in 2014..

The deaths were reported Wednesday in Sacramento and Shasta counties, which have had multiple cases of West Nile virus this year.

In Sacramento County, a 74-year-old woman, who had been suffering from an underlying chronic disease, was hospitalized and later died.

Seven additional cases in Sacramento County are being investigated.

Shasta officials described the person who died of the disease only as an adult because the region is small and revealing more information would effectively identity the person, said Tim Mapes, a community education specialist with the county’s Health and Human Services Agency. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

California lawmakers kill measure to ban sale of e-cigarettes in vending machines - A proposal to ban the sale of electronic cigarettes in California vending machines died in an Assembly committee Wednesday as both sides accused the other of advancing the interests of tobacco companies at the expense of public health.

Senate Bill 648 presented a confusing case in the ongoing debate over regulating the vapor devices that are marketed as smoke-free cigarettes. It also illustrated the influence tobacco companies – which have expanded in recent years to include electronic cigarettes – wield in the state Capitol. Tobacco company contributions to California Democrats have quadrupled over the last five years, a recent Sacramento Bee analysis found.

The bill by Sen. Ellen Corbett originally set out to prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes – also called vape pipes or hookah pens – in the same places traditional cigarettes are banned. Read More > in The Fresno Bee

Diaper bill draws strong reactions - A first-of-its-kind program that would subsidize diaper costs for California families on welfare is drawing praise from advocates for the poor and criticism from opponents for its price tag and potential to expand the state’s welfare system.

Assembly Bill 1516, introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, would give $80 per month for diapers to families on welfare for each child they have under two years old. The total expense would reach $119 million annually if families for all 123,500 eligible children participated, according to a state analysis. No other state has passed similar legislation.

Laws prohibit families from using food stamps and benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) to buy diapers. Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune

Madden thinks kids start playing football with helmets too young - The NFL Network may have gotten more than it bargained for when it included John Madden in a panel discussion about safety in youth football.

Melissa Stark has been hosting a five-part series touting the Heads Up Football program, which has been given a five-year, $45 million grant by the NFL to help promote safety within the game by educating coaches, players and parents.

The final installment of the series was a round-table discussion focused on youth football with a panel featuring Stark, Madden, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin and HUF advisory committee member (and NFL wife/mother) Chris Golic.

…Stark then changed the subject, asking who’s ultimately responsible for making sure proper safety techniques are being employed. Madden let the others talk for a minute or so before deciding to let us know what he really thinks about youth football.

I’m a firm believer that there’s no way that a 6-year-old should have a helmet on and learn a tackling drill,” Madden said. “There’s no way. Or a 7-year-old or an 8-year-old. They’re not ready for it. Take the helmets off kids.

“Start at 6-years-old, 7-year-old, 8-years-old, 9-years-old. They don’t need helmets — they can play flag football. And with flag football you can get all the techniques. Why do we have to start with a 6-year-old who was just potty trained a year ago and put a helmet on him and tackle? I have no idea. We’ll eventually get to tackling.” Read More > at Fox Sports

This is Comcast’s internal handbook for talking customers out of canceling service - Remember that Comcast customer service representative who just wouldn’t let Ryan Block cancel his service? That employee was in Comcast’s retention department, which is a customer’s last stop on their way out.

Retention specialists are trained to persuade a customer to stay, or at least not cancel all their lines of service.

“We locked down the ability for most customer service reps to disconnect accounts,” a billing systems manager who worked for Comcast from 2008 to 2013 told The Verge. “We queue the calls for customers looking to disconnect to a retention team who are authorized to give more deeply discounted products to keep subscribers. Even if the subscriber disconnects cable, maybe we can keep them on internet or voice.”

A current employee at Comcast who participated in the Comcast Confessions series provided The Verge with a copy of the 20-page guidelines the company uses for evaluating retention specialists. Read More > at The Verge

Swearing makes pain go away - Swear words, or bad language, make up about 0.6 per cent of our speech. Given that we speak an average of about 16,000 words each day, that means that about 95 of our daily words are profanities. In general, swear words are offensive — but there is one situation where they are actually very helpful.

The word ‘profane’ comes from the Latin roots of ‘pro’ meaning ‘before’, and ‘fanum’ meaning ‘temple’. So a profanity was something that you said before or outside the temple. It was definitely not to be spoken inside the temple.

In every single language or dialect ever studied, regardless of whether that language was living or dead, regardless of whether it was spoken by billions or just a small tribe, profanities exist.

But swear words do have power. Merely hearing profanities will change the electrical conductance of your skin. Your pulse will quicken, the hairs on your arms will rise and your breathing will become shallow.

Back in 2009, Dr Richard Stevens and colleagues from Keele University in the United Kingdom looked at the link between swearing and pain. They got 67 unfortunate undergraduate students to undergo a standard pain test called the cold pressor test.

Their study showed that, while repeating over and over a word meaning ‘table’, men could withstand the cold water for a bit over two minutes, while women could go a bit over one minute. But if instead they were to repeat their chosen profanity, each gender could keep their hand in the 5°C water for an average of an extra 40 seconds. Read More > at ABC Science

A deep dive into Senate culture - When the California state Senate reaches the end of its 2013-14 legislative session later this month, it will mark the end of a highly tumultuous period in the institution’s more than 150-year history.

Allegations of bribery, corruption, international arms trafficking, racketeering, perjury, illegal drug use and nepotism among senators and Senate staff have marred the institution’s public image for more than a year. Each time the Senate has responded to a crisis — by suspending three of its members, overhauling ethics rules and dismissing staff — another has arisen.

When the Senate voted to suspend Sens. Leland Yee, Ronald Calderon and Roderick Wright – all Democrats — in late March for various ethical lapses, Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, observed in a statement that “One case is an anomaly, two is a coincidence, but three? That’s not what this Senate is about.” He called on the entire body to “take a deeper look at (Senate) culture.” Read More > in the Capitol Weekly

$619 billion missed from federal transparency site - A government website intended to make federal spending more transparent was missing at least $619 billion from 302 federal programs, a government audit has found.

And the data that does exist is wildly inaccurate, according to the Government Accountability Office, which looked at 2012 spending data. Only 2% to 7% of spending data on USASpending.gov is “fully consistent with agencies’ records,” according to the report.

Among the data missing from the 6-year-old federal website:

• The Department of Health and Human Services failed to report nearly $544 billion, mostly in direct assistance programs like Medicare. The department admitted that it should have reported aggregate numbers of spending on those programs.

• The Department of the Interior did not report spending for 163 of its 265 assistance programs because, the department said, its accounting systems were not compatible with the data formats required by USASpending.gov. The result: $5.3 billion in spending missing from the website.

• The White House itself failed to report any of the programs it’s directly responsible for. At the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which is part of the White House, officials said they thought HHS was responsible for reporting their spending. Read More > at USA Today

Spurs hire WNBA star Becky Hammon as assistant - Becky Hammon has been defying the odds her entire basketball life. Now, the ultimate underdog is preparing for her biggest challenge yet.

Hammon accepted a coaching position with the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, making her the first full-time paid female NBA assistant coach. She will begin her new job when her current one, playing in the WNBA for the San Antonio Stars, is over at the end of the season.

The 16-year WNBA veteran will work with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich on scouting, game-planning and the day-to-day grind of practice like no woman has done before.

Hammon isn’t the first woman to work with NBA players. During the 2001-02 season, Cleveland Cavaliers coach John Lucas brought Lisa Boyer into the team’s practices and some games. Boyer, now an assistant at South Carolina, wasn’t paid by the Cavaliers and didn’t travel with the team. Read More > at Yahoo! Sports

CNET On Cars: Smarter driver: Is there any tech to save kids left in cars? – Brian Cooley discusses tips and (lack) of technologies to avoid leaving a child locked in a car.

http://www.cnet.com/videos/smarter-driver-is-there-tech-to-save-kids-left-in-cars/

Drought Brings Earlier Start To California Grape Harvest - The drought gets the blame for an earlier than normal ripening of wine grapes in much of California.

Wine growers say the dry, hot weather is the reason the grape harvest throughout California will start a couple weeks or more earlier than normal.

“We’re probably looking about mid-August here for harvest to start, probably a little earlier than usual,” said Jennifer Pechette, executive director of the Amador Vintners Association in Plymouth.

She said the harvest in Amador County typically starts in early-to-mid-September “Our growers and winemakers are looking really closely at the grapes right now, they’re going out in the fields every day and checking them,” said Pechette. Read More > at Capital Public Radio

What if a Solar Flare Hit the Earth? – Recently, there’s been news of a humongous solar flare that narrowly missed the Earth in 2012. If it had been one week earlier, one of the largest solar storms in recorded history would have directly hit our world. Just a small reminder that we live near an enormous ball of nuclear fusion.

So, what would happen if an enormous flare actually did hit us?

First things first — we would not be fried to a crisp. The Sun is too far away for the heat from a flare to make it here, according to a statement from NASA. But a new report published yesterday in Physics World says that while solar storms can’t kill us outright, they could have catastrophic effects… and we should be doing everything we can to prepare for them.

Even though the heat from a flare can’t reach us, the electromagnetic particles from the blast would, and would wreak havoc with our electronics. Imagine the electromagnetic pulse bombs from Ocean’s Eleven or Red Dawn, but instead of knocking out the electricity in Las Vegas or the United States, these solar flares could knock out power grids and communication systems on a global scale. That would mean no cell phones, no ATMs, no sewage systems, and no working respirators in hospitals for months.

NASA scientists estimate that a huge solar flare will hit Earth every 150 years, and — uh oh — the last big solar storm blasted us in 1859, 155 years ago. The 1859 flare didn’t cause much damage since we weren’t as wired as we are now, but it did take out almost 125,000 miles of telegraph cables. Read More > in Popular Mechanics

Smart highway aims to cut congestion on westbound I-80 - The Bay Area’s next big highway project promises to cut congestion and reduce accidents in the East Bay on westbound Interstate 80, which consistently ranks as the region’s lousiest commute – and it’s due to be finished early next year.

So why haven’t you seen bulldozers, dump trucks and hordes of workers in neon vests and hardhats, grading and paving new lanes? Because the I-80 project isn’t about building a bigger freeway but installing a slew of signs and technology that work together to improve traffic flow.

The most noticeable evidence of the project’s progress will appear soon, possibly this week. Working at night, crews will install 11 huge gantries – metal sign frames – that stretch across all westbound lanes of the freeway in the most consistently congested and collision-ridden stretch, from Richmond to Emeryville.

Those gantries will hold an array of signs giving drivers information to help them steer clear of accidents, debris and blocked lanes. It will even let them know if it would be faster to take public transit. More signs will be scattered along the rest of the 19.5-mile stretch of the project between the Carquinez Bridge in Crockett and the Bay Bridge. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

California lawmakers return to a mountain of bills - When lawmakers return to work Monday after their summer break, the final frenzied weeks of the legislative session will begin with fierce debate on some of the year’s most contentious bills.

The measures would require all smartphones sold in California to come equipped with anti-theft technology, guarantee all workers at least three days of paid sick leave annually and ban plastic grocery bags. All of the bills drew intense opposition earlier this year, and their fate remains uncertain.

Lawmakers also must strike a deal on a new water bond by the end of the month if they hope to replace the $11 billion package now set to appear on the November ballot. A recent poll showed that the bond could be rejected by voters if the cost isn’t reduced.

Legislators must take action on more than 1,000 bills in four weeks, but Capitol observers say deals hammered out before the summer break on most of the controversial pieces of legislation has made the workload manageable. Read More > in the Contra Costa Times

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