Sunday Reading – 08/28/16

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.

Here’s what the proposed Las Vegas Raiders stadium could look like – The Raiders officially applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to obtain the trademark for “Las Vegas Raiders,” and on Thursday the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee released a stadium proposal — complete with renderings — for a potential Raiders Stadium with a projected $1.9 billion pricetag. Although a future move to Las Vegas is still just a possibility, this plan for a 65,000-seat domed stadium is very real. Images courtesy of MANICA Architecture.

vegas%202.vadapt.767.high.88 Read More > at Fox Sports

The first self-driving taxis are cruising around Singapore – Uber announced that it will start self-driving trials in Pittsburgh later this month, but it was beat to the punch by a much less well-known company. Starting today, nuTonomy will offer rides to Singapore residents in specially equipped Mitsubishi i-MiEV or Renault Zoe electric vehicles. As with Uber, passengers won’t be alone with a robotic driver like Silicon Valley’s hapless Jared. A nuTonomy engineer will be along to monitor the vehicle, and a safety driver will “assume control if needed to ensure passenger comfort and safety,” the company wrote.

The rides will be free to start with, and the company will stick to an area called “One-North” for the tests. Municipal officials designated the 2.5-square-mile residential zone specifically for self-driving trials in an effort to reduce congestion in the city, where 5.5 million residents live in a region about three times the size of Boston. Pick-ups and drop-offs will also be limited to certain areas to avoid traffic concerns. Read More > at Engadget

Green Sturgeon Numbers on the Rise? Time Will Tell… – Green sturgeon is a rarity these days for a fish species found in the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta – because its numbers could be increasing.

While high-profile Delta species such as Delta smelt and winter-run Chinook salmon are at record lows and facing possible extinction, that doesn’t seem to be the case with Sacramento River green sturgeon – listed as threatened by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the Endangered Species Act in 2006.

Recent efforts to assist green sturgeon appear to be helping. Whether the increase marks a long-term trend is to be determined.

Data collected through the month of June from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s rotary-screw trap surveys at the Red Bluff Diversion Dam (RBDD) showed a juvenile green sturgeon 2016 Relative Abundance Index – which measures catch per unit volume – at an all-time high for the survey at over 30 fish per acre-feet of water volume sampled.

This represents a 34 percent increase from the previous high in 2011. For comparison, the 2015 index was 3.3 fish per acre-feet. Read More > from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Can California Voters Make Responsible Policy? – This November, Californians – in addition to electing or re-electing local, states, and federal office-holders – will be deciding the fate of at least seventeen statewide ballot measures (and countless local/regional ones). These measures address some major policy issues, such as the fate of California’s death penalty, adult recreational marijuana use, and pharmaceutical price controls. With so many complex and consequential issues on the ballot, the question lingering overhead is whether Californians are prepared to make such important decisions.

Next week, the Hoover Institution will release its July-August 2016 issue of Eureka. This issue explores responsibility at the polls: 1) are Propositions 51 and 53 fiscally responsible, 2) is Proposition 55 responsible budgeting, 3) is Proposition 57 a responsible step toward criminal justice reform, and 4) are Californians capable of being responsible policymakers in the polling booth?

The measures Californians are being asked to decide are complicated and serious policy questions – issues experts take lifetimes to understand. The consequences, both intended and unintended, can be huge. Couple this with the increasing volume of the measures, ballots are becoming quite overwhelming. Then you also add in the fact that voter turnout is declining and electorates are largely uninformed on non-presidential candidates and issues. All of this wouldn’t be an issue for California’s initiative system if reforming or repealing a policy passed via the ballot was easy. But the system was specifically designed to be inflexible…

At the end of the day, though, California needs to figure out a way to ensure Californians are confident and capable of knowledgeably weighing judgement on ballot propositions.

For a more in-depth look at these topics, keep your eye out for the July-August 2016 issue of Eureka at to be released on Tuesday, August 30. Read More > at Real Clear Markets

Judge allows higher developer fees for schools; Dublin, Fremont will benefit – A judge has ruled in favor of allowing the state to collect higher fees from developers in order to help school districts such as Dublin and Fremont to build new classrooms and alleviate overcrowding.

State Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny issued his ruling Tuesday against the California Building Industry Association and in favor of the State Allocation Board, which voted in May to trigger the higher fees.

The building association sued to prevent the increase, claiming the state had money left in its school construction bond fund. That money is reserved for seismic improvements, but the association argued in its suit that it could be used instead to fund construction. The group also argued that the higher fees would boost home prices, negatively impacting buyers and builders.

…The state board declared in May that state bond funds for new school construction were no longer available, which allowed it for the first time to trigger the highest-level impact fees on homebuilders that the law allows. The building association slapped the State Allocation Board with a lawsuit the same day the panel voted to trigger the higher fees.

The ruling’s impacts could be tempered if Proposition 51, a $9 billion state school construction bond, is approved by voters in November. The measure would replenish the state bond fund and state matching dollars for new school construction. That money was depleted last fall, which allowed the state to trigger the higher developer fees. Read More > in the East Bay Times

Uber Loses at Least $1.2 Billion in First Half of 2016 – …In the first quarter of this year, Uber lost about $520 million before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, according to people familiar with the matter. In the second quarter the losses significantly exceeded $750 million, including a roughly $100 million shortfall in the U.S., those people said. That means Uber’s losses in the first half of 2016 totaled at least $1.27 billion.

Subsidies for Uber’s drivers are responsible for the majority of the company’s losses globally, Gupta told investors, according to people familiar with the matter. An Uber spokesman declined to comment.

Bookings grew tremendously from the first quarter of this year to the second, from above $3.8 billion to more than $5 billion. Net revenue, under generally accepted accounting principles, grew about 18 percent, from about $960 million in the first quarter to about $1.1 billion in the second.

…The second quarter of 2016, which ended in June, could represent a nadir for Uber. The company’s losses will likely fall. In July, it cut a deal with its largest global competitor, Chinese ride-hailing behemoth Didi Chuxing, washing its hands of its massive losses in that country. Didi gave Uber a 17.5 percent stake in its business and a $1 billion investment in exchange for Uber’s retreat. Uber lost at least $2 billion in two years in China, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg in July. Uber won’t see any losses from China on its balance sheet after August, the company said on Friday’s investor call.

Uber’s backers range from venture capital firms like Benchmark Capital to the investment bank Goldman Sachs. Altogether, Uber has raised more than $16 billion in cash and debt. Its latest valuation is a whopping $69 billion. The company has effectively redistributed at least $1 billion to the Chinese working class in the form of heavy subsidies to drivers there. “Uber and Didi Chuxing are investing billions of dollars in China and both companies have yet to turn a profit there,” Uber Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick wrote in a letter announcing the company’s departure from China. Read More > in Bloomberg

Best Buy posts higher profit, better online and store sales – Best Buy’s profit jumped 21 percent as the nation’s largest consumer electronics retailer increased sales online and tried to create a better shopping experience in the stores while it also cut costs.

Its shares soared 19 percent after the company said online sale rose 24 percent to $835 million, a beacon for investors who have watched eat away at the sales of almost every traditional retailer. The stock surge marked the largest daily percentage increase since mid-December 2008.

Revenue at established stores, an important measure of a retailer’s health, also managed a gain of 0.8 percent when Wall Street, according to a survey by FactSet, had expected a decline of 0.4 percent. The company has been working on revamping its stores and improving sales staff training to convert browsers into buyers. Read More > in the Associated Press

Backers drop plan to allow Delta anglers to keep more striped bass – The state Fish and Game Commission on Thursday will no longer consider a controversial proposal to allow anglers to catch and keep more nonnative Delta bass.

On Tuesday, backers pulled a petition that sought to increase the size and daily bag limits for nonnative striped and black bass in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Michael Boccadoro, a spokesman for the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, said supporters were frustrated that they would only be allowed 10 minutes at Thursday’s meeting to make their case to the commissioners.

Boccadoro’s group represents Kern County farming interests who for years have blamed the nonnative bass for eating endangered Delta smelt and Chinook salmon. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Bill to end Daylight Saving Time in California fails in Senate – A San Jose legislator’s efforts to abandon Daylight Saving Time ended Tuesday when the state Senate rejected a measure that would have allowed California voters to end the twice-annual ritual at the ballot boxes.

Assembly Bill 385, authored by Assemblyman Kansen Chu, D-San Jose, fell four votes short of the 21 votes needed to pass the upper house.

Chu could not immediately be reached for comment. But he has previously remarked that he couldn’t understand why anyone would want to “do this fall backward, spring forward thing twice a year.”

The legislation won support from an unusual mix of lawmakers: 11 Democrats and six Republicans. But 10 Democrats and seven Republicans opposed it. Read More > in The Mercury News

Delta tunnels don’t pencil out, UOP economist says – A prominent Sacramento-area economist says Gov. Jerry Brown’s $15.5 billion plan to overhaul the troubled Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta doesn’t make financial sense, with costs far outweighing the benefits.

Jeff Michael of the University of the Pacific, who has been a persistent critic of Brown’s plan to build a pair of massive tunnels beneath the Delta, said the project would likely deliver just 23 cents worth of economic benefit for every $1 spent.

Even under the most optimistic scenario, the tunnels, known as California WaterFix, would generate just 39 cents worth of benefit, Michael wrote in a 24-page report released early Wednesday.

The State Water Resources Control Board has launched a grueling hearing on the details of the plan, which is expected to last well into 2017. Meanwhile, Brown’s administration is scrambling to secure environmental approvals from two federal agencies that supervise endangered fish species found in the Delta. State officials believe it’s crucial to get those approvals before President Barack Obama leaves office next January, or risk losing momentum on the entire project.

A preliminary cost-benefit analysis, conducted in 2013 for the state, concluded that the project makes financial sense. Michael’s report said the 2013 study was flawed because it overestimated the benefits of the proposed project. State officials say the 2013 study will be updated. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Law Schools Cut Back to Counter Tough Financial Times – For years they were considered the cash cows of academe, spinning off profits that could keep money-losing parts of the university afloat.

But most law schools today are struggling to break even, buffeted by plummeting applications, a shrinking job market, and the constant pressure to avoid slipping in national rankings. … Because they rely so heavily on tuition and face a variety of other cost pressures, many and possibly most of those schools are operating at a deficit.

The growing number of universities that are subsidizing struggling law schools “are certainly not happy about the money running the other way,” said Paul F. Campos, a professor of law at the University of Colorado at Boulder whose biting critiques of law schools in blogs and books have made him a polarizing but influential figure in legal education. He estimates that at least 80 percent of law schools are losing money — a figure that an ABA spokesman said could not be confirmed. Read More > at Chronicle of Higher Education

Ramen is displacing tobacco as most popular US prison currency, study finds – Ramen noodles are overtaking tobacco as the most popular currency in US prisons, according a new study released on Monday.

A new report by Michael Gibson-Light, a doctoral candidate in the University of Arizona’s school of sociology, found the decline in quality and quantity of food available in prisons due to cost-cutting has made ramen noodles a valuable commodity.

“[Ramen] is easy to get and it’s high in calories,” Gibson-Light said. “A lot of them, they spend their days working and exercising and they don’t have enough energy to do these things. From there it became more a story, why ramen in particular.”

Gibson-Light interviewed close to 60 inmates over the course of a year at one state prison as part of a wider study on prison labor. He did not identify the prison to protect the confidentiality of the inmates.

He found that the instant soup has surpassed tobacco as the most prized currency at the prison. He also analyzed other nationwide investigations that he says found a trend towards using ramen noodles in exchanges. Read More > in The Guardian

Inspector General Confirms EPA Broke Law, Failed to Study Environmental Impact of Ethanol – …In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act, which was and signed into law by Pres. George W. Bush. Among other things, the 2007 legislation increased the Renewable Fuel Standard that mandated biofuel production, primarily ethanol, and the blending of at least some of that ethanol into the gasoline supply.

The law also stipulates that the U.S. EPA must conduct studies every three years and report to Congress on the air and water quality benefit, or lack thereof, by adding corn-based ethanol to gasoline. The purpose of that part of the law is to make sure solutions to the country’s energy needs don’t adversely affect the environment.

The 2013 AP investigation characterized the use of ethanol as having a far more negative impact on the environment than the EPA and Dept. of Energy predicted. The AP reported that with corn effectively subsidized, farmers put millions of acres of land formerly devoted to conservation into corn production, destroying animal habitats and polluting water supplies.

For its part, the EPA agreed with the IG that the agency failed to follow the law and produce the studies. The EPA said it will produce a report on the impacts of biofuels by the end of 2017 — seven years late.

Though it’s now complying with that part of the law, apparently the agency feels the triennial requirements in the law are still optional. The EPA said that it will investigate whether the ethanol mandate is making other environmental issues worse, but it will do so by September 2024. The reason that study will take another eight years, the agency claims, is that it will be time-consuming and resource-intensive. Read More > at The Truth About Cars

Lyft Shuts Down Carpool Commute Feature As Drivers Opt Out – In March, ridesharing startup Lyft announced a new option for commuters in the Bay Area. Drivers using Lyft Carpool could earn up to $10 per ride on their normal commute by picking up other workers heading in the same direction.

Five months later, Lyft will shut down its carpool feature after not enough drivers opted into the program, FORBES has learned. On Thursday, the company notified the engineering team responsible for launching and running Lyft Carpool that they will be transitioned to other products.

A Lyft spokesman confirmed to FORBES that the startup is “pausing” the carpool product: “While we think a scheduled carpool feature is the right long-term strategy, it is too soon to scale to a meaningful level where supply matches demand. We learned a lot and will apply it to new and existing projects — like Lyft Line — as we drive our vision forward to solve pain points in commuting.”

Commuting remains the unattainable white whale of the ridesharing industry, a tempting goal that represents a much larger share of driving than taxi use. When Lyft launched Carpool in March, the company cited statistics like 76% of Americans drive to work alone and Bay Area commuters specifically spend an average of 75 hours stuck in traffic per year. Read More > in Forbes

Where Are the Tallest People in the World? – It’s good to be tall. Tall people live longer, are considered more attractive, and make more money – an extra inch of height is correlated with an additional $800 in income. Taller people are more likely to report experiencing happiness and less likely to feel sadness or physical pain.

But it’s not just good for an individual to be tall; it’s good for a society in general.

Countries with tall people are wealthier, have longer average life spans, and are less likely to have experienced conflict. There’s no better sign of a country’s health and wealth than height.

…Rather than genetics, diet and well-being during infancy and adolescence are the primary determinants of a country’s average height. During these growth periods, the body has the greatest need for nutrients. Sickness and malnourishment in childhood can mean a loss of three to four inches in height.

…The data shows that while Americans used to be among the tallest in the world, that is no longer true. It also demonstrates that height growth seems to be stagnating across much of the world. Which raises the question: Does this mean that much of the world has reached its full height potential? Or has our health stopped improving?

There is no better example of how prosperity affects height than the great height divergence of North and South Korea over the last 60 years.

In the 1940s, the average person born in either North or South Korea was just about the same height – a little less than 5’ 3”. Today, the average 18-year-old in economically developed South Korea is more than 1.2 inches taller than in the impoverished North.

…Europe is the land of giants. Besides Australia (ranked 18th), all of the 20 countries with the tallest people are in Europe, and the majority of those are in the northern part of the continent. Some research suggests Northern Europeans have a genetic predisposition to tallness – at least compared to their neighbors to the south – but more important is the widespread prosperity in the region. No area of the world has more high income, low inequality countries. Read More > at Priceonomics

How Uber plans to put its own drivers out of business – Uber spent years amassing an army of 1 million drivers around the world. Now it says it wants to “wean” customers off of those very drivers.

Beginning this month, the ride-sharing company will begin deploying self-driving cars — equipped with cameras, lasers and GPS systems — to pick up passengers in downtown Pittsburgh, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. The custom Volvo SUVs will offer free introductory rides and, at least for now, be supervised by engineers in the driver’s seat.

The idea, the company says, is to eventually replace human drivers with automated systems. The fleet of 100 new vehicles, will come with tablets in the back seats to tell customers what’s happening and to discourage them from interacting with their drivers. Read More > in The Washington Post

California crime measure triggers 52,000 fewer arrests – A 2014 California voter-approved initiative that reduced penalties for certain drug and property crimes has led to the lowest arrest rate in state history as police frequently ignore those illegal activities, experts say.

Proposition 47 lowered criminal sentences by reducing them from felonies that can bring long prison sentences to misdemeanors that instead bring up to a year in jail.

…It’s too soon to say whether the changes are helping spur rising crime rates, though Lofstrom and other researchers are watching the relationship closely.

Law enforcement officials said drug offenders may now commonly be cited and released, or ignored because there may be little penalty if they are arrested. There were about 22,000 fewer drug arrests last year.

“The de facto decriminalization of drugs may have an impact,” said Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association. “We do know that there’s a lot less arrests being made, which means there are a lot more people on the streets using drugs.” Read More > in the Associated Press

Bay Area Start-Ups Find Low-Cost Outposts in Arizona – …As start-ups across San Francisco and the Silicon Valley try to contend with high salaries and housing costs, many are expanding to lower-cost cities in the West and employing more people like Ms. Rogers. For Phoenix, which is about a 90-minute flight from San Francisco, the Bay Area’s loss is its gain.

The Phoenix metro area was hit hard by the housing bust, but it is experiencing a strong recovery. The unemployment rate has recently fallen below 5 percent, the lowest in eight years, and several Silicon Valley companies, including Yelp and Uber, have opened new offices in the region. A reviving downtown Phoenix now has a cluster of companies that make business software.

At the end of last year in the Bay Area mega-region — including both the San Francisco and San Jose metropolitan areas — there were 530,000 tech and engineering jobs, a 7 percent increase from a year earlier. Phoenix has about one-fifth as many tech jobs, but the total grew 8 percent from a year ago, according to Moody’s Analytics.

“The Bay Area’s explosive growth is almost too much for the region,” said Jackson Kitchen, an analyst at Moody’s Analytics. “They are bidding up wages so high that companies are saying, ‘Let’s expand to Phoenix or Boise or Salt Lake City where wages and real estate are that much cheaper.’” Read More > in The New York Times

Council members, community angered over Zimmerman comments – During Austin’s Thursday City Council meeting many students spoke up from several city-funded groups asking for continued support.

It was what Austin City Council member Don Zimmerman said after the group of students addressed the council in Spanish that is sparking a lot of reaction on Twitter. The students were asking for funds to help their after-school program.

“I’d ask for everyone here, including the children, when you grow up, I want to ask you to pledge to finish school, learn a trade, a skilled trade, get a college education, start a business, do something useful and produce something in your society so you don’t have to live off others. Thank you.” Zimmerman said.

Shortly after he made this comment boos could be heard reverberating throughout the audience.

Council member Delia Garza spoke an estimated two hours later saying, “Earlier council [member] Zimmerman said something that was really offensive and it happened really quickly and now I’m hearing from members of our community that they are disappointed that more of us didn’t stand up and say something. And I want our community to know that we do not condone what he said. And we have your back.”

A 20-second applause followed Garza’s statement. Read More > from KXAN

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West Nile Virus Continues with more dead Birds & Chickens

End of season in sight, but higher risk of infection is typical this time of year

The Contra Costa Mosquito & Vector Control District confirmed today that five more dead birds and two chickens tested positive for West Nile virus. Two birds were found in Concord and the other birds were found in Danville, Oakley and Pleasant Hill. The chickens were from Holland Tract, near Knightsen.

“It’s the time of year when mosquitoes become less picky about their blood source and they tend to bite people as well as birds,” said Steve Schutz, Ph.D., scientific program manager with the District. “West Nile virus is a disease of birds whose blood these mosquitoes normally prefer. But, as many birds are beginning to migrate and their young have left the nest, mosquitoes, desperate to reproduce before the weather starts growing cooler, will bite people if they are present. They require protein from blood in order to produce their eggs.”

Visit the District’s website to learn of all West Nile virus activity in Contra Costa County this year, or to receive automatic adult mosquito fogging notifications should they be scheduled.

Residents are urged to help reduce their risk of contracting mosquito-borne diseases by following these guidelines:

  • Dump or drain standing water. Mosquitoes can’t begin their lives without water.
  • Defend yourself – use repellents containing DEET, Picaridin, or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus.
  • Avoid being outdoors when mosquitoes are present, typically dawn and dusk.
  • Maintain neglected swimming pools . Just one can produce more than 1 million mosquitoes and affect people up to five miles away.
  • Report dead birds to the state hotline: 1-877-968-2473. All reports are crucial.

Since 2005, 55 people in Contra Costa County have been diagnosed with West Nile virus. In 2006, two people died from the disease. For a current list of West Nile virus activity this year, visit this page on the District’s website. For human case information, please contact Contra Costa Health Services at 888-959-9911.

Contra Costa Mosquito & Vector Control District, an independent special district and public health agency, is located at 155 Mason Circle in Concord. Call the District to report mosquito problems at (925) 771-6195 or visit the office between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to get FREE mosquitofish for ornamental ponds, horse troughs or neglected swimming pools.

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2016 looks fruitful for California wineries after a hard year – from the San Francisco Chronicle

By Esther Mobley

WP_20160816_06_30_34_Pro__highresCalifornia’s 2016 wine grape harvest is under way, and after a freakishly early and low-yielding 2015 vintage, things seem to be back to normal — sort of.

The bump in yields promises some financial relief for the wine industry, which can, with luck, pass that on to consumers. And while many wines from the 2015 vintage appear on a promising track, outcomes across California were variable; an excessively early harvest can often translate to fruit with less flavor complexity. This year, the grapes are getting a little more hang time.

“Qualitatively, we’re pretty happy,” said Hugh Davies, president and CEO of Schramsberg Vineyards. The Calistoga sparkling wine house, which first picked grapes on Aug. 3, is about one-quarter of the way through harvest.

In addition to being one of the earliest on record, last year’s vintage, which started in July, was also very compressed, with many winemakers forced to pick all of their fruit in a short window of time. This year, by contrast, “is a bit more evenly paced than some other years,” Davies said. “We’re walking through it, as opposed to running.” This is largely due to moderate daytime temperatures and cooler nights in California’s coastal regions.

Vintners are generally harvesting about a week later than last year. While 2016 is still on the early side of average — by about 10 to 15 days — the fact that it’s arriving a little later than 2015 is a relief. Extra time on the vine means prolonged development of flavors.
David Marquez dumps his bin of grapes into the transport crates during Hyde Vineyards’ overnight harvest.

“You don’t want sugar to shoot up ahead of flavor ripening,” as was the case for many vineyards in 2015, said Bedrock Wine Co. owner Morgan Twain-Peterson. “We’re not going to see that as much this year.” Bedrock’s first pick was Zinfandel from Evangelho Vineyard in Contra Costa County, on Aug. 1.

In the Central Valley, California agriculture’s workhorse region, the slightly earlier-than-average timeline meant that harvest began in mid-July. (Hotter temperatures there typically ripen fruit ahead of coastal areas.) “We should wrap up Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc by the end of next week,” said Jen Wall, winemaker for Gallo-owned Barefoot Wine in Modesto. “Currently, we’re in the middle of a heat spike — our second in two weeks.”

On the whole, yields are slightly lighter than average, but still considerably higher than 2015’s extraordinarily short crop; last year, in some regions, like the far-west Sonoma Coast, vineyards reported over a 50 percent loss.

That’s certainly good news from a financial standpoint — and also may bode well for wine quality. “Clusters and berries are small,” said Jonathan Nagy, winemaker at Byron Winery in Santa Barbara, where the first Pinot Noir grapes came in on Aug. 17. “I always like that scenario. It usually means more intense flavors, structure and color.”

It’s a return to moderation after a vintage that was marked by extremes.

One hallmark of the 2016 growing season was winter rain, some succor after three hard years of drought. “It was a dry January and February, but then we got a significant amount of rain in late February and April,” said Jeff Mangahas, winemaker at Williams Selyem winery in the Russian River Valley. The drought still pushed an early bud-break, but the spring rains slowed down the ripening process.

“The plants were a lot happier this year,” said Mangahas, who started picking on Aug. 10. “From a vegetative-cycle perspective, it was a very good growing season.”

Still, as many Californians are aware, it will take a lot more sustained rainfall for the region to fully emerge out of the drought. “The rain we got this year was good for the vines, but it didn’t recharge our aquifers,” said Steve Ledson, owner of Ledson Winery & Vineyards in Sonoma Valley, who began harvesting Chardonnay on Aug. 14. “My personal opinion is that it’s going to take several more years.”

Elsewhere, the still-dry landscape had catastrophic consequences. For the second year in a row, Lake County was ravaged by wildfire. One winery in Lower Lake, Terrill Cellars, burned down. For others, the Clayton Fire threatened to disrupt the beginning of harvest. Six Sigma Ranch south of Lower Lake, for example, had to evacuate last weekend; the fire missed the property by less than 2 miles.

Smoke taint, which was a problem in 2008, does not seem likely; proximity to fire does not necessarily mean lingering smoke. “This year and last year, we had very little smoke on our property,” said Christian Ahlmann, Six Sigma’s vice president. “I don’t think the wine will have any trouble.”

Though it’s still early to call it, 2016’s potential is strong. “There’s going to be good concentration of flavors,” said Matt Stornetta, whose La Prenda Vineyard Management farms 1,000 acres of vine in Sonoma County.

Michael McNeill, director of winemaking at Sonoma Valley’s Hanzell Vineyards, agreed. The one possible challenge at Hanzell, said McNeill, is that the acidity is a little lower than expected, “so we’re going to have to balance that out with the ripeness level.”

It remains difficult to draw conclusions about weather patterns for future vintages, however. Who knows what’s “normal” anymore? Twain-Peterson points out that just a few years ago — 2009, 2010 and 2011, when there was plenty of cold and rain — we were talking about the pattern of late harvests. Chalk it up to California’s ever-unpredictable meteorology.

Link to story

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Man in the Mirror

You can’t trust yourself when you drink. Put the keys away and grab a sober friend, call a taxi, or take public transportation home. Drunk driving is a deadly epidemic that takes the lives of 10,000 people each year, on average. Don’t listen to the man in the mirror. Drive sober or get pulled over.

Want a safe and convenient way to get home? Download the NHTSA SaferRide app from the APP Store or Google Play Store.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is leading the effort to stop drunk driving. Do your part!


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Brown Bag Lunch with the Mayor is August 26th

brown bag

Donʹt miss the opportunity to have lunch with the Mayor and learn about events and activities in Oakley that impact the business community and the City as a whole . The brown bag lunches with the Mayor are scheduled for the fourth Friday of every month at City Hall.

The next lunch is Friday, August 26th from noon – 1:00 p.m. Come learn about the city’s Economic Development effort.

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Highway 4 Construction Work – Week of August 22, 2016

The SR-4 corridor construction area is a 55 mph zone and a double fine zone so remember to slow for the cone zone!

Full Freeway Closures

There are no eastbound full freeway closures planned for this week.

There are no westbound full freeway closures planned for this week.

State Route 160:
There are no full freeway closures of State Route 160 planned for this week.

Highway Lane Closures

State Route 4 and State Route 160
There will be highway lane closures in the eastbound direction of State Route 4 between Bailey Road and L Street / Contra Loma Boulevard on Monday through Friday from 4:30 am to 12:00pm.

There will be highway lane closures in the westbound direction of State Route 4 between Railroad Avenue and L Street / Contra Loma Boulevard on Monday through Friday from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm.

There will be highway lane closures in the eastbound direction of State Route 4 between L Street/ Contra Loma Boulevard and the State Route 4 / State Route 160 connector ramp on Monday through Friday from 9:00 pm to 12:00 pm (noon).

There will be highway lane closures in the westbound direction of State Route 4 between L Street / Contra Loma Boulevard and the State Route 4 / State Route 160 connector ramp on Monday through Friday from 11:00 am to 5:00 am.

Ramp Closures

State Route 4:
The State Route 4 eastbound on ramp at A Street/ Lone Tree Way will be closed on Monday through Friday evenings from 9:00 pm to 6:00 am.

Lone Tree eastbound offramp

State Route 160:
There are no ramp closures of State Route 160 planned for this week.

Local Street Closures

There will be lane closures in the northbound and southbound directions of Hillcrest Avenue between Larkspur Drive and Sunset Drive on Saturday through Friday from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.

There will be lane closures in the northbound and southbound directions of A Street / Lone Tree Way between Rossi Avenue and E. Tregallas Road on Saturday through Friday from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.

Questions or comments can be directed to the Highway 4 widening hotline at (925) 756-0721 or visit our web site at

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Sunday Reading – 08/21/16

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.

Rob Manfred, MLB considering radical changes to game – Major League Baseball, alarmed by the game’s lack of action this season is considering making the most radical changes to the game in more than a century.

Commissioner Rob Manfred said that baseball is contemplating everything from altering the strike zone to limiting the number of pitching changes in a game, to curtailing the number of shifts, to even installing 20-second time clocks for pitchers.

If these changes are implemented, it would lead to perhaps the most radical rule changes since baseball reduced the number of balls to four in 1889 to constitute a walk. Certainly, it would have more impact than the American League installing the DH in 1973.

Anything and everything will be under review, Manfred said, in hopes of breathing life into offenses, providing more action, while also quickening the pace of games.

All changes must be negotiated with the MLB Players’ Association. MLB and the MLBPA are negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement; the current one expires Dec. 1. Read More > in USA Today

Bay Area homes: Median price now $735,000 but July sales are lowest in 5 years – If you’re looking for a price break on your next house, you may have to keep waiting.

Faced with famously high prices and a tight housing supply, homebuyers grew shy last month. Across the Bay Area, single-family home sales in July fell 13.4 percent from the year before — the fifth consecutive month of year-over-year declines in the number of houses sold.

CoreLogic’s latest report shows sluggish activity for the nine-county region, which suffered its slowest July in five years. The picture was similar on the Peninsula and in the East Bay: For the sixth straight month, year-over-year sales fell in Santa Clara, Alameda and San Mateo counties, where home sales were down 14 percent, 12.1 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively. In Contra Costa County, sales declined for the fourth consecutive month, and were down 16.9 percent. Read More > in the East Bay Times

How Big Is A Fart? Somewhere Between A Bottle Of Nail Polish And A Can Of Soda – Q: How much space does a fart take in your body? — Inbal R., age 5

Placed under the microscope, even the dullest grain of sand develops a personality. So it goes with farts. (Or “flatulence,” as they say in the scientific literature.) Farts may seem largely interchangeable, but each one is special. Even just your own farts are a circus sideshow of intestinal gas: big ones, little ones, stinky ones, oddly fresh ones. There is not enough scientific evidence to say that no two farts are alike — but you can rest assured that they are a riot of diversity.

As a result, it’s impossible to say exactly how much space a generic fart takes up in the body. I can, however, tell you about the range of specific farts, as captured in scientific experiments. For instance, a 1997 study of 16 Americans found a volume-per-fart range of 17 milliliters to 375 milliliters.1 Imagine a bottle of nail polish — that’s a rough analogy for the volume of the daintiest of poots. Now imagine a can of soda. That’s the volume of a really big stinker. Your body is a wonderland.

But there are another couple of questions floating around this data. First, obviously, “How does one collect a fart?” And I’ll get to that in a bit. But second, and perhaps more important, is this: “Why study the gas volume of farts?” That’s a really interesting question if for no other reason than the fact that Dr. Michael Levitt, a researcher at Minneapolis Veterans Affairs and the grande sieur of fart research, doesn’t think there’s much value to the data. “It’s just physiological fact,” he told me. It’s interesting to know the volume of a fart, but it doesn’t have a lot of deeper meaning. Read More > at FiveThrityEight

5 ways transportation will radically change by 2026 – Right now, the way we get around can seem fairly lackluster.

That’s mostly because we’ve become accustomed to emerging forms of transportation, like high-speed rails and airplanes, that were considered revolutionary not too long ago.

But we’re entering an era of new forms of transportation that will make the way we get around more efficient, faster, and simply cooler.

We spoke to Peter Diamandis, a board member of Hyperloop One, on what we can expect in just 10 years. Here’s what he had to say:

  1. The Hyperloop will make transportation between cities easy and fast and could be operating worldwide by 2026.
  2. Flying cars could be a reality in just 5 years.
  3. Fully driverless cars will be on the road in 5 years.
  4. The model of “every car in a garage” will die down and be replaced by a fleet-based service.
  5. Space tourism will become a reality thanks to the efforts of SpaceX and Blue Origin. Read More > at Business Insider

If California legalizes pot, will TV ads be far behind? – …For California voters, the way legal pot would be advertised in California figures to be a central feature of the Proposition 64 campaign. Whether and where consumers could encounter pot ads touches overarching worries about whether kids will be exposed to the pitches.

The hazards of unfettered advertising have loomed over legalization efforts nationally. An official report in Oregon, written to help advise policymakers about youth prevention after the state legalized pot, warned of “substantial marketing and advertising of marijuana products.” A report overseen by Lt. Gavin Newsom in the run-up to California’s campaign cautioned that “as a commercial industry develops there are risks of targeted advertising similar to prior tobacco campaigns.”

Much of the debate has focused on television’s role. The California measure’s champions reject the warning, leveled by opponents, that legalization will flood the airwaves with pot ads.

…So while it’s accurate for proponents to say federal law prohibits marijuana advertisements, the federal government also prohibits possessing or selling marijuana. Yet dispensaries have thrived from Denver to Seattle.

And while the Justice Department memo gives some clear guidelines, the Federal Communications Commission has been studiously silent. The federal regulator, which has the power to grant and revoke broadcasting licenses, declined comment. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Uber’s self-driving cars will pick up their first customers this month – Uber’s self-driving taxis will get their first real-world test in Pittsburgh this month, with the semi-autonomous vehicles assigned at random to customers using the company’s app. According to a report from Bloomberg, the test fleet will consist of modified Volvo XC90 SUVs, with each car supervised by a human in the driver’s seat (a legal requirement) as well as a co-pilot taking notes. The trips themselves will be free, with a tablet in the backseat informing the passenger about the car’s capabilities.

Pittsburgh has been the home of Uber’s self-driving ambitions since 2014, when the company began its quest to poach engineers from the robotics department of the city’s Carnegie Mellon University. By early 2016, says Bloomberg, Uber had a team of hundreds of engineers, roboticists, and mechanics at its Advanced Technologies Center. Self-driving test vehicles were soon spotted around the city, and in May the company released its first official photo of a prototype vehicle — a modified Ford Fusion.

The company has iterated quickly since then, and this month’s deployment of semi-autonomous vehicles to actual (non-paying) customers is a significant step. Tesla’s Autopilot software has been slowly increasing its functionality for drivers (despite a fatal crash in July that’s currently being investigated by the NHTSA), and Google’s self-driving fleet has been undergoing extensive testing, albeit with custom cars limited to speeds of 25 miles per hour. However, with this pilot program Uber is testing a rudimentary version of its final vision for self-driving cars: to replace its one million plus human drivers. Read More > in The Verge

Macy’s closings—another bad sign for malls – Macy’s is closing 100 stores nationwide—and the vast majority are located in auto-centric suburban shopping malls. Amid these closures, the department store chain reported that it looking at opening three downtown stores in New York, Chicago, and Minneapolis.

In many ways, we are seeing a reversal of the 1960s and 1970s, when downtowns emptied out and retailers fled for distant suburban locations. Downtowns are now growing in population, which is bringing retail back.

Macy’s announcement comes on the heels of many national retail chains announcing closings in 2016—including Kmart/Sears, Sports Authority, and Walmart. Most of these stores are located on drive-only commercial strips or in power centers—a few of the closures, mostly Sears, involve malls.

Macy’s is getting pressure from Amazon and competitors such as TJ Maxx, and the retailer is focusing on boosting online sales—so cutting costs and closing the lesser performing stores makes sense. Nevertheless, Macy’s decision will create major vacancies in nearly 100 suburban malls around the US—and that’s another bad sign for enclosed shopping malls.

Many malls are already struggling. The website has more than 400 stories of malls around the US, many of which are struggling or dead. A total of about 1,500 enclosed shopping malls were built nationwide. About 1,200 remain open today. According to planner and retail expert Robert Gibbs, many malls are doing very well. About a third of them have low sales per square foot and suffer from poor locations where the market has changed or new malls were constructed in the trade area. Read More > at CNU

Mayor Silva: Stockton Council Members Have Broken the Law – Well, this is a mighty strange turn of events.

Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva—you know, the one who was just arrested for allegedly videotaping stripping teens—says it’s his disapproving city council members who have actually broken the law, and now he wants the D.A. to investigate.

Silva sent a letter to District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar Friday, complaining of what he believes to be “a substantial violation of a central provision of the Ralph M. Brown Act” by the city’s elected leaders.

Silva’s taking issue with a recent press conference, which we reported on here. It was attended by all members of the Council except Silva, but was not placed on the public agenda beforehand. The mayor said that constitutes a violation of the state’s open meetings law. Vice Mayor Christina Fugazi, who attended but stood off to the side, has also expressed reservations over its legality.

City Attorney John Luebberke thinks it’s much ado about nothing. Jim Ewart, attorney with the California Newspaper Publishers Association, agreed. Read More > at California City News

Target to open small-format store in S.F.’s Stonestown Galleria – Target is opening a new store in San Francisco, adding to its growing empire of small flexible-format locations in urban areas.

The 32,000-square-foot store at 3251 20th Ave. in the Stonestown Galleria will be the fifth such location in San Francisco and the ninth in the Bay Area when it opens in July 2017. The company is also opening a new store in Palo Alto in July 2017, one in Marin City in March 2017 and a Cupertino location in March 2017.

Smaller than a typical full-size Target, flexible format locations focus on quick-trip shopping targeted to the surrounding population with an assortment of groceries, portable technology and accessories, apparel, cosmetics and pharmacy services.

The flexible-format concept is part of Target’s push to gain presence in dense, urban areas where the typical store couldn’t open before.The company currently operates 23 flexible-format stores nationally and will continue to open additional locations, including nine stores opening in fall 2016 and 16 more in the next two years. Read More > in The San Francisco Business Times

Giant Coral Reef in Protected Area Shows New Signs of Life – In 2003, researchers declared Coral Castles dead.

On the floor of a remote island lagoon halfway between Hawaii and Fiji, the giant reef site had been devastated by unusually warm water. Its remains looked like a pile of drab dinner plates tossed into the sea. Research dives in 2009 and 2012 had shown little improvement in the coral colonies.

Then in 2015, a team of marine biologists was stunned and overjoyed to find Coral Castles, genus Acropora, once again teeming with life. But the rebound came with a big question: Could the enormous and presumably still fragile coral survive what would be the hottest year on record?

This month, the Massachusetts-based research team finished a new exploration of the reefs in the secluded Phoenix Islands, a tiny Pacific archipelago, and were thrilled by what they saw. When they splashed out of an inflatable dinghy to examine Coral Castles closely, they were greeted with a vista of bright greens and purples — unmistakable signs of life.

If Coral Castles can continue to revive after years of apparent lifelessness, even as water temperatures rise, there might be hope for other reefs with similar damage, said another team member, Randi Rotjan, a research scientist who led and tracked the Phoenix Islands expedition from her base at the New England Aquarium in Boston. Read More > in The New York Times

84 percent of California water agencies choose zero as conservation target – Under fire from water agencies who were losing millions of dollars in lost water sales, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration two months ago dropped all mandatory water conservation targets and allowed cities, water districts and private water companies across the state to set their own targets.

Now, the results are in: 343 urban water agencies — or 84 percent of the 411 largest in the state — gave themselves a conservation target of zero for the rest of this year.

…Among those with “zero” as their targets were most of the biggest water departments and agencies in California, representing tens of millions of people. They include the cities of San Francisco, San Diego and Sacramento, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the East Bay Municipal Utility District, the Contra Costa Water District and the Marin Municipal Water District.

…Even as they emphasized that California’s five-year drought is not over, Brown administration officials worked Tuesday to put the best face on the new numbers.

Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board, noted that her agency required each water provider to pass a “stress test” that demonstrated it had enough water either in reservoirs, groundwater storage or contracts with other agencies to get by in case the drought continues for another three years. Read More > in The Mercury News

BART to San Jose gets funding promise – Tunneling BART through downtown San Jose received a $20 million boost on Tuesday, a significant and not-so meager amount for the six-mile extension from the future Berryessa station east to Santa Clara.

The cap-and-trade funds approved by the state Transportation Agency set in motion the flow of almost hundreds of millions more in state money and federal aid. If voters approve a half-cent increase in the Santa Clara County sales tax in November, local bucks for the $4.7 billion extension will be rolling in for many years.

State officials have committed to several years of further aid. It’s the promises behind the $20 million that are so vital.

…This is almost the identical game plan used to pay for the $2.1 billion extension phase from Warm Springs in Fremont to Berryessa in North San Jose that is now under construction: Get a long-term commitment from Sacramento (more than $800 million), go to the Federal Transit Administration for more ($900 million) and fill in the financial gaps with the local contributions.

That 10-mile stretch to Berryessa could open late next year. The Fremont to Warm Springs link should open soon. Read More > in The Mercury News

Ford plans to have fully autonomous cars on the road in 5 years – At the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, California the automaker announced it would have a fully autonomous car on the road with a ride sharing service in 2021. CEO Mark Fields said self-driving cars will be as important to Ford as the assembly line. “We’re designing the first generation of autonomous vehicles specifically for ride sharing and ride hailing,” Fields told the audience.

During the event Fields said, “today we’re no longer just an auto company, we’re also a mobility company.” The CEO stressed that its regular vehicles will continue to be available for folks that still want to drive. The company just sees ” Smart Mobility” as an additional revenue stream. So the F150 and Mustangs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Ford CTO Raj Nair talked about how automaker decided to stop worrying about incremental steps and go full bore with self-driving vehicles. “We abandoned the stepping stones of driver assist technologies and decided to take the full leap to fully autonomous,” Nair said. He also said the carmaker would triple its development fleet by the end of the year (to 30) and triple it again next year. Read More > at Engadget

Bay Area school districts offering up to $10,000 signing bonuses – Bay Area schools districts desperate to fill a rash of spots with qualified candidates have started offering signing bonuses of as much as $10,000 per teacher, as the competition for teaching talent heats up.

Certain specialties like math, science and language immersion are particularly difficult to fill, the Mercury News reports, and can command anywhere between $1,000 to $10,000 in signing bonuses in schools districts ranging from Pittsburg to Mt. Diablo.

Factors driving away teachers from the Bay Area a familiar mix to many local employers: A brutally high cost of living, a vacuum left by baby-boomer teachers retiring and too few credentialed teachers being produced in the first place.

“This is the most challenging situation I’ve encountered,” Donna Lewis, assistant superintendent in the San Mateo-Foster City School District, told the paper.

Other school districts offering hefty signing incentives include a $5,000 bonus for speech-language pathologists in Mt. Diablo, $1,000 signing bonus for special education teachers or a referral in Oakland, and as much as $10,000 in Pittsburg. Despite that amount on the table, Pittsburg still has 19 positions to fill before the fall session begins tomorrow. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Uber and Lyft Want to Replace Public Buses – …In Uber’s early days, it said it wanted to be “everyone’s private driver.” Now the company and its main U.S. competitor, Lyft, are playing around with the idea of becoming the bus driver, too. Uber has partnered with a handful of local public transportation agencies to strike deals like the one in Pinellas Park, which it expanded earlier this month. Later this month Lyft plans to launch a partnership with Centennial, Colorado, its first deal where a local government will subsidize its rides. The company also said it has helped a dozen transit agencies apply for federal grants that would pay for a portion of Lyft fares in situations where its drivers would effectively become part of the public transportation system.

…Governments already pay for taxis in some situations, but the deals with Uber and Lyft could usher in more fundamental change, and with it, tensions. What happens to people without smartphones? How do Uber and Lyft serve disabled riders? What happens if the cities come to rely on the apps, only to have the private companies decide the partnerships are no longer a sensible business venture for them? And do public governments want to encourage the replacement of public sector jobs with the contract work that defines the sharing economy?

As officials grapple with those questions, it’s hard to ignore the real savings for governments—and real revenue for Uber and Lyft. In 2014, Americans spent $15 billion in fares on public transportation at the 850 public transit agencies that share data with the Federal Transit Administration. The operating expenses at those agencies was $42 billion. Much of the remaining 65 percent of the cost of running the systems came from public subsidies.

Suburban areas with less density and lower ridership are particularly expensive to run, making ride hailing an attractive alternative, said Adie Tomer, a fellow at Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “If they can provide better outcomes for your population and do it at either the same cost if not lower, that’s a win-win for society,” he said. “This could start spiraling very fast.” Read More > in Bloomberg

Week Under Review: Preseason continues to showcase how badly it needs shortening – What an amazing first week of preseason action! Blaine Gabbert played enough snaps against the Texans to take a clear lead over the injured Colin Kaepernick by default in the race to be Chip Kelly’s starter. Antonio Brown appeared in midseason form as he blew past Lions corner Darius Slay on multiple occasions. The Vikings-Bengals soiree in Cincinnati was overflowing with fans.

The only problem is all that stuff all happened in scrimmages at joint practices.

Then came the “game” action. The first week of preseason games has become so dull it now rivals the last for sheer lack of star power. We at SI proudly unveiled our list of the Top 100 NFL players last week. Eight of the top 10 (including Brown) didn’t suit up this weekend. And many, many, so many more joined them. Most of the starting quarterbacks that were forced to play didn’t last more than two series—heck, Drew Brees threw just one pass.

Most players, and really, most sensible people in general, understand that a four-game slate is too long. The first and last weeks of the preseason closely resemble a Pro Bowl gone bad, and there must be a push to reduce to two games when the CBA expires after the 2020 season at the latest. (Among the 75 other things players need to use their leverage for this time.)

As it should, player safety has always been the rallying cry of the masses that strongly prefer to see the preseason cut in half. Ask poor No. 2 pick Carson Wentz, who suffered a hairline fracture in his ribs in the fourth quarter of Thursday night’s Eagles-Bucs game under the protection (or lack thereof) of an offensive line mostly destined for the chopping block. What a significant blow to Wentz and the Eagles given that the rest of his preseason may be wiped out, an absolutely crucial learning period for a young, developing quarterback. Conversely, veterans are extra cautious not to put themselves in danger. There’s a reason Rob Gronkowski hasn’t seen preseason action since 2012 and is doubtful to break that streak in the coming weeks. Read More > in Sports Illustrated

The New Landscape of Labor – It’s been a rough recovery for American labor. In the aftermath of the 2007 financial meltdown and the deep recession that followed it, unions have bled more than 1.3 million members. Sharp declines in construction, manufacturing, and transportation jobs have battered private labor; tax shortfalls and high costs have led state and local governments to pare budgets, and hence public-union jobs. Meantime, unions face growing public resentment. Four states in recent years have adopted right-to-work policies, which let workers opt out of joining unions. Polls show that the public is increasingly questioning the efforts of labor groups and the economic toll they impose. Government unions may have dodged a bullet in late March, when an evenly divided Supreme Court refused to overturn state laws that allow obligatory worker fees, but unions have recently lost other key court cases, undermining their ability to organize.

The Great Recession and the underwhelming Obama recovery have, in other words, reshaped the map of labor in the United States. Private unions began to rally somewhat in 2012 but thus far have regained only 42 percent of the members they lost. A disproportionate share of that rebound, moreover, has occurred in right-to-work states—not because these states are welcoming labor environments but because they’ve done better economically than union-friendly states. Public unions have yet to boost their rolls, six years after the recession ended. It was commonly observed, after 2009, that government unions had grown larger in membership than private ones—but this advantage proved short-lived. Three years ago, private unions regained their old lead.

Unions typically lose members in recessions. But years into an economic recovery, the striking decline in government-union membership and the limited recovery of private unions bode poorly for the labor movement. And with America perhaps facing another economic slowdown, things could soon get worse for unions. Read More > at City Journal

12 Jaw-Dropping Driverless Car Facts – Jim McBride, Ford’s (NYSE:F) technical leader of autonomous vehicles, told ZDNet recently that the transition to self-driving cars will be a “paradigm shift” very similar to our transition from using horse-drawn carriages to automobiles.

Of course, lots of technology is overhyped these days. But there are plenty of reasons McBride’s assessment is likely to be spot on. Here are 12 of them.

1. Driverless cars will save lots of lives. One of the most important reasons driverless car technology is gaining steam is because the cars could save about 33,000 lives every year in the U.S. alone. We could see up to a 90% reduction in traffic fatalities and save about 10 million lives worldwide every decade.

2. The amount of semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles on the road will grow quickly. IHS Automotive estimates that by 2035, there will be 76 million vehicles on the road with some level of self-driving technology. By that same year, about 10% of the vehicles sold will be fully autonomous.

9. Driverless cars can see in complete darkness. Ford’s driverless cars can drive completely in the dark, without the need of headlights or street lamps. The company said recently that its autonomous cars went 60 mph around curved roads with absolutely no light. It’s all part of Ford’s plan to release fully autonomous vehicles with a Level 4 autonomy (no driver interaction) by 2021.

11. Self-driving shuttles could be in use in just two years. China-based tech giant Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) is already testing fully autonomous vehicles on public roads in China right now, and the company aims to have driverless public transportation shuttles on the road by 2018. Read More > at The Motley Fool

Is a Little Radiation So Bad? – Nuclear radiation is dangerous. It can cause cancer, birth defects and (in the sci-fi-movie world) 50-foot-tall humans and man-eating insects the size of buses.

Such a dark view of radiation has shaped public fears, and for decades it has been part of the foundation of nuclear policies. It has been accepted by an alphabet soup of federal agencies as well as national and international scientific bodies. It has affected how old atomic-weapons sites are cleaned up, nuclear power plants operated and radiation used in medicine.

The scientific basis for this view is known as the linear no-threshold model, or LNT, which holds that any amount of radiation increases someone’s cancer risk, with the danger rising along with the dose.

But Carol Marcus scoffs at the LNT model. As science, it’s “baloney,” she said, essentially in the same category as “the Earth is flat.” The white-haired, 77-year-old professor of nuclear medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, with both an M.D. and Ph.D., is on a campaign to change the way America treats radiation.

Dr. Marcus advocates an approach that holds that low radiation doses aren’t harmful and could even benefit people’s health—a phenomenon known as “hormesis,” possibly reducing cancer rates by stimulating the body’s protective systems. Among other things, she wants the NRC to raise by 50-fold its allowable annual radiation dose to the public. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Audi cars will start talking to city traffic systems this fall – If you’ve ever been stuck at a red light that seems to last an eternity, you’ll be happy to know that Audi announced that it’s going to start work with municipalities to tell its cars when a light is about to turn green. The automaker says this is the first step in a Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) partnership with cities that will be launching this fall.

The Audis won’t be talking to the traffic lights directly, instead the vehicles will use their built-in LTE connection to get information from a participating city’s central traffic control system. Using that data and GPS, the cars will be able to show on the dashboard when an upcoming signal will turn green.

The system does not use the upcoming DSRC V2V (vehicle to vehicle)/ V2I (Vehicle to Infrastructure) standard. Instead it uses partner Traffic Technology Services to establish a data relationship with the municipalities. As a vehicle enters a “zone” it requests a one-time unique token to establish communication with the infrastructure to request the stop light phase. Read More > at Engadget

Are Rotisserie Chickens a Bargain? – When you stroll through the supermarket, looking for a dinner that won’t take too much effort and won’t involve a lot of junk food, you’ll see raw chicken breasts and chicken thighs and whole chickens. They are pale and cold, and turning them into roasted chicken or chicken piccata will take time.

But then there are the rotisserie chickens. They are golden and warm and herb-scented and ready to eat. You could grab one off the shelf this very moment. And even though the deli has done all the work, it doesn’t seem more expensive. It seems like an unbelievable bargain.

Is it any wonder that Americans will buy one billion rotisserie chickens this year, most of those from supermarkets or discount stores with grocery operations?

The price point of rotisserie chickens has captured consumers’ interest almost as much as the chickens themselves. At a typical supermarket, it might cost $7 or $8, the same as a fresh whole chicken in the refrigerator case. Less, in some stores. And the store pays for the herbs and the heat.

Why is rotisserie chicken so cheap? The Internet is full of posts wondering about this, and positing theories. One goes like this: Rotisserie chickens were about to pass the sell-by date in the refrigerator aisle, and the store recoups most of that money by cooking them. Another that has more credence: They’re a loss leader to bring people into the store to buy other things. To some extent that’s true, though stores don’t generally lose money on them.

But neither scenario tells the real story. Read More > at Priceonomics

The Basic Income Is the Worst Response to Automation – We’ve been hearing a drumbeat recently of claims that a universal basic income—in effect, a monthly welfare check sent to everyone—is going to be necessary to save all the poor unfortunate souls put out of work by self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, robots, and other new forms of automation.

We are told that the basic income will be “the only way to keep the country’s economy afloat” in an age of automation, or that it will be necessary to absorb millions of truckers thrown out of middle-class jobs by the advent of autonomous vehicles.

… have already thrown some skepticism at the idea that there is going to be a traumatic transition that will throw middle class people out on the streets without warning—rather than a long and gradual transition over decades, to which people can adapt. The future doesn’t come that fast, and we will get a chance to see it coming. The best response is to encourage people to respond to technological progress and to seek out the new jobs that will become available as the old ones fade away.

Yes, automation is going to disrupt the economy, just as technological progress has always disrupted the economy, continually, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. But helping people to adjust by putting them on a permanent welfare subsidy is the worst and cruelest response, precisely because it pays them not to adapt to the new economy.

Let’s take a step back and look at the history here. There is nothing really new about the technological claims in favor of a basic income. The fear that new technology would put people out of work permanently, as well as the promise that it would make it possible for us to live in a utopia of uninterrupted plenty without the necessity of toil—these claims are as old as the Industrial Revolution itself. They have been made for every previous advance in technology, long before autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence. Read More > at Real Clear Future

Breaking Down USA’s 1,000 Summer Olympic Gold Medals – The United States became the first nation to win 1,000 Olympic gold medals Saturday night, and the four women who put America over the top by claiming the 4×100-meter medley relay in swimming couldn’t have been any more appropriate.

Going into the Rio Olympics, the USA sat at 977 golds, the defunct Soviet Union was stuck at 395 and Great Britain was highest among the other nations that are still in business, at 245.

Those lopsided numbers are a testament to the consistency of the American Olympic effort, dating all the way back to the start of the modern Games in 1896. Make no mistake, there have been some rocky periods, but even in its worst years, the USA has never left a Summer Olympics worse than third on the medals table.

…More so than anything, the Summer Games are a track meet, and the U.S. has always been stocked with sprinters and jumpers, especially on the men’s side. All time, the U.S. total of 332 track golds heading into the Rio Games dwarfs the Soviet Union’s 64 and Britain’s 56.

In the short-track events—the 100, 200, 400, 110 and 400 hurdles and the 4×100 and 4×400 relays—the U.S. has won 120 of a possible 178 golds all-time. And the U.S. men have earned at least 15 gold medals in each of those events.

No other nation has won any of those events more than three times. Read More > at Bleacher Report

America Is Smashing Russia and OPEC’s Grip On The Oil Market – For decades it was thought U.S. oil production had peaked around 1970, as thirty years of declining production set in and the OPEC cartel’s manipulation of oil supply and prices gave a number of politically sensitive regions an uncomfortably large degree of influence over global markets.

But in 2009, driven by the newly economically viable hydraulic fracking extraction method, U.S. oil production rose, and it kept rising until global oversupply forced U.S. production cuts last year.

After initially downplaying shale’s potential to rival OPEC’s monopoly, Saudi Arabia launched what critics called a price war against the new industry in 2014: it refused to cut production when many other OPEC states wanted to do so, and Riyadh contended that it was merely letting the market take its course. This continues to glut the market, with the Saudis hitting a new all-time production high just last month.

But while their strategy of oversupply may have made some high cost operators economically unviable, including those in OPEC member states Angola, Nigeria and Venezuela, U.S. shale extractors have proven highly adept at cutting costs. This has opened up a profit margin even below that which Saudi Arabia needs to fund its welfare state, which the International Monetary Fund believes could go bankrupt in five years without major policy changes. Read More > at The National Interest

California for whom? – California has been bleeding people to other states for more than two decades. Even after the state’s “comeback,” net domestic out-migration since 2010 has exceeded 250,000. Moreover, the latest Internal Revenue Service migration data, for 2013-2014, does not support the view that those who leave are so dominated by the flight of younger and poorer people.

Of course, younger people tend to move more than older people, and people seeking better job opportunities are more likely to move than those who have made it. But, according to the IRS, nearly 60,000 more Californians left the state than moved in between 2013 and 2014. In each of the seven income categories and each of the five age categories, the IRS found that California lost net domestic migrants.

Nor, viewed over the long term, is California getting smarter than its rivals. Since 2000, California’s cache of 25- to 34-year-olds with college, postgraduate and professional degrees grew by 36 percent, below the national average of 42 percent, and Texas’ 47 percent. If we look at metropolitan regions, the growth of 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees since 2000 has been more than 1.5 to nearly 3 times as fast in Houston and Austin as in Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. Even New York, with its high costs, is doing better.

In fact, the only large California metropolitan area which has seen anything like Texas’ growth has been the most unlikely – the Inland Empire. The coastal areas, so alluring to the media and venture capitalists, are losing out in terms of growing their educated workforces, most likely a product of high housing prices and, outside of the Bay Area, weak high-wage job growth.

The location of migrants tells us something about where the allure of California remains the strongest and where it has been supplanted. Almost all of the leading states sending net migrants here are also high-tax, high-regulation places that have been losing domestic migrants for years – New York, Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey. In contrast, the net outflow has been largely to lower-cost states, notably Texas, as well as neighboring Western states, all of which have lower housing prices. Read More > in The Orange County Register

California’s Rich-Poor Gap: The Reality May Surprise You – Where in California has the gap between rich and poor grown most since the Great Recession?

The Bay Area, home of your Zuckerbergs and Steyers and some of the most expensive zip codes in the country, seems like a logical answer. Over the past decade, what other part of California has minted as many members of the “1 percent” as Silicon Valley?

But according to research from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, income inequality in the Bay Area has worsened only marginally, at least when compared to other parts of the state. In 2007, Bay Area households at the top 10 percent of incomes made about 10.6 times what Bay Area households at the bottom 10 percent of incomes brought home. By 2014, they made about 11.6 times as much.

While that 10 percent increase in the income gap is notable, it pales in comparison to almost every other region in the state. The “90/10” ratio grew by over 30 percent in the greater Sacramento region and in the more rural counties north of the Bay Area. The Inland Empire in Southern California, still reeling from its foreclosure crisis, saw the biggest jump in income inequality in the state at more than 40 percent. Read More > at KQED

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