Low Gas Prices Won’t Last Forever; New Program Helps Drivers Save Money, Curb Emissions

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) this week kicked off a new program known as Drive Smart Bay Area to help motorists save money, improve air quality and increase safety by following a few simple tips to improve driving habits and vehicle performance. These include linking trips; avoiding excessive speeds; removing unneeded gear from the trunk and back seat; avoiding hard braking and rapid acceleration; maintaining proper tire pressure; getting regular tune-ups; and making sure fuel-tank caps are secured snugly. Drivers who follow these tips can save up to $1 per gallon, improve their cars’ performance, and keep traffic flowing smoother.

Drive Smart Bay Area is the newest addition to the Climate Initiatives program launched by MTC in 2009. For drivers who want to know how their current driving style impacts their mpg, the Commission is teaming with San Francisco-based Automatic Labs Inc. to make the Automatic adapter — a smart driving tool that easily plugs in under the steering wheel of most post-1996 model year vehicles — available for $49.99, which is half off the suggested $99.95 retail price. Licensed drivers in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma counties can buy the discounted devices at http://www.511.org/DriveSmartBayArea(link is external) or at 23 Best Buy stores around the Bay Area through June 11 or while supplies last.

“The Automatic adapter is like a fitness tracker for your car,” explained Ursula Vogler, who coordinates MTC’s Climate Initiatives program. “It communicates with your smartphone to help you drive smarter, and it alerts you to wasteful driving habits. The Automatic device can even diagnose engine trouble, remind you of where your car is parked, or summon emergency response if you’re in a crash, with no subscription required.”

To get Automatic online, watch the instructional video at http://www.511.org/DriveSmartBayArea(link is external) and click the “Get Your Plug-In Tool” link at the end of the video. To pick up an adapter at Best Buy, visit the resources section at http://www.511.org/DriveSmartBayArea(link is external), print out the Automatic coupon(link is external), and present it at the store. Participating Best Buy stores include locations in Brentwood, Colma, Daly City, Fairfield, Gilroy, Milpitas, Mountain View, Oakland, Pinole, Pleasant Hill, San Bruno, San Carlos, San Francisco, San Jose, San Rafael, Santa Rosa, Sunnyvale, Union City, Vacaville and Vallejo.

Automatic adapters work with most gas, diesel and hybrid vehicles built after 1996. The adapter plugs into the vehicle’s OBD-II port and pairs wirelessly via Bluetooth with Automatic’s app to log and display driving details. Compatible smartphones and operating systems include iPhone 5, 5c, 5s, 6 and 6 Plus; iOS 7 and above; Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and above; and Android 4.3+ (Jelly Bean) for HTC One. BLU Advance 4.0, BLU Dash 5.0 and BLU Life Play S are not currently compatible.

Go to http://www.511.org/DriveSmartBayArea(link is external) for more information about the Drive Smart Bay Area program, to view all the Smart Driving tips, and to watch the MTC-produced “What is Smart Driving?” video (also visible in the tab below). Visit the Climate Initiatives program webpage for more information about MTC’s Climate Initiatives program.

MTC is the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area’s transportation planning, coordinating and financing agency. Automatic Labs Inc. was founded in 2011. Automatic turns almost any car into a connected car. For more information, visit http://www.automatic.com(link is external).

Contacts:
John Goodwin, MTC, 510-817-5862
Tatiana De Almeida, Automatic, 415-520-8831

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What if we all jumped at once?

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Building a Better BART

all lanes11

Over the past year, BART has held over 200 community meetings talking with folks across the Bay Area about our plan to build a better BART, which will keep cars off the road and ensure safe and reliable service.

We now have a new website that is a one stop resource for information: http://www.bart.gov/betterbart.

It explains where we’ve been and where we need to go, laying out our plan to rebuild our aging system.

Learn how you can get involved, by asking us live questions on Twitter or requesting a presentation with a BART representative.

You’re among the first to preview this website – and we encourage you to share it with friends and family who have questions about BART. Our plan is available in multiple languages, so please spread it far and wide so that everyone can get an opportunity to see how we will protect your investment in the Bay Area’s future.

We look forward to answering your questions, and appreciate your continued involvement.

Cheers, The Better BART Team

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Saturday, April 30th – What would the Delta say? Rights of Nature Tribunal

The Bay Area Rights of Nature Alliance (BARoNA) is holding a

What would the Delta Say? Rights of Nature Tribunal

at the Nick Rodriguez Community Center
in Antioch, California

Saturday, April 30th
9:30am – 3:30pm

RSVP

The Tribunal will address nature’s, community, and human rights violations specific to reduced flows in the Delta. It will particularly address the harm that the Governor’s proposed Delta Tunnels plan would do to those limited flows, as well as to the fish and Delta communities that depend on a healthy Bay-Delta Estuary.

Tribunal witnesses and experts will also offer solutions to water flow and supply challenges that protect, not injure, nature’s rights and human rights.

This event is free and open to the public, but will require an RSVP. Please mark your calendars and join us in growing the movement for nature’s rights. Visit our event page on FaceBook at https://www.facebook.com/events/142378382819847/

To learn more about the depletion of Delta waterways visit:

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Highway 4 Construction Work – Week of April 25, 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

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

Westbound:
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:
There will be highway lane closures in the westbound direction of State Route 4 between Railroad Avenue and 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 Bailey Road and Contra Loma Boulevard on Monday through Friday from 4:30 am to 12:00 pm.

There will be highway lane closures in the westbound direction of State Route 4 between the State Route 160 / State Route 4 connector ramp and A Street / Lone Tree Way on Saturday evening from 11:59 pm to 7:00 am, Sunday evening from 11:00 pm to 4:00, Monday through Thursday evenings from 10:00 pm to 4:00 am and on Friday evening from 11:00 pm to 6:00 am.

There will be highway lane closures in the eastbound direction of State Route 4 between Cavallo Road and the State Route 160 / State Route 4 connector ramp on Saturday evening from 11:59 pm to 8:00 am, Sunday evening from 11:00 pm to 6:00 am, Monday through Thursday evenings from 11:00 pm to 6:00 am and on Friday evening from 11:59 pm to 7:00 am.

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

Ramp Closures

State Route 4:
The State Route 4 westbound loop on ramp at Hillcrest Avenue will be closed on Thursday evening from 10:00 pm to 4:00 am and on Friday evening from 11:00 pm to 6:00 am.

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The State Route 4 westbound off ramp at Hillcrest Avenue will be closed on Monday through Thursday evenings from 11:00 pm to 4:00 am and on Friday evening from 11:59 pm to 5:00 am.

hillcrest ave westbound

The State Route 4 eastbound on ramp at Hillcrest Avenue will be closed on Wednesday and Thursday evening from 11:00 pm to 3:00 am.

11 lanes

The State Route 4 eastbound off ramp at Hillcrest Avenue will be closed on Monday through Friday evenings from 11:59 pm to 5:00 am.

H4 eastbound

*Please note: the State Route 4 eastbound and westbound off ramps at Hillcrest Avenue will not be closed concurrently. The State Route 4 eastbound off ramp will be open to the westbound off ramp detour traffic (See attached SR4 WB off ramp detour at Hillcrest Avenue).

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

Local Street Closures

There will be lane closures on Larkspur Drive in the eastbound and westbound directions between Hillcrest Avenue and Wildflower Drive Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.

There will be lane closures in the northbound and southbound directions of A Street between State Route 4 and Rossi Avenue on Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm in the northbound direction and 8:00 am to 2:00 pm in the southbound direction

Questions or comments can be directed to the Highway 4 widening hotline at (925) 756-0721 or visit our web site at http://widensr4.org.

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Sunday Reading – 04/24/16

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.

How 60 Minutes played ‘Telephone’ with public hacking hysteria – On Sunday, 60 Minutes took a year-old segment on phone hacking it shot and aired in Australia, fluffed it up with other old hacks from last year’s DEFCON, and re-packaged it for an American audience.

Almost no one noticed those particular details.

But just about everyone panicked. “Hacking Your Phone” set off a scare that raged through headlines and social media posts all week. As the miasmic cherries on top, the episode also freaked out congressman Ted Lieu, who has called for a Congressional investigation, and the FCC is now involved.

The 13-minute segment based its hysteria on a hole in phone routing protocol SS7 (Signaling System 7) a flaw which, incidentally, isn’t easy to exploit. But perhaps thinking the combination of hacker boogeymen and SS7’s potential wouldn’t make for dramatic TV, the show blurred in a handful of different — and extremely unrelated — ways that smartphones can be hacked.

…60 Minutes put Herculean effort into convincing viewers that at any moment they could unknowingly become victims to some dude in a dark basement tracking their location and listening to their calls, thanks to his unfettered access to SS7.

…I don’t know if it’s because 60 Minutes is low on either balls or brains, or both, but the show utterly failed to tell viewers about actually scary ways SS7 is probably being abused to violate our privacy. Like in state-sponsored data collection dragnets, where authorities take advantage of the flaw to gather info, “just in case.” Or companies that have dead-serious financial motivation to track and surveil us, like Facebook, who are well known for doing things that aren’t technically illegal until they are caught. Read More > at Engadget

The evolutionary origins of laughter are rooted more in survival than enjoyment – Laughter plays a crucial role in every culture across the world. But it’s not clear why laughter exists. While it is evidently an inherently social phenomenon – people are up to 30 times more likely to laugh in a group than when alone – laughter’s function as a form of communication remains mysterious.

Spontaneous laughter, which is unintentionally triggered by conversation or events, emerges in the first few months of life, even in children who are deaf or blind. Laughter not only transcends human cultural boundaries, but species boundaries, too: it is present in a similar form in other great apes. In fact, the evolutionary origins of human laughter can be traced back to between 10 and 16m years ago.

While laughter has been linked to higher pain tolerance and the signalling of social status, its principal function appears to be creating and deepening social bonds. As our ancestors began to live in larger and more complex social structures, the quality of relationships became crucial to survival. The process of evolution would have favoured the development of cognitive strategies that helped form and sustain these cooperative alliances.

Laughter probably evolved from laboured breathing during play such as tickling, which encourage cooperative and competitive behaviour in young mammals. This expression of the shared arousal experienced through play may have been effective in strengthening positive bonds, and laughter has indeed been shown to prolong the length of play behaviours in both children and chimpanzees, and to directly elicit both conscious and unconscious positive emotional responses in human listeners. Read More > in The Conversation

Why The Police Don’t Care That Thieves Broke Into Your Home – Something strange is going on with crime in Los Angeles.

The Public Policy Institute of California says property crimes were up sharply in L.A. County last year, but arrests and bookings for property crimes fell 31 percent.

Why?

In 2014, voters passed Proposition 47, which reduced some felony theft and drug offenses to misdemeanors.

Police have “no motivation” to arrest thieves and burglars, because “nothing is being done to these people,” explained Marc Debbaudt, immediate past president of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys. He said “there are no consequences” for those who commit property crimes.

So property crimes are up, and arrests for property crimes are down. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

When Cars Fly – Google, Tesla, and Uber—companies that didn’t even exist when Toyota introduced the Prius, in 1997—have become major players in the auto industry. Both Google and Tesla aim to introduce fully autonomous cars—that is, cars that drive themselves—within the next several years, and Uber recently founded an R&D center in Pittsburgh with an eye toward ushering in our driverless future.

Self-driving cars are expected to be much safer than human-driven ones. But even if the first robot cars hit the roads in the next few years, most of us probably won’t give up driving entirely for at least another 15 or 20 years. In the meantime, traditional cars will gradually take over certain aspects of driving.

Companies have been adding semiautonomous features to cars since the 1990s—things like adaptive cruise control, which uses sensors to adjust a car’s speed based on the traffic in front of it, and automated parallel parking. Some cars automatically stop—or at least slow down—if a driver doesn’t step on the brake in time to avoid a collision, and in certain 2017 Mercedes-Benz models, the driver will be able to change lanes simply by hitting the turn signal for two seconds (the car will take care of the rest). Within a few years, cars may be able to determine when an accident is likely and make adjustments to the cabin—moving seats, closing windows, retracting the steering wheel.

While traditional manufacturers slowly add semiautonomous features, Tesla is taking a more aggressive approach. Last year, an update to the software in certain Model S vehicles added the ability to operate via “autopilot”: The car mostly drives itself, but the driver can take over if, for example, the car attempts to exit the freeway unbidden—as it did during some runs soon after it was introduced last year. Each time a driver intervenes, Tesla registers the correction in its software, which is distributed across its fleet. The idea is that over time, the cars will get better at driving.

…Once cars become fully autonomous, they won’t need to take the form they have for more than a century. One concept design is the Mercedes-Benz F 015, which transforms the vehicle into a “digital living space.” Inside, seats swivel to face one another, and a series of displays permit passengers to entertain themselves or work. In other words, cars could double as conference rooms—and employers may begin to demand that people use their commutes productively. Read More > in The Atlantic

Why America’s impressive 5% unemployment rate feels like a lie for so many – On Apr. 14, Bloomberg News announced that jobless claims in the US have reached their lowest level since 1973. “All other labor market data are telling us that the economy is creating a lot of jobs,” economist Patrick Newport told the outlet. “This is further confirmation that the labor market is strong.”

…Employment statistics in particular have a habit of eclipsing the real story. As any worker will tell you, it is not the number of jobs that matters most, but what kind of jobs are available, what they pay, and how that pay measures against the cost of living. The 5% unemployment rate, other words, is hiding the devastating story of underemployment, wage loss, and precariousness that defines life for millions of Americans.

Since 2008, the labor participation rate has fallen from a high of 67.3% in 2000 to 62.6% today. That 62.2% represents a 38-year low, which puts Bloomberg’s claim of a 42-year-low in joblessness in perspective. The jobless number is “low” only because more people are no longer considered to be participating in the workforce.

Many of the long-term unemployed are older workers who once had stable middle-class jobs with benefits. Some, like their younger peers, have resorted to participating in the “1099 economy,” willingly or unwillingly. Freelance and contract workers move from low-paying gig to gig in professions like journalism, arts and entertainment, private transportation, and higher education, trying to scrape together enough cash to survive.

The number of Americans working in this capacity grew from 10.1% in 2005 to 15.8% in 2015, according to new research from labor economists Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger. David Dayen describes their life as stressful and uncertain: “You’re cut off from any safety net that relies on employers. You have an unpaid, part-time job consisting of getting your next job and making sure you get paid for your last job … You have no advocates for you in the workplace, and little bargaining power to improve your lot.” Read More > at Quartz

Uber Settles Class-Action Suits with California, Massachusetts Drivers – Uber has reached a tentative settlement in two sprawling class-action federal lawsuits brought by drivers in California and Massachusetts for as much as $100 million, agreeing to make “significant changes” that the drivers’ attorney says will result in improved work lives.

Boston-based labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan, who represents the drivers, called the settlement historic. The lawsuits hinged on whether drivers were misclassified as independent contractors, instead of employees.

Under the terms, drivers will remain independent contractors — a big win for Uber, if the settlement stands — but can no longer be dismissed at will.

…Uber has also agreed to fund and oversee the formation a driver association which will have leaders elected by Uber drivers “who will engage in good faith discussions about issues of concerns to drivers,” according to Liss-Riordan.

Uber will also make it clear to riders, Liss-Riordan wrote, that tips aren’t part of the fares but “would be appreciated.” Read More > at KQED

What They Didn’t Teach You in School about Harriet Tubman – Harriet Tubman is a good choice to replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. Jackson, the first Democratic president, is exactly the sort of overheated, pompous populist that has tended to screw up the American political system. His demotion to the back of the bill is long overdue.

But before we act to raise Tubman’s stature to the point that she is memorialized on commonly used currency, it behooves Americans to understand her role in our common history. It’s a lot more interesting than the description of her as an “Underground Railroad conductor” that appears in my son’s elementary-school materials and many popular accounts of her life.

In fact, Harriett Tubman was a gun-toting, Jesus-loving spy who blazed the way for women to play a significant role in military and political affairs.

Indeed, her work on the Underground Railroad was mostly a prelude to her real achievements. Born into slavery as Araminta Ross, Tubman knew the slave system’s inhumanity firsthand: She experienced the savage beatings and family destruction that were par for the course. She eventually escaped and, like most who fled, freed herself largely by her own wits. Read More > in the National Review

Sears and Kmart Are Closing 78 More Stores – Sears Holdings ( SHLD 0.33% ) announced yet another round of store closings as it continues to shrink its fleet of stores amid chronic sales declines at its namesake department stores and the Kmart discount chain.

The retailer said it would close 68 Kmart locations and 10 Sears stores this summer. It had said in February, when it reported its 11th straight year of comparable sales decline, it would speed up the paring of its fleet.

The closings will leave Sears with fewer than 700 department stores, compared to 860 in 2008, while Kmart’s store count will below 900, compared to almost 1,400 that same year.

…The company, which in recent years has sold off many top assets, such as the Lands’ End clothing brand, and hundreds of its best store locations to raise billions of dollars and stay solvent amid the sales bleed, said the closings would raise a lot of cash thanks to selling store inventory or selling or subleasing those locations.

Sears also said that money, combined with $1.2 billion in debt financing it recently raised would help it meet its financial obligations on the way to reaching its goal of returning to profitability this year. Read More > in Fortune

Recent warmer winters may be cooling climate change concern – The vast majority of Americans have experienced more favorable weather conditions over the past 40 years, researchers from New York University and Duke University have found. The trend is projected to reverse over the course of the coming century, but that shift may come too late to spur demands for policy responses to address climate change.

The analysis, published in the journal Nature, found that 80 percent of Americans live in counties where the weather is more pleasant than four decades ago. Winter temperatures have risen substantially throughout the United States since the 1970s, but summers have not become markedly more uncomfortable. The result is that weather has shifted toward a temperate year-round climate that Americans have been demonstrated to prefer.

“Rising temperatures are ominous symptoms of global climate change, but Americans are experiencing them at times of the year when warmer days are welcomed,” explains Patrick J. Egan, an associate professor in NYU’s Wilf Family Department of Politics who authored the study with Duke’s Megan Mullin.

However, he and Mullin, an associate professor at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, discovered a looming shift in these patterns when they used long-term projections of temperature changes to evaluate future weather Americans are likely to experience. According to these estimates, nearly 90 percent of the U.S. public may experience weather at the end of the 21st century that is less preferable than weather in the recent past. Read More > at Science Daily

Does Spicy Food Cause Bad Dreams? – Everybody dreams, though many recall their dormant fantasies better than others. Some report that their subconscious stirrings appear to be more vivid after a spicy meal. Science is a long way from understanding all the nuances of the resting brain, but one expert, Emmanuel Mignot, director of the Stanford University Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, explains how a pad thai dinner might seem to bring on nightmares.

…No food has been shown to increase the vividness of dreams, the psychiatrist and behavioral scientist explains. During the night, people go in and out of the dream state numerous times. Various studies have shown that by eating certain proteins, like turkey, you will have more dreams. And some amino acids can increase the amount of REM sleep, when intense dreaming typically takes place.

While there is a lot of literature showing that eating big meals makes people sleepy, there are no studies that Dr. Mignot knows of that prove that spicy foods in particular induce nightmares or outlandish dreams. However, he notes, chicken tikka or too much sriracha could possibly be a culprit for some people. “Spicy foods increase your body temperature, so they may make you sleep less well—and as a consequence, your dreams may be more conscious,” he says. That doesn’t mean that you’ll dream more vividly or have more nightmares, he adds, but remembering them clearly may feel like the same experience. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Our Unlikeable Frontrunners Prompt Polls of Third Party Viability – So we have a crop of unlikeable presidential frontrunners this year, not just to libertarians, but to many people. A new poll shows that a majority of the country’s voters cannot fathom voting for Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or Hillary Clinton in the general election. This is hardly unexpected news at this point.

That we have such an unlovable crop of monsters this season has prompted some media analysis and polling on the whole idea of tossing aside the two major political parties. NBC News released a recent presidential tracking poll that shows between 16 and 19 percent of voters considering voting third party this election, depending on who the candidate is, and another 8 to 10 percent may just stay home rather than pulling a lever for Clinton, Trump, or Cruz:

It’s still very early in the election cycle, so perhaps don’t jump the gun. Pollsters note that some of the unpopularity of the candidates is heavily influenced by intraparty fighting. There’s plenty of time for Kumbayas and wound-tending to try to heal parties after the nominations. It will be interesting to see how this number tracks over the summer as we approach November. Gary Johnson was polling around 5 percent as the Libertarian Party candidate in the run up to the 2012 election. He ended with just under one percent of the vote, the highest tally for any third-party candidate in the race. Read More > at Reason

New smart mattress will tell you if your partner is cheating – A mattress company out of Spain is marketing a new smart mattress, brilliantly named ‘Smartress’, that detects whenever the bed is in “use.” As you likely realize, the main purpose of this is to see if your partner is cheating on you.

And the video promoting the smart mattress isn’t shy about that functionality.

The mattress by Durmet has sensors embedded in it to detect motion and which parts of the bed are being ‘used.’

Of course, there are far less expensive or more accurate ways to determine if your partner is cheating on you, like installing a camera. Or, for free, you can almost certainly detect infidelity by acquiring your SO’s smartphone password.

But that’s not quite as dramatic as the Smartress. Read More > at Tech Crunch

Nordstrom slashes 400 jobs – Like most American retailers, Nordstrom (JWN) is struggling. When it reported sluggish summer sales last year, co-president Blake Nordstrom admitted executives couldn’t pin down why customers weren’t shopping. “We’re not economists, we’re merchants,” he told investors in November.

Shares shed nearly 32% in 2015, but things are looking up for the store this year. Shares have climbed 15% in 2016 on stronger sales.

On Monday, the Seattle-based company said the cuts, which will be completed by July, will primarily affect positions at its headquarters and regional offices rather than sales floor positions.

Nordstrom has about 72,500 full and part-time employees, according to a public filing from February. It operates 323 Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack stores across 39 states. Read More > at CNN Money

The Deadliest Day of the Week – Death can strike on any day of the week, but at Live Science we wanted to know if national data might reveal that some days are deadlier than others. To figure out which day of the week claims the most lives, we turned to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC’s Wonder database contains data on all deaths in the U.S. from 1999 to 2014, and we found that, all told, there were more than 39 million deaths over the course of these 15 years.

We found that, day by day, the breakdown was fairly equivocal, ranging from a low of 5.6 million total deaths on the Sundays during that period to a high of 5.7 million total deaths on the Saturdays of those years.

Moreover, the top 10 causes of death on each day lined up with the CDC’s top 10 causes of death overall. In other words, no matter what day of the week we looked at, the top 10 causes of death were: heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, accidents, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, flu and pneumonia, kidney disease, and suicide. Read More > at Live Science

BART facing $400 million deficit over next 10 years – BART’s tentative new labor pact will guarantee “no strikes” for the next five years, but how the aging and budget-strapped system will pay for 10.8 percent in raises and other goodies remains to be seen.

According to a staff report presented at Thursday’s board meeting, the new union deals will cost about $77 million over the life of the new contract.

At same time, it was announced that BART faces a $400 million deficit over the next 10 years unless voters in San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties approve a $3.5 billion fix-up bond.

But even if voters approve the bond, it won’t cover the labor deals — leaving BART to come up with the extra millions at time when ridership has maxed out and sales tax revenues that help fund day-to-day operations are slowing, the same report concluded. Read More > in the San Francisco Chroncile

California could see uptick in arrivals of unaccompanied children crossing the border – Immigration experts are warning that California could see a spike in arrivals of unaccompanied children crossing the border this year, following a quiet year in 2015.

Children arriving to the United States often come during the summer, so U.S. Border Patrol numbers from early spring months may be telling about what to expect as arrivals begin increasing, said Adam Hunter, director of the Immigration and the States Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

“The numbers are well above this point in 2015 and they’re even higher than this point from 2014, which was a significant surge year,” Hunter said.

Nearly 70,000 children, infants through age 17, arrived by themselves at the U.S. Border in 2014, mostly from Central American countries. In 2015, the numbers dropped off significantly. Read More > at KPCC

Australia Post looks to drones as letter volumes fall – Australia Post has successfully field-trialled the use of drones to deliver small packages, clearing the way for test deliveries to customer homes later this year.

The state-owned corporation said the drones will be used for the delivery of online shopping parcels and time-sensitive items such as medication.

“We will put this innovative technology through its paces over the coming weeks and months to understand what it can deliver, how far it can travel, and ultimately, how our customers could receive a parcel,” Australia Post Managing Director Ahmed Fahour said.

Postal services around the world are facing dramatic declines in their core letter-delivery business as customers turn to the internet for all forms of correspondence from billing to greeting cards. Read More > in Reuters

AccuWeather issues 90-day forecasts and meteorologists are not amused – The ability to throw more computer processing power at forecast models has substantially improved the ability of meteorologists to predict the weather. A recent analysis found that a modern five-day forecast is as accurate as three-day forecast was in 1995. In the last three decades, thanks largely to numerical weather prediction, the useful window of forecasting has moved out from about 7 days to 10 days.

Yet beyond 10 days, most meteorologists will say, there is little predictive skill. This is largely due to the “butterfly effect,” in which only a very small change in initial conditions will have huge changes after about 10 days. However, in August of 2013, this basic mathematical principle didn’t prevent AccuWeather from beginning to issue 45-day weather forecasts.

According to an analysis by the Capital Weather Gang, a widely respected site that forecasts conditions for around Washington DC, these 45-day forecasts showed no “skill” after about 10 days. “AccuWeather is a for-profit company and they have every right to pass off less-than-accurate forecasts as they wish, but the public deserves to know that these 45-day forecasts are not rooted in any science currently available to meteorologists and have not demonstrated value,” the site concluded. “Caveat emptor.”

AccuWeather is one of the largest private forecasting companies in the world, and in many ways has pushed the boundaries of private weather forecasting. Read More > at ars technica

Dan Walters: California Legislature ignores problems, occupied with trivia – One might think – or at least hope –that the men and women who occupy the state Capitol would devote themselves tirelessly to resolving complex issues of a very diverse and difficult-to-govern state.

Poverty, water supply, educational shortcomings, traffic congestion and housing shortages are just a few of those knotty issues that seem to limp along year after year without resolution.

Much of the Legislature’s time and energy, however, is consumed by what most of us would consider picayune matters, and none of its preoccupations is less worthy than two relics of a bygone era – prescribing the minute details of horse racing and liquor sales.

Most Californians would be surprised – and should be angered – to learn that the Legislature reserves to itself the power to dictate which breed of horse can race at which track on which day.

…It’s very similar to another power the Legislature enjoys – granting exceptions to the state’s so-called tied-house law that ostensibly separates the liquor industry into three tiers – production, wholesale and retail – and bars cross-ownership.

Whenever someone wants to cross the legal line – a vintner wanting to sell at retail, for example – the Legislature must grant a specific exception to the law, which means a steady supply of such requests, lubricated with campaign contributions.

These antiquated, illogical and corruption-inducing laws should simply be repealed. But don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

The Supermarket Must Die. App-Fueled Services Can Kill It – There is no greater temple to our industrialized food system than the American supermarket. With its bins of megafarmed produce, attention-seeking boxes of processed foods, and generous, if anonymous, cuts of meat, it is a place of comforting predictability and one-stop convenience. And like the American waistline, it’s also huge: A typical supermarket is 46,000 square feet and carries some 42,000 products. Problem is, it’s a terrible way to get food.

Such scale demands a vast supply chain, with goods transported to multiple distribution centers before they arrive at stores. This comes with costs, most notably in food loss. A 2014 report found that 43 billion pounds of retail food didn’t make it to consumers, for reasons like mold, inadequate climate control, and other factors the industry calls shrinkage (let’s face it, that’s embarrassing for anyone). All this is damaging to the environment and, because it encourages mass production, gives us worse food (in terms of both taste and nutrition). The supermarket was once a modern marvel, but, as they say, that register is closed: The $638 billion industry is ripe for reinvention.

Thanks to the smartphone-addicted consumer, GPS, apps, and the Internet, a new breed of startup is building systems that make it easier for producers to know just how much to produce, for shoppers to order just what they want, and for food to get from one to the other faster and with fewer stops in between. They range from offerings like Instacart, which gets us partway there by providing a digital portal into existing stores, to more advanced services, like Farmigo, that show the potential to eliminate physical stores entirely. All emphasize convenience. Many promote transparency, responsible practices, and shorter supply chains. The upsides: ­higher-quality food, easier-than-pie delivery, a wider range of growers, and reduced waste and carbon emissions. The downsides: For now it tends to be expensive, and the market will need to grow before these services can break out of elite cities. But the future they promise—the end of the strip mall monolith and better and smarter food, to boot—is hard to resist. Read More > at Wired

In Cramped and Costly Bay Area, Cries to Build, Baby, Build – San Francisco does not have enough places to live. Sonja Trauss, a local activist, thinks the city should tackle this problem by building more housing.

This may not sound like a controversial idea. But this is San Francisco.

Ms. Trauss is a self-described anarchist and the head of the SF Bay Area Renters’ Federation, an upstart political group that is pushing for more development. Its platform is simple: Members want San Francisco and its suburbs to build more of every kind of housing. More subsidized affordable housing, more market-rate rentals, more high-end condominiums.

Ms. Trauss supports all of it so long as it is built tall, and soon. “You have to support building, even when it’s a type of building you hate,” she said. “Is it ugly? Get over yourself. Is it low-income housing? Get over yourself. Is it luxury housing? Get over yourself. We really need everything right now.”

Her group consists of a 500-person mailing list and a few dozen hard-core members — most of them young professionals who work in the technology industry — who speak out at government meetings and protest against the protesters who fight new development. While only two years old, Ms. Trauss’s Renters’ Federation has blazed onto the political scene with youth and bombast and by employing guerrilla tactics that others are too polite to try. In January, for instance, she hired a lawyer to go around suing suburbs for not building enough. Read More > in The New York Times

Big Science is broken – Science is broken.

That’s the thesis of a must-read article in First Things magazine, in which William A. Wilson accumulates evidence that a lot of published research is false. But that’s not even the worst part.

Advocates of the existing scientific research paradigm usually smugly declare that while some published conclusions are surely false, the scientific method has “self-correcting mechanisms” that ensure that, eventually, the truth will prevail. Unfortunately for all of us, Wilson makes a convincing argument that those self-correcting mechanisms are broken.

For starters, there’s a “replication crisis” in science. This is particularly true in the field of experimental psychology, where far too many prestigious psychology studies simply can’t be reliably replicated. But it’s not just psychology. In 2011, the pharmaceutical company Bayer looked at 67 blockbuster drug discovery research findings published in prestigious journals, and found that three-fourths of them weren’t right. Another study of cancer research found that only 11 percent of preclinical cancer research could be reproduced. Even in physics, supposedly the hardest and most reliable of all sciences, Wilson points out that “two of the most vaunted physics results of the past few years — the announced discovery of both cosmic inflation and gravitational waves at the BICEP2 experiment in Antarctica, and the supposed discovery of superluminal neutrinos at the Swiss-Italian border — have now been retracted, with far less fanfare than when they were first published.”

What explains this? In some cases, human error. Much of the research world exploded in rage and mockery when it was found out that a highly popularized finding by the economists Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhardt linking higher public debt to lower growth was due to an Excel error…

Then there is outright fraud. In a 2011 survey of 2,000 research psychologists, over half admitted to selectively reporting those experiments that gave the result they were after. The survey also concluded that around 10 percent of research psychologists have engaged in outright falsification of data, and more than half have engaged in “less brazen but still fraudulent behavior such as reporting that a result was statistically significant when it was not, or deciding between two different data analysis techniques after looking at the results of each and choosing the more favorable.” Read More > at The Week

Poll: Getting facts right key to Americans’ trust in media – Trust in the news media is being eroded by perceptions of inaccuracy and bias, fueled in part by Americans’ skepticism about what they read on social media.

Just 6 percent of people say they have a lot of confidence in the media, putting the news industry about equal to Congress and well below the public’s view of other institutions. In this presidential campaign year, Democrats were more likely to trust the news media than Republicans or independents.

But trust today also goes beyond the traditional journalistic principles of accuracy, balance and fairness.

Faced with ever-increasing sources of information, Americans also are more likely to rely on news that is up-to-date, concise and cites expert sources or documents, according to a study by the Media Insight Project, a partnership of The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the American Press Institute. Read More > from the Associated Press

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Thursday, May 12th – Bike to Work Day

0925-00601Join Bike East Bay and thousands of bike commuters again on May 12 as we celebrate Bike to Work Day, the most fun and engaging commute day of the year.

We look forward to your participation by biking to work or school on this day as we show that Contra Costa County is ready for investments in better bicycling and commute options in a new Measure J.

Bike to Work day is a national event celebrating bicycling as being integral to healthy, sustainable, and thriving communities. It is also the day to show that your city and its leaders know the potential to expand mobility and support local businesses by getting more residents to try bicycling. May 12 is the official Bike to Work day for 2016 and will be celebrated with Energizer Stations throughout the East Bay offering snacks, coffee and goodie bags full of great swag for morning commuters. Bike or walk, please stop by one and thank your constituents for bicycling.

Last year, Bike East Bay reached out to 50,000 bike commuters, and 2016 is expected to be even larger. We will follow up soon with more details. Until then, all the latest info is online at: http://www.BikeEastBay.org/btwd

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