Sunday Reading – 02/01/15


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.

Dish lets subscribers skip the Big Game, watch the commercials – Dish Network has made a name for itself in the cable and satellite industry with technology that lets customers completely skip commercials. For this weekend’s Super Bowl, though, it’s letting them skip the game.

The company has announced a new temporary feature called “Reverse AutoHop” that will let subscribers who record the game avoid all of the boring touchdowns and interceptions and focus on the real topic of Monday morning quarterbacks: The ads.

Like the commercial-skipping AutoHop feature, Reverse AutoHop will be available the day after the game airs.

Ad agencies, which (along with the major broadcast networks) have been fiercely critical of the AutoHop feature previously, are bullish on this reversal of the technology. Read More > at CNBC

Welcome To The Subprime Super Bowl Ticket Crisis – Speculators were selling tickets they never had to begin with. Now, some fans might show up to Arizona having paid for tickets they’ll never receive.

With average list price for resale tickets to Super Bowl XLIX now above $10,000, the 2015 Super Bowl between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots is the ticket market’s Black Swan, and one that will leave a lot of fans out in the cold—and without tickets they believed they bought weeks or months in advance—in warm Arizona. Average price is double the previous highest average for a U.S. sporting event and makes Super Bowl 49 the most expensive ticket in history.

Two days after the conference championship game, the cheapest ticket for Super Bowl XLIX was going for under $2,000. That same cheapest ticket—also known as the “get-in price”—is now going $9,600. While good old-fashioned demand played a role in this year’s run-up, like 2008, the 2015 Super Bowl dynamic was driven principally by derivative-based speculators looking to make a quick buck. Read More > in the Daily Beast

Try to top these bizarre late to work excuses – At some point or another almost everyone has been late to work. Some more than others.

A recent Harris Poll found that 1 in 5 workers admitted they’re late to work at least once a month and 14 percent say it’s a weekly occurrence.

The reasons are usually the same: traffic is snarled, the weather is bad or they simply didn’t wake up on time. Often time kids are the cause of tardiness, said the poll.

But for an unlucky few, some major – and bizarre – obstacles prevented them from getting to a job on time.

According to CareerBuilder.com, the most memorable include:

– I knocked myself out in the shower.

– I was drunk and forgot which Waffle House I parked my car next to. Read More > at 9news

Tentative ruling: California must adopt execution process – California must adopt a new process for executing condemned inmates after nearly three years of delays, a state judge ruled Thursday in a lawsuit filed by crime victims.

The tentative ruling by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shellyanne Chang does not order the state to resume executions, which have been on hold since 2006. But she said corrections officials can’t wait any longer to find a new way to conduct executions if they are reinstituted.

The lawsuit seeks to force state corrections officials to adopt procedures for a single-drug, barbiturate-only method of execution.

Chang found that the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has a duty to adopt execution procedures, but has the sole discretion to decide how the state will carry out the death penalty. Read More > from the Associated Press

FCC raises threshold for high-speed internet as service providers cry foul – The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday changed the definition of broadband to increase the threshold speed – a move that has already angered cable companies.

In a 3-2 vote, the commission approved a measure that increases the minimum standard for broadband speed, giving the agency more power to force internet service providers to improve their service.

The definition of broadband is set to be raised from 4 megabits per second (Mbps) to 25Mbps for downloads and 1Mbps to 3Mbps for uploads.

With that speed as the benchmark, significantly fewer Americans have access to high-speed broadband. Under the previous definition, 19 million Americans were without access; the new definition means that 55 million Americans – 17% of the population – now do not have access to high-speed broadband, according to the FCC’s 2015 Broadband Progress Report, which is in the final editing process but was cited at the hearing. Read More > in The Guardian

The impact of Charlie Hebdo: Americans now back Muhammad cartoons – Nine years ago, six in 10 Americans said it was irresponsible for newspapers to run cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad over Muslims’ objections. Today, six in 10 say they are okay with the newspapers doing just that.

If the terrorists who killed 11 people at a satirical newspaper in Paris earlier this month changed anything, it’s pushing the media more toward publishing such cartoons.

In addition to causing many publications to run such images as they were talking about the motivation for the attacks, a new poll from the Pew Research Center shows those who have been following the matter say strongly that publishing cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad is okay, 60 percent to 28 percent. Read More > in The Washington Post

Make relievers face more than 1 batter for faster game, more offense – …Cubs president Theo Epstein floated such a possibility at the general managers’ meetings in November during a gathering of GMs and Major League Baseball officials, according to major-league sources. No formal proposal was made, but the concept generated a mostly positive reaction, sources said.

Think how the game would change if such a rule was in effect:

An opposing manager would need to think twice about bringing in a left-handed specialist to face, say, the Red Sox’s premier left-handed hitter, David Ortiz, with less than two outs.

The specialist also would need to face a top right-handed hitter, probably Hanley Ramirez in the revamped Sox’s lineup, and then maybe another, if the requirement was three batters per appearance — be still my beating heart, possibly a full inning!

The effect would be immediately noticeable.

Fewer delays caused by pitching changes. New strategies as managers decide how to best deploy their relievers. A reduction in the importance of same-side specialists. An increased number of opportunities for the best hitters to decide games. Read More > at Just a bit Outside

Windows 10 deep-dive review: Finally, a unified operating system – The second preview release of Windows 10 begins to flesh out Microsoft’s vision of an operating system that bridges the gap between traditional PCs and touch-based tablets — something it failed at dismally in Windows 8. More than that, the new release reveals a single operating system that shape-shifts according to the device it’s running on, be that a PC, a tablet or a phone.

Several new features and design elements refine Windows’ overall look and feel; they also show off a significant addition, the Siri-like digital assistant Cortana. All in all, this version of Windows 10 is still not a finished operating system, but it’s shaping up to be a winner.

The return of the Start menu, first seen in the previous Windows 10 build, is at the core of Microsoft’s commitment to providing an operating system that works as easily on a traditional PC as on a laptop. Microsoft made several changes in this new release that moves it even further towards that goal.

…There’s another new feature as well: Continuum, which performs a kind of shape-shifting that allows Windows to automatically sense what type of machine it’s running on, and alter its interface to reflect that. Read More > in ComputerWorld

Digging Beneath California’s Surface Economic Recovery – … In December 2007, roughly 3 million California workers were part-time, including just over 678,000 who were working part-time for economic reasons (i.e. the market was forcing them to work part-time, not by choice). This ratio, 3.4 “by-choice” part-time workers to “economic” part-time workers, is roughly where California stood for much of the early to mid-2000s. By the end of the recession in June 2009, that ratio had fallen to just 1.5 “by choice” part-time workers to “economic” ones, suggesting the state’s job market shifted significantly in nature over the course of the recession. Over the last 6 years, the ratio has only risen to 1.8. The number of part-time workers due to economic reasons is still almost two times the size as before the recession and is down just roughly 100,000 since the end of the recession. While Brown notes 1.3 million new jobs have been created in the last four years, there are still over 1.2 million Californians working part-time who don’t want to be.

There is obviously something still not right with California’s underlying economy. In total, over 2.5 million Californians are either unemployed or working part-time when they would rather be working full-time. The question is why. The clearest underlying rationale is that economic growth has been rather tepid, especially when compared with previous recoveries. Between 2009-2010 and 2012-2013, real GDP grew by an average of 1.8% per year. Coming out of the previous recession (2002-2003 to 2005-2006), real GDP grew over two times faster, on average, per year (3.8%). And one of the greatest culprits for California’s sluggish economic growth is the fact that the state is regularly rated as the worst in which to do business. As one CEO puts it, “California’s attitude toward business makes you question why anyone would build a business there.”

Simply stating that legislation is pro-job in a legislative floor speech or opening a Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development isn’t sufficient to creating a pro-growth business environment. If Sacramento seriously wants to foster a robust job market, the state needs strong economic growth, which requires nurturing, consistently and vigorously, a healthy business climate. Read More > at Real Clear Markets

California declares electronic cigarettes a health threat – California health officials say electronic cigarettes are a health threat, especially to children, and should be strictly regulated like tobacco products.

A report released Wednesday by the California Department of Public Health says e-cigarettes emit cancer-causing chemicals and get users hooked on nicotine. California Health Officer Ron Chapman says new generations of young people will become nicotine addicts if the products remain largely unregulated.

“There are myths and misinformations around e-cigarettes, many people do not know that they pose many of the same health risks as traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products,” Chapman said.

E-cigarettes heat liquid nicotine from cartridges into inhalable vapor without tar and other chemicals found in traditional cigarettes. Chapman said e-cigarettes emit an aerosol that contains at least ten chemicals that are known to cause cancer and birth defects. Read More > from the Associated Press

Budgeting With Revenues Growing Means California Must Confront Its Past – California’s finances are roaring back. Midway through the fiscal year, the state now expects its fiscal 2015 revenues to come in $2.6 billion—or 2.4%—higher than the budget assumed. History would suggest, however, that any fiscal renaissance will be temporary–the result of several favorable developments occurring simultaneously. A cruder characterization would be that the state is only better off now because it obtained voter consent to raise taxes in the midst of a long-lived bull market for equities. Once the tax increases expire, or if market sentiment turns bearish, the skeptic might assert that the state—along with its credit rating—is condemned to go off a fiscal cliff.

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services sees California’s improving finances and credit quality as more than just the result of a cyclical upswing. In November 2014, we raised California’s general obligation (GO) debt rating to ‘A+’. The move signaled our belief that the state is positioned for a more enduring period of financial stability. It was also the most recent rating revision in a steady progression of favorable adjustments that began in July 2011.

California lawmakers have navigated a fiscal recovery, and in the process cleared the way for its improving credit quality without taking steps to reduce the state’s propensity for exaggerated revenue swings. This has given rise to questions about the sustainability of the state’s improved budget position. And with recent revenue collections surging ahead of budget assumptions, it’s difficult to argue that revenue volatility, albeit currently to the upside, has subsided.

For California a future revenue slump isn’t only possible, it’s expected. Its tax base is too dependent on a narrow segment of taxpayers at the top of the income distribution to avoid it. In 2012, for example, the state’s top 1% of income earners paid over 50% of personal income taxes. Returns on investment in financial assets generate a significant source of income for these individuals. Consequently, the state’s tax collections tend to mirror the volatility of the financial markets. The question from a credit perspective isn’t so much whether revenue trends will weaken, but rather, can the state avoid going into budgetary and liquidity crises when they do? Read More > at S&P Capital IQ

Palm Desert High sends home 66 unvaccinated students – Officials sent home 66 Palm Desert High School students Wednesday, telling them to miss up to seven days of classes because they haven’t been immunized for measles.

The students won’t return to school until Feb. 9 unless they confirm they’ve received immunization or show proof of resistance as determined by a Titer test, according to the Desert Sands Unified School District.

The district’s decision came just two days after a student was sent home with a suspected case of measles. She was cleared to return to class on Tuesday. Read More > in The Desert Sun

Tossing Out Food In The Trash? In Seattle, You’ll Be Fined For That – In Seattle, wasting food will now earn you a scarlet letter — well, a scarlet tag, to be more accurate.

The bright red tag, posted on a garbage bin, tells everyone who sees it that you’ve violated a new city law that makes it illegal to put food into trash cans.

“I’m sure neighbors are going to see these on their other neighbors’ cans,” says Rodney Watkins, a lead driver for Recology CleanScapes, a waste contractor for the city. He’s on the front lines of enforcing these rules.

Seattle is the first city in the nation to fine homeowners for not properly sorting their garbage. The law took effect on Jan. 1 as a bid to keep food out of landfills. Other cities like San Francisco and Vancouver mandate composting, but don’t penalize homeowners directly.

Seattle Public Utilities estimates that every family in the city throws away some 400 pounds of food each year. The city gives households bins to fill with their food and yard waste. But residents don’t have to compost it themselves: They can just leave the bins curbside and have the city pick it up for a fee.

The new law is meant to help Seattle increase its recycling and composting rate to 60 percent of all its waste — the city is currently 4 percentage points below that. Read More > at NPR

The California Recovery: Deficits are gone, but how have we changed? – California’s budget deficits are gone, and the state has regained the number of jobs it lost during the Great Recession.

But what kind of jobs are coming back? A pair of articles look at the ways in which California’s economy is transforming, and the implications in the ongoing discussion over growing income inequality.

The Los Angeles Times reports , “The state has been among the slowest to recover jobs in an industry long viewed as a bastion of middle-class opportunity.

“Since February 2010, U.S. manufacturing employment has increased at a rate of 6.7%, with some Midwestern and Southern states such as Indiana and South Carolina seeing gains of 15% or more. By contrast, California manufacturing has grown at about 1% over the same period.

“That could hurt California’s middle-class workforce: Manufacturing is the classic path to higher paying jobs for less-educated workers. On average, manufacturing workers make 8.4% higher wages each week than those in all other industries combined, according to a 2012 Brookings Institution study.” Read More > at California County News

Water Bond Promises Must Be Kept – If you, like 3.5 million Californians, voted “yes” on the $7.5 billion water bond last year, you should start paying attention to how Gov. Jerry Brown is planning to spend the bond money.

It may not be on building new dams to store water for future dry years like he assured voters, farmers and legislators before the election.

The governor recently divulged how he wants to spend the first $532 million: restoring streams, rivers and watersheds, water recycling projects, upgrading drinking water treatment plants, rebates for people buying water-efficient appliances and, finally, groundwater management and cleanup.

Something seems to be missing from this list.

In 2014, last-minute negotiations among Republicans, Valley agriculture leaders and senior members of the governor’s staff produced more money for surface storage dams and the promise of bond money to build Sites Reservoir north of Sacramento and Temperance Flat near Fresno. These negotiations resulted in final approval of the water bond by the Legislature. Read More > at Fox And Hounds

Safeway acquisition approved by U.S. regulators – Supermarket chain Albertsons says U.S. regulators have approved its purchase of competitor Safeway.

The companies said Tuesday the deal has been cleared by the Federal Trade Commission and should close within five business days.

Albertsons, which privately held and part-owned by Cerberus Capital Management, agreed to buy Pleasanton-based Safeway in March for $7.64 billion in cash. The FTC said the sale would hurt consumers in 130 markets by reducing competition, and in December the companies said they would sell 168 stores in eight states.

Most of the stores will be bought by Haggen, a chain based in the Northwest. Haggen will expand to 164 locations from 18. Read More > in the Contra Costa Times

Jail ‘anti-vax’ parents: Column – The entirely preventable California measles outbreak has now sickened more than 70 people. With perhaps hundreds more exposed, the outbreak will likely continue.

As the disease spreads, experts will debate how we respond and what to do about the anti-vaccine movement that’s partly to blame for this mess. Likely, all we’ll agree on is better outreach to parents.

That’s not enough. Parents who do not vaccinate their children should go to jail.

In the year 2015, it is amazing that anyone in the United States contracts measles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the U.S. eliminated all native cases of measles in the year 2000. New cases generally occurred only among unvaccinated foreigners. Today, however, because of ignorant “anti-vaxxers,” the disease is staging a comeback. Read More > in USA Today

West Hollywood Passes Ordinance Banning Gender Identification on Bathroom Doors – Last year, public schools throughout the state began allowing students to use the bathroom of their chosen gender rather than the one they were assigned at birth. Fast forward to 2015 and the City of West Hollywood (WeHo for short) has taken the gist of that policy one step further: banning the use of gendered bathroom signs in businesses located within city limits.

“I know for a number of transgender people that having to choose whether to go into the male or female restroom is not as easy as it can be for non-transgender people,” West Hollywood Councilwoman Abbe Land said to the Los Angeles Times. “It’s all about access and equality.”

WeHo has long been at the forefront of progressive policy when it comes to gender identity. As one of the first cities in the nation to legalize gay marriage and with over one third of its population identifying as LGBTQ, it is easy to see why the policy was passed unanimously by the City Council. Read More > at Public CEO

Remembering Auschwitz: 70 Years After Liberation – Tuesday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the passage of 70 years since the January 27, 1945, liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet soldiers. Auschwitz was a network of concentration camps built and operated in occupied Poland by Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Auschwitz I and nearby Auschwitz II-Birkenau were the extermination camps where an estimated 1.1 million people—mostly Jews from across Europe, but also political opponents, prisoners of war, homosexuals, and Roma—were killed in gas chambers or by systematic starvation, forced labor, disease, or medical experiments. About 200,000 camp inmates survived the ordeal. On Tuesday, a number of heads of states and aging survivors will attend a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary at the site in Poland, now maintained as a museum and memorial. Read More > in The Atlantic

Orkin Ranks Worst Cities for Bed Bugs – Talk about a club no one ever wants to join.

The pest control giant, Orkin, has released its Bed Bugs Cities List for 2014, ranking 50 cities on their propensity for bed bug infestations. To determine the results, Orkin looked at the number of bed bug treatments it had performed in each city from January to December 2014.

Chicago, Illinois took the #1 spot for the third consecutive year. The problem in the Windy City is so bad that the city council passed an ordinance in 2013 aimed at stamping out infestations.

Detroit, MI came in at #2, followed by Columbus, OH. Our very own Los Angeles came in at #4, with Cleveland-Akron-Canton, Ohio rounding out the top five. San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose (#3) and Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto (#14) also made the list.

Even if your city doesn’t rank high on the bed bug list, you’re not necessarily out of the woods. According to Orkin, bed bugs can be found in every region of the country, and the company has treated infestations in all 50 states. The problem is compounded by one of the insects’ defining characteristics: they love to travel—in your clothes, in your suitcase, you name it.

“The problem is growing nationwide,” Orkin said in its press release. “According to an annual report on the pest control industry, Americans spent $446 million to get rid of bed bugs in 2013, the latest data available, compared to $70 million in 2004.”

Ouch!

Now, sleep tight. And don’t let the bed bugs bite. From – California City News

De Leon: On redistricting, ‘we will be prepared’ – With the March 2 date for oral arguments fast approaching, much attention is suddenly being focused in California on the U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of a case that could invalidate the Citizens Redistricting Commission’s authority to draw congressional district lines.

The Arizona Legislature is asking the court to literally interpret the elections clause of the U.S. Constitution, which says it is the purview of state legislatures to determine the time, place and manner of elections to the House of Representatives.

As others are quickly weighing in on the case — the California commission and a group led by the state Chamber of Commerce filed amicus briefs on Friday, and a bipartisan group of 19 House members did the same today — I asked Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon whether he and legislative leaders had any sympathy for the argument being made by their counterparts in Arizona.

Notably, however, de Leon asserted that the California Legislature will be fully prepared to step in and draw new congressional districts if the Supreme Court sides with Arizona. Read More > at 95 Percent Accurate

Russians charged with plotting to recruit NYC co-eds as spies – A Russian espionage ring tried to recruit college co-eds and other New York City women to serve as intelligence sources following the stunning arrest and deportation of sexy spy Anna Chapman, federal authorities revealed Monday as they arrested one of the spies.

But, the middle-aged secret agent complained in one taped conversation, the spy cell couldn’t get “close enough” to the gals it targeted to charm them into service for mother Russia, court papers revealed.

FBI agents secretly recorded Igor Sporyshev, 40, grousing about his lack of success with the ladies during an April 2013 conversation inside the supposedly “secure” New York City office of the

…Sporyshev — who worked undercover while posing as a Russian trade representative — was among three Russian nationals charged in a scheme to gather information on potential US sanctions against Russia and American efforts to develop “alternative energy resources.” Read More > in the New York Post

Foreign Firm Funding U.S. Green Groups Tied to State-Owned Russian Oil Company – A shadowy Bermudan company that has funneled tens of millions of dollars to anti-fracking environmentalist groups in the United States is run by executives with deep ties to Russian oil interests and offshore money laundering schemes involving members of President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.

One of those executives, Nicholas Hoskins, is a director at a hedge fund management firm that has invested heavily in Russian oil and gas. He is also senior counsel at the Bermudan law firm Wakefield Quin and the vice president of a London-based investment firm whose president until recently chaired the board of the state-owned Russian oil company Rosneft.

In addition to those roles, Hoskins is a director at a company called Klein Ltd. No one knows where that firm’s money comes from. Its only publicly documented activities have been transfers of $23 million to U.S. environmentalist groups that push policies that would hamstring surging American oil and gas production, which has hurt Russia’s energy-reliant economy. Read More > at The Washington Free Beacon

You’re going to have to spare more than a square: Toilet paper is shrinking – If it feels as if you’re running through toilet paper rolls faster than ever before, that’s because you are. But it might not be your fault.

Slowly but surely, toilet paper rolls have been shrinking.

Toilet paper squares, the individual sheets that connect to make each roll, were once 4.5 inches wide and 4.5 inches long. That standard, however, has shifted, or at the very least loosened its grip on the industry, to a point where companies are selling sheets that are a half-inch shorter or thinner, or both.

…Others, including Consumer Reports, have noticed the trend, too. The consumer advocacy group said that rolls are becoming “narrower,” cardboard tubes are getting bigger, and sheets are shrinking in both size and number. So toilet paper rolls might look the same at a first or even second or third glance, even though they carry less actual toilet paper. Read More > in The Washington Post

Union Membership Rate Falls to 100-Year Low – New information from the federal government suggests workers’ interest in unions continues to fall, with union membership reaching its lowest rate in 100 years.

According to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics today, the union membership rate fell to 11.1 percent, with just 14.6 million wage and salaried workers maintaining membership.

In 2013, the union membership rate was 0.2 percentage points higher, at 11.3 percent.

The rate of union membership has been on a steady decline over the past three decades. It grew slightly from 12.1 percent in 2007 to 12.4 percent in 2008. During President Obama’s first year in office, however, it fell once more. Read More > at The Daily Signal

Move over, humans, the robodocs are coming: Technology is going to significantly transform medicine, with sensors monitoring body functions – The most significant announcement that Apple made in 2014 wasn’t a larger-sized iPhone. It was that Apple is entering the health care industry. With HealthKit, it is building an iTunes-like platform for health; Apple Watch is its first medical device. Apple is, however, two steps behind Google, IBM and hundreds of startups. They realized much earlier that medicine is becoming an information technology and that the trillion-dollar health care market is ripe for disruption.

My prediction is that 2015 will be the year in which tech takes baby steps in transforming medicine. The technologies that make this possible are advancing at exponential rates; their power and performance are increasing dramatically even as their prices fall and footprints shrink. The big leaps will start to happen at around the end of this decade.

The health devices that companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Samsung are developing are based on MEMS sensors, which are one of the exponential technologies. These enable the measurement of things such as heart rate, temperature, blood pressure and activity levels and can feed data into cloud-based platforms such as HealthKit. They will be packaged in watches, Band-Aids, clothing and contact lenses. Yes, Google announced last January that it is developing a contact lens that can measure glucose levels in a person’s tears and transmit these data via an antenna thinner than a human hair. In July, it said that it was licensing the technology to Novartis, enabling it to market it to people with diabetes.

We will soon have sensors that monitor almost every aspect of our body’s functioning, inside and out. Read More > in the Buffalo News

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About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Data Center Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit and Transplan
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