Sunday Reading – 02/22/15


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.

Everything you need to know about MLB’s new pace-of-play initiatives – Major League Baseball games are sometimes too long, there’s no doubt about it. In 2014, for the first time, the average game exceeded three hours. On Friday, MLB took its first steps in speeding up the game by announcing new pace-of-play initiatives. The new rules, announced by MLB, the MLBPA, and Pace of Game Instant Replay Committees, focus primarily on batters and non-game action.

The batter’s box rule will now actually be enforced, requiring batters to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box at all times unless exceptions, such as timeouts or wild pitches and passed balls, occur. If the batter leaves the box the umpire can award a strike. The rule was in place and enforced in the minor leagues in 2014.

The committee also wants play to resume shortly after television broadcasts return from between-inning commercials. Timers will be installed in two locations in every ballpark to measure non-game action and the breaks between innings. Read More > at Yahoo! Sports

This Chart Shows What Walmart’s Pay Raises Mean for the Minimum Wage – In a move set to reignite the debate over increasing the federal minimum wage, Walmart said Thursday it’s giving half a million of its employees a raise.

Here’s what’s in store for the 500,000 employees who are paid the company’s baseline wages (which are highly contested numbers), according to a statement:

“Current and future associates will benefit from this initiative, which ensures that Walmart hourly associates earn at least $1.75 above today’s federal minimum wage, or $9.00 per hour, in April. The following year, by Feb. 1, 2016, current associates will earn at least $10.00 per hour.” Read More > at TIME

Oil Prices Hit The Snooze Button For The Next Year Or Two – Oil bulls and bears need to stop talking their books and get real. Crude isn’t going back above $100 a barrel – at least not anytime soon. Nor is it falling to $20.

How can I be so sure? A confluence of political, economic, and, most importantly, technological changes are having a major impact on the way we produce and consume oil, making it both cheaper and more abundant. Barring some major international conflict, oil prices will most likely be range bound for quite a while, with a floor of somewhere around $40 a barrel (where we have seen massive rig count and CAPEX reductions) and a top around $80 a barrel, above which production really ramps up.

…Technology is also having an impact on the demand side of the equation as well. There have been a number of major advances in renewable energy and “green” alternatives to fossil fuels in the last few years that have soured demand for crude, especially in the Western world.

For example, we are already seeing electric-powered cars on the road, but advances in battery technology could make the electric car a truly viable alternative to gasoline-powered cars in the next five years. Researchers at Yale and MIT have developed so-called “lithium-air” batteries, which reduces the energy needed to recharge the battery, making it lightweight and more efficient and cheaper to produce. There are also a number of companies racing to make a more efficient battery as well. Seeo, a small company out of California, says their so-called “solid state lithium ion” battery, which is based on a proprietary polymer electrolyte called DryLyte, can hold more energy than today’s conventional lithium-ion batteries at a tenth of the size. Read More > in Forbes

Raiders, Chargers ponder shared stadium near Los Angeles – Raiders owner Mark Davis has continually said he wants his team to stay in Oakland. And Thursday night, he either got some serious leverage to make that happen or found an exit strategy.

The Raiders and rival San Diego Chargers have been working on plans to build and share a $1.7 billion stadium in Carson — if they can’t get publicly-financed deals done to stay in their respective cities. Thursday, they pulled the curtain back by releasing a combined statement to the Los Angeles Times.

…Davis, unavailable Thursday night, told The Chronicle a year ago this month that Oakland was on its “last chance” to keep the Raiders. And Colony Capital — an international leader in real estate investment projects — has since failed to make any progress since releasing its “Coliseum City” plan of football and baseball stadiums and retail shops last August.

Davis agreed to one-year lease extension with the Coliseum but has also met with San Antonio officials in recent months as his frustration has grown. Read More > in The San Francisco Chronicle

AP: 2,500 teachers punished in 5 years for sexual misconduct – …Lindsey’s case is just a small example of a widespread problem in American schools: sexual misconduct by the very teachers who are supposed to be nurturing the nation’s children.

Students in America’s schools are groped. They’re raped. They’re pursued, seduced and think they’re in love.

An Associated Press investigation found more than 2,500 cases over five years in which educators were punished for actions from bizarre to sadistic.

There are 3 million public school teachers nationwide, most devoted to their work. Yet the number of abusive educators – nearly three for every school day – speaks to a much larger problem in a system that is stacked against victims.

Most of the abuse never gets reported. Those cases reported often end with no action. Cases investigated sometimes can’t be proven, and many abusers have several victims.

And no one – not the schools, not the courts, not the state or federal governments – has found a surefire way to keep molesting teachers out of classrooms.

Those are the findings of an AP investigation in which reporters sought disciplinary records in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The result is an unprecedented national look at the scope of sex offenses by educators – the very definition of breach of trust.

The seven-month investigation found 2,570 educators whose teaching credentials were revoked, denied, surrendered or sanctioned from 2001 through 2005 following allegations of sexual misconduct.

…Like Lindsey, the perpetrators that the AP found are everyday educators – teachers, school psychologists, principals and superintendents among them. They’re often popular and recognized for excellence and, in nearly nine out of 10 cases, they’re male. While some abused students in school, others were cited for sexual misconduct after hours that didn’t necessarily involve a kid from their classes, such as viewing or distributing child pornography.

…The overwhelming majority of cases the AP examined involved teachers in public schools. Private school teachers rarely turn up because many are not required to have a teaching license and, even when they have one, disciplinary actions are typically handled within the school. Read More > at KOMO News

Baseball and the Spirit of Innovation – Baseball, being the noblest sport, has many lessons to teach: the value of daily persistence, the inevitability of failure and the likelihood that luck will not override ineptitude (Looking at you, Cubs.). But, as a creation of humans, it is also prey to human imperfections, like the urge to suppress useful changes to spare those who resist adaptation.

Part of the game’s appeal lies in what George Will calls its “soothing continuities.” Discontinuity can be jarring. It wasn’t long ago that the Cubs had to fight to install lights in an ancient stadium that had hosted only day games.

But ingenuity is not something to outlaw. So fans and anyone who admires the creative spirit should be alarmed that the new commissioner of Major League Baseball is open to penalizing the clever and protecting the obstinate.

The target Rob Manfred has in his sights is an increasingly popular defensive alignment that puts three infielders on the first-base side of the diamond to rob hits from batters insatiably prone to hitting in that direction.

The bane of left-handed “pull” hitters, it is alleged to be draining offense from the game like a vampire sucking blood. The poor lunks would prefer to be presented with spacious expanses of unoccupied grass that they may barrage without fear.

But it’s not the task of the defense to get these hitters on base. It’s the job of the hitters. If they fail, it’s their fault.

Manfred pronounces himself eager to consider ways of “injecting additional offense into the game,” including a ban on the shift. If inflating scores is the goal, why not give hitters four strikes or shorten the distance between bases? For that matter, why did baseball ban steroids? Read More > at Reason.com

Young salmon readied for release into San Joaquin River – 54,000-plus juvenile Chinook salmon moved to pens on San Joaquin River for acclimation, as part of the river restoration project. Their new home is only temporarily, for a few days. The spring-run Chinook salmon juveniles are from the Feather River Fish Hatchery in Northern California were lowered in pens where they will remain for a few days. Because the river has barriers, such as dams, and dry stretches, the pens must be moved downstream to the confluence of the Merced River for release and migration to the ocean. Video: John Walker The Fresno Bee

Field Poll Buzz: Condi vs. Kamala Dream Match-Up – The new Field Poll, testing whether voters are inclined or not to vote for various individuals for U.S. Senate, is most significant for one reason: as a demonstration that Republican former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice could be a strong contender if she got into the race.

Compared to the rest of the mentionables, Rice draws the most number of respondents who are inclined to vote for her – 49% — more than all the others, including one declared candidate, Attorney General Kamala Harris, who pulls 47%.

Most important, this far in advance of the election — and with absolutely no indication from Rice that she’s interested in running — is that while 74% of Republicans say they’re inclined to vote for her, so too are 31% of Democrats and 54% of independents.

Harris, likewise, draws inclinations for 74% of Democrats, but only 10% of Republicans and 42% of independents. Read More > at Calbuzz

How cable networks speed up shows to squeeze in more ads – If you’re still watching cable, it turns out that channels like TBS and TNT are now speeding up syndicated programs, classics films and other shows by as much as 7 percent. We hadn’t noticed it much ourselves, but the trend was spotted by Snopes and others thanks to a YouTube user who compared the same programs aired now and several years ago. A Seinfeld episode that originally ran 25 minutes was nearly 22 after the process, letting the broadcaster fit in about six extra spots. As the WSJ pointed out, ads now run an average of 15.8 minutes per hour on cable, and one unnamed cable exec said that “it’s a way to keep the revenue from going down as much as the ratings.”

The practice has been prevalent in radio for years, but was technically difficult to achieve in TV until recently due to poor image quality. As we’ve reported before, cable and premium channels are losing viewership to Netflix and other less aggravating forms of content delivery. In order to make up for the lost revenue, TNT et. al. are speeding up syndicated shows like Seinfeld and Friends in a way that’s not too noticeable, letting them fit in a few more ads per half hour. Read More > at Engadget

Baby Ruth, Butterfinger and Crunch are going natural – The Swiss candy company Nestle says it’s removing unnatural flavors and colors from products in the United States as consumers crave more organic sweets.

Nestle USA said in a statement on Tuesday that more than 250 chocolate bars across 10 brands will be free from artificial flavors and colors, such as Red 40 and Yellow 5, by the year’s end. The new and improved candy bars, such as Baby Ruth, Butterfinger and Crunch, which will start hitting store shelves in mid-2015 and will be stamped with a label reading, “No artificial flavors or colors.”

“We know that candy consumers are interested in broader food trends around fewer artificial ingredients,” Nestle USA Confections and Snacks President Doreen Ida said in the statement. “As we thought about what this means for our candy brands, our first step has been to remove artificial flavors and colors without affecting taste or increasing the price. We’re excited to be the first major U.S. candy manufacturer to make this commitment.”

The company cited Nielsen’s 2014 Global Health and Wellness Survey, which found that more than 60 percent of Americans said the absence of artificial ingredients was important to them when searching for something to satisfy their sweet tooth.

…Up next will be the company’s gummy and sour sweets such as SweeTARTS and Nerds, though those candies are tougher candidates because their bright colors are more challenging to match Read More > in The Washington Post

Just When You Thought Deflategate Couldn’t Get Any Dumber – This is the point where the NFL could candidly admit that it has nothing; that the league’s investigation into whether or not the New England Patriots used deflated footballs in last month’s AFC Championship game has gone (ahem) flat.

…A new report under ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” brand claims that locker room attendant Jim McNally, a 48-year-old Granite Stater, attempted to give officials an unapproved football at some point during the first half of New England’s 45-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

The ball was not used.

As far as plot twists go, Kelly Naqi’s report is about as riveting as that time somebody sneezed in “The English Patient.” But the network has a lot at stake here. It was, of course, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen that reported that 11 of the 12 balls used in last month’s championship game were underinflated by two pounds under the 12.5 PSI minimum. That was refuted by the NFL Network’s Ian Rappaport, who reported on the morning of the Super Bowl that only one of the footballs was deflated to such a level.

We haven’t heard much from Mortensen concerning his report since the Super Bowl, but whether that means he’s on a well-earned respite after the grind of the NFL season, or he’s locked in some cavern of shame in Bristol, Conn. is unclear. What is also vague is Naqi’s referencing the original ESPN report, claiming that 11 of the 12 balls were off by “one to two pounds” instead of the “two pounds each” that Mortensen originally reported on Jan. 20.

Maybe that’s an oversight. Or maybe it’s just the latest proof that Deflategate is all a bunch of random sources throwing bleep at the wall in the hopes that something, anything, sticks to the Patriots. Read More > at Boston.com

Bay Area home sales drop to lowest year-over-year rate since the recession – …With new numbers released Wednesday showing that the number of existing homes sold in January in the East Bay, South Bay and Peninsula saw double-digit drops to levels not reached in years, thanks to the dearth of houses on the market,

…In Alameda County, the median price of a single-family home in January was $573,500, a 9.2 percent jump from a year ago, while sales fell nearly 12 percent to 591. In Contra Costa County, the median price was $393,500, a nearly 6 percent rise from a year earlier, and sales also jumped, up 8 percent to 733. Santa Clara County saw its median sales price hit $750,000, almost a 12 percent increase over a year ago, while sales dropped 5.3 percent to 628. San Mateo County saw a dramatic pop in its median sale price, up more than 17 percent to $928,000, while the volume of sales fell sharply — down nearly 17 percent to 253 homes sold.

For the entire Bay Area, the median price hit $572,000, up nearly 6 percent from a year ago, while sales dropped 5.6 percent to 3,094.

Steve Mohseni, a real estate agent with Re/Max in Pleasanton, said he thinks prices will continue to increase year over year as we enter the traditionally busy home-buying months of spring. He says growing incomes that many homebuyers in the Bay Area are now enjoying will help “offset the price increases in the market.”

“The inventory in Pleasanton right now is a third of what it would be in a normal market,” he said, emphasizing how a continued tight market could put more upward pressure on prices. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

Electric car benefits? Just myths – It is time to stop our green worship of the electric car. It costs us a fortune, cuts little CO2 and surprisingly kills almost twice the number of people compared with regular gasoline cars.

Electric cars’ global-warming benefits are small. It is advertised as a zero-emissions car, but in reality it only shifts emissions to electricity production, with most coming from fossil fuels. As green venture capitalist Vinod Khosla likes to point out, “Electric cars are coal-powered cars.”

The most popular electric car, a Nissan Leaf, over a 90,000-mile lifetime will emit 31 metric tons of CO2, based on emissions from its production, its electricity consumption at average U.S. fuel mix and its ultimate scrapping. A comparable diesel Mercedes CDI A160 over a similar lifetime will emit 3 tons more across its production, diesel consumption and ultimate scrapping.

The results are similar for the top-line Tesla car, emitting about 44 tons, about 5 tons less than a similar Audi A7 Quattro.

Yes, in both cases the electric car is better, but only by a tiny bit. Avoiding 3 tons of CO2 would cost less than $27 on Europe’s emissions trading market. The annual benefit is about the cost of a cup of coffee. Yet U.S. taxpayers spend up to $7,500 in tax breaks for less than $27 of climate benefits. That’s a bad deal. Read More > in USA Today

3-D Printing Prosthetic Hands That Are Anything but Ordinary – Dawson Riverman’s parents tried to help him make the best of it.

Born without fingers on his left hand, Dawson struggled to perform even the simplest tasks, like tying his shoes or holding a ball. “God made you special in this way,” his parents told him. But by age 5, Dawson was demanding tearfully to know why.

The Rivermans, of Forest Grove, Ore., could not afford a high-tech prosthetic hand for their son, and in any event they are rarely made for children. Then help arrived in the guise of a stranger with a three-dimensional printer.

He made a prosthetic hand for Dawson, in cobalt blue and black, and it did not cost his family a thing. Now the 13-year-old can ride a bike and hold a baseball bat. He hopes to play goalkeeper on his soccer team.

The proliferation of 3-D printers has had an unexpected benefit: The devices, it turns out, are perfect for creating cheap prosthetics. Surprising numbers of children need them: One in 1,000 infants is born with missing fingers, and others lose fingers and hands to injury. Each year, about 450 children receive amputations as a result of lawn mower accidents, according to a study in Pedatrics.. Read More > in The New York Times

How will Jim Tomsula’s reign as 49ers head coach stack up against history? – Seeing Rex Ryan in a new color scheme will be a bit of a novelty of course, and we’re all going to have to get used to the idea that John Fox is once again back in the NFC. But will any coach’s debut play out amid more spotlight or pressure than San Francisco’s Jim Tomsula, the former 49ers defensive line coach who was elevated to the top job after the messy and widely predicted demise of the team’s Jim Harbaugh era?

Tomsula isn’t just taking over another team that has lost its way when it comes to the path to the playoffs. He’s taking over for one of the most successful coaches in recent NFL history, who almost overnight returned the 49ers franchise to relevance. Harbaugh’s three consecutive trips to the NFC Championship game in his first three years on the job, with one Super Bowl berth, set the bar extremely high in San Francisco. Even with San Francisco slipping to an 8–8 record last year and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010, there’s a nowhere-to-go-but-down vibe that looms over the organization this offseason. Tomsula will be tasked with staving off a descent into irrelevance at all costs and re-injecting the team into the Super Bowl conversation every year.

…When we last saw Tomsula at his introductory news conference in mid-January, we got a less-than-inspiring glimpse of him as the new man in charge. As rollouts go, his went about as smoothly as the government health care website’s. Parts of his rambling press conference were downright cringe-worthy, and a follow-up, one-on-one TV interview with a CSN Bay Area reporter was almost laughably devoid of information and insight when discussing Tomsula’s vision of the team’s future.

…But Hall of Fame ex-49ers quarterback Steve Young earlier this week was the latest to give voice to what many around the league are thinking: San Francisco’s roster still looks like Super Bowl material for the most part, but will the new leadership on the sideline match the playing talent level? Does anybody really have a handle on that one yet? Read More > in Sports Illustrated

Understanding the Impact of IoT (Internet of Things) – It’s amazing when you stop and think about it. Your mobile phone has instant access to the sum total of human knowledge … and yet something important is missing: Contextual Awareness. Through sensors both stationary and wearable, the Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to change all of that.

According to Wikipedia, “The Internet of Things (IoT) is the inclusion of electronics and software in any device not usually considered computerized in nature, to enable it to achieve greater value and service by giving it an ability to network and communicate with other devices. Each item is uniquely identifiable through its embedded computing device but is able to interoperate within the existing Internet infrastructure.”

In a recent report, “Gartner forecasts that 4.9 billion connected things will be in use in 2015, up 30 percent from 2014, and will reach 25 billion by 2020”. As a point of reference, there are currently 2 billion smart phones in the world today and about 5 billion mobile phones according to eMarketer. That means Gartner is projecting 5x growth in IoT devices, but the real question is: Why should you care?

…I get it. My father used to tell me, “If you want to be successful, find a hole and fill it.” This is what the next wave of internet connected devices are all about–solving the problems that are most important to a specific group of people. This is why fragmentation in the IoT space is not only likely, but is needed. Industry experts will quickly identify the specific contextual problem that off the shelf devices fail to address, then customize a short-run solution (maybe less than 1,000 products).

This is the physical manifestation of what we saw in the mobile app world. When the iPhone was first launched, everyone was scurrying to build the “all-in-one” app that did everything. Today, the most successful apps tend to solve a single problem really well. We don’t need one app that does it all, we need the best app that solves a specific problem we care about. Replace the word “app” with “device” and we’re not honing in on the true impact of IoT. Read More > at Inc.

The End of Outrage? – These days, everyone from Jeb Bush to Barack Obama to Naomi Klein frets about economic inequality. Yet wages continue to stagnate, unions scuffle to survive, the income of CEOs keeps climbing (even for those execs who run their companies into the ground), and anyone who seriously hopes to become president first has to secure the patronage of a billionaire or two. Why do so few Americans seem genuinely outraged? Why is no one taking to the streets?

The United States was once home to wave upon wave of organized indignation against corporate “monopolies” and their Wall Street enablers. During the heyday of the industrial era, movements that fought to redistribute wealth and power attracted millions of ordinary people. From the late 19th century through the 1940s, they persuaded—or pressured—government officials to regulate big business, establish a minimum wage and unemployment insurance, protect union organizers, and create Social Security. More recently, the black and feminist movements, with help from several presidents and judges, interred the entire corpus of discriminatory laws. But neither did much to challenge an economic order in which those with big money make nearly all the important rules.

In a provocative new book, the critic and historian Steve Fraser tries to explain why mass protest on the left has become so scarce in what he aptly calls The Age of Acquiescence. For Fraser, the main culprits are not such usual suspects as right-wing politicians and the market power of global corporations but public admiration for workaholic entrepreneurs whose self-serving definition of freedom legitimizes their reign. Read More > in Slate

The Growing Risk of Transporting Crude Oil by Rail – …The preferred method of shipping crude oil, from a safety and cost perspective, is via pipeline. Pipeline transport also has a lower carbon footprint than shipping by rail. North America has an enormous underground network of oil and gas pipelines. In the U.S. alone there are 2.5 million miles of oil and gas pipelines — 53 times the length of the 47,000 miles in the US Interstate Highway System

It’s usually a bit cheaper to ship by pipeline. A 2013 investor presentation from the oil refiner Valero (NYSE: VLO) indicated that the company can ship Bakken crude by rail to the West Cost for $9/bbl, to the East Coast for $15/bbl, or to the Gulf Coast for $12/bbl. Pipeline routes are not available from the Bakken to all of those destinations (although the pipeline infrastructure is being expanded), but a rough approximation is that shipping by pipeline is ~$5/bbl cheaper than shipping by rail. The shipping distance is obviously a factor, but the point is that shipping by rail is not prohibitively expensive compared to pipelines.

Over the past few years as oil production continued to expand in places like the Bakken, there was downward pressure on oil prices. Meanwhile, global crude oil demand continued to grow, and crude oil production outside the U.S. was relatively flat. While U.S. crude oil production rose by 3.2 million bpd between 2008 and 2013, global production outside the U.S. only rose by 0.5 million bpd during that time. As a result, there was upward pressure on the price of crude oil that could be sold internationally, and downward pressure on crude oil in the continental U.S. This opened up a price differential that provided an incentive to ship Bakken crude to the coasts. As a result, shipments by rail skyrocketed.

…But back to the question of why we ship oil by rail. The reason is that consumers demand oil, and that drives the price higher. Where consumers are willing to pay, the oil is going to get to market one way or the other. In this case, insufficient pipeline infrastructure out of the Bakken is the major driver of the oil to rail development, but blocking pipelines will have the same effect as long as the demand is there. Read More > at Energy Trends Insider

Is Proposition 30 reducing inequality in California? – A recent item in the New York Times pointed out an important fact: for all the talk of economic inequality as a growing problem, it is also true that inequality has not risen since the Great Recession.

That is not to say we should be crying for the very rich. Only to point out that, while inequality remains at or near its highest levels than at any time since before the Great Depression, it is also true that recent government policy may be taking the edge off – if only a little bit.

That seems to be the case in California, where voters approved higher tax rates on the highest income earners by passing Proposition 30 in 2012.

So, what impact is Proposition 30 having on inequality in California?

According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the state’s top income earners now pay a larger share of the state’s tax revenue than ever before.

This is despite the fact that California’s top 1% of earners is accounting for about the same – in fact, a slightly smaller — portion of the total income earned than it before the recession. Read More > at the Grizzly Bear Project

Aquaholics: Drinking Too Much Water Causes Sleep Disorders, Excessive Sweating – Researchers say that drinking too much water can cause a number of bodily disturbances including excessive sweating and sleep disorders.

Some health officials question the prudence of drinking lots of water. The often prescribed two liters of water a day may be far too much. Moreover, our obsession with drinking water can in some cases lead to life-threatening health issues.

Dietitians, health officials, exercise gurus and others recommend that we drink plenty of water. They support the notion that consumption will improve concentration, enhance complexion, increase energy , alleviate headaches and even diminish our appetites. It has gotten to the point, that people are carrying bottles with them at all times, and if they go even a short time without their habitual gulp, they panic. The fixation prompts some health experts to refer to them as aquaholics, reports the Daily Mail.

Professor Mark Whiteley, a vascular surgeon and founder of The Whiteley Clinic in London, explains that drinking too much water for an extended period of time “resets brain chemistry to expect the excessive amounts of water.” The extra water consumption is linked to profuse perspiration and in some cases motivates individuals to endure surgery to remove their sweat glands. Read More > at Breitbart

Millennials ditching their TV sets at a record rate – The biggest TV drama among millennials is playing off screen.

So far this season, younger viewers, the most important audience for advertisers, have ditched their TV sets at more than double the rate of previous years, new Nielsen figures show.

Traditional TV usage — which has been falling among viewers ages 18 to 34 at around 4 percent a year since 2012 — tumbled 10.6 percent between September and January.

In the era of smartphones and Netflix, it’s no surprise that traditional TV is losing relevance for younger viewers. But the sudden acceleration is alarming to even the most seasoned analysts.

“The change in behavior is stunning. The use of streaming and smartphones just year-on-year is double-digit increases,” Alan Wurtzel, NBCUniversal’s audience research chief, told The Post. “I’ve never seen that kind of change in behavior.” Read More > in the New York Post

This African Country Was Once the World’s Third Poorest. Here’s How It Turned Things Around. – Western governments, well-intentioned NGOs and good-old-fashioned profit-seeking capitalists have been trying for decades to help bring development and prosperity to Africa, often unsuccessfully.

But buried in the heart of Southern Africa lies a success story that could be a model for the rest of the continent—and the rest of the developing world.

When Botswana gained independence from the British in 1966, the new country’s insightful leaders did what so many others in the post-colonial world didn’t: they embraced democracy, free markets and the rule of law. In other words, economic freedom.

The results speak for themselves.

While so much of the continent has remained mired in poverty and corruption, Botswana became the world’s fastest growing economy for three decades. Foreign direct investment and new construction can be seen everywhere in the capital city of Gaborone. Tourism to world-class destinations like the Okavango Delta has taken root and is expanding. And after starting off as the world’s third-poorest nation, with a per-capita GDP of $70 in 1966, today is has expanded dramatically to $16,377. Read More > in The Daily Signal

Super-sneaky malware found in companies worldwide – A shadowy hacking group has infected computers at companies, universities and governments worldwide with the sneakiest malware ever.

That’s according to a report Monday by Internet security company Kaspersky, which described a hacking campaign “that exceeds anything we have ever seen before.” The mysterious group, which researchers nicknamed “the Equation group,” uses malware that’s unusually quiet, complex and powerful.

And in some cases, it planted spyware on computers’ firmware, the programming that lives permanently on hardware. It’s an unheard-of move that means the malware can avoid detection by antivirus software. Reinstalling a computer’s operating system or reformatting the hard disk won’t even fix the problem.

If you’ve got this, you might as well throw your computer away

What’s even more interesting is that Kaspersky’s researchers say that the Equation group uses a hacking tool called “GROK.” That’s a tool used exclusively by the NSA’s elite cyber-warfare unit, Tailored Access Operations, according to classified NSA documents released by former contractor Edward Snowden last year.

Kaspersky says the Equation group also appears to have ties to Stuxnet, the computer worm that sabotaged Iran’s nuclear enrichment program in 2010 and was later revealed to be a joint U.S.-Israeli project. Read More > at CNN Money

What ISIS Really Wants – What is the Islamic State?

Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.

The group seized Mosul, Iraq, last June, and already rules an area larger than the United Kingdom. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been its leader since May 2010, but until last summer, his most recent known appearance on film was a grainy mug shot from a stay in U.S. captivity at Camp Bucca during the occupation of Iraq. Then, on July 5 of last year, he stepped into the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, to deliver a Ramadan sermon as the first caliph in generations—upgrading his resolution from grainy to high-definition, and his position from hunted guerrilla to commander of all Muslims. The inflow of jihadists that followed, from around the world, was unprecedented in its pace and volume, and is continuing.

Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world. Read More > in The Atlantic

49ers notes: More thoughts on the Harbaugh conversation, the snag that kept Gase from getting/taking the job, and more – It has been a few days now, people have reacted to it how they’ve reacted, and I’ll add a few more thoughts…

This is Harbaugh’s side of the story, of course, told his way, emphasizing that 49ers management first indicated to him that he was gone and any idea of a “mutual” parting stemmed from the 49ers’ decision to move on.

Jed York has told his side–it was a “mutual” parting.

It’s probable that there are more angles and viewpoints of this that we may never hear and only those two know exactly what was said, agreed to, and what has since been misrepresented by either or both.

But I agree with what Lowell Cohn wrote: Harbaugh is far more believable for a lot of reasons.

-Everything Harbaugh said to me on Friday connects logically to the entire series of haphazard events, starting with York taking Cleveland’s call to see if the 49ers might want to trade Harbaugh last February to the leaks sprouting everywhere starting last summer–almost certainly coming from 49ers management–that correctly predicted that Harbaugh would not coach into 2015.

Also, there were all the signs from last February on (actually it was before then, even) that York and GM Trent Baalke were very eager to see Tomsula take over from Harbaugh. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

Weekend Diversion: The Math of Powerball – “I’ve done the calculation and your chances of winning the lottery are identical whether you play or not.” -Fran Lebowitz

The idea of a lottery is synonymous with the low-risk/high-reward model that humans are naturally drawn to. Plenty of us out here have dreams of what any one of us would do — as Camper Van Beethoven sings — if we could finally finish the sentence that starts, When I Win The Lottery.

If you lose — which you almost certainly will — you’re only out a couple of bucks. But if you win, however unlikely your chances are, suddenly all of your wildest dreams can come true.

This past week, the Powerball lottery jackpot went past $500,000,000, one of the largest sums in history, where the $564.1 million jackpot wound up being split by three winners. In order to win, you need to match five normal lottery numbers — white balls numbered 1-through-59 — plus the Powerball: a red ball numbered 1-through-35. Each Powerball ticket costs $2, plus you have the option to pay an extra $1 to activate the power play, a multiplier that increases your payout for non-jackpot prizes. Read More > at the Medium

Amid measles outbreak, few rules on teacher vaccinations – While much of the attention in the ongoing measles outbreak has focused on student vaccination requirements and exemptions, less attention has been paid to another group in the nation’s classrooms: Teachers and staff members, who, by and large, are not required to be vaccinated.

In most states, there is no law dictating which vaccines teachers and school staff workers are required to get. Some states provide a list of recommended vaccines, but there is no requirement or follow-up for teachers to receive them.

So when a measles case surfaced at a California high school, it was easy for officials to review student records, but there were no immunization records on file for employees.

That meant all 24 teachers and staff exposed to the employee with measles had to prove their immunity — records that, for most, were decades old. Read More > in the Los Angeles Daily News

It’s ‘Silicon Valley vs. Motor City’ – “Detroit vs. Everybody” is a popular t-shirt in the hometown of General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. these days.

Yet it might as well read “Silicon Valley vs. Motor City” as the San Francisco Bay Area emerges as a center for global transportation innovation. That was brought home last week, when people familiar with the matter said Apple Inc. is developing an electric vehicle and has devoted several hundred people to the secretive project.

“It’s the hot spot of development and that has in a big way spilled into the autos space,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president for forecasting at LMC Automotive. “These are the new suppliers, these are the new auto companies.”

Silicon Valley companies are getting into transportation from cars to drones to space ships — and pioneering new business models in the industry besides. Google Inc. is investing in self-driving cars, drones and satellites. Facebook Inc., too, has been working on drones.

Elon Musk — who spends time in both Silicon Valley and Los Angeles — is building Space Exploration Technologies Corp., which is designing and manufacturing rockets and space crafts. Musk’s other high-profile venture, Tesla Motors Inc., is shaking up the electric-vehicle market. He also has an idea for superfast pods — called a HyperLoop — to run between cities like San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Uber Technologies Inc., the mobile car-booking company based in San Francisco, is changing the way people move around major cities and has a valuation of $40 billion, more than double the market value of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV. Read More > in Bloomberg

Report: Oakland Councilmember Used Her Office for Personal Gain – Two thousand fifteen has not been pleasant for new Oakland City Council President Lynette McElhaney.

First, a report in January found she may have been flipping homes in her West Oakland district through her personal non-profit at the same time she was lashing out against gentrification. Her taxes still haven’t been paid, according to the East Bay Express, and until recently she had not filed campaign finance reports since last summer.

Now comes the biggest allegation yet that McElhaney used her office to block a proposed housing development next door to her home, said the Express.

McElhaney also benefited from an architect’s whose firm is JRDV International, the same group working on the proposed Coliseum City stadium project.

From the Express:

Public records also show that an Oakland architect, who has contracts with the city worth millions of dollars, produced an alternative design for the planned housing project on Gibson McElhaney’s behalf. The architect, Morten Jensen of JRDV Urban International, also personally appeared before the planning commission to support Gibson McElhaney’s appeal of the housing project. However, Jensen did not bill the councilmember for his work, thereby raising questions as to whether Gibson McElhaney illegally accepted gifts from a government contractor.

McElhaney also enlisted the help of her staff members to push their opposition to the housing plan, according to the Express. Read More > at Public CEO

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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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