Sunday Reading – 06/07/15

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.

Oracle Arena brings the noise for an NBA Finals worth screaming about – …There are stretches, when Curry is leading breaks and Thompson is splashing threes and Draymond Green is taking charges, that visiting teams cannot hear play calls or whistles. In the first round Pelicans coach Monty Williams suggested that Golden State’s full-throated denizens were breaking NBA rules, and he had a point. The league does not allow its buildings to exceed a certain decibel limit, but that sound barrier exists to cap artificial noise. Oracle’s outpouring is largely organic, aided by the jumbotron’s pleas to raise the volume. The bedlam is legal. The question is whether it makes a difference.

The Warriors had the best offense, best defense and best record in the NBA this season. They excelled everywhere, but especially at Oracle Arena, where they went 39-2. Measuring the noise at Oracle is simple—a microphone on a silver tripod sits atop the scorer’s table, attached to a computer—but determining the effect of the noise is not. Is this sixth man more meaningful than, say, the actual sixth man? Or did the Warriors dominate at home because they were sleeping in their own beds and shooting on their own rims? The Cavaliers, who don’t exactly play in a library themselves at Quicken Loans Arena, are about to get a clue. “If you’re an opposing team, and you’re not used to the noise here, you can get rattled,” says Golden State forward Harrison Barnes. “We have those dagger plays—those threes, those crazy shots, those four-point plays—and it gets loud and rowdy. It’s hard to take yourself out of that and think of the next possession.”

…On May 21, at the Warriors’ headquarters in downtown Oakland, majority owner Joe Lacob and team president Rick Welts met with architects for 2½ hours. They discussed, among other topics, how to bottle the ruckus of Oracle Arena and transport it 16 miles west. The Warriors have purchased 12 acres in the Mission Bay neighborhood of San Francisco, where they plan to build a privately financed arena. They are currently finalizing their Environmental Impact Report and, according to Welts, are hoping to start construction by Jan. 1.

The new joint will be sleek and modern, just fancy enough to possibly drive another wedge between Oakland and San Francisco. The A’s and the Raiders are Oakland’s teams. The 49ers and the Giants are San Francisco’s. The Warriors belong to both. Hipsters and hustlers, techies and venture capitalists, they’re all at Oracle. Anxiety abounds, even within the courtside club sponsored by BMW, that Oakland constituents will be lost in the move, and that raucous atmosphere will suffer as a result. “The Oakland side brings the ferocity,” says Mike Sherman, who sits in Tuttle’s row. “It will be more corporate, more international.” “More Silicon Valley,” Mistah F.A.B. adds. “More comfortable.”

…The Warriors heed those concerns. “The first, middle and last thing we talk about is how you preserve the fan environment we have here,” Welts says. “What can we do to make sure quality of the sound there is the same as quality of the sound here?” The Machete Group, which oversaw the design and construction of Barclays Center in Brooklyn, created a model of Oracle Arena in order to study the building’s acoustic properties. They found that the biggest factor behind the noise, besides the impassioned gallery, was the relatively small volume of the bowl. “Newer buildings are taller,” says David Carlock, principal of the Machete Group. To keep the ceiling low, the Warriors will incorporate only one rung of suites, compared with two at Oracle and three at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Capacity will shrink, from 19,500 to 18,000, and Welts insists every seat will be as close or closer to the floor. Read More > in Sports Illustrated

California’s War Over Water Has Farmer Fighting Farmer – …Most of the Delta’s small, family farms trace back to the Gold Rush, when the wetlands were dammed and levies were built to grow food to feed the miners. It was only later that the federal government began pumping water from here, through canals, to farms in more arid areas hundreds of miles to the south.

“The problem started when they just started over-exporting water from the Delta, you need fresh water in the Delta, or you’re gonna kill it,” Mussi says.

The Delta is the largest freshwater estuary on the West Coast. The fights over it started brewing long ago. But the finger-pointing over who’s using what water is left – and for what purpose – is reaching the brink now in the worst drought that’s ever hit modern California.

There’s more pressure than ever to change a long-standing system that gives Delta farmers the first, or “senior,” right to use water that is available in lean years like this.

…Mussi is referring to renewed calls to pump more water out of the Delta south to farmers in California’s Central Valley who hold water rights that are junior to his. Delta farmers argue these proposals are only designed to benefit agri-businesses, which they say shouldn’t have grown as big or as fast in a place without a reliable water supply.

“It makes sense to grow on your best land, where there is water, with your most sustainable climate than it does to ship a limited resource hundreds of miles away onto poor desert soils,” says Barbara Barrigan-Parilla, who heads a local environmental group that’s joined forces with Delta farmers.

…So you have farmers, big and small, fighting over what little water is left in this state. The only thing that everyone agrees on is that California’s current water system is broken. It was built to support about half as many people and farms as exist today. Whether major changes to that infrastructure happen could depend on how much longer this drought lasts. Read More > at NPR

More Pain at the Pump – Sacramento is about to launch a new attack in its ongoing war on drivers.

California’s 48.6 cent gas tax already ranks second out of 50 states –- the feds take another 18.4 cents — and when the hidden carbon tax, part of the cap-and-trade program, is factored in, our state leads the pack by a wide margin. But this is not nearly enough, according to the political class.

Sen. Jim Beall is building a coalition of both Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature to hike gas taxes along with vehicle license fees and registration.

The San Jose lawmaker’s Senate Bill 16 slams taxpayers in three ways. First, it would raise at least $3 billion annually by increasing the gas tax by another 10 cents a gallon. Second, it would hike the vehicle license fee, which is based on value, by more than 50 percent over 5 years. Third, it would increase the cost to register a vehicle by over 80 percent.

Although the backers of the SB 16 tax increase say it is vital to make up the claimed $59 billion backlog in roadway maintenance, some of the funds are slated to go to repaying transportation bonds that, when passed, were to be paid from the general fund. This means that not all of the new revenue will go to the stated intent of fixing roads and highways. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

How Much Do Skyscrapers Actually Move? – The night Hurricane Alicia struck Houston in the summer of 1983, shattering high-rise windows downtown and stacking sailboats in the marina, there were two engineers waiting on the top floor of the Allied Bank Plaza. The 71-story emerald glass tower—since renamed, and renamed again—had just opened that year. In August, its top floor was still unfinished. Unconnected wires dangled from the ceiling.

The engineers had driven in the middle of the night through rising gales and past sandbagged garages. A maintenance worker inside the building, on lockdown for the storm, had to operate the elevator for them. It wobbled on the way to the sky lobby, where the floor was already swaying noticeably, and then to the top, where the maintenance worker had the good sense to promptly return to the ground floor.

Robert Halvorson and Michael Fletcher made the trip to switch on equipment they had rented that would measure how the wind would play with the building, batting it back and forth along both axes and twisting it around its core. Then, they stayed for several hours—past the point when they could no longer walk upright, well beyond the moment when they realized they could see flickering lights in the distance coming in and out of view as the tower contorted.

I had been told about this building, in this storm, by several people preoccupied with the study of skyscrapers in wind. In their world, where such live experiments are rare, and where human reaction in the midst of motion is variable and tricky to measure, the Allied Bank Plaza in 1983 stands out as a singular event: structural engineers were actually present, bearing accelerometers and their own senses.

…Even at the height of the hurricane, the Allied Bank Plaza was never in structural danger, a reality the engineers were confident of in the back of their minds. What buildings can tolerate, however, is very different from what their humans can. We get motion sickness. We lose concentration. We are overcome by fear.

…In fact, all buildings move. This truth, which physics must tell us because human perception cannot, renders clear two humbling points: much of the world is not as solid as we think, and humans are awfully poor receptors.

…Inside the building, on those top floors, the oscillation is what unnerves us. A forty-story building may sway a foot to the left, a foot to the right. The span of that period might last around four seconds. A hundred-story building, by comparison, may move on the order of two-and-a-half to three feet to each side, cycling through a ten-second period. Typically, the taller the building, the longer the period of its cyclical motion. Read More > at Gizmodo

EPA Says Fracking Hasn’t Hurt America’s Water Supply, But Don’t Expect The Debate To End There – After four years of study, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reached the same conclusion that most folks in the energy industry reached a long time ago: Fracking hasn’t hurt the nation’s water supply.

“While hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources,” the EPA said in its report, “We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.” The EPA did find, that in some circumstances, such as improper disposal of wastewater, contamination had occurred. “The number of identified cases, however, was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.”

The practice of using water and sand to fracture shale deposits to release previously untouchable pockets of oil and natural gas (along with advances in horizontal drilling) has created one of the most powerful economic booms in American history, collapsed the cost of domestic U.S. energy and changed the balance of power among oil-producing regions globally.

It’s also instigated protests around the world by activists convinced that the practice has contaminated, or seriously risks contaminating, the world’s water supply.

Of course, this is only one “draft” report, which means its possible final findings could always get shifted by politics. And the fight over the environmental impacts of drilling for oil are as old as the business of drilling for oil itself, so there’s little chance that’s going to go away, regardless of what the EPA says. Read More > in Forbes

California is reaching record employment levels — why and at what cost? – Demand for top tech talent is driving salaries sky high and fueling California to record employment.

The average annual pay for tech workers in Silicon Valley, including Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, is 66 percent higher than the next-closest region in the U.S. — Seattle — according to the UCLA Anderson Forecast report released Wednesday. The hiring boom has helped California reach 2.5 percent job growth.

Employment in the information sector, including software, Internet, network management, telecommunications and other industries, is still on the upswing, according to the report.

Tech employment in San Mateo County grew by 50 percent, 46 percent in Santa Clara County and doubled in San Francisco from 2005 through 2013. California has recovered all the jobs the state lost during the Great Recession and is now above its all-time record for jobs. Read More > in the Silicon Valley Business News

Initiative could switch new hires to 401(k) plans – New state and local government employees hired on or after Jan. 1, 2019, could receive a 401(k)-style retirement plan under a proposed initiative — but giving them a pension would require the approval of voters.

The “Voter Empowerment Act of 2016” was filed yesterday by a bipartisan group led by two men who led local pension reforms approved by voters in 2012 in their cities: former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and former San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio.

Their new drive to cut the cost of pensions said to be eating up government budgets is aided by an unusually low number of voter signatures needed to place a state constitutional amendment on the ballot, 585,407, due to low voter turnout in the previous election.

A Public Policy Institute of California poll issued in January last year said 85 percent of likely voters say pension and retirement costs are “at least somewhat of a problem” for state and local government budgets. Read More > at Calpensions

Guest view: Twin Tunnels would strangle SJ County – …Forty percent of the Delta is in San Joaquin County. We have a lot to lose if the proposed tunnels, and over pumping of the Delta, are allowed to continue. The Delta supports a $5.2 billion annual agricultural industry, and 40 percent of those farms are in San Joaquin County. They are diversified family farms that date back six generations and embrace sustainable farming practices. The majority of these farms are the state’s cleanest zero-discharge farms.

The Delta also is home to a $750 million recreational economy. It is the nursery for a $1.5 billion California salmon economy — and is the fresh water source for all the crabs from California fisheries that we eat at crab feeds. The tourism industry at Pier 39 in San Francisco is tied to the health of the Delta.

Tens of thousands of people in the five Delta counties, including San Joaquin, are sustenance fishers and depend on Delta fish to meet their nutritional needs. These include the environmental justice communities, such as the local Hmong, Laotian, Cambodian and Mexican populations in Stockton. Besides decimating fish for human consumption, the proposed Delta tunnels and over-pumping will further exacerbate the contamination of Delta fish that people eat.

The Delta tunnels will make our Stockton Delta water intake project inoperable because our water supply will become too salty. Our municipal utilities (Stockton, Lodi, Tracy) won’t be able to discharge wastewater without violating federal water laws. Residents will be paying for these new problems through higher water bills. Read More > at the Recordnet

U.S. Steelmakers Seek Antidumping Action Against China, Four Others – Six steelmakers with major U.S. operations filed a trade complaint on Wednesday seeking punitive tariffs for alleged unfair pricing of imported steel from China, India, Italy, South Korea and Taiwan.

The suit, which concerns a common kind of coated steel used in automobile and construction industries, is the first salvo in the campaign this year by the beleaguered U.S. steel industry to protect itself against a record flood of imports.

The steelmakers are United States Steel Corp. , Nucor Corp. , Steel Dynamics Inc., ArcelorMittal USA, AK Steel Corp. and California Steel Industries. All are based in the U.S. except ArcelorMittal, the world’s biggest steelmaker, which is based in Luxembourg and London but owns big mills in Indiana and elsewhere in the country.

The petitioners are frustrated because prices have been sluggish—down about 25% since the start of the year—despite strong demand. That has forced the companies, which make most of their steel near auto factories in the Midwest and South, to lay off thousands of workers and idle plants around the country.

They blame imports, particularly from China. Slowing demand in that country has led its steelmakers to export excess capacity, flooding global markets. Exports of steel from China rose 36% to 30.4 million tons during the first four months of the year. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

The Cult of Caitlyn Jenner – …Homosexuals and transgendered people are nothing new. One of my favorite books when I was in college in the 1980s was The Naked Civil Servant, the autobiography of Quentin Crisp, a British man who dared to be a Caitlyn as early as the 1920s. In the 1970s there was Renée Richards, like Jenner a male athlete who transitioned to female.

No, this stuff is not new. What is new is the reaction of the onlookers. As with the witnesses in The Exorcist, we are judging ourselves, and being judged by others, depending on our reaction to the transformation we are witnessing—in this case the transformation of a former Olympic gold medal athlete into a sixty-five year-old woman in a corset. Either we celebrate the new female Jenner—ambivalence is not acceptable, one must praise—or we reject that this man is now a woman, and thus cast ourselves out of polite society, making ourselves unworthy of the love of the modern religion of narcissistic liberalism. Liberalism, particularly liberalism of the sexual revolution variety, is a religion, and the Jenner event is the equivalent of an apparition in the Catholic Church. Either we see and believe and are holy ourselves, or we are doubters, skeptics, heretics outside the circle of divine love. Read More > at Acculturated

The Silicon Valley Race to Build a Fake-Meat Burger That Just Might Save the World – …You may have heard of “cultured meat” made of lab-grown cells, like the $325,000 patty paid for by Google’s Sergey Brin — a strategy Brown sees as off-putting, not to mention technically and economically unviable. And you may have heard of start-ups, like Beyond Meat, that have tried to invent animal-cell-free “plant-based meat,” often made from soy, that re-creates the taste and texture of the real thing — a target, Brown and others agree, that they have failed to hit. You may not have heard of Brown’s own start-up, which is trying to do the same thing, because he has spent four years working mostly in secret, tweaking the user experience like his iPhone-making counterparts in Cupertino. But what he has done, he says, is spectacular: He has cracked meat’s molecular code. Which means that by sometime next year, he intends to sell what he calls a “shock and awe” plant-based burger that bleeds like beef, chars like it, and tastes like it (and eventually, critical to its long-term prospects, costs less).

…America’s highest-tech hamburger prototypes are built in Redwood City, the Silicon Valley home of Oracle and Evernote, in what looks like a test kitchen hijacked by chemists. On a sunny day in October, a lab-coated technician piled woolly brown threads into a small Tupperware container: proteins centrifuged from liquefied soy, wheat, and spinach and reassembled to mimic the fibrosity and tensile strength of a steer’s connective tissue. (Shaped via high-moisture extrusion, a process similar to that used for spaghetti, the threads would add chewiness — the resistance you feel when biting through beef, said a scientist who had specialized in biophysics and polymers before transitioning to gristle.) Next came the muscle replica, fresh from a KitchenAid’s meat grinder: fluffy, pale-pink clumps of proteins from the same three crops, isolated because they could form fleshlike gels and because one of them — RuBisCO, found in most plant matter yet apparently never before purified for food applications — firms up in the same temperature range as myosin, a key protein in meat. (In other words, it would enable the prototype to transform from raw to cooked the way a hamburger does.) A broth of amino acids and other precursors of meaty aromas — the latest vintage of the flavor team’s “magic mix” — was squirted out of a pipette and warmed on a hot plate. Red blobs of yet another protein melted in a beaker, which suddenly filled with synthetic blood. Read More > at Grub Street

CA Pension Plans Prompting Tough Tradeoffs – Despite a sounder economic footing, California’s pensions problem has deepened. That was the conclusion drawn by analysts who warned that new accounting rules would shine a startling spotlight on practices long kept in the shadows.

“The Governmental Accounting Standards Board is implementing new rules that require governments, for the first time, to report unfunded pension liabilities on their 2015 balance sheets,” Lawrence McQuillan noted at the Sacramento Bee. “Overall from 2008 through 2012, California local governments’ pension spending increased 17 percent while tax revenue grew only 4 percent.”

Critics have pointed to evidence of a pattern of conduct in masking pension costs. As Steven Greenhut has observed, a grand jury investigation into Marin County pension practices produced a recently issued report with damning details:

“The county’s governments increased pension benefits 38 times between 2001 and 2006. Each time, agencies were supposed to provide public notice about the proposed changes, obtain actuarial reports detailing the future costs of the benefit hikes, and detail the degree to which the increases will affect the funds’ financial conditions.”

Instead, officials “violated these requirements in a variety of ways — providing little, if any, notice to the citizens of Marin County that they would be responsible in the future for hundreds of millions of dollars in pension costs,” the report concluded. Read More > at Public CEO

Contra Costa Water District raises rates to prompt conservation – Water rates are going up immediately for 208,000 central Contra Costa County residents in response to a state push to slash water use.

In addition, customers who water their lawns more than twice a week or flood gutters will get one warning, then be subject to a $250 fine for a second offense and $500 for a third offense.

The Contra Costa Water District approved the emergency drought rates and fines unanimously Wednesday to help comply with a state order to cut overall water use 28 percent.

About 50 people attended the meeting and eight spoke, most asking questions about details of the rate increase.

The board’s actions are the most concrete measures taken so far to bring the pain of the drought home to those who get the district’s treated water in Concord, Clayton, Pacheco, Clyde, large parts of Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill, and a sliver of Martinez. Read More > in the Contra Costa Times

The NFL will change football and TV forever by letting Yahoo stream a game online – In a first, Yahoo and the National Football League have reached an agreement to livestream a regular-season game over the Web and around the globe, the two announced Wednesday.

The game will air Oct. 25, and matches up the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars as part of the NFL’s International Series in London. In addition to being streamed online, the game will be viewable on free, over-the-air television in Buffalo, N.Y., and Jacksonville, Fla. But it won’t be available on any other television networks, such as cable or satellite TV.

The moment will mark the NFL’s second experiment with Internet streaming, after NBC offered Super Bowl XLIX as a Web cast in February. It highlights the growing pressure facing sports leagues and traditional TV providers to adapt to consumer demands for programming that is available anywhere they are. And the exclusive deal is a major coup for Yahoo, a search company that has struggled to define itself in an era dominated by Google.

It will be a significant test for the burgeoning market for “over-the-top” streaming services that deliver content via the Internet. By a huge margin, Sunday and Monday Night Football now attract more viewers than the 10 most popular broadcast network shows combined, according to the Atlantic. Read More > in The Washington Post

San Francisco Too Expensive For McDonald’s? – McDonald’s famous golden arches are vanishing from San Francisco, and real estate prices could be the culprit.

The restaurant on 16th and Mission abruptly closed, and so did the one on Van Ness Avenue. Word is the one near the ballpark at 3rd and Townsend is on its way out too.

We know most Americans can’t afford to live in San Francisco, turns out some American institutions can’t either.

“Someone else owns the land. Someone else owns the building, and that person sees a better deal building condos condos condos,” Joe Eskenazi of San Francisco Magazine said.

Eskanazi is the Senior editor of San Francisco Magazine and has written about such issues over the years.

“There’s almost no example you can come up with now, that isn’t too extreme of how expensive it is to live and do business in San Francisco,” he said. Read More > at CBS SF Bay Area

The death of the $200 iPhone – The $200 iPhone is toast.

Until recently, buying a smartphone was a simple two-step process: Hand your wireless carrier $200 and sign a two-year contract.

Though a bevy of new contract-free cell phone plans have popped up over the past year, inspired by T-Mobile’s “Uncarrier” strategy, you could still walk into an Apple Store and get an iPhone the “old-fashioned” way: pay $200, sign on the dotted line, walk away with an iPhone.

Not for much longer.

AT&T (T, Tech30) is phasing out the two-year contract at third-party retailers, including the Apple Store, as part of a new plan to promote its contract-free “Next” program, according to a source with knowledge of the strategy. Two-year contracts will now only be available at AT&T stores — online or brick and mortar.

…Determining whether a two-year contract is more or less expensive than a contract-free plan requires a bit of tricky math — it depends on which phone you buy, how much of a down payment you offer and how much data you use. As a general rule, two-year contracts tend to be the less expensive route if you’re not a data hog. The more data you use, the more going contract-free makes sense. Read More > at CNN Money

Drought app lets you tattle-tale on water wasters – With Californians tasked to cut back water during a four-year drought, the sound of water run-off has become a call to action.

California’s Placer County Water Agency has two new smart phone apps, launched last October. One is a shower timer, which converts time in shower to gallons of water used.

The second, sure to be more discussed, allows people to report water wasters.

“Customers can take pictures of water wasters, send it to us. It’ll include two GPS locations so we can follow up,” said Ross Branch of the Placer County Water Agency, whose district is the Sierra Nevada foothills that extends to Lake Tahoe.

Creators say the app isn’t meant to find offenders, but rather, to encourage water conservation. Read More > in USA Today

San Francisco’s median rent hits a ridiculous $4,225 – We already knew the rent was too damn high, even before we published a report this February showing not only that the median for a one bedroom apartment in the city had jumped to $3,460, but that even formerly cheaper neighborhoods were now among the pricey.

Apparently though, they weren’t high enough. According to Zillow, the new median rent in San Francisco is $4,225 a month. Zillow’s data compose the “Zillow Rental Index” (ZRI). This index shows rents up 16% year-over-year (YOY) this April, and take into account all types of rentals in San Francisco proper, from single family homes to condos to in-laws.

The whole Bay Area, in fact, shows a rental market on fire. Increased rents in Oakland (up 21.6% YOY); Berkeley (up 30.9% YOY); Emeryville (up 29.5 YOY); San Jose (up 14% YOY) and even Daly City (up 201.1% YOY) make the San Francisco Metropolitan region the fastest growing rental market in the USA. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Critics Say Berkeley Soda Tax Not Working as Billed; Proponents Say It Will Pay Off in Long Run – As money begins to roll in from the country’s first tax on sugary beverages, critics of the new Berkeley ordinance say the way the tax is being levied undermines one of its main objectives. Proponents say the tax will pay off in the long run.

About 75% of Berkeley voters approved the penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages; the tax took effect March 1 and generated $116,000 in its first month. Berkeley City Council member Linda Maio estimated the tax will generate $1.2 million in its first year.

But where, exactly, is the money coming from? Not out of soda drinkers’ pockets, critics say, and they contend that means the tax isn’t working as proposed.

“A central tenet of the political campaigns to get these taxes passed is that the extra cost for soda will dissuade consumers from buying them,” said Roger Salazar, spokesperson for the California Beverage Association, the state’s largest opponent of sugary-beverage taxes.

“But from what we can see, the price of soda and other sugary drinks is the same in Berkeley as it used to be. There’s no difference between the price in Berkeley stores and stores in other East Bay towns,” Salazar said.

Salazar said grocers and other retailers are absorbing the new tax by raising prices on other products or by including it in other costs but not by charging customers more for sugary drinks.

A columnist for the Contra Costa Times found no differences in prices for soda in and out of the Berkeley city limits and asked the headline question: “If Berkeley shoppers don’t have to pay the soda tax, does it really exist?” Read More > at Public CEO

Windshield Devices Bring Distracted Driving Debate to Eye Level – In a widely watched YouTube video, a man is driving around Los Angeles when his phone rings. On a small screen mounted on the dashboard, an image of the caller, the man’s mother, appears.

But there’s an optical twist: The image actually looks to the driver as if it’s floating just at the front edge of the car, right above the roadway. The man answers the call with a gesture of his hand.

“Hi,” his mother says over the car speakers. “I just wanted to say I love you.”

“I love you,” the man responds, and then, before signing off, “I’m making a video right now.”

That video — the one posted on YouTube — was a promotion commissioned by Navdy, one of a handful of start-up companies bringing a futuristic spin to the debate over distracted driving, and how to curb it. The devices project driving information and data streamed from a smartphone into a driver’s field of view. There are several versions of this nascent technology, but they generally work by using a projection device that wirelessly picks up information from the phone and uses sophisticated optics to allow the information — maps, speed, incoming texts, caller identification and even social media notifications — to hover above the dashboard. Hand gestures or voice commands allow drivers to answer a call or hang up. Read More > in The New York Times

Microsoft Wraps Its Windows 10 Pitch, Here’s What You Need To Know – Microsoft announced today that Windows 10 will be available on July 29. The date matches prior leaks and promises from the company regarding when the new operating system will touch down. The release schedule also puts Windows 10 into the market before the back-to-school PC sales cycle, and, of course, the holiday season.

The software company is, in other words, putting itself in as good a spot as it can be to get Windows 10 into the hands of as many PC buyers as possible. The company also announced a ‘reserve‘ program that allows people to sign up, in a sense, for Windows 10. The new code, of course, will be a free upgrade for most PC users.

This supports Microsoft’s goal to have 1 billion Windows 10 machines in the wild in the next two to three years.

You can get Windows 10 now, for free, if you want to install a preview build. Presuming that you don’t want to use buggy pre-release software, head here instead, and register for a note from Microsoft alerting you when Windows 10 is ready. That should be July 29, provided that Redmond doesn’t bork its own launch party. Read More > at Tech Crunch

America Needs a Real Definition of What a ‘Natural’ Food Is – “There isn’t any firm definition associated with natural vs. artificial”, says Carolyn Ross, a sensory scientist at Washington State University. Instead, says Ross, it’s up to food companies to come up with their own internal guidelines for the label. When I asked Taco Bell to outline theirs, a representative told me that the FDA makes the rules about what is a natural flavor. That’s technically true (Section 101.22 a-3, if you’re interested). But the only flavors that the FDA excludes from its definitions of natural are ones that are exclusively created by chemical synthesis.

For a flavor to qualify as natural, it has to come from a plant or animal enzyme. But the FDA makes no distinction as to how many bubbling beakers these enzymes pass through on their way to the final product. Nor does it distinguish if the enzyme came from a plant or animal that had been genetically modified, doused with pesticides, or filled with antibiotics. Hell, with modern synthetic biology, this could mean the vanilla in your morning latte was burped up by a specifically engineered strain of yeast.

And it’s not like there’s no other model that the administration could use to guide its rule-making. For instance, the USDA’s standards for organic foods—which the US enacted in 2000—outline biological benchmarks, technical practices, and clear definitions of what is and isn’t allowed in the production of organics. It established a process for certification, and in the long run set the stage for a whole organic sub-industry.

Barbara Rasco, a food scientist and industry legal expert from Washington State University, says the natural label could be similarly organized. “We are going to agree that natural might mean the absence of preservatives, absence of certain colors, absence of certain flavors,” she says. Rasco prefers that these definitions come from the FDA, but says the food industry could also come up with their own guidelines. Read More > in Wired

The Unrealized Horrors of Population Explosion – The second half of the 1960s was a boom time for nightmarish visions of what lay ahead for humankind. In 1966, for example, a writer named Harry Harrison came out with a science fiction novel titled “Make Room! Make Room!” Sketching a dystopian world in which too many people scrambled for too few resources, the book became the basis for a 1973 film about a hellish future, “Soylent Green.” In 1969, the pop duo Zager and Evans reached the top of the charts with a number called “In the Year 2525,” which postulated that humans were on a clear path to doom.

No one was more influential — or more terrifying, some would say — than Paul R. Ehrlich, a Stanford University biologist. His 1968 book, “The Population Bomb,” sold in the millions with a jeremiad that humankind stood on the brink of apocalypse because there were simply too many of us. Dr. Ehrlich’s opening statement was the verbal equivalent of a punch to the gut: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over.” He later went on to forecast that hundreds of millions would starve to death in the 1970s, that 65 million of them would be Americans, that crowded India was essentially doomed, that odds were fair “England will not exist in the year 2000.” Dr. Ehrlich was so sure of himself that he warned in 1970 that “sometime in the next 15 years, the end will come.” By “the end,” he meant “an utter breakdown of the capacity of the planet to support humanity.”

As you may have noticed, England is still with us. So is India. Hundreds of millions did not die of starvation in the ’70s. Humanity has managed to hang on, even though the planet’s population now exceeds seven billion, double what it was when “The Population Bomb” became a best-seller and its author a frequent guest of Johnny Carson’s on “The Tonight Show.” How the apocalyptic predictions fell as flat as ancient theories about the shape of the Earth is the focus of this installment of Retro Report, a series of video documentaries examining significant news stories of the past and their aftermath. Read More > in The New York Times

Whataburger Chain Cutting Breakfast Hours Due to Egg Shortage – Faced with an egg shortage, fast food restaurant Whataburger has some disappointing news for breakfast lovers: it is paring down its breakfast hours.

Starting Monday, the restaurant will be trimming the time it serves breakfast to 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. during the week and 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. on weekends. This is a sharp decline from its typical 11 p.m. to 11 a.m. breakfast slot.

The move comes in the face of a lower nationwide egg supply, which has been hit by a widespread outbreak of avian flu.

To date, more than 44 million birds have been affected by avian flu, according to the USDA. Read More > at NBC News

How The Hunting Ground Blurs the Truth – The recent documentary The Hunting Ground asserts that young women are in grave danger of sexual assault as soon as they arrive on college campuses. The film has been screened at the White House for staff and legislators. Senate Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, who makes a cameo appearance in the film, cites it as confirmation of the need for the punitive campus sexual assault legislation she has introduced. Gillibrand’s colleague Barbara Boxer, after the film’s premiere said, “Believe me, there will be fallout.” The film has received nearly universal acclaim from critics—the Washington Post called it “lucid,” “infuriating,” and “galvanizing”—and, months after its initial release, its influence continues to grow, as schools across the country host screenings. “If you have a daughter going to any college in America, you need to see The Hunting Ground,” the MSNBC host Joe Scarborough told his viewers in May. This fall, it will get a further boost when CNN, a co-producer, plans to broadcast the film, broadening its audience. The Hunting Ground is helping define the problem of campus sexual assault for policymakers, college administrators, students, and their parents.

The film has two major themes. One, stated by producer Amy Ziering during an appearance on The Daily Show, is that campus sexual assaults are not “just a date gone bad, or a bad hook-up, or, you know, miscommunication.” Instead, the filmmakers argue, campus rape is “a highly calculated, premeditated crime,” one typically committed by serial predators. (They give significant screen time to David Lisak, the retired psychology professor who originated this theory.) The second theme is that even when school administrators are informed of harm done to female students by these repeat offenders, schools typically do nothing in response…

One of the four key stories told in the film illustrates both of these points. It is the harrowing account of Kamilah Willingham, who describes what happened during the early morning hours of Jan. 15, 2011, while she was a student at Harvard Law School. She says a male classmate, a man she thought was her friend, drugged the drinks he bought at a bar for her and a female friend, then took the two women back to Willingham’s apartment and sexually assaulted them. When she reported this to Harvard, she says university officials were indifferent and even hostile to her. “He’s dangerous,” she says in the film of her alleged attacker, as she tries to keep her composure. “This is a rapist. This is a guy who’s a sexual predator, who assaulted two girls in one night.” The events continue to haunt her. “It’s still right up here,” she says tearfully, placing a hand on her chest.

…An allegation of sexual assault is a grave one. If proven true, it can rightly end a perpetrator’s education and send him to prison. Because the stakes are so high, it is crucial, in telling stories of sexual assault, not to be blinded by advocacy, but to fairly examine the assertions of both sides. Despite the filmmakers’ assurances, The Hunting Ground fails in this regard. I looked into the case of Kamilah Willingham, whose allegations generated a voluminous record. What the evidence (including Willingham’s own testimony) shows is often dramatically at odds with the account presented in the film.

The record shows that what happened that night was precisely the kind of spontaneous, drunken encounter that administrators who deal with campus sexual assault accusations say is typical. (The filmmakers, who favor David Lisak’s poorly substantiated position that our college campuses are rife with serial rapists, reject the suggestion that such encounters are the source of many sexual assault allegations.) Nor is Willingham’s story an example of official indifference. Harvard did not ignore her complaints; the school thoroughly investigated them. And because of her allegations, the law school education of her alleged assailant has been halted for the past four years.

The Hunting Ground does not identify that man. His name is Brandon Winston, now 30 years old. Earlier this year, he was tried in a Massachusetts superior court on felony charges of indecent assault and battery—that is, unwanted sexual touching, not rape. In March, he was cleared of all felony charges and found guilty of a single count of misdemeanor nonsexual touching. Read More > in Slate

Welcome to Public Access: Community storytelling at its weirdest – Before YouTube, before Twitter, before Lil Bub and The Dress, there was the localized meme generator known as public-access television. As an alternative to commercial broadcasting, public access gave voice to local communities, fostering often bizarre, sometimes thought-provoking outpourings of DIY creativity.

It’s in the spirit of that great social melting pot that Engadget invites you to embark on a new journey in community storytelling. With the launch of Public Access, we’re giving you the tools to publish your opinions, experiences and discussions alongside those of Engadget’s editors and some of tech’s brightest minds. This is your chance to have your voice heard by millions of humans like you, and maybe…

Beginning today, you can apply for an account, create a profile page and start telling us about your 21st century experience through a version of Engadget’s content-management system (aka AMP). Your bio, stories and discussions will all live on your profile page. If we like what you have to say, we’ll promote your work on the Public Access home page (launching soon), where we’ll surface the best stories, discussions and reviews from our editors and the Public Access community.

And because writer’s block is a very real thing, we’ll be giving you optional “assignments” each week to help get the creativity flowing (e.g., a list of the best AI films of all time, an essay on your post-apocalyptic fallout plan or a haiku about your ISP). Every Monday, we’ll send out a weekly digest of the best stories from the week prior, suggested assignments for the week ahead and a letter from our editors. Read More > at Engadget

Smart thermometer is ready to track your kid’s fever all day long – You no longer have to disturb your kid’s sleep just to see if that fever is getting any better. Months after its CES debut, Blue Spark’s TempTraq thermometer is available for a fairly reasonable $25. The Bluetooth patch keeps tabs on a child’s temperature in relative comfort for a full 24 hours, giving your progeny a chance to rest instead of enduring yet another probe in the ear. It can warn you if the temperature gets above a certain level, and you can use the Android and iOS apps to log when your tiny patient eats or takes medicine. This won’t track the illness from start to finish, unfortunately, but it might be all you need for that one day when you’re worried your little one’s condition might get worse. Read More > at Engadget

No mandatory drug tests for Uber and Lyft drivers – Uber and Lyft continued a regulatory winning streak this week after lawmakers decided that contracted drivers will not need to undergo drug tests before picking up smartphone-waving patrons.

The legislation marked the second consecutive loss for Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, who carried a similar bill last year. The Los Angeles Democrat has complained that contracted drivers get a pass when other kinds of paid drivers — taxis, buses, truckers and commercial pilots — all submit to random drug testing.

But lawmakers ultimately decided that a vote for Assembly Bill 24 could hurt the affected tech firms and the sharing economy. That case was made by a host of advocates hired by Uber and Lyft, said a spokesman for Nazarian. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

As Warriors open NBA Finals, Oakland mulls future without them – or any team – Oakland fans have a well-earned reputation as rabid followers of their pro teams, filling Oracle Arena for 131 consecutive Golden State Warriors games, earning kudos from opponents for their boisterous support of the Athletics in playoff games and making the Raiders’ Black Hole perhaps the most intimidating cheering section in sports.

So naturally, all three teams have been looking to leave town.

The Warriors’ pursuit of their first NBA championship in 40 years is taking place with the backdrop of power brokers across the bay haggling over the new arena the team intends to build on land it has already secured – in San Francisco.

The Raiders, whose return from Los Angeles in 1995 cost Oakland and Alameda County residents $400-plus million they’re still paying, are casting their eyes south again as they seek a new stadium.

And the A’s have left the impression they’d rather play anywhere but Oakland, where they’re stuck sharing the antiquated Coliseum with the Raiders, the only MLB and NFL teams with such an uneasy arrangement. Read More > in USA Today

The governor who didn’t bark – …Instead of the previous basic formula of paying districts based on average daily attendance of students, the new method directed 20 percent more money to “high-needs students” – English learners, foster children and those from impoverished families. The additional resources were to go directly to help these students improve their performance, not to general school budgets.

The legislation was in keeping with Brown’s frequent remarks that the state’s economic future depends on helping millions of struggling students hit their stride academically. The change was applauded by newspaper editorial pages, lawmakers of both parties and education reform groups. But reformers also warned that after years of austere school budgets, there would be enormous pent-up demand for pay raises for teachers and other school employees.

Twenty-three months later, it is difficult to not be deeply cynical about what’s happened to this much-trumpeted reform. Districts up and down the state have put LCFF dollars into operating budgets to help pay for raises and general programs. In the giant Los Angeles Unified School District, the United Teachers Los Angeles specifically cited the additional funds as being a source to pay for a 17.6 percent raise it sought. The UTLA ended up with a two-year, 10 percent raise.

Now, as the EdSource blog reported last week, the state has finally weighed in on this issue. On Feb. 25, Fresno Unified Superintendent Jim Yovino sought direction from a state education bureaucrat on whether LCFF dollars could pay for general teacher raises. On April 14, that official – Jeff Breshears, administrator for the Department of Education’s Local Agency Systems Support Office – responded. He said only in exceptional circumstances could districts use the targeted dollars for general raises, offering as an example a district with such a low pay scale that it couldn’t attract or retain teachers. Otherwise, he said, the extra funding must be spent on increased or improved school assistance to struggling students. Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune

The Prospects for Polygamy – ON every issue save abortion, social liberalism is suddenly ascendant in America. The shift on same-sex marriage has captured the headlines, but the change is much more comprehensive: In just 15 years, we have gone from being a society divided roughly evenly between progressive and traditionalist visions to a country where social conservatism is countercultural and clearly in retreat.

This reality is laid bare in the latest Gallup social issues survey, which shows that it’s not only support for same-sex marriage that’s climbing swiftly: so is approval of unwed parenthood (45 percent in 2001, 61 percent now), divorce (59 percent then, 71 percent today), and premarital sex (53 percent then, 68 percent now). Approval of physician-assisted suicide is up seven points and support for research that destroys human embryos for research is up 12, pushing both practices toward supermajority support.

Oh, and one more thing: The acceptance of polygamy has more than doubled.

Now admittedly, that last one is an outlier: Support for plural matrimony rose to 16 percent from 7 percent, a swift rise but still a very low number. Polygamy is bobbing forward in social liberalism’s wake, but it’s a long way from being part of the new permissive consensus.

Whether it will eventually get there is an interesting question. Many social conservatives argue that it will — that the now-ascendant model of marriage as a gender-neutral and easily-dissolved romantic contract offers no compelling grounds for limiting the number of people who might wish to marry. Read More > in The New York Times


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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