Sunday Reading – 07/19/15


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.

The View from the Front Seat of the Google Self-Driving Car – After 1.7 million miles we’ve learned a lot — not just about our system but how humans drive, too.

About 33,000 people die on America’s roads every year. That’s why so much of the enthusiasm for self-driving cars has focused on their potential to reduce accident rates. As we continue to work toward our vision of fully self-driving vehicles that can take anyone from point A to point B at the push of a button, we’re thinking a lot about how to measure our progress and our impact on road safety.

One of the most important things we need to understand in order to judge our cars’ safety performance is “baseline” accident activity on typical suburban streets. Quite simply, because many incidents never make it into official statistics, we need to find out how often we can expect to get hit by other drivers. Even when our software and sensors can detect a sticky situation and take action earlier and faster than an alert human driver, sometimes we won’t be able to overcome the realities of speed and distance; sometimes we’ll get hit just waiting for a light to change. And that’s important context for communities with self-driving cars on their streets; although we wish we could avoid all accidents, some will be unavoidable.

The most common accidents our cars are likely to experience in typical day to day street driving — light damage, no injuries — aren’t well understood because they’re not reported to police. Yet according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data, these incidents account for 55% of all crashes. It’s hard to know what’s really going on out on the streets unless you’re doing miles and miles of driving every day. And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing with our fleet of 20+ self-driving vehicles and team of safety drivers, who’ve driven 1.7 million miles (manually and autonomously combined). The cars have self-driven nearly a million of those miles, and we’re now averaging around 10,000 self-driven miles a week (a bit less than a typical American driver logs in a year), mostly on city streets.

In the spirit of helping all of us be safer drivers, we wanted to share a few patterns we’ve seen. A lot of this won’t be a surprise, especially if you already know that driver error causes 94% of crashes.

If you spend enough time on the road, accidents will happen whether you’re in a car or a self-driving car. Over the 6 years since we started the project, we’ve been involved in 11 minor accidents (light damage, no injuries) during those 1.7 million miles of autonomous and manual driving with our safety drivers behind the wheel, and not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident.

…Lots of people aren’t paying attention to the road. In any given daylight moment in America, there are 660,000 people behind the wheel who are checking their devices instead of watching the road. Our safety drivers routinely see people weaving in and out of their lanes; we’ve spotted people reading books, and even one playing a trumpet. A self-driving car has people beat on this dimension of road safety. With 360 degree visibility and 100% attention out in all directions at all times; our newest sensors can keep track of other vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians out to a distance of nearly two football fields. Read More > at Backchannel

Marijuana grow facilities going outdoors to reduce electricity usage in Pueblo County – …And growers know the operations are expensive.

“In the past, when I had a 2,500 square foot warehouse and once we flicked on half of the building, maybe three quarters of it, we were looking at costs to about $30 to $50 grand a month just in electric,” said Jim Bent, Vice President of Operations at Emerald Fields.

But there is a shift in how businesses are growing their marijuana. Emerald Fields now has literal fields of plants at their new 28 acre outdoor facility, and they plan to open up grow houses nearby for other businesses to use.

“Growing outside is great, the plants grow so fast, they really do suck the water up, the nutrients, they love the sun they really do,” said Mikey Thompson, Co-Founder of Emerald Fields.

Thompson said outdoor grows do require much more security. The farm has security cameras every where and armed guards patrolling the grounds. And while some of the techniques are different, much of the process is the same when it comes to the plants, just much cheaper.

“It’s just like growing indoors except we don’t have the extremely high electricity bills because of the lights and you know the couple hundred tons of HVAC that typically go into an indoor facility,” said Thompson.

Bent said the benefits are two-fold: reducing their carbon footprint and saving money.

“Not only does it help the environment but it also helps you increase your sales because your cost per gram is a lot cheaper using green houses or outside methods of growing versus indoors with all the electricity and so forth,” he said.

It’s so much cheaper, it could cut the cost of marijuana in half. Read More > at KOAA

Sen. Mike Lee Added a Free-Range Kids Clause to Major Federal Legislation – Libertarian-leaning Republican Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a supporter of the Free-Range Kids movement, has proposed groundbreaking federal legislation to protect the rights of kids who want to walk to school on their own.

That’s right: a Free-Range Kids provision made its way into the Every Child Achieves Act, a reauthorization of major federal law that governs funding and regulation of elementary education in the United States. The Free-Range Kids portion of the law would permit kids to walk or ride their bikes to school at an age their parents deem appropriate, without the threat of civil or criminal action.

Laws like this one could prevent—or at least deter—local officials from waging harassment campaigns against parents who want give their kids some autonomy. If this had been the law of the land when the Meitivs allowed their kids to walk home by themselves in Maryland, it might have forestalled the whole shebang. (Though, admittedly, the kids were coming back from the park, not school.)

The U.S. Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act on Thursday. The next step is for the House of Representatives and the Senate to hammer out any discrepancies between their respective education bills before revoting and sending the legislation on to President Obama.

At the moment, the major threats to Free-Range parenting come at the state and local level. But Lee’s office told me in an email that he had been looking for a way to generate federal support for the movement, and his efforts are certainly welcome. Read More > at Reason

From Pluto to the Sun – NASA’s New Horizons flyby of Pluto caps more than 50 years of exploring our nearest celestial neighbors. Here’s a chance to look back at the moons, planets, asteroids and comets photographed by Earth’s farthest-flung probes. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Marijuana legalization in California: Leading group moves to place initiative on 2016 ballot – Proponents of a proposed ballot measure aimed at making California the fifth state to legalize pot for recreational use are a few weeks away from kicking off their November 2016 campaign, supporters said Thursday.

Once the marijuana legalization coalition known as ReformCA files its initiative with the state Attorney General’s Office, the group can begin gathering the 365,000 valid signatures it will need to put a proposition on the ballot — something coalition chairwoman Dale Sky Jones says she’s confident it can do.

Four other initiatives with the same goal have already been cleared for circulation, but this is the one that’s expected to attract top donors and major interest from a huge network of grass-roots supporters.

…California voters rejected marijuana legalization in November 2010, but a recent Public Policy Institute of California poll showed that attitudes on the issue have shifted, with 55 percent of likely voters now supporting legalization. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

Pension Funds Burn Cities as $1 Trillion Shortfall Set to Grow – The cost to American cities for their cash-strapped pension funds is starting to look a lot worse, and it’s not because the stock-market rally may be losing steam.

Houston was warned by Moody’s Investors Service this month that it may be downgraded because of mounting retirement bills, the latest municipality put on notice as the company ignores bookkeeping gimmicks that let cities mask the size of their debt for years. The approach foreshadows accounting rules for even top-rated issuers that are poised to cause pension shortfalls to swell as new financial reports are released.

“If you’re AAA or AA rated and you’ve got significant and visible unfunded pension obligations, you’ve only got one direction to go in terms of rating, and that’s potentially down,” said Jeff Lipton, head of municipal research in New York at Oppenheimer & Co. “It’s the presentation on the balance sheet that is now going to drive urgency.”

Cities that shortchanged pensions for years are under growing pressure to boost their contributions, even after windfalls from a stock market that’s tripled since early 2009. Janney Montgomery Scott has said growing retirement costs are “the largest cloud overhanging” the $3.6 trillion municipal-bond market, where investors are demanding higher yields from borrowers under the greatest strain.

…Moody’s, which in 2013 began using a lower rate than governments do to calculate future liabilities, has estimated that the 25 largest U.S. public pensions alone have $2 trillion less than they need. Cincinnati and Minneapolis are among cities Moody’s has since downgraded. Read More > at Bloomberg

Making Water Out of Thin Air: One California Drought Solution – Imagine a way to extract water from humidity in the air, and turn it into a glass of pure drinking water. I just saw a machine do this.

Pacific AirWell provided a water-making demonstration this week on the dead lawn at the Capitol.

…One of the Pacific AirWell techs filled me in on the operational processes of the machines. Atmospheric water generation is a technology-based process used to condense water from the air, then capture and filter that moisture into drinkable water. The Pacific AirWell machine collects water from humidity in the atmosphere. This air is chilled to the “dew point” and the moisture is condensed onto patented, stainless steel or specially coated coils, then channeled through advanced filtering chambers to provide a reliable source of clean drinking water. This technology enables significant amounts of water to be extracted from the air and purified efficiently at a relatively low cost per liter or gallon.

The Pacific AirWell 400 (above), the model on display outside the Capitol, is a commercial and industrial system that can produce up to 400 gallons of clean drinking water per day. The power source for the Water Pro 400 is three-phase electrical power; the unit can be easily integrated into the existing electrical utility system, using 25kW of energy. Pacific AirWell recommends this unit for Resorts and Hotels, Apartment Buildings, Hospitals, Disaster Response, Community Drinking Water and Hydroponics. Read More > at Flashreport

Still Strong – My daughter, Leah, loves to dance.

I don’t think you can name any of the dance moves she does — it’s mostly just whatever comes to her mind at that moment. But it always makes me laugh. She’s so serious when she’s dancing because she doesn’t care how silly it looks. I smile just thinking about it.

A lot of people know about my daughter’s illness, but I want you to know who she really is. Her favorite thing in this world is Disney — she loves Disney princesses, she loves Disney World, she loves the Disney Channel. She’s always wearing headbands. Her favorite color is pink and she doesn’t like sneakers because she thinks they’re for boys. She’s also a jokester. Like, she really cracks you up every day. Whenever she walks into a room, she captures everybody’s heart with her personality.

Leah’s just a normal kid who had a terrible thing happen to her. But how she’s handled that terrible thing has been truly amazing.

…It’s been a little more than a year since I was sitting in the emergency room with my family, waiting to find out what was going on with my daughter. We brought Leah in because she was feeling stomach pain and they took her to get a CAT scan. I’d gotten a few CAT scans during my career, so I knew they took about 45 minutes to complete. When we hit around the two-hour mark of her still getting the test, I kind of understood that something was probably very wrong. When the doctor came out, he told us that they had found a tumor in her stomach.

Eventually we were told that she had Stage 4 neuroblastoma, and a little more than a 50 percent chance of surviving.

…Having a child sick is truly every parent’s worst nightmare, but through this experience, I’ve seen firsthand how many truly good people there are in this world.

Since the time Leah was diagnosed, I’ve felt a pain worse than anything that can be inflicted on a football field. But I’ve also felt so much joy that I’ve been moved to tears. Leah is an incredibly special child, and I’m extremely moved by how many people took an interest in her story and wanted to make a difference. The way that the entire nation lifted her and my family up when we needed it most is nothing short of a miracle. Read More > at The Players’ Tribune

California Needs to Get Over Its Fantasy of Constant Growth – We overestimate our present population; for the past decade it’s been routine for politicians and pundits to talk about our “state of 40 million,” even though we still haven’t reached 39 million. And you can’t trust on predictions of future population either. Californians have been talking for more than a generation about how we will have 50 million residents by 2020—and about us reaching 60 million or 75 million by the middle of this century (Gov. Schwarzenegger once suggested in my presence that we’d get to 100 million someday soon.) Gov. Jerry Brown invoked the 50 million figure last month in urging Californians “to find a more elegant way of relating to material things.”

…In the last few years, the state government has been rapidly ratcheting down its long-exaggerated predictions of future growth. Consider this: In 2007, the state department of finance projected that California would reach 50 million by 2032. By 2012, that milestone had been delayed until 2049. In the most recent revised projections based on 2014 figures, we don’t hit 50 million until 2051.

…When I pressed USC demographer Dowell Myers about his profession’s knack for overestimation of California’s population, he offered this thesis: “Everyone—officials and citizens—is operating with outdated narratives of change in California that date from 1990 and earlier.” He added: “Only after the Great Recession and a second consecutive decade of extra-slow growth did it finally become clear to state demographers that growth was NOT going to return close to the level of the unprecedented 1980s.”

Disturbingly, that means we are making all kinds of decisions about state policy –including about school, housing, other infrastructure, and immigration—on false premises. Which brings me to the nasty reason for the persistence of these false assumptions about rapidly growing population—the assumptions serve the ideologies of both the left and the right.

…The irony, unappreciated by the environmental left and anti-immigrant right, is that they have already won. California’s population is not growing out of ecological or demographic control.

The trouble is that so few of us recognize this reality or have responded to it. The narrative that we’re being overrun by newcomers crashing our nirvana is understandably seductive. But California, with fewer children and a stagnant population, needs to do more for those children, since they will have to be more productive than previous generations. And if we want to have the economic growth to support an aging population and generous social benefits, we need to think—for the first time—about how to attract more people here from other states and other countries, and to do a better job of retaining the people we do have.

Unfortunately, there is little serious effort or investment aimed at growing our actual population. Perhaps because we’re too busy coping with the population boom taking place in our collective imagination. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Would you pay $36 a month for ESPN? – As the world of unbundling and a la carte cable seems to be drawing closer and closer, sports fans will have an interesting decision to make: How much is ESPN worth to them?

While everybody who has cable, from the biggest sports diehards to someone who can’t tell Peyton Manning from LeBron James, pays the same $6.10 in subscriber fees now, an unbundling would raise the price of the network, as all that free money from those non-sports folks would disappear. How much would you have to pay per month? Michael Nathanson, of MoffettNathanson Research, told Forbes that $36.30 is his projected number. That’s about $435 per year for Chris Berman.

Would you pay it? That’s a big number for anyone, after all. So, we put ourselves in the shoes of the biggest fans of various individual sports to see whether a higher-priced ESPN would be worth it. Fans of some sports would have no problem at all cutting the cord. For fans of others, it’d be impossible. And if you only care about one team and live in that local market, going without ESPN would be a lot easier.

Here are our best guesses as to which fanbases could survive without ESPN and which couldn’t — all with the caveat that this is dependent on your income and, of course, on your ability (or inability) to procure an ESPN3 password from a sucker (like myself) who continues to pay full freight for the network. Read More > at For The Win

California agency sets low-water lawn rules in drought – California extended its drought-inspired purge of idyllic emerald lawns from new developments, with state officials voting Wednesday to adopt more stringent water limits on landscapes for new homes and businesses.

The rules approved by the California Water Commission would essentially eliminate grass from new office and commercial buildings and reduce turf at new homes from a third of landscaped area to a quarter.

The rest of the landscapes can feature rocks, shrubs or low water-using plants such as lavender and jasmine.

The Department of Water Resources estimates future residential and commercial lawns will use nearly a third less water under the new standards.

New subdivisions and homes won’t necessarily be devoid of lawns, however. Developers of traditional-looking landscapes can comply if the homes or businesses are hooked up to recycled water from showers and toilets.

Californians won’t have to rip out existing lawns unless they are going through major home renovation that requires government permits.

The changes are part of an update to the state’s model landscape ordinance that was ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown as part of measures to conserve water. Local governments must adopt those rules, or something just as water-saving, by December. Read More > in the Associated Press

How the plunging price of oil has set off a new global contest – …Behind the low price of a gallon of gas at the pump this summer lies a competition worth trillions of dollars and which is capable of swinging the geopolitical balance of power. On one side are Hamm, a famous wildcatter, and other American oilmen who rode the discovery of hydraulic fracturing to tens of billions of dollars of wealth and a promise of, in Hamm’s words, ending the “disastrous” days of Saudi Arabian control. On the other are the Saudis and their allies in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, which are trying to stem rising U.S. oil power and maintain their 40 years of dominance.

On Tuesday, the cost of West Texas Intermediate oil, a U.S. benchmark, fell to $52.11 a barrel — down from a peak of nearly $110. Meanwhile, the number operating oil rigs in the country has fallen to just 645. That was lowest rig count in almost five years, down from more than 1,500 a year ago. OPEC said last month that it would continue to pump 30 million barrels a day, despite low prices, sending a strong signal to U.S. competitors that it had no plans to let up the pressure on the Americans.

And now there is a new pressure on the scene. The decision to strike a nuclear agreement with Iran, which has more oil reserves than all but three OPEC countries, will, over the coming months, unleash new Iranian oil into the markets. Analysts expect Iran to pump 1 million or more barrels a day as a result, so the prospect of the deal has been driving prices down in recent weeks — by about 15 percent — interrupting a stabilizing in the price of oil since the big plunge last year.

Even before the Iran news, the clash between the U.S. and Saudi Arabian energy interests had created a volatile new force in the global economy and unprecedented challenges for the two largest producers. The Saudis need high prices to fund their nation but have lost control of the market because of the oil boom in the world’s largest economy. The United States, after years of easy growth, is grappling with painful adjustments — including tens of thousands of layoffs — with the hope of staying viable amid the price collapse.

At stake is not just the price of filling up a car but America’s energy independence and one of its most vibrant industries. The fallout will ultimately determine whether cheap oil is a mere blip or will continue for years. Read More > in The Washington Post

State & Feds Must Address Transportation Funding Crisis – The Federal Highway Trust Fund will expire on July 31 and California’s highways are falling apart. The businesses and residents of California are angry and frustrated by the lack of focus on transportation at both the State and Federal level. Tax revenue is growing in Washington DC and Sacramento but none of that new revenue is going to transportation.

Transportation funding at both the State and Federal level is largely dependent on a per gallon gasoline tax that has been stagnant for years because the tax per gallon has not been increased at the State or Federal level for decades and the development of more fuel efficient cars has lowered the per mile revenue from every vehicle on the road. This has been welcome news for drivers and a major blow to the funding needed to maintain the quality of our transportation infrastructure.

Governor Brown has called a special session on transportation funding and the first hearing was held on June 2. It makes sense for the state to use some of its new general fund revenue for transportation improvements and to add to that funding pool an increase in other revenue sources that are directly related to the drivers that use our streets and highways.

In Congress, the Senate has made some progress on a bi-partisan bill to authorize a new Surface Transportation bill, but revenue to grow the Highway Trust Fund was not part of the proposal. The House has been less aggressive and seems content to vote for another five month extension. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Study: California drivers using cellphones more often – Drivers in California can’t seem to put their cellphones on hold.

A study released Tuesday reported that 9.2 percent of drivers were using phones to talk, text or otherwise take away their attention during observations earlier this year. That was up from 6.6 percent of drivers in 2014.

The study was done for the state’s Office of Traffic Safety and transportation experts at the University of California, Berkeley. Researchers fanned out across the state and literally watched cars drive by.

At nearly 13 percent of drivers, Sonoma County had the highest rate.

Safety officials expressed concern about the statewide rise, though the 2015 numbers were not as bad as 2012, when observers found nearly 11 percent of California drivers fiddling with their phones. Read More > in the Associated Press

California’s dwindling teacher supply rattling districts’ nerves – Just as California school districts are facing new pressures to implement the Common Core State Standards and other key educational reforms, many of them are struggling with what some officials are calling the early impacts of a long-feared teacher shortage.

In a common sign of the emerging problem, districts throughout the state have been hiring more teachers with provisional intern credentials – that is, with significantly less training and experience than normally required. They’re also recruiting more aggressively than in past years. Additionally, some districts are having a harder time finding substitute teachers, as more substitutes are finding full-time jobs in a seller’s market.

“Are we feeling it? Definitely,” said Tamara Ravalin, assistant superintendent for human resources development for the Visalia Unified School District, with 32,000 students in the San Joaquin Valley. Ravalin said she was concerned that as fully credentialed teachers become harder to find, the district will need to lower its expectations for quality and experience. “If these trends continue, we’re going to be in big trouble, because there’s just not the same pool of people as there was before,” she said.

In a recent series of interviews, human resource officials in six school districts and a statewide charter school system reported a variety of ways and degrees to which schools are being affected by a shortage that many predict will worsen. Read More > at EdSource

NOAA: Record 117-Month Major Hurricane Drought Continues – It has been 117 months since a major hurricane, defined as a Category 3 or above, has made landfall in the continental United States, according to 2015 data from the Hurricane Research Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

This is the longest span of time in which no major hurricane has struck the mainland U.S. in NOAA hurricane records going back to 1851.

The second longest time between major hurricane strikes was the eight years between 1860 and 1869—146 years ago.

A recent study published May 5 and co-authored by Tim Hall of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Goddard Institute for Space Studies entitled The Frequency and Duration of U.S. Hurricane Droughts also confirmed that the current “admittedly unusual” drought is “unprecedented in the historical record.”

That study found that major hurricane droughts only occur every 177 years, and calculated that there is less than a 5 percent chance (0.39%) that the current drought will end this hurricane season, which lasts from June 1 to November 30. Read More > at CNSNews

The Really Big One – Most people in the United States know just one fault line by name: the San Andreas, which runs nearly the length of California and is perpetually rumored to be on the verge of unleashing “the big one.” That rumor is misleading, no matter what the San Andreas ever does. Every fault line has an upper limit to its potency, determined by its length and width, and by how far it can slip. For the San Andreas, one of the most extensively studied and best understood fault lines in the world, that upper limit is roughly an 8.2—a powerful earthquake, but, because the Richter scale is logarithmic, only six per cent as strong as the 2011 event in Japan.

Just north of the San Andreas, however, lies another fault line. Known as the Cascadia subduction zone, it runs for seven hundred miles off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, beginning near Cape Mendocino, California, continuing along Oregon and Washington, and terminating around Vancouver Island, Canada. The “Cascadia” part of its name comes from the Cascade Range, a chain of volcanic mountains that follow the same course a hundred or so miles inland. The “subduction zone” part refers to a region of the planet where one tectonic plate is sliding underneath (subducting) another. Tectonic plates are those slabs of mantle and crust that, in their epochs-long drift, rearrange the earth’s continents and oceans. Most of the time, their movement is slow, harmless, and all but undetectable. Occasionally, at the borders where they meet, it is not.

Take your hands and hold them palms down, middle fingertips touching. Your right hand represents the North American tectonic plate, which bears on its back, among other things, our entire continent, from One World Trade Center to the Space Needle, in Seattle. Your left hand represents an oceanic plate called Juan de Fuca, ninety thousand square miles in size. The place where they meet is the Cascadia subduction zone. Now slide your left hand under your right one. That is what the Juan de Fuca plate is doing: slipping steadily beneath North America. When you try it, your right hand will slide up your left arm, as if you were pushing up your sleeve. That is what North America is not doing. It is stuck, wedged tight against the surface of the other plate.

Without moving your hands, curl your right knuckles up, so that they point toward the ceiling. Under pressure from Juan de Fuca, the stuck edge of North America is bulging upward and compressing eastward, at the rate of, respectively, three to four millimetres and thirty to forty millimetres a year. It can do so for quite some time, because, as continent stuff goes, it is young, made of rock that is still relatively elastic. (Rocks, like us, get stiffer as they age.) But it cannot do so indefinitely. There is a backstop—the craton, that ancient unbudgeable mass at the center of the continent—and, sooner or later, North America will rebound like a spring. If, on that occasion, only the southern part of the Cascadia subduction zone gives way—your first two fingers, say—the magnitude of the resulting quake will be somewhere between 8.0 and 8.6. That’s the big one. If the entire zone gives way at once, an event that seismologists call a full-margin rupture, the magnitude will be somewhere between 8.7 and 9.2. That’s the very big one. Read More > in The New Yorker

Anger Is Making Us Stupid – “Fear is the path to the dark side,” said Yoda. “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

…When a man like Trump seems to spit in the eye of the people we fear, we rally behind him thinking we’re fighting back. We’re not. We’re following our fear right down the rabbit hole.

You want to win back your country? Here’s how. Fear nothing. Hate no one. Stick to principles. Unchecked borders are dangerous not because Mexicans are evil but because evil thrives when good men don’t stand guard. Poverty programs are misguided, not because the poor are undeserving criminals, but because dependency on government breeds dysfunction and more poverty. Guns save lives and protect liberty. Property rights guarantee liberty. Religious rights are essential to liberty. Without liberty we are equal only in misery.

These things are true. They’re true for white people and black people, male people and female people, straight people and gay people. We should support the smartest, most proven, most statesmanlike candidate who best represents those principles. And we should do it out of — dare I say the word? — love. Love for our neighbors, our fellow citizens, white and black, male and female, straight and gay. Read More > at Klavan on Culture

Navigating the Path to Autonomous and Connected Vehicles – There are definitive moments in history when technology exceeds our wildest dreams and faces us with one realization: The future is here. For many, that moment will come again with the onset of autonomous and connected vehicles.

As technology companies like Google are moving full-speed ahead with autonomous car prototypes, it’s likely that we will see these vehicles on the road in the next 20 years, if not sooner. (Google’s self-driving car is expected to be available for public release by 2020.) But as technology races ahead, it raises important questions about how government will implement, regulate and oversee these high-tech vehicles.

As with any new invention, the best way to learn about it is to test it. That’s exactly what the GoMentum Station is doing in Contra Costa, Calif., as it develops America’s largest and most comprehensive testing facility for autonomous and connected vehicles. Contra Costa Transportation Authority Executive Director Randy Iwasaki works closely with the GoMentum Station to understand how these vehicles can best support communities and what role government agencies will need to take to ensure that happens. When it comes down to it, he said, partnerships are key.

“At GoMentum Station our team is seizing on a historic opportunity to create a unique partnership model that is: comprehensive and inclusive of all modes of transportation; inclusive of both private- and public-sector initiatives and investments to drive economic growth and innovations; predicated on strategic partnership with multiple automobile manufacturers, [original equipment manufacturers] and first tier suppliers, technology companies, communication companies, researchers and academia, public agencies and other partners; and capitalizes on the Bay Area technology base and culture of creativity. The proposed partnership with private and public sectors is a critical pillar of our strategy, which will help with redefining mobility for decades to come.”

…The biggest area that needs to be addressed is determining how these vehicles will communicate with their surroundings, he added. “In order to achieve the expected benefits of the new technologies in safety, efficiency and mobility, we need connectivity. This means connectivity of vehicles to vehicles, vehicles to infrastructure and vehicles to devices where the public sector is also playing a major role,” Iwasaki said. “At GoMentum Station we believe the [connected vehicle/autonomous vehicle] is integral to each other in order to achieve the full benefits of new technologies. For this reason, all federal initiatives are important and need to be expedited. Our infrastructure needs to adapt to the new reality with the installation of roadside and highway instrumentation and communication technologies. Massive deployment of dedicated short-range communication, or DSRC, in 5.9 GHz spectrums is an example of needed infrastructure accommodations.” Read More > at Gov Tech

OPEC, Get Ready For The Second U.S. Oil Boom – What OPEC countries fear most is a follow-up technological revolution that will lead to a second oil boom in the U.S., and that fear is now being realized.

A technological revolution spurred the U.S. oil boom that resulted in the greatest increase in domestic oil production in a century, and while that has stuttered in the face of a major oil price slump and an OPEC campaign to maintain a grip on market share, the American response could be another technological revolution that demonstrates that the first one was merely an impressive embryonic experiment.

It’s not only about shale now—it’s about reviving mature oil fields through advancements in enhanced oil recovery, potentially opening up not only new shale fields, but older fields that have been forgotten.

There are myriad gloom-and-doom stories about what is often alluded to as a short-lived oil boom in the U.S. But what many fail to understand is that revolutions of this nature are phased, with the advent of new technology typically followed by a temporary halt in progress while we study the results and come up with something even better.

What we’re looking at here are advancements in EOR for greater production and cost efficiency that can weather oil price slumps and awaken America’s sleeping giant oil fields. Soon we are likely to see some new players in the field buying up oil assets and putting more advanced EOR technologies to work to re-ignite the revolution. Read More > at Oil Price

CalPERS misses its target return by a wide margin – The California Public Employees’ Retirement System said it missed its return target by a wide margin, hurt by a sluggish global economy and an under-performing private equity portfolio..

The nation’s largest public pension fund said its investments returned just 2.4% for its fiscal year, ended June 30, far below its 7.5% investment target.

In a conference call with reporters Monday, CalPERS’ chief investment officer, Ted Eliopoulos, said the main culprit was a sluggish world economy that held down returns on its giant stock portfolio, which makes up 54% of the $301-billion fund.

The stock portfolio’s return was only 1%, underperforming the 1.3% returns at its benchmark portfolio. Eliopoulos noted that the fund has done better than the 7.5% target over the previous three- and five-year periods.

…CalPERS’ investment performance is closely watched because of its sheer size and the huge effect the system has on state and local taxpayers, who must make up any shortfall.

The system was only 77% funded as of June 30, 2014, the latest figures available. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

$2,446,920,000,000: Federal Taxes Set Record Through June; $16,451 Per U.S. Worker—Feds Still Run $313B Deficit – The federal government raked in a record of approximately $2,446,920,000,000 in tax revenues through the first nine months of fiscal 2015 (Oct. 1, 2014 through the end of June), according to the Monthly Treasury Statement released today.

That equaled approximately $16,451 for every person in the country who had either a full-time or part-time job in June.

It is also up about $178,156,270,000 in constant 2015 dollars from the $2,268,763,730,000 in revenue (in inflation-adjusted 2015 dollars) that the Treasury raked in during the first nine months of fiscal 2014.

Despite the record tax revenues of $2,446,920,000,000 in the first nine months of this fiscal year, the government spent $2,760,301,000,000 during those nine months, and, thus, ran up a deficit of $313,381,000,000 during the period. Read More > at CNSNews

Report: One-third of vets on pending medical care list already dead – An internal Veterans Affairs Department report states that about one-third of the veterans waiting to receive medical care from the agency have already died.

A review of veteran death records provided to the Huffington Post found that, as of April, 847,822 veterans were awaiting healthcare and that of those, 238,647 were already deceased.

The report was handed over by Scott Davis, a program specialist at the VA’s Health Eligibility Center in Atlanta
He also sent copies to the House and Senate VA panels and to the White House.

A VA spokeswoman told Huffington Post that the department can’t subtract dead applicants from the list and that some may never have completed an application but remain on the back log.

Spokeswoman Walinda West also said that more than 80 percent veterans who come to the department “have either Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare or some other private insurance.”

“Consequently, some in pending status may have decided to use other options instead of completing their eligibility application.”

Davis dismissed that argument. Read More > in The Hill

The Unexpected Return of ‘Duck and Cover’ – Sixty years ago, in 1951, Ray Maurer and Anthony Rizzo produced a film for the federal government’s Civil Defense agency in response to Soviet nuclear tests. Featuring an animated turtle named Bert and real-life schoolchildren from New York, the film, Duck and Cover, became an icon of the Cold War, seen by many as evidence of the absurdity of the government’s response to the nuclear threat. Against the threat of a nuclear attack, how much good would diving under a desk really do? Originally aimed at teaching children how to respond to a surprise nuclear strike, by the 1980s Duck and Cover was a piece of 1950s kitsch, mocked in such anti-nuclear films as The Atomic Cafe.

But now “duck and cover” is back, not as kitsch but once again as serious advice from the federal government. Faced with growing concerns about a nuclear attack on one or more major cities — this time from terrorists, or bombs smuggled instead of dropped by countries like Iran or North Korea — authorities are once again looking to educate citizens about what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. And that advice sounds a lot like what they were saying in my grandfather’s day: Duck and cover.

As outlined in a lengthy planning document developed by a federal interagency committee led by the Executive Office of the President and released last summer, national and especially local authorities should be making plans to educate people to take cover and shelter in place after a nuclear detonation. Read More > in The Atlantic

Where the Private Buffalo Roam and the Private Antelope Play – “I asscended to the top of the cutt bluff this morning, from whence I had a most delightfull view of the country,” wrote famed explorer Meriwether Lewis on April 22, 1805, as the Corps of Discovery journeyed westward through the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase. “The whole of which except the vally formed by the Missouri is void of timber or underbrush, exposing to the first glance of the spectator immence herds of Buffaloe, Elk, deer, & Antelopes feeding in one common and boundless pasture.”

The objective of the American Prairie Reserve (APR) is to recreate an untamed landscape in Montana so that 21st century Americans can similarly be exhilarated by the sight of thousands of wild bison, elk, deer, and antelope roaming free over vast areas of unfenced, native prairie. The APR is working to create the largest wildlife park of any kind in the lower 48 states—and it’s doing it all with private money.

A quick potted history of the APR: In the late 1990s, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) sought examples of various biomes that remained largely intact and could become a focus for conservation. Identifying the unplowed prairie grasslands of Eastern Montana as one such area, the WWF initiated the Prairie Reserve project in 2001. The organization’s priorities later shifted and the APR became a standalone private organization in 2004. It reintroduced bison to region in 2005 and the herd now numbers around 600 animals.

The ultimate goal is to create a 3.5 million–acre reserve, an area about the size of the state of Connecticut and one and half times the size of Yellowstone National Park. Once completed, the reserve will consist of contiguous parcels of purchased private land (500,000 acres), permanently leased Bureau of Land Management grazing land (1.5 million acres), and the adjacent Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge that already stretches along the Missouri River. So far, the APR has acquired 65,000 acres of private land and leases 270,000 acres from the government.

As the reserve grows in size over the next couple of decades, so too will its wildlife herds. As noted earlier, the region is currently home to 600 bison and perhaps 3,500 elk. Managing director Pete Geddes says that the APR plans to nurture those herds to as many as 10,000 bison and 15,000 elk. In addition, the APR aims to be a “catalyst to bring many wildlife populations, such as mule deer, white-tailed deer, big horn sheep, elk, cougars, and grassland birds, back to significantly larger populations than currently exist in the region.” In February 1805, Lewis’ partner William Clark recorded that he set out early and “Saw great numbers of Grouse feeding on the young Willows, on the Sand bars.” The APR lands now provide significant habitat for the Greater Sage Grouse, which is listed by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks agency as a “species of concern.” Read More > at Reason

Asset Forfeiture Reform Activists Mobilize as California Assembly Takes Up Bill – Tomorrow the Public Safety Committee of California’s Assembly will consider some significant reforms to the state’s civil asset forfeiture regulations. These laws determine the circumstances by which the state allows police to seize the assets and property of people who are often merely suspected of crimes and often without their convictions.

The push comes after the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) produced a report showing how cities in Southern California were using federal asset forfeiture “equitable sharing” rules to bypass state regulations restricting how much money and assets police can seize and keep. The state of California permits law enforcement agencies to keep a smaller percentage of what they seized than the federal program. So, as the DPA’s research noticed, there was a huge jump in law enforcement agencies looking to turn to the federal forfeiture program as budgets were cut when the economy turned bad.

Senate Bill 443, sponsored by Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) would both require police and prosecutors to actually get a conviction before seizing somebody’s stuff and would require that they follow California’s state laws, meaning they would get to keep a smaller amount of the assets. The bill already passed the Senate in June by a vote of 38-1.

Now with the bill heading to the Assembly, activists are concerned about public safety group opposition. Lynne Lyman, the DPA’s state director for California, noted that both the California District Attorneys Association and the California Police Chief Association are opposing the passage of the legislation. Read More > at Reason

Network Outages Like NYSE, United Airlines, Are The New Natural Disasters – This week saw two nearly simultaneous infrastructure failures in major industries: finance and transportation.

On Wednesday, July 8th, the New York Stock Exchange abruptly went down for a big chunk of the trading day. Suspicions of a cyber attack erupted almost immediately after the exchange went dark, but the NYSE denied this, and later clarified that the problem had resulted from gateway software compatibility.

The same day United Airlines experienced a network crash due to what they say was a faulty router connection that degraded network connectivity. After 59 cancelled flights, the network was mostly back online.

Both were back online within a matter of hours, and while some damage was done the majority of people went on about their lives without problem. But the frequency of these episodes is increasing as networks become more complicated and as we rely more on them for day-to-day life.

There’s an argument to be made that network outages are becoming the world’s most frequent natural disaster: while the results are more often inconvenience than destruction, they’re complicated to fix, and affect telecommunications, service providers, transportation, finance, and sometimes even medical devices.

So what’s causing the problems?

David Erickson of Forward Networks, a startup focused on bringing more computer science practices into networking, says the problem is more than just human error: it’s an increasingly complex and uncoordinated system of hardware and languages. “You’ve now got organizations that have thousands or tens of thousands of devices that are moving packets: routers, switchers, firewalls–you name it,” he tells Popular Science, “and each of these things has upwards of between 1,000 and 1,000,000 or more rules that actually define the behavior of how what it does with packets as they come in and out.”

Those things can be taught to play nice together, but Erickson says it’s a steep learning curve. Read More > at Popular Science

Unions Say Ballot Initiative Allows Future Pension Cuts – A union coalition contends that a proposed initiative is being falsely portrayed as only a potential cut in pensions for new employees, when in fact it could cut or eliminate pensions earned by current employees for work done in the future.

One of the initiative authors, former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, disagrees with the union reading of the proposal. But it’s a key pension reform issue that could lead to another disputed initiative title and summary.

Cutting pensions current workers earn in the future, while protecting amounts already earned, would get the immediate savings sought by those who say “unsustainable” rising pension costs are eating up funds needed for other programs.

Notably, finding a way to reduce pension amounts earned by current workers in the future, as allowed in private-sector pensions, was the top recommendation of a report by the watchdog Little Hoover Commission in 2011.

But like Gov. Brown’s reform enacted a year later, pension cuts are usually limited to new hires, which can take decades to yield significant savings. The pensions of current workers in California and 11 other states are protected by the “California rule.” Read More > at Public CEO

How much do we really know about El Nino? – Long-range forecasters are growing increasingly confident that a strong El Niño weather pattern will at least put a dent in California’s four-year drought.

But as the potential rainmaker evolves, it’s telling to look back on how scientists’ understanding of the periodic phenomenon has evolved.

…El Niños are marked by warmer-than-normal sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. When those waters stay warm for several months, it can pump extra moisture and energy into the atmosphere, which can shift and amplify the storm track along the West Coast and much of North America.

The 1982-83 El Niño, which to that point was the strongest on record, was a turning point. After the completely missed forecast and the huge impacts, money began flowing into research of the phenomenon.

…“The 2014 (El Niño) event shows we still have a way to go,” Scripps researcher Pierce said. “Seventy percent of the models were predicting a moderate episode.”

Instead, the event fizzled to weak or nonexistent.

Strength matters with El Niño. Weak and moderate episodes, when the waters in the Pacific are 0.5 to 1.5 Celsius (about 0.9 to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than normal, can’t be counted on to deliver extra rain and snow to California. Sometimes the following winters are wet, sometimes they’re about normal and other times they are even drier than normal.

…The magnitude of the sea-surface temperature change is one of the big differences between 2014 and 2015, said Jan Null, a retired National Weather Service forecaster who now runs a private company called Golden Gate Weather Services. Last year, the vast majority of the computer forecast models predicted a weak or moderate event. A couple predicted a strong episode, and those got hyped beyond their worth, Null said.

In 2015, the waters are already more than 2 degrees Celsius above normal, and 90 percent of the models predict a strong event will persist through the winter. Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune

US soldiers opposed to war now find Canada less hospitable – When Army Sgt. Patrick Hart decided a decade ago that he would not serve in the war in Iraq, he expected to follow the same path as thousands of American war resisters during the Vietnam era and take refuge across the border.

But after five years of wrangling with the Canadian immigration system, he came back to the U.S. – and ended up in a military prison.

The country that once welcomed war resisters has developed a much different reputation during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan: Supporters say no U.S. soldier who has sought legal residence in Canada, either as a refugee or on humanitarian grounds, has been successful.

…Canada’s immigration laws have tightened since the Vietnam War, the support campaign said, giving U.S. soldiers few options other than to try for refugee status based on the fear of persecution if made to go home.

Government guidance issued to immigration officers in 2010 requires them to consult supervisors on U.S. military cases and spells out that desertion is a crime that may render those who’ve left the military as criminally inadmissible to Canada.

“Military deserters from the United States are not genuine refugees under the internationally accepted meaning of the term,” Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokeswoman Nancy Caron said in an emailed statement. “These unfounded claims clog up our system for genuine refugees who are actually fleeing persecution.” Read More > in the Associated Press

Is a mini ICE AGE on the way? Scientists warn the sun will ‘go to sleep’ in 2030 and could cause temperatures to plummet – The Earth could be headed for a ‘mini ice age’ researchers have warned.

A new study claims to have cracked predicting solar cycles – and says that between 2020 and 2030 solar cycles will cancel each other out.

This, they say, will lead to a phenomenon known as the ‘Maunder minimum’ – which has previously been known as a mini ice age when it hit between 1646 and 1715, even causing London’s River Thames to freeze over.

The new model of the Sun’s solar cycle is producing unprecedentedly accurate predictions of irregularities within the Sun’s 11-year heartbeat.

It draws on dynamo effects in two layers of the Sun, one close to the surface and one deep within its convection zone.

Predictions from the model suggest that solar activity will fall by 60 per cent during the 2030s to conditions last seen during the ‘mini ice age’ that began in 1645, according to the results presented by Prof Valentina Zharkova at the National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno. Read More > in the Daily Mail

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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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