Sunday Reading – 08/16/15


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 End is Nigh – A majority of people—54 percent—surveyed in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom believe there’s a risk of 50 percent or more that our way of life will end within the next 100 years. Even worse, some 25 percent of respondents in the same poll believe it that likely that we’ll go extinct in the next century. Americans were the most pessimistic, giving those gloomy answers 57 percent and 30 percent of the time, respectively. And younger respondents tend to be more pessimistic about the future than older ones.

These results were recently reported by the Australian futurists Melanie Randle and Richard Eckersley in the journal Futures. They also document that cultural pessimism is increasing. Polls taken in 2005 and 1995 asked young Australians to choose between two statements: “By continuing on its current path of economic and technological development, humanity will overcome the obstacles it faces and enter a new age of peace and prosperity” versus “More people, environmental destruction, new diseases and ethnic and regional conflicts mean the world is heading for a bad time of crisis and trouble.” In 2005, only 16 percent of respondents thought it was likely to be “a new age of peace and prosperity,” down from 41 percent in 1995. Sixty-five percent opted for “a bad time of crisis and trouble,” up from 55 percent in 1995.

Earlier polls have similarly found large segments of the world’s population believe that the end is nigh. In a 2012 Reuters poll covering more than 20 countries, 15 percent of the respondents said the world will end during their lives. This year in February YouGov poll of Americans asked, “How likely do you think it is that an apocalyptic disaster will strike in your lifetime?” Nearly a third answered that it was very to somewhat likely.

…This pervasive pessimism about the human prospect flies in the face of a plain set of facts: Over the past century, the prospects and circumstances of most of humanity have spectacularly improved. Depending on how you calculate it, world per capita GDP has increased between 5-fold and 10-fold since 1900. Average life expectancy has more than doubled in the same period, and we live in the most peaceful time in history. Read More > at Reason

Get Ready for the Robot Explosion – …Even five years ago, algorithms for computer vision could barely recognize even simple objects, such as a ball or a square block, especially in realistic environments. Now, such algorithms can easily distinguish different breeds of dogs, and can recognize human faces as well as or better than real people can. Neural networks are breaking image-recognition records on an almost weekly basis. Last month, Google announced that it could translate text from more than 20 foreign languages just from photos — say, from a menu or handwritten note. Earlier this year, Google’s deep learning group demonstrated that an algorithm could learn to play all of the Atari video games of the 1980s with the same skill as human experts — simply by watching and learning.

The neural networks differ from those explored in the past in several fundamental ways. In particular, they use insights learned from modern neuroscience about how the brain stores and reworks old knowledge. Pratt, who has followed these developments as closely as anyone, expects that robots, following the deep learning ideas, will soon be able to perform “any associative memory problem at human levels.” Any. And that’s just the beginning.

Robots no longer need to learn on their own: They can now share insights over networks, so that powerful knowledge spreads quickly to other robots. Google’s self-driving cars, for example, share maps, images, and data on previous driving experiences and traffic. All the information gets fed to computers in the cloud — that is, distributed over the Internet — where analysis takes place to improve the cars’ performance.

As Pratt notes, robots will soon be able to learn by imagination as well, a trick previously unique to people. Having learned pretty good behavior in a variety of situations, a robot can run simulations to explore circumstances unlike anything it has yet faced. It can experiment with different ways of behaving and find possible solutions. And through the cloud, as he puts it, “every robot’s dreams will improve the performance of all robots.” Read More > in the Bloomberg View

If You Think You’re Safe From Earthquakes, You May Be Wrong – More than 143 million Americans live in an earthquake zone, a new analysis shows, though many of them may be surprised to learn that dangerous shaking is possible in the places where they live.

These people face at least some risk of a damaging earthquake by the year 2065, the U.S. Geological Survey reports—almost twice as many as the 75 million cited in a similar study in 2006.

If you focus only on those at highest risk, says seismologist Mark Petersen, of the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program, a co-author of the new report, “we’ve identified that there are 28 million people living where you’d expect to see pretty strong ground shaking in next 50 years. That’s a pretty significant number.”

The states in the most danger danger are California, with the highest number of people at risk, followed by Washington, Utah, Tennessee, Oregon, South Carolina, Nevada, Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois.

The dramatic jump in the at-risk population from the 2006 study, Petersen says, comes from two factors. The first is simple population growth. The second is that scientists now have a significantly better grasp of the threat from specific faults. Read More > in National Geographic

El Niño keeps growing, but no guarantee California drought will end – “We are predicting this El Niño could be among the strongest El Niños in the historical record dating back to 1950,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

The surface temperature of Pacific Ocean waters along the equator off Peru is now 3.42 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the historic average, the highest reading ever recorded in early August. And significant winds continue to blow from the west, pushing the warm water toward North America and South America — both classic signals of a strong El Niño.

But drought-weary Californians may not want to bet the rent just yet that they’ll be watering lush green lawns next summer.

Even though California has historically seen wet winters during strong El Niño events like the one now underway, experts say, there are at least four or five major scenarios in which this El Niño could fail to end the state’s drought. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

El Niño Won’t End California Drought, State Says – State and federal forecasters say California’s drought won’t stop even if a soggy El Niño arrives this winter.

State Climatologist Michael Anderson said Thursday there’s only “50/50 chance” of a wetter California winter.

“California cannot count on potential El Niño conditions to halt or reverse drought conditions,” Anderson said in a news release.

Michelle Mead, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento, said she agrees.

“The chances of us ending the drought are very, very low,” she told Capital Public Radio.

She says there’s a strong chance that only Southern California will get drenched by the weather system.

That would do little to fill the state’s northern reservoirs, which supply the bulk of the state’s water system. Read More > at Capital Public Radio

Tom Steyer wants to know why the gas prices he jacked up are so high – Billionaire liberal activist Tom Steyer wants to be the next governor of California, at least according to west coast insiders. (Why on Earth anyone would want that job at this moment in history remains a mystery for the ages.) If you’re going to be the governor you’re going to have to investigate all sorts of things and solve the problems facing the state. One of these issues is the high cost of gasoline, some of the priciest in the nation.

It’s impossible to simply skim over the irony of someone demanding to know why gas prices are so high in the very same press release where they push for an additional ten percent tax on oil extraction. Does Tom Steyer actually understand where gas comes from? While it may come as a terrible shock to find out that gasoline is refined from crude oil and the cost of extracting and refining that oil feeds directly into the cost of the finished product, there’s more at work than that. California is a regulation and tax happy paradise and the voters there can frequently be rallied to support all manner of referendum driven schemes when they are portrayed as ways to save the world. Steyer himself has participated in quite a few of these, some of which are coming home to roost in the form of the precise problem he’s now trying to solve.

Thanks to precisely the initiatives which Steyer has backed in the past, Californians have to use a special snowflake mixture of gasoline which is only produced in a couple of refineries. When you limit supply, prices are vulnerable. They have a cap and trade plan which mandates that each gallon of gas will cost more than it does almost anywhere else right off the top. And their gas tax is already stupidly high, even before they tack on the next 10% Steyer is pushing for. Read More > at Hot Air

It’s unconstitutional to ban the homeless from sleeping outside, the federal government says – We all need sleep, which is a fact of life but also a legally important point. Last week, the Department of Justice argued as much in a statement of interest it filed in a relatively obscure case in Boise, Idaho, that could impact how cities regulate and punish homelessness.

Boise, like many cities — the number of which has swelled since the recession — has an ordinance banning sleeping or camping in public places. But such laws, the DOJ says, effectively criminalize homelessness itself in situations where people simply have nowhere else to sleep. From the DOJ’s filing:

“When adequate shelter space exists, individuals have a choice about whether or not to sleep in public. However, when adequate shelter space does not exist, there is no meaningful distinction between the status of being homeless and the conduct of sleeping in public. Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity — i.e., it must occur at some time in some place. If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless.”

Such laws, the DOJ argues, violate the Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment, making them unconstitutional. By weighing in on this case, the DOJ’s first foray in two decades into this still-unsettled area of law, the federal government is warning cities far beyond Boise and backing up federal goals to treat homelessness more humanely. Read More > at MSN

Pumped dry – In 1993, the Dow Jones industrial average was still well under 4,000, the best-selling car in the country was the Ford Taurus, and the average cost of a Major League Baseball ticket was under $10.

That was also the year that Congress last raised the federal tax on gasoline.

The gas tax pays most of the tab for America’s federal highway program; it’s what we rely on for new highways and for the bridge repairs that keep us safe. Those costs go up every year, but the tax remains stuck at 18.4 cents per gallon. In fact it’s effectively going down: since it was last raised, those 18.4 cents have lost more than a third of their value to inflation, and at the same time drivers with fuel-efficient vehicles have been buying less gasoline, further reducing the federal take.

As a result, the main U.S. spending account for infrastructure has fallen deep in the red, and the gap gets worse every year. The government, through a series of funding tricks, keeps the Highway Trust Fund on life support with short-term emergency patches. The latest infusion expires at the end of the month, and the argument about how to fix it is coming to a head this week.

The uncertainty has frozen major projects around the country, from the widening of Route 1 in Delaware to the Kalispell bypass in Montana, while maintenance and repairs are long overdue on thousands of roads and bridges dangerously near the end of their expected life spans.

That Congress can’t fulfill such a basic purpose of government stands out as a signal example of Washington dysfunction. Unlike some other stalemates, though, this one can’t be blamed on special interests at loggerheads. Nearly all the lobbies that take an interest are in favor of simply increasing the tax—big business, the road builders, the unions, even the truckers. Lobbies that might oppose an increase, notably the oil industry, have invested relatively little in the debate. Read More > at Politico

Tesla Still Losing Thousands Of Dollars On Every Car Sold – Last week, following the latest abysmal (if only in GAAP terms) quarter for Tesla, we showed what we thought was without a doubt the most important chart for the company that has taken “story” to the next level: its cash flow, or lack thereof, and the stunning observation that in just the first six months of 2015, Tesla burned $1.1 billion in cash. Its current cash levels? Just $1.2 billion more.

…The Silicon Valley automaker is losing more than $4,000 on every Model S electric sedan it sells, using its reckoning of operating losses, and it burned $359 million in cash last quarter in a bull market for luxury vehicles. The company on Wednesday cut its production targets for this year and next. Chief Executive Elon Musk said he’s considering options to raise more capital, and didn’t rule out selling more stock.

Musk has taken investors on a thrill ride since taking Tesla public in 2010. Now he’s given himself a deadline, promising that by the first quarter of 2016 Tesla will be making enough money to fund a jump from making one expensive, low volume car to mass producing multiple models, and expanding a venture to manufacture electric power storage systems. Read More > at OilPrice

A Milestone in Africa: No Polio Cases in a Year – It has been one full year since polio was detected anywhere in Africa, a significant milestone in global health that has left health experts around the world quietly celebrating.

The goal had seemed tantalizingly close in recent years, but polio always managed to roar back, particularly in Nigeria. Then officials embraced a vigorous new approach to vaccination and surveillance in that country, hiring thousands of community “mobilizers” to track down the unvaccinated, opening operations centers nationwide to monitor progress and seeking out support from clerics and tribal chiefs.

The result has been remarkable.

The last African case of polio was detected in Somalia on Aug. 11, 2014, the final sign of an outbreak with its roots in Nigeria — the one country where the virus had never been eradicated, even temporarily. But the last case in Nigeria was recorded on July 24, 2014.

Africa has never gone so long without a case of polio. But in an indication of how nervous experts still are that the disease may resurge, even the announcement from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was tentatively headlined “Is Africa Polio-Free?” Read More > in The New York Times

This is how much you need to earn to get a mortgage in San Francisco – Want to buy a house in San Francisco? You better have a household paycheck of at least $151,984 and 20 percent to put down.

The National Association of Realtors calculated second-quarter qualifying income levels based on median sales prices of existing single-family homes in the nation’s metro areas.

The median home price in the San Francisco metro — an area that includes Oakland, Fremont and surrounding towns — was $748,300, up 10.1 percent year-over year. To qualify for a mortgage with 10 percent to put down, you’d have to be making $170,982.

The figures assume the buyer also meets other qualifying criteria for a mortgage.

In comparison, to qualify for a mortgage for the national median home price of $229,400, you only need to make $41,427 if you have 20 percent to put down. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Startups Vie to Build an Uber for Health Care – …Heal is one of several startups putting a high-tech spin on old-fashioned house calls—or “in-person visits,” since they can take place anywhere. The services provide a range of nonemergency medical care—from giving flu shots to treating strep throats and stitching lacerations—much like a mobile urgent-care clinic.

The companies use slightly different models. Pager, in New York City, dispatches doctors or nurse practitioners via Uber, for $200. Heal, in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Orange County, Calif., promises to “get a doctor to your sofa in under an hour” for $99. (A medical assistant goes along to do the driving and parking.)

RetraceHealth, in Minneapolis, has a nurse practitioner consult with patients via video (for $50), and only comes to their homes if hands-on care like a throat swab or blood draw is necessary (for $150).

…Most of the services don’t accept insurance, but they say patients can pay with health savings accounts or submit out-of-network claims.

Such ventures are fueled by a confluence of trends, including growing interest in the so-called sharing economy, where technology connects providers with excess capacity and consumers who want on-demand services. Many doctors and nurses who work for hospitals are eager for extra work in their off-hours, the companies say. The services carry malpractice insurance, but say overall low overhead keeps prices down. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Feds Say California DMV Employees Traded Cash for Licenses – Up to 23 traffic accidents could be related to the fraud, officials said, though there were no fatalities.

Emma Klem, a 45-year-old Salinas DMV employee, and trucking school owner Kulwinder Dosanjh Singh, 58, of Turlock, both pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy to commit bribery and identity fraud, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said.

Two other DMV employees in Salinas and Sacramento and two other Central Valley trucking school operators have been arrested on similar charges.

Court records say the employees changed computer records to falsely show that drivers had passed written and behind-the-wheel tests after they were bribed by the owners of three truck-driving schools between June 2011 and March 2015.

“Individuals who use their positions to obtain commercial drivers’ licenses for unskilled and untested drivers jeopardize our nation’s security and safety. Allowing unqualified drivers to operate heavy commercial trucks on our highways is honestly quite chilling,” said Carol Webster, acting assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations office in Sacramento. Read More > in the Associated Press

Cal Fire Chief’s Nightmare Scenario – Unlike many epic fires in the California record, which were largely driven by wind, in the fires burning north of the Bay Area, “There really is no signifcant wind,” says Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott. “It’s all being driven by the condition of the vegetation.”

Which is to say, not merely dry, but four-year-drought dry. Pimlott says Cal Fire measures the potential burn intensity of vegetation throughout the state, and is currently seeing “record levels” of that metric, known as the Energy Release Component.

“It’s just creating explosive growth rates,” he says.

The Jerusalem Fire went from 100 to 5,000 acres almost overnight. But the worst may be yet to come.

As summer gives way to fall, the winds typically shift and dry winds from the east sweep across California, turning an already sizzling fire season into a potential blast furnace. Read More > at KQED

Progressive policies drive more into poverty – Across the nation, progressives increasingly look at California as a model state. This tendency has increased as climate change has emerged as the Democratic Party’s driving issue. To them, California’s recovery from a very tough recession is proof positive that you can impose ever greater regulation on everything from housing to electricity and still have a thriving economy.

And to be sure, the state has finally recovered the jobs lost in the 2007-09 recession, largely a result of a boom in values of stocks and high- end real estate. Things, however, have not been so rosy in key blue-collar fields, such as construction, which is still more than 200,000 jobs below prerecession levels, or manufacturing, where the state has lost over one-third of its employment since 2000. Homelessness, which one would think should be in decline during a strong economy, is on the rise in Orange County and even more so in Los Angeles.

The dirty secret here is that a large proportion of Californians, roughly one-third, or some 3.2 million households, as found by a recent United Way study, find it increasingly difficult to keep their heads above water.

…By United Way’s calculation, roughly one in three Californians can barely make ends meet, despite the state’s relatively generous transfer payments, subsidies and general assistance. Latinos and African Americans, as one might expect, fare worse, but roughly one-in-five non-Hispanic whites and 28 percent of Asians also are deemed struggling.

Roughly half of Latino households fall into this condition of poverty or near-poverty, as do a similar share of African American households. Those who do worst generally are poorly educated single mothers and their children. Poverty and near-poverty are greatest among Latinos, who also are bearing the majority of children. It is hard to imagine a more urgent wake-up call. Read More > in The Orange County Register

California wildfires threaten to make local wine ‘unpalatable’ – There are fears in California’s wine industry over the possible impact of raging wildfires and whether they could damage this year’s grape yield, potentially affecting the state’s multibillion dollar business.

While safety for residents and containment of the fires is the clear priority for officials, some in the industry also fear the flames may harm what is a key business sector. Concern in Napa is focused on how the grapes interact with the billows of smoke from the massive Rocky fire in neighboring Lake County.

One Sonoma-based vintner, who as an independent consultant asked not to be named due to confidentiality agreements with clients, told the Guardian: “It’s a really big concern for a lot of these vineyards who are near fires and all that smoke because for red grapes, where the skin is still used in the winemaking process, that smoke could potentially infuse and create abnormal flavors.”

According to KOFY-TV in San Francisco, a number of vineyards have already sent grapes to laboratories in order to determine if smoke has affected the product. This year has already seen more than 1,500 wildfires than is typical in the state through the end of July, according to Cal Fire. More than 68,000 acres of forest were ablaze in the Rocky fire alone , and the state had more than 10,000 firefighters on the ground as of yesterday. One firefighter lost his life battling the flames. Read More > in The Guardian

Peak Oilers Shut Up Forever Please – Princeton University geologist Ken Deffeyes predicted that global oil production would peak on Thanksgiving Day, 2005. In 2005, daily global oil production averaged 85 million barrels per day. Daily petroleum liquids production in July was 96 million barrels per day. For the past six months global oil prices have been falling steeply.

Today West Texas Intermediate was selling for $43.20 per barrel. That means the price per barrel is just over $31 in inflation adjusted 2000 dollars. CNBC cite analysts who project that the price will fall further into the $30s per barrel range soon. Should the price fall to $30 dollars, that would be about $22 per barrel in 2000 dollars. That would be nearly back to what the price was 15 years ago. Read More > at Reason

Jed York, Trent Baalke, and the 49ers’ prolonged run of bad news, major losses, and invisible leadersObviously, Jed York and his family weren’t specifically to blame for the surprise retirements of Patrick Willis, Chris Borland and Anthony Davis, or necessarily for the free-agent losses of Frank Gore and Mike Iupati and others. 49ers But I’ve said this from last season: When York and his lieutenants began the whisper campaign to get rid of Jim Harbaugh a full year before they ended up firing him, that entire escapade–16 games of it–knocked the entire franchise off of its bearings. York had to know that plotting against his very successful coach FOR A FULL SEASON wasn’t healthy, didn’t he? There were going to be unforeseeable complications and problems.

Every team has to deal with problems and tough personalities and the regular turmoil and atrophy of an NFL season. Important point: It’s not at all probable that Harbaugh, in a normal, healthy franchise situation, would’ve lasted much longer than 4 seasons anyway. But when you attack your own good coach, then deny you’re doing it, then fire him anyway, then deny you fired him by calling it a “mutual parting” and when everybody understands that’s a non-truth… you set yourself up for incredible instability.

When the owner and GM aren’t accountable to any normal set of standards, then why should anybody else on the team feel like they have to do the right thing for the good of the group? Read More > at Talking Points

Residents on edge as toxic Colo. spill larger than first reported The Environmental Protection Agency says the mine waste spill into Colorado waters is much larger than originally estimated. The agency said the amount of heavy-metal laced water that leaked from the Gold King Mine into the Animas River, turning the water a mucky orange and then yellow, is three times larger than its initial estimate. The EPA now says 3 million gallons of wastewater spilled Wednesday and Thursday, instead of 1 million. The revision came after the EPA used a stream gauge from the U.S. Geological Survey.

…The agency has so far been unable to determine whether humans or aquatic life face health risks. However, EPA toxicologist Deborah McKean said the sludge moved so quickly after the spill that it would not have “caused significant health effects” to animals that consumed the water. The discolored water from the spill stretched more than 100 miles from where it originated near Colorado’s historic mining town of Silverton into the New Mexico municipalities of Farmington, Aztec and Kirtland. Read More > at CBS News

G is for Google – As Sergey and I wrote in the original founders letter 11 years ago, “Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.” As part of that, we also said that you could expect us to make “smaller bets in areas that might seem very speculative or even strange when compared to our current businesses.” From the start, we’ve always strived to do more, and to do important and meaningful things with the resources we have.

We did a lot of things that seemed crazy at the time. Many of those crazy things now have over a billion users, like Google Maps, YouTube, Chrome, and Android. And we haven’t stopped there. We are still trying to do things other people think are crazy but we are super excited about. We’ve long believed that over time companies tend to get comfortable doing the same thing, just making incremental changes. But in the technology industry, where revolutionary ideas drive the next big growth areas, you need to be a bit uncomfortable to stay relevant. Our company is operating well today, but we think we can make it cleaner and more accountable. So we are creating a new company, called Alphabet (http://abc.xyz). I am really excited to be running Alphabet as CEO with help from my capable partner, Sergey, as President.

What is Alphabet? Alphabet is mostly a collection of companies. The largest of which, of course, is Google. This newer Google is a bit slimmed down, with the companies that are pretty far afield of our main Internet products contained in Alphabet instead. What do we mean by far afield? Good examples are our health efforts: Life Sciences (that works on the glucose-sensing contact lens), and Calico (focused on longevity). Fundamentally, we believe this allows us more management scale, as we can run things independently that aren’t very related. Alphabet is about businesses prospering through strong leaders and independence. In general, our model is to have a strong CEO who runs each business, with Sergey and me in service to them as needed. We will rigorously handle capital allocation and work to make sure each business is executing well. We’ll also make sure we have a great CEO for each business, and we’ll determine their compensation. In addition, with this new structure we plan to implement segment reporting for our Q4 results, where Google financials will be provided separately than those for the rest of Alphabet businesses as a whole. Read More > at Google

Minimum wage effect? January to June job losses for Seattle area restaurants (-1,300) largest since Great Recession – In June of last year, the Seattle city council passed a $15 minimum wage law to be phased in over time, with the first increase to $11 an hour starting on April 1, 2015. What effect will the eventual 58% increase in labor costs have on small businesses, including area restaurants? It’s too soon to tell for sure, but there is already some evidence that the recent minimum wage hike to $11 an hour, along with the pending increase of an additional $4 an hour by 2017 for some businesses, has started having a negative effect on restaurant jobs in the Seattle area. The chart above shows that the Emerald City MSA started experiencing a decline in restaurant employment around the first of the year (when the state minimum wage increased to $9.47 per hour, the highest state minimum wage in the country), and the 1,300 job loss between January and June is the largest decline over that period since 2009 during the Great Recession (data here).

The loss of 1,000 restaurant jobs in May following the minimum wage increase in April was the largest one month job decline since a 1,300 drop in January 2009, again during the Great Recession. In contrast to the January-June loss of restaurant jobs in the Seattle area: a) restaurant employment nationally increased by 130,700 jobs (and by 1.2%) during that same period (data here), b) overall employment in the Seattle MSA increased 1.2% and by 21,800 jobs (data here) and c) non-Seattle MSA restaurant employment in Washington increased 3.2% and by 2,800 jobs (data here). Perhaps Seattle’s restaurant employment will recover, or perhaps it will continue to suffer from the upcoming full 58% increase in labor costs for the city’s restaurants that will be phased in during the coming years – time will tell. What we know for sure is that there are now 1,300 Seattle area restaurant workers who were employed in January who are no longer employed today, so it looks like the Seattle minimum wage hike is getting off to a pretty bad start. Read More > at American Enterprise Institute

The hydrogen car finally takes shape – Hyundai was first out of the box last spring with the introduction of the hydrogen fuel-cell Tucson. The company now claims to have 71 cars on the road, all of them in California. But it will be soon joined by Toyota, which is treating the introduction of its Mirai (the word means “future” in Japanese) like the arrival of a new baby. Only 3,000 are to be sold during the first year, only in California, and potential buyers are being screened like 3-year-olds applying to an exclusive preschool. “To buy Toyota’s new hydrogen car you’ll need to pass an interview,” read one headline.

Deliveries will start in October. “We’re looking for the bold and the few,” Toyota says on its marketing video, making ownership sound like joining the Marines. Potential buyers are being vetted very seriously to make sure they are prepared for the challenges and not just seeking novelty. And there will be challenges: The car will only be sold at eight dealerships in California. The $57,000 car has a driving range of 320 miles, putting it right next to gasoline engines and well ahead of the 200-mile range of electric vehicles. Its 67 miles-per-gallon puts it in a class by itself. Refueling takes no longer than an ordinary gasoline car.

BMW, Honda and Mercedes will also have entries in the next few years. But refueling stations will be few and far between. There are only eight in the state right now, with 48 more in development, according to this locator operated by the California Fuel Cell Partnership. Toyota has pledged to build more, including a bunch in Connecticut, but that is still far in the future. “Marketing this car is the reverse of selling,” says Mike Sullivan of Toyota Santa Monica, one of the exclusive outlets. “We’re going to turn people down if this car isn’t for you.” Read More > at Fuel Freedom

Teacher Shortages Spur a Nationwide Hiring Scramble (Credentials Optional) – In a stark about-face from just a few years ago, school districts have gone from handing out pink slips to scrambling to hire teachers. Across the country, districts are struggling with shortages of teachers, particularly in math, science and special education — a result of the layoffs of the recession years combined with an improving economy in which fewer people are training to be teachers. At the same time, a growing number of English-language learners are entering public schools, yet it is increasingly difficult to find bilingual teachers.

So schools are looking for applicants everywhere they can — whether out of state or out of country — and wooing candidates earlier and quicker. Some are even asking prospective teachers to train on the job, hiring novices still studying for their teaching credentials, with little, if any, classroom experience. Nationwide, many teachers were laid off during the recession, but the situation was particularly acute in California, which lost 82,000 jobs in schools from 2008 to 2012, according to Labor Department figures. This academic year, districts have to fill 21,500 slots, according to estimates from the California Department of Education, while the state is issuing fewer than 15,000 new teaching credentials a year. Read More > in The New York Times

San Francisco Bay area news crews targeted by robbers – San Francisco Examiner photographer Mike Koozmin was on a routine assignment at the city’s Hall of Justice in the middle of the day when he was robbed of his camera equipment. “They pulled me into an alley and were tugging on my camera strap,” Koozmin said of his two assailants, who ended up with $10,000 worth of equipment last month. “I was resisting at first, but then I saw how desperate they were and gave it to them.”

It was the latest of at least a dozen robberies of television news crews and still photographers that has plagued the San Francisco Bay Area in recent years. Camera crews from major Bay Area television stations and photographers from two newspapers have been robbed of their pricey gear. Two have been pistol whipped. An Oakland Tribune photographer lost five cameras in two incidents. Read More > in the Associated Press

FCC Sets Rules for Copper Phase Out – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission set new ground rules for carriers seeking to replace their old copper telephone networks. Approved by a 3-2 vote at an open meeting yesterday, the rules require carriers to notify customers in advance and to seek FCC approval before reducing services. Home landline service has dropped dramatically with the spread of mobile phones. In 2000, almost every U.S. household had a landline phone. Since then, many have dropped landline service, and nearly 50 million of the remaining lines have switched to Voice over IP, which sends voice calls in the user’s broadband data stream rather than over traditional telephony’s copper wire pairs. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler and others have been pushing to shift telephone traffic to fiber optics and the Internet.

Critics have charged that phone companies are allowing their old copper networks to decay to force customers to shift to fiber service. But some 37 million households—many of them headed by elderly people—remain on legacy copper, commissioner Mignon Clyburn noted at the hearing. Other holdouts live in rural areas that lack cellular and broadband service. Some prefer copper connections because they are independent of local power lines, and offer better 911 emergency service.

The FCC ruling requires that carriers notify retail customers at least three months before shutting down a copper network, and provide six-months notice to interconnecting carriers using the old lines. (Clyburn complained that that’s much less time than the FCC gave before shutting down analog broadcast television, but voted for the measure anyway.) Carriers also must seek FCC approval if the telephone changeover would “discontinue, reduce or impair” service. Details remain to be worked out, but key issues are voice quality and support for 911 emergency calls, alarms, and medical monitors, as well as assistive technology for the disabled. Read More > at IEEE Spectrum

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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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