Sunday Reading – 10/18/15


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.

Rise of the Business Democrat – Ocean waves crash into rocky cliffs. Pelicans flap along the shoreline. And on the golf resort overlooking it all, a powerful bloc of legislators hit the links recently with donors who paid up to $40,000 for the opportunity to join them.

This was the annual fundraiser benefitting the legislators who call themselves “moderate Democrats.” Since last month, when the group unexpectedly killed a centerpiece of Gov. Jerry Brown’s climate change plan, the moderate Democrats have been getting much more scrutiny, particularly about those who pay for their elections and attend their fundraisers.

Since 2013, the group’s political action committee has taken in more than $4 million, with nearly one-third of that coming from Chevron, PG&E and other oil and gas companies. Other major donors include Wal-Mart, a hospital association and a realtors group. Only 1 percent of the committee’s money came from labor unions.

By contrast, organized labor provided more than a quarter of the money the California Democratic Party raised in the same time period, and oil and gas companies made up about 6 percent. The liberal-leaning party, which also benefits from fundraisers at swanky golf resorts, has traditionally declined contributions from Wal-Mart because of its anti-union policies.

…So far the group has made its mark by casting key votes with Republicans, killing or watering down legislation backed by liberal Democrats. As the moderate Democrats’ clout grows, many will be watching whether they become a force that advances new policy in the Legislature – or if they’ll express power just by voting “no.” Read More > at CALmatters

Online Attacks on Infrastructure Are Increasing at a Worrying Pace – …The phrase “cyber-Pearl Harbor” first appeared in the 1990s. For the last 20 years, policy makers have predicted catastrophic situations in which hackers blow up oil pipelines, contaminate the water supply, open the nation’s floodgates and send airplanes on collision courses by hacking air traffic control systems.

“They could, for example, derail passenger trains or, even more dangerous, derail trains loaded with lethal chemicals,” former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta warned in 2012. “They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country.”

It is getting harder to write off such predictions as fearmongering. The number of attacks against industrial control systems more than doubled to 675,186 in January 2014 from 163,228 in January 2013, according to Dell Security — most of those in the United States, Britain and Finland.

…For now, dire predictions of destructive online attacks on American targets ignore the fact that the actors with the ability to cause the gravest harm to America’s critical infrastructure — China and Russia and allies like Israel and Britain — are sufficiently deterred from doing so by fear of retaliation or because of longstanding trade and diplomatic relationships. And attacks by those aggressively trying to get such a capability — Iran, North Korea and Islamic militant groups — are still several years off.

“Despite all the talks of a cyber-Pearl Harbor, I am not really worried about a state competitor like China doing catastrophic damage to infrastructure,” said Michael V. Hayden, former head of the National Security Agency. “It’s the attack from renegade, lower-tier nation-states that have nothing to lose.” Read More > in The New York Times

Epic seventh inning was one for the ages – …Baseball purists will tell you that you can reconstruct any game just by looking at the box score. There is an exception to every rule — and you’ll soon be hearing a lot about Major League Baseball Rule 6.03 (a) (3) — and this is it. Other than discerning the bare-bone facts — the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Texas Rangers 6-3 on Bautista’s game-winning, three-run home run — this box score only scratches the surface of what took place in a 53-minute seventh inning that will take its place among the oddest exercises ever witnessed, especially during the postseason, replete with blown umpiring calls, bench-clearing scrums, errors occurring on three successive plays followed by a misjudged flare, and a home run and bat flip that produced spasms of joy on one side and undisguised contempt on the other.

We very nearly had the first elimination game ever decided by an action that takes place hundreds of time every night and almost always goes unrecorded — except when the baseball gods decide to stretch the bounds of believability beyond the shared experience of folks who collectively have spent decades in this game and have never seen anything like it.

That simple act gone haywire — Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin attempting to throw the ball back to his pitcher, Aaron Sanchez, only to strike the hand of Rangers batter Shin-Soo Choo — produced instant chaos and controversy, while a citizenry that universally scores high marks for civility nearly lost its collective mind.

…Odor was 90 feet away from scoring the go-ahead run with Choo coming to the plate. Choo fouled off a couple of 98 mph heaters from Sanchez, sandwiched around a fastball that missed for a ball, then took ball two. Martin took the ball out of his glove and flipped it back toward the mound, except it never got there. In transit, it struck Choo, appearing to hit his hand, and rolled down the third-base line. Odor scored and plate umpire Dale Scott waved off the run when he called timeout, but then reversed himself after a lengthy review, prompting a shower of beer and trash from the stands while causing the Blue Jays to play the rest of the game under protest.

…Which brings us to MLB Rule 6.03 (a) (3), which governs these things. The pertinent section reads:

“If the batter is standing in the batter’s box and he or his bat is struck by the catcher’s throw back to the pitcher, and, in the umpire’s judgment, there is no intent on the part of the batter to interfere with the throw, the ball is alive and in play.” Read More > at ESPN

El Niño looking like a rainy winner for state’s watersheds – The areas that need strong El Niño storms the most are likely to get them, forecasters said Thursday.

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center, in its monthly long-term weather outlook, boosted the odds of precipitation for California this winter and spring — including, crucially, the areas in the North State and Sierra that supply the bulk of the state’s water supply.

Forecasters have long pegged Southern and Central California for rain in coming months, but with El Niño in the tropical Pacific gaining strength and warm pockets of ocean water expected to add moisture to the atmosphere, federal forecasters have broadened their bullishness.

The updated outlook calls for at least 40 percent above-average chances of wet weather between January and March for nearly the entire state, including all of the Sierra Nevada. San Francisco stands a more than 40 percent above-average chance of seeing a rainy winter, according to the federal forecasters, while the South Bay has 50 percent greater odds. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

$3,248,723,000,000: Federal Taxes Set Record in FY 2015; $21,833 Per Worker; Feds Still Run $438.9B Deficit – The federal government took in a record of approximately $3,248,723,000,000 in taxes in fiscal 2015 (which ended on Sept. 30), according to the Monthly Treasury Statement released today.

That equaled approximately $21,833 for every person in the country who had either a full-time or part-time job in September.

It is also up about $212,927,100,000 in constant 2015 dollars from the $3,035,795,900,000 in revenue (in 2015 dollars) that the Treasury raked in during fiscal 2014.

Even as the Treasury was hauling in a record $3,248,723,000,000 in tax revenues in fiscal 2015, the federal government was spending $3,687,622,000,000. So, the federal government ran a deficit of $438,899,000,000 for the fiscal year.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, total seasonally adjusted employment in the United States in September (including both full and part-time workers) was 148,800,000. That means that the federal tax haul for fiscal 2015 equaled about $21,832.82 for every person in the United States with a job. Read More > at CNSNews

You Can’t Handle The Truth: The Importance of Free Speech on Campus – We have a duty to offend. That duty does not fall to me, to you, or to any one individual—but make no mistake that it does fall to us. As with all issues that require collective action, we cannot afford to ignore that this duty is imperative.

This idea is by no account novel. The great philosophers of ancient Greece were acutely aware of the necessity to provoke society into questioning its hierarchies, its laws, and its values. Socrates called himself a gadfly, an annoying creature which stings society into consciousness of itself, impelling the society to re-examine what it does and what it ought to do. To actualize his vision, Socrates paid a high price, but his message was not lost. Long after his time, his admonition to induce continual societal introspection has lived on and thrived.

…My aim in this chronology is simply to bring forward the sharp contrast between the state of free speech as an aspirational end in times past and free speech as, at best, an arbitrary means among students at Georgetown. Throughout previous centuries, blood was spilled, monarchs were toppled, and popular assemblies were convened in the hope of someday achieving unrestricted speech. Today, far too many Georgetown students view free speech as a threat to some more noble and remarkably (though unsurprisingly) elusive goal.

When begrudgingly articulated, this ambiguous goal often takes the form of some newfound right to proceed through academic inquiry with one’s sensibilities unoffended. Too often among campus organizations, free speech is invoked only when convenient as a political instrument of the group or cause du jour. What this means-centric mindset fails to appreciate is the very basis for the conception of free speech: by advocating unhindered speech only in support of one’s own personal inclinations, one has adopted a de facto preemptive censorship. When speaking of censorship, it becomes tempting to appeal to legal protections rather than weigh the merits of free speech itself. We must as individuals proactively embrace free speech in Georgetown’s policies and, more importantly, in our dealings with one another. Read More > at The Georegtown Voice

France’s top weatherman sparks storm over book questioning climate change
Every night, France’s chief weatherman has told the nation how much wind, sun or rain they can expect the following day.

Now Philippe Verdier, a household name for his nightly forecasts on France 2, has been taken off air after a more controversial announcement – criticising the world’s top climate change experts.

Mr Verdier claims in the book Climat Investigation (Climate Investigation) that leading climatologists and political leaders have “taken the world hostage” with misleading data.

In a promotional video, Mr Verdier said: “Every night I address five million French people to talk to you about the wind, the clouds and the sun. And yet there is something important, very important that I haven’t been able to tell you, because it’s neither the time nor the place to do so.”

He added: “We are hostage to a planetary scandal over climate change – a war machine whose aim is to keep us in fear.”

His outspoken views led France 2 to take him off the air starting this Monday. “I received a letter telling me not to come. I’m in shock,” he told RTL radio. “This is a direct extension of what I say in my book, namely that any contrary views must be eliminated.” Read More > in The Telegraph

A swarm of alien satellites may explain one star’s strange behavior – There’s something extremely odd about KIC 8462852, a star 1,481 light-years away from Earth. It demonstrates irregular, seemingly unnatural, flickering patterns — usually, scientists detect a faraway planet by measuring the regular drops in brightness that occur as it passes in front of its sun, but KIC 8462852 is different. It exhibits extreme drops in brightness, up to 22 percent at one moment, and there appears to be no pattern to the light show. For comparison, a planet the size of Jupiter normally drops in brightness by just 1 percent as it crosses the sun, according The Washington Post. The star’s weird behavior remains unexplained, but scientists have a few ideas about its origins — including a massive alien structure.

The alien theory is a long-shot, according to Yale University astronomer Tabetha Boyajian and Penn State University researcher Jason Wright, but they think it’s worth considering in KIC 8462852’s case. Wright helped develop a protocol for spotting alien civilizations, The Washington Post reports, and he says the flickering around this star could be “a swarm of megastructures” built to collect solar energy.

“Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build,” Wright says. Read More > at Engadget

Illinois Lottery Now Paying IOUs on Wins Bigger than $600 – In the Land of Lincoln, it’s come to this: Starting today, Illinois will be issuing IOUs for any winning state lottery tickets that pay out more than $600. Back in September, the state had started writing IOUs for wins over $25,000.

Asks the Illinois Policy Institute:

So why is the state continuing to sell lottery tickets? Two winners, one with a winning ticket worth $50,000 and another winner with a ticket worth $250,000, filed a lawsuit Sept. 9 seeking to stop Illinois from selling tickets for winnings it can’t pay out.

Regardless of the lawsuit, opines the good folks at IPI, the state should stop laying bets it can’t pay. The trouble stems from the awful, worst-in-the-nation budget situation:

The Illinois General Assembly did pass a state budget in May, but it was unbalanced to the tune of $4 billion, and the governor vetoed it. Gov. Bruce Rauner has signed legislation that funds Illinois schools, and many other state spending items have been mandated by consent decrees or pushed piecemeal through the courts.

But Illinoisans across the state continue to suffer as many in the General Assembly refuse to do the right thing and pass a balanced budget the state can afford, instead of resorting to deficit spending. With more than $100 billion in pension debt and $6 billion in unpaid bills, more of the same won’t work. It’s time to stop the bleeding. Until then, people wanting to cash in life-changing lottery tickets, the poor and disabled, and taxpayers across the state will lose out. Read More > at Reason

Deceased Concord City Attorney Leaves Development Project in Limbo – City Attorney Mark Coon had been investigating allegations about a developer’s potential lobbying violations.

The claims stem from the large reuse project the City of Concord is working on in the form of the Concord Naval Weapons Station.

Adopted in 2012, the Concord Reuse Project Area Plan calls for building up to 12,272 housing units and 6.1 million square feet of commercial space on about 2,300 acres of the former military base. The Navy is set to begin transferring property to the city sometime next year.

There are two developers in the running for the master developer role on the first phase of the project, Catellus Development Corp. or Lennar Urban.

Coon’s investigation would address Catellus’ allegations that Lennor had lobbied the Concord City Council. While all five councilmembers have said Lennor hasn’t lobbied them, Mayor Tim Grayson has returned $16,800 in campaign contributions to his Assembly campaign from parties associated with the company.

Coon’s death has led to the postponement of the meetings to discuss the project and the allegations between developers. The status of Coon’s report on the investigation is unknown, nor is it known if the city will release his findings. Read More > at California City News

How an Army Strategist Thinks About Football – …No discussion of strategy is possible without starting with Carl Von Clausewitz. In his seminal work On War, he compared war to a wrestling contest where two opponents grappled and maneuvered to get the other to submit. Clausewitz would have made the football analogy in lieu of wrestling had he been a 21st Century American, and not a 19th Century Prussian.

Clausewitz defined war and broke it down into its sub-units for the great captains of history. A top point of his book is the thoughts on fog, friction, and chance. Fog is the uncertainty in war, friction is the countless minor incidents that make the simple very difficult, and chance is the unpredictable circumstances that consistently occur in war. This concept easily translates to the gridiron. I see chance in who is sitting on the injured reserve list. Each game, indeed each play has the potential to eliminate the essential players of a team.

In an instance, a team’s Center of Gravity can be lost. Witness the loss of Dez Bryant and Tony Romo in the current season or the loss of Tom Brady in 2008. No team is above chance. I see friction occur on each play. I see friction in the communications difficulties when Buffalo traveled to New England. I see friction when a referee makes the wrong call. And I see friction when a 70-yard scoring play gets called back due to a holding penalty on the opposite side of the field, completely unrelated to the play.

Observations of uncertainty occur when a team comes out onto the field in unusual formations. A head coach may watch all the game film he wants, but there is another head coach on the other sideline developing a strategy of his own. Perhaps it’s a trick play, or the exposure of a weakness on a team that never knew existed. Football is indeed a dual between two opposing, living and thinking forces. Read More > at Medium

The DraftKings Crash – It was a banner week for daily fantasy sports. FanDuel and DraftKings, the two companies that tower over the DFS landscape, set records for number of entries (7.52 million) and entry fees ($45.6 million) in the fifth week of the NFL season.* That news was just the latest in a run of explosive growth for the enterprises. The two companies’ ads have dominated the airwaves since pro football started back up again last month. And most teams in the NFL are taking in big sponsorship money from the two DFS kingpins. But recent revelations, and facts likely to spill out over the next few months and possibly years, threaten to bring the party to a crashing end. At the very least, increased federal and state oversight seems a good bet in the wake of what amounts to damaging allegations of insider trading. Despite the lack of current regulations on the industry, the legal case against DFS appears to be a strong one.

The event precipitating the most serious accusations against the two companies centers around one Ethan Haskell, a DraftKings employee. On Sept. 27, he accidentally posted information about how many people selected specific NFL players for their teams in the DraftKings game that week—DFS players plunk down money to select a squad of athletes and then win or lose depending on how those athletes do—and then stated that he was “the only person with this data.” The data in question would offer anyone who had it a significant edge, because the way the game works makes it incredibly beneficial for a player to differentiate himself from the rest of the field by taking advantage of market inefficiencies and picking undervalued athletes.

Haskell tried to reassure anyone who might be concerned about this potential edge, reminding everyone that, as a DraftKings employee, he was forbidden from playing on his own site. What he failed to state, though, is that he was allowed to play on FanDuel’s site. Despite Haskell’s claims that he didn’t have the data in time to benefit from it (and DraftKings’ statement that an internal investigation found no insider trading), his stratospheric success since going to work for DraftKings is hard for some to ignore. For the week of this incident alone, he raked in $350,000 on FanDuel. But he’s been killing it for some time now—at least ever since he started working at the company. This site breaks down his track record before and after June 2014, when he began with DraftKings. His ascent is startling. If this is indeed a coincidence, it’s a big one. Read More > at Slate

CBO: Treasury to Deplete Cash Early Next Month Unless Debt Cap Rises – The U.S. Treasury will run out of cash in the first half of November if the federal borrowing limit isn’t raised, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday in an updated estimate.

The nonpartisan budget office moved up its forecast of how long the U.S. could pay its bills without an increase in the debt limit by several weeks due to a larger-than-expected budget deficit in September. Previously, the CBO said the Treasury would run out of cash between the middle of November and early December.

The latest CBO forecast largely mirrors the latest guidance from Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew. The Treasury has used so-called extraordinary measures since mid-March to remain below the federal borrowing limit, which is at $18.1 trillion.

…The CBO said Wednesday that if the debt limit isn’t increased, the Treasury would run a very low cash balance in early November, and it would be depleted shortly after that. Failing to raise the debt limit would lead to delays in payments of government activities, a default on the government’s debt obligations, or both, the CBO said.

Analysts at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank, have estimated the Treasury would run out of money between Nov. 10 and 19.

The debt limit has prompted increasingly bitter partisan fights in recent years that have gone down to the wire. Republicans have viewed the measure as one way to gain leverage and push for government spending cuts, but the White House says it won’t negotiate on debt-limit increases. Read More > at NASDAQ

Pope Francis faces ‘poison bait’ plots to destabilise from within
Conservatives within the Catholic Church are trying to lay “poisoned bait” for Pope Francis, it has been claimed just days after the pontiff faced a rebellion from Vatican cardinals opposed to his more liberal stance.

With the Pontiff mid-way through a Vatican summit on the family that has been dogged by scandal and rumours of plotting, Italian newspapers on Wednesday reported numerous accounts of plots to destabilise Pope Francis.

Nello Scavo, a journalist at Avvenire, an Italian daily linked to the Catholic Church, told La Repubblica there was a concerted move to “weaken the character and the strength of Pope Francis”.

“There is an ideological battle, it is true,” said Mr Scavo, the author of a new book entitled The Enemies of Francis. “In recent years there have also been some inside the curia who have tried to lay poisoned bait for Francis.”

He cited the example of Krzysztof Charamsa, a senior Vatican official and Polish priest, who came out publicly as gay just a day before the Vatican summit began, criticising what he called “institutionalised homophobia in the church”.

Monsignor Charamsa also claimed that a majority of priests were gay, before being sacked just hours later by the Vatican. Read More > in The Telegraph

How scientists fool themselves – and how they can stop – …This is the big problem in science that no one is talking about: even an honest person is a master of self-deception. Our brains evolved long ago on the African savannah, where jumping to plausible conclusions about the location of ripe fruit or the presence of a predator was a matter of survival. But a smart strategy for evading lions does not necessarily translate well to a modern laboratory, where tenure may be riding on the analysis of terabytes of multidimensional data. In today’s environment, our talent for jumping to conclusions makes it all too easy to find false patterns in randomness, to ignore alternative explanations for a result or to accept ‘reasonable’ outcomes without question — that is, to ceaselessly lead ourselves astray without realizing it.

Failure to understand our own biases has helped to create a crisis of confidence about the reproducibility of published results, says statistician John Ioannidis, co-director of the Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. The issue goes well beyond cases of fraud. Earlier this year, a large project that attempted to replicate 100 psychology studies managed to reproduce only slightly more than one-third2. In 2012, researchers at biotechnology firm Amgen in Thousand Oaks, California, reported that they could replicate only 6 out of 53 landmark studies in oncology and haematology3. And in 2009, Ioannidis and his colleagues described how they had been able to fully reproduce only 2 out of 18 microarray-based gene-expression studies4.

Although it is impossible to document how often researchers fool themselves in data analysis, says Ioannidis, findings of irreproducibility beg for an explanation. The study of 100 psychology papers is a case in point: if one assumes that the vast majority of the original researchers were honest and diligent, then a large proportion of the problems can be explained only by unconscious biases. “This is a great time for research on research,” he says. “The massive growth of science allows for a massive number of results, and a massive number of errors and biases to study. So there’s good reason to hope we can find better ways to deal with these problems.”

…Although the human brain and its cognitive biases have been the same for as long as we have been doing science, some important things have changed, says psychologist Brian Nosek, executive director of the non-profit Center for Open Science in Charlottesville, Virginia, which works to increase the transparency and reproducibility of scientific research. Today’s academic environment is more competitive than ever. There is an emphasis on piling up publications with statistically significant results — that is, with data relationships in which a commonly used measure of statistical certainty, the p-value, is 0.05 or less. “As a researcher, I’m not trying to produce misleading results,” says Nosek. “But I do have a stake in the outcome.” And that gives the mind excellent motivation to find what it is primed to find. Read More > at Nature

If You’re Not Paranoid, You’re Crazy – I knew we’d bought walnuts at the store that week, and I wanted to add some to my oatmeal. I called to my wife and asked her where she’d put them. She was washing her face in the bathroom, running the faucet, and must not have heard me—she didn’t answer. I found the bag of nuts without her help and stirred a handful into my bowl. My phone was charging on the counter. Bored, I picked it up to check the app that wirelessly grabs data from the fitness band I’d started wearing a month earlier. I saw that I’d slept for almost eight hours the night before but had gotten a mere two hours of “deep sleep.” I saw that I’d reached exactly 30 percent of my day’s goal of 13,000 steps. And then I noticed a message in a small window reserved for miscellaneous health tips. “Walnuts,” it read. It told me to eat more walnuts.

It was probably a coincidence, a fluke. Still, it caused me to glance down at my wristband and then at my phone, a brand-new model with many unknown, untested capabilities. Had my phone picked up my words through its mic and somehow relayed them to my wristband, which then signaled the app?

The devices spoke to each other behind my back—I’d known they would when I “paired” them—but suddenly I was wary of their relationship. Who else did they talk to, and about what? And what happened to their conversations? Were they temporarily archived, promptly scrubbed, or forever incorporated into the “cloud,” that ghostly entity with the too-disarming name?

It was the winter of 2013, and these “walnut moments” had been multiplying—jarring little nudges from beyond that occurred whenever I went online. One night the previous summer, I’d driven to meet a friend at an art gallery in Hollywood, my first visit to a gallery in years. The next morning, in my inbox, several spam e-mails urged me to invest in art. That was an easy one to figure out: I’d typed the name of the gallery into Google Maps. Another simple one to trace was the stream of invitations to drug and alcohol rehab centers that I’d been getting ever since I’d consulted an online calendar of Los Angeles–area Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Since membership in AA is supposed to be confidential, these e‑mails irked me. Their presumptuous, heart-to-heart tone bugged me too. Was I tired of my misery and hopelessness? Hadn’t I caused my loved ones enough pain? Read More > in The Atlantic

Dear Nevada, Screw You. Sincerely, San Francisco – For years, the Las Vegas Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital, Nevada’s primary state mental facility, gave discharged patients a bus ticket out of town. Poor and mentally ill, they ended up homeless in cities around the country—especially in California, where more than 500 psychiatric patients were sent over a five year period.

Twenty-four of these patients landed in San Francisco, costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical care, housing, and services. Now Nevada has agreed to cover the costs—or most of them at least. On Monday a tentative settlement was reached and the state agreed to pay $400,000, just short of the $500,000 San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued for back in 2013. The settlement is expected to be approved by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors and Nevada’s Board of Examiners later this month.

The class action lawsuit filed by Herrera followed an investigation by the Sacramento Bee, which revealed that 1,500 Nevada homeless patients had been given bus tickets, and were advised to seek medical care elsewhere. A third were sent to California, landing in major cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, which are already struggling to house a growing number homeless people.

Chronically homeless people—especially those with mental illnesses—can cost millions. As we reported earlier this year the county of Santa Clara spent $520 million a year, mostly on the hospital stays and the cost of jailing the persistently homeless—a mere 2,800 people. Read More > at Public CEO

UberRush debuts in San Francisco, as delivery services flourish – Uber customers in San Francisco will now be able to order food and goods from the ride-sharing service, as the company’s new courier service expands to the city Wednesday.

The feature, UberRush, is a smartphone-based courier service. Previously only available in New York, Uber’s customers in San Francisco and Chicago can now begin using it to buy things from local merchants. Uber will charge a slight mark up in San Francisco and Chicago of a 25 percent fee, compared with only 20 percent in New York, beginning the service today.

…The feature is only the latest in a suite of a new offerings from the company designed to help it better compete with a crowded marketplace full of sharp-elbowed rivals like Lyft. Last month, Uber rolled out a new feature that allows event planners to buy rides for their guests.

That new feature, dubbed UberEvents, is currently in testing mode in San Francisco. Uber said it hopes it will be used for events like weddings and company parties. Both products are attempts by the company to differentiate itself from the cab industry, by offering customizable services. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Barnidge: If you can name a new issue, California can regulate it – Earlier this week, we got our annual update on just how imperfect our state is. We learned about all the new bills Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law to correct the areas in which California is deficient.

Last year at this time, he put his John Hancock on 930 bills. The year before, the number was in excess of 800. The calculator is still humming on this year’s tally, but history says it will be in the same ballpark.

For a state that’s been around for 165 years — and presumably growing wiser with age — we have a surprising number of things that still need fixing. Fortunately, our policy-crazed legislators are more than up to the task.

The new flock of laws includes one that regulates the operation of an “electrically motorized board,” described as a one-person wheeled device no larger than 60 inches by 18 inches and capable of speeds up to 20 miles per hour. I wouldn’t have thought of regulating them because I didn’t know they exist.

Another new law requires public schools to provide “reasonable accommodations” on campus for a lactating student to express (pump) milk or breast-feed a baby. Again, it’s a good thing legislators keep turning over rocks. How did we get along without this for 165 years?

…Our elected representatives are forever searching for things that need mending. Still, not all of their ideas catch the governor’s fancy, even after surviving committee hearings, amendments, rewrites and floor votes in both houses. Read More > in the Contra Costa Times

Bud Light’s Bud-E Fridge Is The 1st Smart Beer Fridge – Drinking beer and watching football is hard. Bud Light wants to make it easier.

Bud Light has launched what it’s trumpeting as the first “smart beer fridge,” allowing you to manage your brews directly from a smartphone. And, yes, before you ask: The Wi-Fi fridge will work with other 12-ounce cans and bottles.

The Android and iOS app can also:

**warn you if your stock is running low before your favorite team’s game day;

**sound an alarm when someone has taken a beer; and

**count down to reaching optimal beer temperature.

Anheuser Busch developed the fridge in conjunction with Buzz Connect and Linq IQ, but it’s only available for consumers living in California at this time. If you live in San Diego, Los Angeles or San Francisco, you can also order more beer via Saucey, an alcohol-delivery service. Read More > at Twice

Pepsi confirms it’s building a smartphone – We raised an eyebrow at the rumor, we were surprised when specs leaked, but now Pepsi has confirmed to techradar that it is indeed making a smartphone.

In fact, it’s making more than one and a load of accessories too!

A spokesperson for the company told techradar “We are pleased to share that Pepsi is working with a licensing partner to bring a line of mobile phones and accessories to market in China in the next few months.”

It’s currently not clear what the handsets will offer customers over the Pepsi logo on their phone, but we’re likely to hear a lot more about the firm’s intentions over the coming weeks.

Don’t get too excited though, as the likelihood is you’ll never get your hands on a Pepsi phone. “Available in China only, this effort is similar to recent globally licensed Pepsi products which include apparel and accessories” the spokesperson continued. Read More > at Techradar

 

Google, Walmart and corporate energy 2.0 – For much of the 20th century, vertically integrated utility monopolies owned and controlled the electric generation and transmission lines needed to serve homes, businesses, schools and hospitals within their territories.

This system was paternalistic. Like children, retail customers got security but had little freedom — and became crucially dependent on fossil fuels.

Today we are in the midst of a fundamental disruption of the utility sector, the birth of “energy 2.0,” based on sustainable, renewable fuel sources, smart digital technologies and robust customer choice. The cumulative impact may well be a dramatic reduction in the role of monopolistic utilities.

Among the most recent — and potentially the most disruptive — developments related to this trend is America’s major corporations maneuvering around utilities, going directly to independent wind and solar generators to purchase thousands of megawatts of clean energy.

…Growing customer choice and affordable renewable energy have led to an exciting new opportunity: direct corporate offtake.

Over the past five years, independent producers have sold several thousand megawatts of wind and solar power directly to major corporate customers such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.

Because of the large amounts of energy and household-name companies involved, some people claim that corporate PPAs are the biggest disruption to the power status quo yet.

Google kicked off the current corporate PPA trend in 2009 with its purchase of 114 MW of wind from a NextEra project in Iowa. Since then, the most publicized deals also largely have been in the consumer-driven, brand-obsessed high-tech sector. Read More > at GreenBiz

U.S. Supreme Court rejects challenge to state’s ‘top-two’ primary – The U.S. Supreme Court turned aside a challenge by small political parties Tuesday to California’s “top-two” primary system, which requires all candidates to run in a single open primary election and moves the two top vote-getters, regardless of party label, into a November runoff.

A 2010 ballot measure, approved by 54 percent of the voters, established the new system in place of party primaries for all state and federal offices except the presidency. It was backed by business groups, which prefer more centrist candidates from both major parties, particularly the Democrats, because the more moderate candidate in a heavily Democratic district would presumably pick up Republican voters.

The system has largely shut out smaller parties, which formerly could run their top candidate in November after holding their own primaries. A lawsuit by the statewide Libertarian and Peace and Freedom parties, the Green Party of Alameda County and several of their candidates contended the law was discriminatory and that a party with substantial public support has a right to take part in the general statewide election, which has a much higher turnout than the primaries. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

U.S. earthquake fears spur more drills: ‘Drop, cover, hold on’ – Three months ago when an earthquake rattled Mickey Hart’s office, the Crescent, Oklahoma public school superintendent didn’t know what to do.

“I froze,” said Hart, who leads the school district of 650 students in the small community north of Oklahoma City. Several of the district’s buildings were damaged in the July quake as ceiling tiles shattered and walls cracked.

School district officials are now planning their first earthquake drills, Hart said. They are not alone.

On Thursday the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)and other government agencies are organizing the “Great ShakeOut” earthquake drill, a series of events across the United States aimed at preparing people to survive damaging seismic activity.

About 3 million people are signed up to participate across 14 central states that include Oklahoma, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois and for the first time, Texas, up from 2.76 million a year ago, organizers said. Nationwide, nearly 19 million people are registered for the drills, FEMA said.

While common in California and other states where quakes are frequent, such drills are still relatively new in the central United States. But they are gaining in popularity as earthquake activity surges in both frequency and intensity. Read More > at Yahoo! News

Harvard University Study Reveals Astonishing Link Between Firearms, Crime and Gun Control –  According to a study in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, which cites the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the United Nations International Study on Firearms Regulation, the more guns a nation has, the less criminal activity.

In other words, more firearms, less crime, concludes the virtually unpublicized research report by attorney Don B. Kates and Dr. Gary Mauser. But the key is firearms in the hands of private citizens.

“The study was overlooked when it first came out in 2007,” writes Michael Snyder, “but it was recently re-discovered and while the findings may not surprise some, the place where the study was undertaken is a bit surprising. The study came from the Harvard Journal of Law, that bastion of extreme, Ivy League liberalism. Titled Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide?, the report “found some surprising things.”

The popular assertion that the United States has the industrialized world’s highest murder rate, says the Harvard study, is a throwback to the Cold War when Russian murder rates were nearly four times higher than American rates. In a strategic disinformation campaign, the U.S. was painted worldwide as a gunslinging nightmare of street violence – far worse than what was going on in Russia. The line was repeated so many times that many believed it to be true. Now, many still do. Read More > at Beliefnet

Dell. EMC. HP. Cisco. These Tech Giants Are the Walking Dead – …First, Pure Storage, a Silicon Valley startup that sells a new kind of hardware for storing large amounts of digital data, made its Wall Street debut. Later in the day, The Wall Street Journal reported that big-name computer tech company Dell was in talks to buy EMC, a storage outfit that’s much older and much larger than Pure Storage (the deal was announced this morning). And during an event in Las Vegas, Amazon introduced a sweeping collection of new cloud computing services that let you juggle vast amounts of data without setting up your own hardware.

That may seem like a lot to wrap your head around, but the story is really quite simple. For decades, if you were building a business and you needed to store lots o’ data, EMC was your main option. You gave the company lots o’ money, and it gave you some hefty machines packed with hard disks and some software for storing data on those hard disks. The trick was that you could only get that software from EMC. So, anytime you wanted to store more data, you gave EMC more money. This made the company very rich.

But then little companies like Pure Storage came along and sold storage gear built around flash, a much faster alternative to hard drives, letting you juggle more data more quickly and, potentially, for less money. But more importantly, cloud computing companies like Amazon came along, letting you store data on their machines. These machines sat on the other side of the Internet, but you could access them from anywhere, at any time. That meant you didn’t have to buy hardware from EMC or anyone else.

That’s the subtext as EMC, once a giant of the tech world, merges with Dell, a company that isn’t exactly on the rise. Dell, in fact, suffers from the same conundrum as EMC—a conundrum that grew so onerous, Dell went private. This conundrum also plagues HP. And IBM. And Cisco. And Oracle. As Bloomberg Business feature writer, Elon Musk biographer, and unparalleled Silicon Valley hack Ashlee Vance puts it: “Why don’t IBM, HP, EMC, Dell and Cisco all merge and get this thing over with?” Read More > at Wired

SD7: Bonilla won’t run against Glazer in 2016 – Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla won’t run next year against fellow Democrat state Sen. Steve Glazer, who defeated her in the 7th State Senate District’s special election earlier this year.

In a Facebook post Monday morning, Bonilla, D-Concord, indicated she doesn’t want a do-over of that ugly race.

“I believe our efforts are best spent in uniting our collective voices to help achieve a better quality of life for our entire community,” she wrote. “Having our community experience a negative and divisive election based on lies, personal attacks, and defamation of character is harmful and damaging for our community. Running for public office should always be focused on a debate of ideas and values that will help our community and not tear us apart.”

“Therefore, in order to ensure that all of our collective efforts remain focused on building a stronger foundation for the next generation of families, I am announcing that I will not run for State Senate in 2016,” she wrote. “I hope we can continue to work together for the betterment of our state, community, and our families as I complete my term in the Assembly in December 2016. Together, we can ensure the next generation of Californians will achieve their dreams by having high quality schools, good paying jobs, and safe communities in which to raise their families.”

Glazer, D-Orinda, beat Bonilla by 9 percentage points in the May special election to fill the vacancy left by Mark DeSaulnier’s election to Congress last year. The contest between the centrist Glazer and union-backed liberal Bonilla saw tremendous independent spending and a corresponding avalanche of negative advertising that soured many of the district’s voters. Read More > in the Political Blotter

Compulsive Texting Takes Toll on Teenagers – Teenagers use text messaging more than any other mode of communication, so it may be hard to tell. But youngsters who check their phones continually, snap if you interrupt them and are so preoccupied with texting that they skip sleep and don’t get their work done may be compulsive texters, a new study says. For girls, compulsive texting is more than just a distraction – it is also associated with lower academic performance.

The study of more than 400 eighth and 11th graders found that many teenage texters had a lot in common with compulsive gamblers, including losing sleep because of texting, problems cutting back on texting and lying to cover up the amount of time they spent texting.

“Compulsivity is more than just the number of texts teens are engaging in,” said Kelly M. Lister-Landman, the paper’s lead author and an assistant professor of psychology at Delaware County Community College in Media, Pa. “What is their relationship with phone use? Do they feel anxious when it’s not around them? When they sit down to eat dinner with their family, do they feel a need to check it? Do they feel compelled to look at it at all times, rather than just answering texts they get?

Over all, girls text compulsively at a far higher rate than boys do. And unlike girls, boys in the study who were compulsive texters were not at risk of doing poorly in school. Read More > in The New York Times

PPIC Survey Looks at Taxes and Pensions – As interest groups work to turn their ideas into initiatives for next year’s statewide ballot, the September PPIC Statewide Survey examined Californians’ views in two areas that may be put before voters in 2016: taxes and public employee pension reform.

Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO, and Dean Bonner, associate survey director, presented the findings at a briefing in Sacramento last week.

Among the survey findings:

  • Half of likely voters favor extending the tax increases in Proposition 30 temporarily, but just a third favor making them permanent.
  • There is bipartisan support for raising taxes on cigarette purchases.
  • A majority of likely voters favor changing Proposition 13 to tax commercial properties according to their current market value.
  • Solid majorities of Californians see public pension spending as a problem, and most think voters should weigh in on changes to the system.
  • Most likely voters favor placing new public employees in a defined contribution system, similar to a 401(k) plan, rather than a defined benefits system. Read More > at Public CEO

The Dilemma of Teaching Ethics to Self-Driving Cars – It didn’t take long riding in Google’s self-driving car last week to realize that the technology is not only ready for the road, but in some instances makes better decisions than human drivers—slowing and yielding to bicyclists, for example.

But in order to do more than just creep along city streets, autonomous technology will have to make the kind of critical decisions that are second nature to experienced human drivers. And it may have to negotiate ethical dilemmas as much as tricky driving situations.

As an example, self-driving technology adds a new twist to the century-old philosophical dilemma known as the “trolley problem.” In this scenario, a person has to decide whether to pull a lever at a Y intersection and drive over one person who is tied to the track in order to save five people tied to the adjacent track.

For self-driving cars, this has been recast as the “tunnel problem.” Imagine that an autonomous vehicle is traveling on a single-lane mountain road and about to enter a tunnel, when a child inadvertently crosses into its path just inside the entrance so that the car has to make a split-second decision. Does it continue straight and hit the child? Or does it swerve and hit the tunnel, injuring or killing the car’s occupants?

…Experienced human drivers have been programmed for years to deal with split-second decisions—and they still don’t always make the right ones. But after seeing how Google’s self-driving vehicles react to everyday decisions, and hearing about the work that Stanford Revs and the school’s philosophy department is conducting, I’m betting that the cars will ultimately make smarter decisions. Read More > at PC Magazine

Our list of what bills passed, what was vetoed by Brown – After the dust settled Sunday on the final day of the year’s regular legislative session, business groups were quick to claim victory over a torrent of labor-backed bills.

Here is a short wrap up of Brown’s action on bills that mattered most to businesses:

Approved:

Grocery Stores

The governor approved a law guaranteeing grocery workers 90 days of job protection after an ownership change. Assembly Bill 359 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez was the CalChamber’s single “job killer” that passed into law.

Franchise Agreements

Brown also approved a law that removes the right of corporate chains to fire franchisees unless they substantially breach their contract. The deal, which represented a compromise between franchisees and franchisors, was heralded by the Service Employees International Union as “a significant victory for fairness,” according to a statement from Mary Kay Henry, international president of SEIU.

Vetoed:

Arbitration agreements

The governor vetoed a bill that would have banned mandatory employee arbitration agreements.

ADA reform

The governor rejected a measure that would have provided lawsuit protections to small businesses for select kinds of ADA violations. But that’s not why Brown rejected Senate Bill 251. Because the bill also included a tax credit,

2015 legislative session by the numbers

2,300 – Approximate number of bills introduced by lawmakers this year.

941 – Number of bills the Legislature advanced to Brown’s desk, or 40 percent of those introduced.

808 – Number of bills the governor signed into law.

133 – Number of vetoes, for a veto rate of 14.1 percent, up slightly from the prior year. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Brown rejects labor-backed laws in sweeping bill package – Gov. Jerry Brown barred public schools from using the Redskins name, strengthened the state’s vaccine rules by requiring mandatory vaccination for day care workers and handed a win to the business community by vetoing two bills on the Chamber of Commerce list of so-called “job killers” as he took action on dozens of pieces of legislation Sunday.

Brown rejected lawmakers’ efforts to expand the state’s unpaid family leave policy, vetoing legislation by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, that would have expanded the pool of workers who can take up to 12 weeks off to care for grandparents, grandchildren, siblings and parents-in-law. He agreed with CalChamber’s argument that SB406 conflicts with federal law and could require employers to provide up to 24 weeks of family leave in a year.

…He also rejected a so-called “right to try” law that would have allowed terminally ill patients to petition drug companies for access to experimental treatments that have not yet been approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration but have already cleared the first phase of testing. That decision came just days after the Democratic governor signed a law allowing terminally ill patients to end their own lives with a physician’s help

…In the wake of California’s adoption of one of the strictest school vaccination laws in the country, Brown moved to further tighten the rules, signing SB792, legislation requiring day care centers and homes to maintain immunization records proving their workers and volunteers have been vaccinated for the flu, pertussis and the measles. They already are screened for tuberculosis.

– Smokeless tobacco: He signed AB768 by Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, to prohibit using or possessing smokeless tobacco products on the playing field at professional baseball parks; he also signed AB216 by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, which prohibits the sale of vapor products to anyone under age 18, even if they don’t contain nicotine.

– Confederate names: Brown rejected SB539 by Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, which would have banned naming schools, parks, buildings and other public property after Confederate leaders, saying it’s an issue “quintessentially for local decision makers.” Glazer said local governments have had decades to remove Confederate names and haven’t done so. Read More > in the Associated Press

University of Toronto Dumps Transgender Bathrooms After Peeping Incidents – The administration at the University of Toronto was recently enlightened on why two separate washrooms are generally established for men and women sharing co-ed residencies.

The University is temporarily changing its policy on gender-neutral bathrooms after two separate incidents of “voyeurism” were reported on campus September 15 and 19. Male students within the University’s Whitney Hall student residence were caught holding their cellphones over female students’ shower stalls and filming them as they showered.

Melinda Scott, dean of students at the University of Toronto, told The Daily Wire that campus police had been contacted immediately and worked with residence staff to “support impacted students and ensure the safety of the Residences.” Read More > at The Daily Wire

How scientists are upgrading the brain with machines – Cathy Hutchinson was a 53-year-old mother of two who, in 1996, suffered a brain-stem stroke, leaving her a quadriplegic.

Ten years later, she became a research subject of a company called Cyberkinetics. The company implanted a device on her brain called the Utah array, “a pill-sized implant whose 96 microelectrodes bristle from its base like a bed of nails.”

Using this, Hutchinson was connected to a computer with two robotic arms by her side. She was instructed to think about positioning one of the arms by a nearby bottle; then, to think about grasping the bottle. Her doing so “prompted the arm to execute a complex gesture — lowering the hand, grasping the bottle and lifting it off the table.”

She then “brought the arm toward her and positioned it by her mouth. She thought again of squeezing her hand, which this time prompted the arm to tilt at the wrist, tipping the bottle so she could drink from its straw.”

It was the first time in almost 15 years Hutchinson was able to lift something on her own.

…By implanting electrodes onto someone’s brain, scientists can map “the electric current of thought itself — the millions of electrical impulses, known as action potentials, that consciously volley between the brain’s estimated 100 billion neurons.”

This “electric language” — like “an exponentially complicated form of Morse code” — is “what makes consciousness possible.” By translating these neural signals into computer language, scientists can create “a brain-computer interface,” granting subjects “mental control over computers and machines.” Read More > in the New York Post

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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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