Sunday Reading – 11/08/15


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.

Study: Menu Calorie Counts Do Not Lead to Healthier Food Choices – Starting in December of 2016, all restaurants, stores and businesses that serve prepared food will be forced to display the calorie counts on their menus. The purpose of this government-mandated shaming exercise, straight from the mouth of the FDA:

“Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home and people today expect clear information about the products they consume,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said. The effort is just one way Americans can combat obesity, she added.

Is it really? A new study suggests not.

“Some six years out from New York City’s attempt to curb the obesity epidemic by mandating calorie counts in chain restaurants, researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center have found that calorie labels, on their own, have not reduced the overall number of calories that consumers of fast food order and presumably eat.”

The study will be published in the November issue of Health Affairs.

Researchers found that the average number of calories bought by patrons at each sitting between January 2013 and June 2014 was statistically the same as those in a similar survey of 1,068 fast-food diners in 2008, when New York City initially imposed menu labeling. Diners were surveyed at major fast-food chains: McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and Wendy’s.

Calorie counts in the 2013-2014 analysis averaged between 804 and 839 per meal at menu-labeled restaurants, and between 802 and 857 per meal at non-labeled eateries; whereas, they averaged 783 per meal for labeled restaurants and 756 per meal for non-labeled restaurants shortly after the policy was introduced.

“Our study suggests that menu labeling, in particular at fast-food restaurants, will not on its own lead to any lasting reductions in calories consumed,” says study senior investigator Brian Elbel, PhD. Read More > at Tatler

California Cops Are Using These Biometric Gadgets in the Field – Law enforcement agencies around the country are increasingly embracing biometric technology, which uses intrinsic physical or behavioral characteristics—such as fingerprints, facial features, irises, tattoos, or DNA—to identify people, sometimes even instantly. Just as the technology that powers your cell phone has shrunk both in size and cost, mobile biometric technologies are now being deployed more widely and cheaply than ever before—and with less oversight.

Mobile biometric technology includes mobile devices and apps that police use to capture and analyze a person’s physical features in the field and submit that information to a central database for matching. Ostensibly, police deploy this technology as a means to confirm the identity of someone during a stop. Read More > at EFF

Facebook links with media groups to launch news app – Facebook is preparing its latest push into news with a new standalone app called Notify that is scheduled to launch next week, with content from dozens of media partners including Vogue, the Washington Post and CBS.

The standalone app will alert users to new stories from professional media outlets as Facebook squares up against Snapchat and Twitter in a battle for mobile news, raising the stakes for media and publishing companies trying to reach the smartphone generation.

It follows a positive response from publishers and readers to Facebook’s Instant Articles, which embed stories in its mobile app. In a sign of its growing confidence in news distribution, two weeks ago Facebook launched Instant Articles to all iPhone users after months of testing the service. Thousands of articles are pushed out every day to its vast mobile audience, with a promise to publishers that faster load times will increase readership and engagement.

Notify, Facebook’s follow-up to Instant Articles, will be made available as a standalone app next week, according to people familiar with its plans. It will feature content from a range of print, digital and video companies, including Vogue, Mashable, CNN and the Washington Post. CBS, Comedy Central and Billboard magazine are also involved. Read More > in the Financial Times

This Is Why You Scratch an Itch – Scientists have long struggled to explain what actually causes the sensation of itching – now we know what to blame.

Having an itch can be incredibly annoying but it actually serves an important function, protecting us from damage to our skin. However, scientists have long struggled to explain what actually causes the sensation – in particular why some types of touch cause an itch whereas others do not.

The itching sensation usually occurs following a light touch on the hairy skin of our bodies. This triggers us to move our hand to the source of the insult and scratch away at it. While seemingly mindless, this simple behaviour is our body’s neat way of attempting to protect us from damage to our skin from objects in the environment or nasty insects and parasites.

…The new study is important because it has started to unravel how this process works. It reveals a specialised group of cells, a subpopulation of “inhibitory spinal interneurons”, which exist in the spine and act as a gateway between the skin and the brain. These inhibitory cells work to either allow an itch sensation to travel up to the brain or stop it in its path by inhibiting the message. Read More > at Gizmodo

Why politicians are asking the wrong questions about gender inequality – ONE issue that virtually every Democratic presidential candidate has weighed in on this year is the wage gap between the sexes. The most commonly-cited statistic is that women make just 77 cents for every dollar men do, with the implication being that the 23-cent gap is a result of discrimination. While the statistic is accurate, interpreting it requires some nuance: at least some of the gender pay gap can be explained by differences in things like the number of hours worked or type of careers each gender pursues.

Economic research suggests that the majority of the gender pay gap is because of differences within occupations rather than across them. What is tougher to determine is if women make less for “same work”: studies tend to rely on data from the US Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labour Statistics which are reliable but lack detail when it comes to specific occupations. For instance, in the American Community Survey, one of the most popular sources of data, all doctors fall under the classification “physicians and surgeons” which is problematic since salaries can vary greatly depending on what sort of specialism they practice.

A new report from PayScale, a jobs website, takes a stab at this very problem by looking at the gender gap in various occupations controlling for factors including experience, education, company size, and crucially, job title. According to their data, female doctors make 29.2% less than their male counterparts, but that gap shrinks to just 4.6% after introducing the controls. This in part because women are more likely to work in paediatrics, while men are more likely to work in the better-paid field of surgery. A similar pattern exists for lawyers: women make 14.8% less than men, but just 4.1% less on an adjusted basis. Again, there are differences in the types of jobs taken by men and women: 8.7% of female lawyers work for non-profit outfits, compared to just 4.5% for male ones. The pay gap for all workers is 25.6% before such differences are controlled for, and 2.7% afterwards.

A paper published last year by Claudia Goldin, an economist at Harvard University, noted that the gender pay gap was especially acute in law and business, despite the fact that fresh graduates in those fields started at similar salaries. The problem, Ms Goldin notes, is that succeeding at such professions requires copious amounts of “face time”. On the other hand, pharmacists, for whom there is little penalty for working part-time, experience virtually no gender pay gap. Read More > in The Economist

What Technology Should Be Un-Invented? – Silicon Valley celebrates and rewards innovation (or so it brags). Industry leaders often speak winsomely of disruption, progress, and human invention.

So when we ran an unscientific poll of leaders and thinkers in tech, we had to ask: Which technology do you wish you could un-invent? What innovation do you think should go “back in the box” and be banished forever?

The two winning responses were: selfie sticks and nuclear weapons.

But let’s go through some runners-up first.

Some respondents thought of communication technologies they use or see every day. Two would dismiss 24-hour cable news. Three said that email should be abolished. Five called for Facebook’s destruction or the reduction of social media more generally. Vint Cerf, a vice president at Google, would get rid of the telephone (but not the smartphones that followed). Read More > in The Atlantic

Get ready for the lowest holiday-gas prices in 7 years – This holiday season, U.S. drivers may pay the lowest prices for gasoline since 2008, according to AAA.

As of Wednesday, the leisure travel and motoring organization pegged the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline at $2.199. That is the lowest average for this date since 2004. It is also down about 77 cents from a year ago and 9 cents less than a month ago.

“The fuel savings continue to add up with pump prices in many areas below $2 per gallon,” said AAA spokesman Avery Ash, in a statement. “It looks increasingly likely that drivers will find the cheapest gas prices for both Thanksgiving and Christmas in seven years.”

Drivers can find at least one station selling gasoline for less than $2 a gallon in 41 states and eight states have average prices under $2, AAA said. Drivers are spending about $275 million less a day on gasoline compared with a year ago.

Even so, AAA warned that many regions are likely to experience higher gas prices in the first half of this month because of continued refinery maintenance and a recent rise in crude-oil costs. Read More > at Market Watch

Big and deadly: Major foodborne outbreaks spike sharply – Major foodborne outbreaks in the United States have more than tripled in the last 20 years, and the germs most frequently implicated are familiar to most Americans: Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria.

In the most recent five-year period — from 2010 to 2014 — these multistate outbreaks were bigger and deadlier than in years past, causing more than half of all deaths related to contaminated food outbreaks, public health officials said Tuesday. A wide variety of foods were involved, ranging from vegetables and fresh fruits to beef and chicken. Some had never before been linked to outbreaks, such as the caramel apples, tainted with Listeria, that led to an outbreak in which seven people died and 34 were hospitalized in late 2014.

Just last weekend, a rash of E. coli cases in Washington state and Oregon prompted Chipotle to temporarily shutter 43 of its restaurants there. No deaths have been reported. On Tuesday, health officials in Oregon and Washington said the number of cases has jumped to at least 37, with 25 in Washington and 12 in Oregon.

…CDC Director Thomas Frieden said the latest multistate outbreaks are more dangerous because they involve deadlier germs. “On average, there are about two per month, and they can be big and they can be lethal,” he said during the briefing.

Salmonella accounted for most of the illnesses and hospitalizations. It was also the cause of the three largest outbreaks, which were traced to eggs, chicken and raw ground tuna. Salmonella outbreaks involved nearly twice as many food categories as any other pathogen. Fruit, seeded vegetables, sprouts, nuts and seeds were all contaminated. Read More > in The Washington Post

Death rates rise among white middle-aged US citizens – A heady mix of booze, drug addiction and financial anxiety is dragging white, middle-aged people in the US to an early grave.

An analysis of disease and death rates has found that death rates for white, non-Hispanic US citizens aged 45 to 54 rose by about 0.5 per cent per year between 1999 and 2013. People of the same ages in all other rich countries, as well as black and Hispanic US citizens, saw a 2 per cent fall in death rates per year over the same period.

“I don’t think there’s any single explanation,” says Angus Deaton of Princeton University, who co-authored the analysis with his colleague Anne Case. He says it seems to be a culmination of many slow-acting factors, such as pension worries, alcoholism, lower wages and the availability of addictive painkillers.

…A more detailed breakdown of data showed that death rates have risen fastest among the least-educated white US citizens – those who haven’t progressed beyond high school to university. “Economic gains are going to the top, and not to people with no more than a high-school education,” says Deaton. Read More > in the New Scientist

So Much For The Death Of Sprawl: America’s Exurbs Are Booming – It’s time to put an end to the urban legend of the impending death of America’s suburbs. With the aging of the millennial generation, and growing interest from minorities and immigrants, these communities are getting a fresh infusion of residents looking for child-friendly, affordable, lower-density living.

We first noticed a takeoff in suburban growth in 2013, following a stall-out in the Great Recession. This year research from Brookings confirms that peripheral communities — the newly minted suburbs of the 1990s and early 2000s — are growing more rapidly than denser, inner ring areas.

Peripheral, recent suburbs accounted for roughly 43% of all U.S. residences in 2010. Between July 2013 and July 2014, core urban communities lost a net 363,000 people overall, Brookings demographer Bill Frey reports, as migration increased to suburban and exurban counties. The biggest growth was in exurban areas, or the “suburbiest” places on the periphery.

How could this be? If you read most major newspapers, or listened to NPR or PBS, you would think that the bulk of American job and housing growth was occurring closer to the inner core. Yet more than 80% of employment growth from 2007 to 2013 was in the newer suburbs and exurbs. Between 2012 and 2015, as the economy improved, occupied suburban office space rose from 75% of the market to 76.7%, according to the real estate consultancy Costar.

These same trends can be seen in older cities as well as the Sun Belt. Cities such as Indianapolis and Kansas City have seen stronger growth in the suburbs than in the core.

This pattern can even be seen in California, where suburban growth is discouraged by state planning policy but seems to be proceeding nevertheless. After getting shellacked in the recession, since 2012 the Inland Empire — long described as a basket case by urbanist pundits — has logged more rapid population growth than either Los Angeles and even generally healthy Orange County. Last year the metro area ranked third in California for job growth, behind suburban Silicon Valley and San Francisco. Read More > in Forbes

State poised to close Dungeness crab fishery after health warning – In a big blow to anglers and seafood lovers, California officials are poised to close both the sport and recreational Dungeness crab fisheries because of tests showing persistently high levels of a dangerous neurotoxin in the succulent crustaceans.

The anticipated closures would at least delay the start of the recreational crab season on Saturday and the commercial season set to start Nov. 15 in most of the state.

The sweeping move follows an advisory issued Tuesday afternoon by the California Department of Public Health warning people not to eat Dungeness or rock crab caught along much of the state’s coastline after the latest round of testing showed continued high levels of a powerful, naturally occurring neurotoxin called domoic acid in the crab meat and viscera, sometimes called crab butter.

The Office of Health Hazard Assessment later issued a recommendation to state Fish and Wildlife recommending a fishery closure from the Oregon border to the southern edge of Santa Barbara County. Santa Barbara has been a domoic acid hot spot. Read More > in The Press Democrat

Recycled wastewater to give Los Angeles County some water independence – Unfazed by the taint of “toilet-to-tap,” the Water Replenishment District of Southern California unveiled another in a series of water recycling projects Tuesday that will help end its reliance on imported water and provide drought-insurance for its customers.

The giant step toward self-sustainability means managers of two of the largest ground water basins in the region will no longer need water pumped from Northern California or the Colorado River in order to serve 4 million customers from 43 cities in south Los Angles County.

In some ways, cities and water companies drawing from the Central and West Coast underground basins will not have to worry about the current dearth of snowpack in the Sierra Nevada or an earthquake cutting off deliveries. Replenishment of the water table will become a local effort for the first time in nearly 60 years.

“Southern California’s road to water independence is not just possible, it is happening here,” said Sergio Calderon, president of the WRD board of directors at the unveiling attended by 250 people.

WRD’s Groundwater Reliability Improvement Project may be spurring newer efforts to augment ground-water supplies with treated wastewater. Read More > in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

The Chilling Regularity of Mass Extinctions – One thing we know for sure is that conditions on Earth were, shall we say, unpleasant for the dinosaurs at the moment of their demise. Alternate and overlapping theories suggest the great beasts were pelted with monster comets, drowned by mega-tsunamis, scorched with lava, starved by a landscape stripped of vegetation, blasted with the radiation of a dying supernova, cloaked in decades of darkness, and frozen in an ice age.

Now, a pair of researchers have new evidence to support a link between cyclical comet showers and mass extinctions, including the one that they believe wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Michael Rampino, a geologist at New York University, and Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, traced 260 million years of mass extinctions and found a familiar pattern: Every 26 million years, there were huge impacts and major die-offs. Their work was accepted by the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society in September.

In recent decades, researchers using other methods have found evidence for a 26-million-year cycle of extinction on Earth, but the idea has remained controversial and unexplained. “I believe that our study, using revised dating of extinctions and craters, and a new method of spectral analysis, is strong evidence for the cycles,” Rampino told me. Read More > in The Atlantic

Staring at computers at night is frying your brain. Here’s one easy fix. – According to the Vision Council, about a third of my generation (X) spends at least nine hours a day on digital devices. Millennials are even worse (in this as in everything).

In the somewhat smaller tribe of people who read and write stuff on the internet for a living, I bet 10 to 12 hours a day isn’t unusual. I’m sure I’ve done it.

It’s not good for our eyes. LED screens emit a great deal of blue light, and according to the Vision Council, “cumulative and constant exposure to blue light can damage retinal cells.”

What’s more, even the non-harmful portion of blue light sends a signal to our brains that it is daytime, revving up our heart rate and alertness. It mimics the sun, basically. You do not want to be lying in bed at night, having brushed your teeth and set your alarm, staring into the sun. It’s not a recipe for good sleep.

Exposure to blue light at night has even been linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. (It is not entirely clear why; it likely has to do with suppressing the secretion of melatonin.)

There are all sorts of solutions to the blue-light problem. The most obvious is just not to look at screens for two or three hours before you go to bed. Read More > at Vox

Southern California water agencies push forward on Delta land purchase – With the future of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta approaching a critical stage, a group of Southern California water agencies is working to buy four Delta islands, a move that has drawn accusations that the parcels could be used to orchestrate a south-state water grab.

The powerful Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and three water agencies in Kern County are working on a joint plan to buy the four agricultural islands, according to the head of the Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District in Bakersfield, one of the participants. Also involved are Semitropic and Wheeler Ridge-Maricopa water storage districts.

Eric Averett, general manager of the Rosedale district, said the buyers could pursue the same plan that the current owner has been working on for years: converting the islands into reservoirs as a way of moving additional water to agencies south of the Delta.

…The four islands – Bacon Island, Bouldin Island, Holland Tract and Webb Tract – have been controlled for 20 years by Zurich American Corp., the U.S. arm of a Swiss insurer. Zurich has been working with Semitropic to gain permits to turn Webb and Bacon into reservoirs. Both lie below sea level some 7 miles from the government-owned pumping stations that deliver Delta water to the south state.

The two islands, which could store a total of up to 70 billion gallons of water, would be flooded in wet years and drained in dry years. Bouldin and Holland would be used for habitat management to offset the impact of flooding the other two islands. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

A ‘huge milestone’: approval of cancer-hunting virus signals new treatment era – A new cancer treatment strategy is on the horizon that experts say could be a game-changer and spare patients the extreme side effects of existing options such as chemotherapy.

But last week the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the first time approved a single treatment that can intelligently target cancer cells while leaving healthy ones alone, and simultaneously stimulate the immune system to fight the cancer itself.

The treatment, which is called T-VEC (for talimogene laherparepvec) but will be sold under the brand name Imlygic, uses a modified virus to hunt cancer cells in what experts said was an important and significant step in the battle against the deadly disease.

It works by introducing a specially modified form of the herpes virus by injection directly into a tumour – specifically skin cancer, the indication for which the drug has been cleared for use. Read More > in The Guardian

Wall Street Sours on Whole Foods Market – Sales of organic and natural products are soaring — but you would never know it from the share price of Whole Foods Market, the premier purveyor of such merchandise.

Shares are almost 50 percent lower than they were in February, the high point of the year.

Investment analysts are almost uniformly negative on the company, worried that competition from mainstream retailers, which are increasing the amount of organic and natural items in their mix, will impede the growth of Whole Foods.

Costco, for instance, claims to be the biggest seller of organic foods, and Walmart now sells Wild Oats, a brand of organic products, at the same price as similar conventional brands.

“Conventional retailers can get it into their stores more cheaply, and they can be more predatory on pricing,” said Mark Retzloff, a pioneer of the natural and organic foods retail business. “If one of those stores is just down the street from a Whole Foods, there’s a big segment of their customer base that isn’t going to shop at Whole Foods anymore.”

The encroachment of traditional retailers onto turf historically dominated by Whole Foods has reminded consumers of the old nickname for the chain, Whole Paycheck, Mr. Retzloff and others say. Read More > in The New York Times

This is a golden era of NFL quarterbacks. Enjoy it – because the next generation is bad – …Countless articles have been written this season about how we as football fans must make sure to appreciate Peyton Manning while he is still playing, even in his diminished 2015 form. The elder Manning has regressed so far that his 0 TD, 1 INT performance in Sunday’s win over the Packers was supposedly a statement game. Just 12 months ago, any game in which Manning didn’t throw at least three touchdowns was an aberration, and now his Sunday game is being called a return to form? “Peyton Manning of old shows up, and the Broncos stay undefeated” read the headline in the New York Times. Ugh. Depressing.

But while we’re all trying to appreciate Manning (while wincing and peering through our fingers), we might want to also carve out time to enjoy the other quarterbacks of his generation who are still playing at a high level. Because the future of the NFL’s most important position is looking worse than a Manning Face after a postseason interception.

Manning is 39. His younger brother, Eli, isn’t all that young any more at 34. Tom Brady is 38, Drew Brees 36, Ben Roethlisberger 33. Even Aaron Rodgers turns 32 next month.

Only one living starting quarterback possesses a Super Bowl ring and is under the age of 30, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. We can – and likely will, unfortunately – continue to argue about whether Joe Flacco (31 in January) is elite, but we can probably all agree that the generation that will replace the older QBs most definitely is not.

…The league is in a similar place now as it was in the late ‘90s. The older generation of QBs is nearing the end of its run and the NFL would like to identify its future icons. The idea was that Andrew Luck would be one of them. Drafted No1 overall by the Colts and supposedly cerebral like his predecessor, it was hoped that Luck would be a more athletic Manning. Instead, he’s playing more like a less hygienic Jay Cutler. After throwing four interceptions in the playoffs last year, giving him 12 interceptions in six career playoff games, Luck is on pace this season to go 6-10 with 26 touchdowns, 24 interceptions and a 71.6 quarterback rating – and a large chunk of those touchdown passes have come in garbage time.

Luck isn’t the next Peyton Manning. That’s OK. There will probably never be another Peyton Manning. But Luck might not even be, you know, to use a fancy scouting term: good. Read More > in The Guardian

San Francisco Implements Laura’s Law – On July 8, 2014, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted in favor of implementing Laura’s Law in the City and County of San Francisco. On November 1, 2015 Laura’s Law was implemented under the direction of Angelica Almeida, Ph.D. for the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The City’s three-person Laura’s Law team will be the first stop for people whose mental health issues could land them in court for mandated care. Twelve counties have now implemented Laura’s Law.

How did Laura’s Law become California law? Laura Wilcox, a 19-year old sophomore from Haverford College, was working at Nevada County’s public mental health clinic during her winter break from college. On January 10, 2001, she and two other people were shot to death by Scott Harlan Thorpe, a 41-year old mental patient who resisted his family’s attempt to seek treatment. Thorpe was found incompetent to stand trial and was sent to Atascadero State Hospital and was later transferred to California’s Napa State Hospital.

Laura Wilcox’s death was the impetus for passage of AB 1421 in 2002, an assisted outpatient treatment program (AOT), which has since become known as Laura’s Law.

For the uninitiated, an AOT program allows court-ordered, intensive outpatient treatment for people with severe mental illnesses who refuse medication because their illness impairs their ability to make rational decisions.

People with psychotic disorders who received court-ordered treatment for 180 days had significantly better outcomes than those who were given either intensive treatment alone, or a court order alone. Thus, AB 1421 provides for a 180 day period of intensive treatment under the supervision of the court. Read More > at Fog City Journal

Baalke’s fall from grace; patience pays off for McKenzie – Remember when Trent Baalke was a genius and Reggie McKenzie was an idiot? Of course you do. Hell, Baalke and McKenzie remember -– clear as day itself.

Baalke started with Jim Harbaugh in 2011, inheriting a promising but woefully underperforming and minimally coached and maximally discouraged team. McKenzie arrived a year later to a team that made the 49ers look like the New England Patriots.

But here’s the difference. Baalke and Harbaugh benefited from that secretly rich roster, sharpened and shaped it to their needs and philosophies, and the 49ers went zero to hero in a single year. And McKenzie was saddled with a bad team, a powerless, hesitant and almost decrepit front office, and a team with next to nothing worth saving.

Three and a half years later, the Raiders are up and coming, and the 49ers are . . . well, let’s face it, they’re the Raiders.

Oakland is now a solid operation with a consistent playing and talent philosophy. It took three years of ardent shoveling, a glorious series of smart draft choices starting with quarterback Derek Carr, and a level of patience that frankly they deserved given the level of ossification left when Al Davis passed.

And in that time, McKenzie was routinely savaged for everything he did, didn’t do, and took his time getting to doing. He caught the hell that Baalke is catching now, and then some. Read More > at CSNBAYAREA

Cats ARE neurotic – and they’re probably also trying to work out how to kill you, say researchers – They are well loved for their immaculate fluffy coats and unique personalities but new research suggests cats do have a much darker side.

A study carried out between the University of Edinburgh and Bronx Zoo compared our beloved domestic cat with its wilder relatives.

Compared with the snow leopard, the Scottish wildcat and the African lion, researchers found these larger predators shared similar characteristics of aggression and neurotic behaviour to domestic cats.

Dominance, impulsiveness and neurotic behaviour are the most common trait shared between the domestic cat and the wild cat.

…’They’re cute and furry and cuddly, but we need to remember when we have cats as pets, we are inviting little predators into our house,’ psychologist Dr. Max Wachtel told 9NEWS. Read More > in the Daily Mail

How Uber’s Autonomous Cars Will Destroy 10 Million Jobs and Reshape the Economy by 2025 I have spent quite a bit of time lately thinking about autonomous cars, and I wanted to summarize my current thoughts and predictions. Most people – experts included – seem to think that the transition to driverless vehicles will come slowly over the coming few decades, and that large hurdles exist for widespread adoption. I believe that this is significant underestimation. Autonomous cars will be commonplace by 2025 and have a near monopoly by 2030, and the sweeping change they bring will eclipse every other innovation our society has experienced. They will cause unprecedented job loss and a fundamental restructuring of our economy, solve large portions of our environmental problems, prevent tens of thousands of deaths per year, save millions of hours with increased productivity, and create entire new industries that we cannot even imagine from our current vantage point.

The transition is already beginning to happen. Elon Musk, Tesla Motor’s CEO, says that their 2015 models will be able to self-drive 90 percent of the time.1 And the major automakers aren’t far behind – according to Bloomberg News, GM’s 2017 models will feature “technology that takes control of steering, acceleration and braking at highway speeds of 70 miles per hour or in stop-and-go congested traffic.”2 Both Google3 and Tesla4 predict that fully-autonomous cars – what Musk describes as “true autonomous driving where you could literally get in the car, go to sleep and wake up at your destination” – will be available to the public by 2020.

Industry experts think that consumers will be slow to purchase autonomous cars – while this may be true, it is a mistake to assume that this will impede the transition. Morgan Stanley’s research shows that cars are driven just 4% of the time,5 which is an astonishing waste considering that the average cost of car ownership is nearly $9,000 per year.6 Next to a house, an automobile is the second most expensive asset that most people will ever buy – it is no surprise that ride sharing services like Uber and car sharing services like Zipcar are quickly gaining popularity as an alternative to car ownership. It is now more economical to use a ride sharing service if you live in a city and drive less than 10,000 miles per year.7 The impact on private car ownership is enormous: a UC-Berkeley study showed that vehicle ownership among car sharing users was cut in half.8 The car purchasers of the future will not be you and me – cars will be purchased and operated by ride sharing and car sharing companies.

…A Columbia University study suggested that with a fleet of just 9,000 autonomous cars, Uber could replace every taxi cab in New York City13 – passengers would wait an average of 36 seconds for a ride that costs about $0.50 per mile.14 Such convenience and low cost will make car ownership inconceivable, and autonomous, on-demand taxis – the ‘transportation cloud’ – will quickly become dominant form of transportation – displacing far more than just car ownership, it will take the majority of users away from public transportation as well. With their $41 billion valuation,15 replacing all 171,000 taxis16 in the United States is well within the realm of feasibility – at a cost of $25,000 per car, the rollout would cost a mere $4.3 billion. Read More > at Zack Kanter

A Mass Migration Crisis, and It May Yet Get Worse – They arrived in an unceasing stream, 10,000 a day at the height, as many as a million migrants heading for Europe this year, pushing infants in strollers and elderly parents in wheelchairs, carrying children on their shoulders and life savings in their socks. They came in search of a new life, but in many ways they were the heralds of a new age.

There are more displaced people and refugees now than at any other time in recorded history — 60 million in all — and they are on the march in numbers not seen since World War II. They are coming not just from Syria, but from an array of countries and regions, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, even Haiti, as well as any of a dozen or so nations in sub-Saharan and North Africa. They are unofficial ambassadors of failed states, unending wars, intractable conflicts.

The most striking thing about the current migration crisis, however, is how much bigger it could still get.

…While the flow of migrants to Europe this year already represents the biggest influx from outside the Continent in modern history, many experts warn that the mass movement may continue and even increase — possibly for years to come. “We are talking about millions of potential refugees trying to reach Europe, not thousands,” Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said in a recent Twitter posting.

Many of the migrants are fleeing persecution, poverty, ethnic and religious strife and war, but these afflictions are often symptoms of more profound changes.

In the Middle East and Africa, borders drawn by Ottoman dynasts and European colonialists are breaking down as the autocratic Arab states that enforced a grim peace for generations continue to implode. Read More > in The New York Times

San Francisco neighbor says don’t call thieves ‘criminals’– Is it wrong to call someone who steals a “criminal”?

In a recent thread on NextDoor, a group of neighbors living in the Noe Valley-Glen Park area were engaged in a discussion around the city’s crime and debated whether labeling a person who commits petty theft as a “criminal” is offensive.

In the site’s Crime and Safety area, where residents share strategies for fighting crime, Malkia Cyril of S.F. suggests that her neighbors stop using the label because it shows lack of empathy and understanding.

Cyril pointed out that instead of calling the thief who took the bicycle from your garage a criminal, you could be more respectful and call him or her “the person who stole my bicycle.”

“I [suggest] that people who commit property crimes are human and deserved to be referred to in terms that acknowledge that,” Cyril, who’s the executive director of the Center for Media Justice in Oakland, writes in the thread. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Kids aren’t spending enough time just going outside – There is much research showing that we spend too little time in the natural world and it has had grave effects on our mental and physical health. Study after study suggests that spending time outside reduces stress for children and adults. Even having a view of nature from a hospital room has been shown to reduce recovery time.

Other studies have found that spending time in nature increases one’s attention span. And in an era when millions of children are being prescribed drugs for ADHD, it is worth noting that there might be ways to help them with fewer side effects. Like turning off the television and telling them to go play outside.

The boomer generation is probably the last one that got to spend any significant amount of time outdoors by themselves. The population shift away from rural areas has had some effect, but it’s much more than that.

According to a survey by professors at Manhattanville College of 800 mothers, almost three-quarters of them recall playing outside every day when they were children. But only a quarter of them say their kids play outside every day. 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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