Sunday Reading – 01/10/16

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.

Favre, Owens, Faneca among Hall of Fame finalists – The quarterback who left the NFL after the 2010 season as the leader in most career passing categories, is among three first-time eligibles to make the list of 15 finalists. Receiver Terrell Owens and guard Alan Faneca, also in their initial year of eligibility, made the cut.

The class of 2016 will be decided on Feb. 6, the day before the Super Bowl, with inductions scheduled for August.

Also making the cut to 15 are Morten Andersen, Steve Atwater, Don Coryell, Terrell Davis, Tony Dungy, Kevin Greene, Marvin Harrison, Joe Jacoby, Edgerrin James, John Lynch, Orlando Pace and Kurt Warner.

Two senior finalists — players whose careers ended more than 25 years ago — were announced last August: Ken Stabler and Dick Stanfel.

A contributor finalist announced in September was Edward DeBartolo Jr., owner of the San Francisco 49ers from 1977-2000. Read More > at WTOP

Will Anybody Buy a Drone Large Enough to Carry a Person? – Attendees at the CES conference in Las Vegas will have an opportunity straight out of the Jetsons today: the chance to ride a quadcopter drone.

The 184, built by Chinese consumer drone maker Ehang, is a 440-pound quadcopter with an enclosed seating area for human passengers. It can carry a person up to 10 miles, or up to 23 minutes, at speeds around 60 miles per hour, according to Ehang cofounder and chief marketing officer Derrick Xiong. And just like a small drone, it is capable of flying at heights of up to 2.15 miles, though drone regulation would likely keep it at just several hundred feet.

If you are ready to race out and buy a 184, consider that they will likely cost between $200,000 and $300,000, keeping them out of reach of the average individual for now. Ehang does plan to ship them this year, and is preparing to begin accepting pre-orders. Read More > in the MIT Technology Review

Is It Time for the Dietary Guidelines to Die? – The 2015 Dietary Guidelines were officially released yesterday. Put out every five years, the guidelines urged Americans to limit salt intake to less than 2,300 milligrams per day, consume less than ten percent of their calories from added sugar, and restrict saturated fat intake. They also suggested eating less red and processed meat. Unlike years past, the guidelines eased up on eggs, following research showing that dietary cholesterol isn’t as bad as was once thought.

Overall, the new guidelines are a shift in the right direction — slightly more science-based — but the difference is minimal. The guidelines still mostly ignore growing evidence that low-carbohydrate diets can be just as, if not more, healthy as so-called “balanced” diets. They also continue to tout the notion that sodium intake needs to be limited, contrary to recent evidence that it probably doesn’t.

For thirty-five years, the dietary guidelines have offered middling advice. The fact that they are slightly better is little consolation to the millions of Americans who’ve tried to follow them and have found themselves overweight and unhealthy.

…You know what’s happened over that same time period. Obesity has skyrocketed to epidemic proportions. Of course, there’s no way to tell if this is due to or in spite of the guidelines, but few would disagree that the guidelines have had little effect in curbing the rise in obesity.

That begs an important question: If the dietary guidelines are so ineffectual, why even have them? Is it time for the dietary guidelines to die? Read More > at Real Clear Science

As El Niño rains arrive, Los Angeles shunts precious water to sea – If ever a city was built to be resilient to heavy rains, it is Los Angeles. And yet, El Niño is about to test just how resilient the city is in the short term to flooding, and even more importantly, how resilient it can be to water shortages over the long haul. And thereby hangs a tale about one of the central conundrums of urban resilience in the face of climate change, with implications far beyond the City of Angels.

Los Angeles has been preparing for El Niño in earnest since 1938, when a huge flood tore through the city, killing 49 people and causing US$40 million in damage to public and private property (equivalent to more than $500 million today). In response, the city built a massive flood control system: the infamous, 51-mile, concrete-lined viaduct known as the Los Angeles River.

…So with any luck, the worst result of this winter’s storms will be that all the rainwater will swiftly fill the Los Angeles River’s concrete banks to the brim and then flow harmlessly out to the Pacific Ocean, millions upon millions of gallons. But for anyone concerned about the city’s long-term water woes, that will be a dismaying sight indeed. For the times have changed: today, we want to capture as much of that water as we can.

In California, we get essentially all of our water in the winter – typically, nearly all of it in just a few big winter storms, each passing through the state in just a few days. Most of that precipitation is stored as snow in the Sierra Nevada until it melts in the spring. Over the past century, the state was plumbed with these basic facts in mind. The “hazardous metropolis” of Los Angeles, as historian Jared Orsi dubbed the city, was made safe for millions of residents by diverting dangerous stormwater runoff directly to the ocean in order to avoid flooding and by importing water for actual use from the Sierra Nevada and the Colorado River. Read More > in The Conversation

Why Do Americans Work So Much? – How will we all keep busy when we only have to work 15 hours a week? That was the question that worried the economist John Maynard Keynes when he wrote his short essay “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren” in 1930. Over the next century, he predicted, the economy would become so productive that people would barely need to work at all.

For a while, it looked like Keynes was right: In 1930 the average workweek was 47 hours. By 1970 it had fallen to slightly less than 39.

But then something changed. Instead of continuing to decline, the duration of the workweek stayed put; it’s hovered just below 40 hours for nearly five decades.

So what happened? Why are people working just as much today as in 1970?

There would be no mystery in this if Keynes had been wrong about the economy’s increasing productivity, which he thought would lead to a standard of living “between four and eight times as high as it is today.” But Keynes got that right: Technology has made the economy massively more productive. According to Benjamin M. Friedman, an economist at Harvard, “the U.S. economy is right on track to reach Keynes’s eight-fold multiple” by 2029—100 years after the last data Keynes would have had. Read More > in The Atlantic

The Triumph of Email – Email, ughhhh. There is too much of it, and the wrong kind of it, from the wrong people. When people aren’t hating their inboxes out loud, they are quietly emailing to say that they’re sorry for replying so late, and for all the typos, and for missing your earlier note, and for forgetting to turn off auto-reply, and for sending this from their mobile device, and for writing too long, and for bothering you at all.

For an activity that’s so mundane, email seems to be infused with an extraordinary amount of dread and guilt. Several studies have linked frequent email-checking with higher levels of anxiety. One study found that constant email-checkers also had heart activity that suggested higher levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress—until they were banned from their inboxes.

In the mobile Internet age, checking email is simultaneously a nervous tic and, for many workers, a tether to the office. A person’s email inbox is where forgotten passwords are revived; where mass-mailings are collected; and where pumpkin-pie recipes, toddler photos, and absurd one-liners are shared. The inbox, then, is a place of convergence: for junk, for work, for advertising, and still sometimes for informal, intimate correspondence. Email works just the way it’s supposed to, and better than it used to, but people seem to hate it more than ever. Read More > in The Atlantic

If There Are Aliens Out There, Where Are They? – Physicist Enrico Fermi famously asked the question “Where are they?” to express his surprise over the absence of any signs for the existence of other intelligent civilizations in the Milky Way Galaxy. Although many potential resolutions to this so-called “Fermi paradox” have been suggested over the years, there is still no consensus on which one, if any, is correct. The question of whether we are alone in the Milky Way (or in the universe at large) remains, however, one of the most intriguing questions in science in general, and in astronomy in particular.

Given the enormous uncertainties involved with the emergence, evolution, and survivability of any extrasolar life (if it exists), we shall attempt to briefly identify the most generic, remotely-detectable signatures of alien life (both simple and intelligent), and to examine the expected effectiveness of various search strategies. This topic has become particularly timely, because observations (primarily with the Kepler space telescope) have shown that the Milky Way contains no fewer than a billion Earth-size planets orbiting Sun-like (or smaller) stars in the “Goldilocks” region that allows for liquid water to exist on the planet’s surface (the so-called habitable zone). Furthermore, the search for extraterrestrial intelligent life has recently received a significant boost in the form of “Breakthrough Listen”—a $100-million decade-long project aimed at searching for non-natural transmissions in the electromagnetic bandwidth from 100 megahertz to 50 gigahertz.

Simple life appeared on Earth almost as soon as the planet cooled sufficiently to support water-based organisms. To be detectable from a distance, however, life has to evolve to the point where it dominates the planetary surface chemistry and has significantly changed the atmosphere, creating chemical “biosignatures” that can in principle be detected remotely. For instance, Earth itself would probably not have been detected as a life-bearing planet during the first two billion years of its existence. Read More > at Scientific American

How a Failed Wal-Mart Made the L.A. Rams – A plot of land in Inglewood that was set to become a Wal-Mart ‘the size of 17 football fields’ might now be home to one big field instead. And the team that might move in, the Rams, is owned by a man who married into the Wal-Mart fortune.

On Monday night, three NFL teams, the St. Louis Rams, the San Diego Chargers, and the Oakland Raiders, formally submitted applications to relocate their franchises to Los Angeles, which has been without a team since the Rams and Raiders both fled in 1995.

For the Rams, the long road back to California actually began in 2004, all because the Inglewood City Council wouldn’t exempt Wal-Mart from the zoning and environmental regulations that would allow the creation of a mega-store “the size of 17 football fields.”

The proposed site for the new Rams’ stadium has sat empty for almost 10 years, including a failed bid by the Madison Square Garden to put up a parking lot after they purchased the Los Angeles Forum. But in 2013, the Rams’ owner, real estate magnate Stan Kroenke, quietly bought a 60-acre parcel, and shortly thereafter, the rumors that the Rams were planning to bolt St. Louis began to pick up some serious steam.

Here’s where it gets fun: Sam Kroenke is a former Wal-Mart board member, and just happens to be married to Ann Walton Kroenke, one of the two heiresses to the Wal-Mart fortune. Read More > at The Daily Beast

BART strike bill is dead, but another is coming – Assembly Democrats on Wednesday killed an East Bay lawmaker’s bill that would’ve essentially banned strikes by BART workers, like the ones that threw Bay Area commutes into chaos in 2013 – but another lawmaker is preparing to take another stab at it.

Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-Dublin, introduced AB 528 last February, delivering on a campaign promise that had helped her become the Bay Area’s only Republican lawmaker.

“In June 2017, the current BART contract expires. We should never be subject to BART strikes again,” Baker said in a news release issued Wednesday after the Assembly Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security Committee killed the bill on a party-line vote. “This is just the first step in the fight to protect us from BART strikes and I will keep pursuing solutions that will prevent the entire Bay Area from coming to a grinding halt in the face of another strike.”

…Democrat Steve Glazer made a similar campaign promise when competing with Baker in 2014’s 16th Assembly District primary, and again in his successful campaign in last year’s 7th State Senate District special election. Glazer intends to introduce a BART-strike bill sometime in the next few weeks, spokesman Steve Harmon said Wednesday. Read More > at Political Blotter

State of Jefferson supporters plan bill seeking independence from California – Now tallying 21 counties among their ranks, supporters of the movement to carve an independent “State of Jefferson” out of Northern California plan to introduce a bill this session seeking sovereignty.

Organizers on Wednesday turned in declarations for 15 counties, including Sutter, Placer, Nevada and El Dorado, asking the state to grant them permission to separate. Six others petitions – which were either passed by the county boards of supervisors or reflect signature-gathering drives – have already been filed.

Jefferson proponents contend that their rural areas lack adequate representation in state government, which has led to over-regulation and environmental policies that decimated their regional economies, particularly the logging and mining industries that historically supported them. Their seal bears an XX, signifying that they have been double-crossed by state government.

…Baird said he expected lawmakers to ignore the bill, in which case Jefferson supporters plan to sue the state. They do not yet have an author committed to carrying the legislation, but Baird hopes it will be Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, who attended a Jefferson rally at the Capitol last year. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

GM Invests $500 Million In Lyft For Self-Driving Car Race With Uber, Tesla And Google – Self-driving cars are coming, and faster than ever.

On Monday morning, ride-hailing startup Lyft announced a new $1 billion Series F funding round, half from General Motors, the 107-year-old American automaker. The $500 million investment will serve as the backbone for a new partnership between GM and Lyft to create a network of autonomous vehicles that they hope will challenge tech giants Google, Tesla, Uber, and even Apple in the race for self-driving domination.

In the short term, the partnership will look similar to one Lyft already has with Hertz–GM will establish rental hubs around the country that will make vehicles owned by GM available to Lyft drivers on a short term rental basis. But the hope is that the two companies eventually can combine experience in manufacturing, autonomous technology, mobile and consumer software to create a self-driving car network that might be cheaper and more ubiquitous than the current human driver rideshare paradigm.

…General Motors President Dan Ammann says GM’s leadership believes transportation will change more in the next five years than it has in the previous 50 years. “As we think about what the future of mobility looks like, what we found was that the Lyft team had a common view of what that world would look like, the role of mobility as a service, particularly in an urban environment,” he told FORBES.

The potential self-driving future poses a challenge for GM, a company built to manufacture and sell cars to individual drivers. The carmaker’s bet on a ride-sharing could be seen as a hedge on that classic business, at least in highly-populated areas where startups like Lyft and Uber have seen the greatest traction. Read More > at Forbes

As Bay Area poverty shifts from cities to suburbia, services lag – When Sonya Tafoya stepped into a job training center in an Antioch office park, her facial piercings were gone. Despite a scorching early-autumn heat wave, she had swapped out casual attire for a sleek business suit — the first time the mother of four had worn anything so professional.

Tafoya hoped a nonprofit called Opportunity Junction would be her ticket out of the low-paying service industry, in which she has worked for more than a decade. Her attempts to move up economically have been stymied by various barriers: a felony record; the stresses of motherhood; a lack of professional work experience.

It hasn’t helped that good jobs are scarce in East Contra Costa County, which has transformed from a blue-collar suburban enclave into a new epicenter of Bay Area poverty in just 15 short years. According to census data, the number of impoverished people living in cities like Antioch, Pittsburg and Bay Point has soared. While poverty rates are higher in some neighboring cities, they have also remained much steadier over time.

What’s happening in Bay Area suburbs is playing out across the country, as inner cities revitalize and suburban outposts become poorer. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Microsoft officially dumps Internet Explorer 8, 9, and 10 – Microsoft recently announced another step that puts Internet Explorer that much closer to oblivion. Beginning next Tuesday, January 12, Microsoft will officially retire Internet Explorer versions 8, 9, and 10 for most Windows operating systems, according to a Microsoft support page.

Internet Explorer 11 will be the only officially supported version of the browser for Windows 7, 8.1, and 10.

The only exception will be Windows Vista users, who will stick with Internet Explorer 9. Vista’s mainstream support ended more than a year before IE11 rolled out. The unpopular OS is almost up for retirement anyway. It reaches the end of its extended support phase in April 2017. After that, Vista will be unsupported just like Windows XP.

Anyone running a Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 system has nothing to worry about, as both of those systems came with IE11 preinstalled. Windows 7 users who don’t have automatic updates enabled, however, may not be running the latest version of IE.

During “Patch Tuesday” on January 12, Microsoft will roll out an update for Windows 7 that prompts non-IE11 users to upgrade their built-in browser. If you insist on sticking with an older version of IE, there’s a registry hack to disable notifications. You can find more information on Microsoft’s support pages. Read More > at Network World

CA’s Pension Liability Increases by $24 Billion in 2015 – Annual reports just issued by California’s two largest public pension funds indicate that the state added roughly $24 billion of unfunded public pension liability in fiscal year 2015.

In December, California’s two principal pension funds, CalPERS and CalSTRS, posted online annual reports for the most recently completed fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2015. Traditionally, those pension funds have employed an 18-month information lag about unfunded liabilities (UAAL’s), the amount by which pension liabilities exceed pension assets and the measure that most affects citizens. That’s because UAAL’s + interest = cuts to public services, tax increases, or both.

But fortunately, a new schedule mandated by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) requires pension funds to update a measure known as the “Net Pension Liability” (NPL) as of the current fiscal year end. Because the NPL bears a relationship to the UAAL, observers can gain a sense of how the UAAL changed over the same period. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Can Soccer Headers Cause Brain Damage? – Heading a soccer ball is not as innocuous as once thought. Headers sometimes result in a concussion. Thousands of headers over a career may lead to permanent brain damage.

A growing body of evidence points to the adverse effects of multiple headers. One study (conducted by Dr. Inga Koerte, published in JAMA) of 19-year-old amateur soccer players revealed serious damage to the white matter in the brain. White matter is vital for most of our brain functions. These troubling findings were not found in any of the “control” swimmers who were examined. Another study (lead author was Dr. Michael Lipton, published in Radiology) concluded that as the number of headers increased, cognitive function (such as memory) declined. This study also discovered that with increasing numbers of headers, the brain damage grew more severe. They measured damage by assessing the white matter of the brain.

A soccer ball weighs about 1 pound. The speed of a kicked ball may easily exceed 40 mph. Our fluid filled brain cannot be compressed to any great extent, which limits how much of the blow may be safely absorbed. When struck by a soccer ball, the brain often sustains a significant “G” force. The physics and mechanics of headers are complex. The angle of impact is important, along with the position and acceleration of neck muscles. If the ball is over-inflated and wet, a more severe impact may result. Goal kicks will result in a higher “G” force than is encountered from a simple throw-in. Many headers result in no brain damage, while others may disrupt sensitive brain pathways, at least temporarily.

Based upon available evidence, many young soccer players will travel through life with a compromised brain. Thinking, memory, and attention may be diminished. We are dealt only one delicate, sensitive brain; it must be protected. Read More > at Real Clear Sports

The big data of bad driving, and how insurers plan to track your every turn – For years, insurance companies have used estimates of your annual mileage to determine your car insurance rates. But with recent changes in technology, insurers now have an unprecedented ability to judge your actual driving habits. Armed with detailed data on how often you slam on the brakes and what times of day you’re on the road, insurance companies are increasingly relying on precise, technological means of assessing risk — and using that information to set your monthly premiums.

Liberty Mutual, the country’s third-largest property-and-casualty insurer, took the latest step in that direction Monday when it announced a partnership with Subaru. Beginning later this year, Subaru drivers who have paid for the automaker’s Starlink infotainment system will be able to download an app to their cars that notifies them when they are accelerating too aggressively or braking too hard.

The app is part of Liberty Mutual’s RightTrack program, which gives drivers a 5 percent discount on their rates for enrolling and additional discounts up to 30 percent for heeding the app’s guidance on driving safely.

Liberty Mutual, which began offering RightTrack in 2012, isn’t the only insurer to embrace usage-based insurance — a tactic that draws on a person’s real-world driving behavior to gauge his accident risk. Progressive, Allstate and State Farm operate similar programs, too. Read More > in The Washington Post

Why Federal Lands Are So Wildly Controversial in the West – Federal ownership of land in the western United States has triggered conflicts for decades. On Saturday, a group of about 20 armed protesters occupied the headquarters of a National Wildlife Refuge in rural eastern Oregon, seeking return of federal lands to local ranchers and loggers.

The federal government manages these lands in an effort to balance environmental protection and conservation with permitted uses. In response, ranchers, private land owners, and some local and state governments have fought for more control over how the land is used. In some cases, this has led to high-profile protests like the one that erupted Saturday.

The federal government owns 640 million acres, or nearly a third of the U.S. landmass. Much of that is found in the West, a remnant of the way the country expanded over time.

In the East, ten states have less than two percent of land controlled by the federal government. In contrast, 84.5 percent of land in Nevada is controlled by the feds. Oregon is 53.1 percent federal controlled. Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, and California aren’t far behind, and Utah is even higher at 57.4 percent.

…Debate over federal land policy has raged for centuries, often pitting conservationists against business interests and national interests against local ones. In the 1970s and 1980s a push for local control spread across much of the West, gaining the name Sagebrush Rebellion. Ronald Reagan was among the movement’s supporters. Although he slowed down designation of new wilderness areas while in the White House, the movement did not lead to widespread change of land policy. Read More > at National Geographic

California businessman pushes ballot measure for NASCAR-style disclosure – …Cox is the sponsor of a landmark campaign finance initiative which would require all California state legislators to wear the logos of their biggest donors in a fashion that’s readily visible to voters — not unlike shirts worn by NASCAR drivers, which display their sponsors.

In California, where big money and big lobbyists fuel political campaigns, “these politicians basically get put in office by donors, and they do what donors want,” he told POLITICO. “So let’s make them wear the logos to show where the real political power is.”

Cox told POLITICO on Monday that, as of Dec. 31, the “Name All Sponsors California Accountability Reform” (NASCAR, for short) measure has been given the required title and summary by the California Attorney General’s office and has been cleared to collect signatures for possible placement on the November 2016 ballot. Read More > at Politico

Targeting problem drinkers, not moderate sippers – …According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it’s not just the folks consuming bottles of Champagne or doing keg stands over the holidays who are causing problems. Having a glass or two of wine (depending on your gender) most evenings is considered “excessive drinking.” And the agency claims that behavior is costing our economy billions every year.

If the line between “moderate” and “excessive” drinking seems a bit thin to you, you’re not alone. The CDC’s view on excessive alcohol consumption stands in direct contrast to another federal agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Every two years, the USDA publishes a new edition of its “Dietary Guidelines,” advising Americans about what is healthy to eat and drink, and how much one ought to consume. In recent editions, the USDA advises “moderate alcohol consumption” of one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

The USDA bases its recommendations on the large volume of research showing moderate drinking can have health benefits. Studies published in the last year have linked low levels of alcohol consumption by some populations to lower heart disease risks, better control of diabetes, improved memory, and fewer instances of certain cancers.

The CDC considers drinking “excessive” if a woman consumes more than eight drinks per week or a man consumes more than 15. So while one drink per day is healthy, a woman who indulges in a second glass of wine some nights finds herself suddenly in the CDC’s “excessive” drinking category.

Government agencies contradicting one another isn’t a new phenomenon. And the CDC’s extremely conservative definition of binge drinking might not be so disconcerting if it weren’t being used by anti-alcohol activist groups to justify the elimination of alcohol advertising and raising alcohol taxes.

As research released earlier this year from the University of Texas at Austin reiterates, advertising has little effect on how much people drink. Instead, advertising affects which brands or categories of alcoholic beverages consumers choose. In other words, an ad might affect whether you choose to drink Dewar’s or Johnnie Walker, but not whether you decide to have a drink.

And studies show that higher taxes don’t target those who are alcohol dependent; instead, they are regressive and hit moderate social drinkers squarely in the wallet.

Those who are addicted to alcohol — the ones who should be the focus of these large government agencies’ policies — are the least sensitive to price increases. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that alcohol tax increases did not affect the 5 percent of consumers who are the heaviest drinkers. Instead, higher prices encourage abusive drinkers to switch to cheaper brands. Read More > in The Washington Times

Inside Wall Street’s disastrous start to 2016 – …As you probably already know, less than three weeks ago the Fed finally decided to raise interest rates despite the fact that the economy is still very blah. It had little choice, but the move was still idiotic.

The stock market inexplicably rallied on the rate hike, but that was mainly because professional money managers needed to game their end-of-year performance to impress clients.

Well, economic growth is now even more blah. And since the manipulators no longer need to make an impression, nobody was willing to step in Monday to rescue the stock market.

…The slide actually began last Thursday, the final trading day of 2015.

After an extremely bad economic report from the Chicago Purchasing Managers that morning, the Dow dropped 179 points to close out the year.

Stocks in the US probably would have gotten over that hump. But then a bad economic report came out of China overnight. The Chinese stock market fell 7 percent even as the government tried to halt that decline by shutting down trading.

And if the momentum weren’t already bad enough, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta reported Monday afternoon that the US economy probably grew at just a 0.7 percent annual rate in the last three months of 2015.

The Atlanta Fed said weakness overseas is hurting the economy. But construction spending at home was mostly the reason for the new pessimism.

Put your thumb and index finger as close together as they can get without touching and that’s how much the economy was growing late last year. And that pace was down from an almost-as-miserable annual growth rate of 2.1 percent in the third quarter. Read More > in the New York Post

Why we need to kill passwords –  Be honest: How many passwords do you have? A security expert will tell you to have a different one for each service you ever log into, whether it’s your bank, email account or your online shopping. These dozen or more codes shouldn’t be easy to guess – they need to include a series of numbers, capital letters and special characters to make it difficult for hackers and bots to fake them. You, meanwhile, should be able to remember all of them, switch them every few months, and remember that they’ve been changed.

It’s a baffling ask, so it’s no surprise that we’re not very good at following this advice. A study in 2007 found that we use just seven passwords for 25 online accounts; and given the inexorable rise of the web in the nine years since, it’s now more likely to be seven passwords for 50 or 100. Many of these, according to a list of the world’s most popular passwords from security firm SplashData, are likely to be obvious: “123456”, “password” and so on. Even if they aren’t, several of them are likely to be variations on the same word: “football”, “f00tball” and “Football999”. As for changing them, that only happens when we’ve forgotten our passwords and have to reset them.

Every year, we move more of our lives and personal information onto the web, stretching the few passwords we’re willing to remember across more online accounts. This has made our online lives less secure at the same time as the information we store there is more valuable. Now, a cyber-attack on one website, or an email phishing scam that forces gullible users into giving up their password, can allow hackers to infiltrate several other services.

…Several technology companies are now trying to go one step further: getting rid of the password altogether. Yahoo now allows email users on a smartphone to log in without one, instead using an app to confirm identities. Google is testing a similar system for accessing Gmail and YouTube.

Systems like this are easier, and thus might seem intuitively less secure than a password, but because most people always have their phone with them, usually with passcodes, it’s less vulnerable to a remote attack.

Other companies are using biometric data to confirm identities. Most high-end smartphones use fingerprint readers to unlock them and verify purchases. As computing shifts inexorably to phones, they could be relied upon more and more instead of passwords. Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 10, can use facial-recognition technology, iris scanners or fingerprint readers to unlock a computer or log in to a website, and Mastercard is trialling credit card verification by using smartphone cameras to scan faces. Read More > in The Telegraph

How Do Sunni and Shia Islam Differ? – Saudi Arabia’s execution of the Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr could escalate tensions in the Muslim world even further. In the Shiite theocracy Iran, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Sunday that Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, would face “divine vengeance” for the killing of the outspoken cleric, which was part of a mass execution of 47 men. Sheikh Nimr had advocated for greater political rights for Shiites in Saudi Arabia and surrounding countries. Saudi Arabia had accused him of inciting violence against the state.

Here is a primer on the basic differences between Sunni and Shia Islam.

What caused the split?

A schism emerged after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632, and disputes arose over who should shepherd the new and rapidly growing faith.

Some believed that a new leader should be chosen by consensus; others thought that only the prophet’s descendants should become caliph. The title passed to a trusted aide, Abu Bakr, though some thought it should have gone to Ali, the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law. Ali eventually did become caliph after Abu Bakr’s two successors were assassinated.

After Ali also was assassinated, with a poison-laced sword at the mosque in Kufa, in what is now Iraq, his sons Hasan and then Hussein claimed the title. But Hussein and many of his relatives were massacred in Karbala, Iraq, in 680. His martyrdom became a central tenet to those who believed that Ali should have succeeded the prophet. (It is mourned every year during the month of Muharram.) The followers became known as Shiites, a contraction of the phrase Shiat Ali, or followers of Ali.

The Sunnis, however, regard the first three caliphs before Ali as rightly guided and themselves as the true adherents to the Sunnah, or the prophet’s tradition. Sunni rulers embarked on sweeping conquests that extended the caliphate into North Africa and Europe. The last caliphate ended with the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Read More > in The New York Times

Does Europe Have a Future? – Europe is a continent, and an idea, with an alternately heroic and ignominious past and with what seemed, until recently, to be an enviable present. But does it have a future? The November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris marked the culmination—so far—of a concerted campaign directed mainly at Europeans and orchestrated, or inspired, first by al-Qaeda (Madrid 2004, London 2005) and more recently by the self-proclaimed caliphate based in the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq. The latest round of carnage began with the 2014 attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels, was stepped up in January of this past year with the Charlie Hebdo and kosher-supermarket massacres in Paris, continued with shootings at a free-speech gathering in Copenhagen and mass assaults on European tourists in Tunisia, followed by explosions in Ankara and Beirut and reaching a crescendo with the multiple attacks in Paris.

Europeans are now faced with questions they have hitherto preferred to dodge. Are Europeans ready to fight for Europe? What is the place of Islam in a post-Christian Europe? Or, to look at it from the jihadist point of view, what is the place of Europe in a fast-expanding and globalized Islam? Is 21st-century Europe still the heart of Western civilization, or is it changing out of all recognition?

However one answers those questions, a brave new world seems to be emerging in which Europe becomes the theater where the clash of civilizations is played out. So far, the signs are that this encounter will be no more peaceful than it has been in the Middle East.

Since the origins of what we now call Western civilization in Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem, the patrimony of the ancient world, as embodied particularly in the realms of philosophy, law, and the Jewish and Christian scriptures, has continued to inspire the nations to the north of the Mediterranean. Without that legacy, the West’s political, economic, and intellectual success and dominance could never have been achieved. Read More > at Mosaic

Livermore Lab’s discovery expands chemistry’s periodic table of elements – There are four new seats at chemistry’s venerable periodic table, added by international judges for work performed by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and in Japan and Russia.

With the addition of these elements — numbered 113, 115, 117 and 118 — the awkward seventh row of the table is now complete, creating a neatly squared corner and making millions of textbooks instantly obsolete.

The new elements lead brief lives, surviving only a millisecond or so. They’re extraordinarily rare; fewer than 10 atoms of each have been created. And they offer no practical benefit to society.

But their creation helps answer this profound question: What are the extreme limits to the size of matter? Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

Dan Walters: California’s budget windfall could be flashpoint – Halfway through the 2015-16 fiscal year, state finances are continuing to improve with billions of extra revenue dollars.

Ordinarily, that would be good news.

However, as the Legislature returns to Sacramento this week after a nearly four-month hiatus, the windfall of taxes – mostly income taxes – looms as a political flashpoint.

Democrats want to spend it – mostly on health, welfare and education services – but Gov. Jerry Brown, who will release his initial 2016-17 budget this week, is clearly reluctant.

“We have to learn from history and not keep repeating our mistakes,” Brown said last May as he unveiled a revised 2015-16 budget. “While there are few signs of immediate contraction, another recession is on the way. We just don’t know when.”

Monday’s steep plunge in global equities markets underscored his hesitance.

Democratic leaders are already beating the drums for more spending, pointing to Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor’s estimate that the state will have $3.6 billion more this year than assumed. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

WATCH: California woman confronts Starbucks cashier who admits to stealing her credit card information (Warning: Explicit Language) – A California Starbucks cashier got caught red-handed stealing a customer’s credit card information, and faced the grande wrath of her furious victim.

Juana Martinez unloaded a fiery tirade Sunday in Lakewood on the sticky-fingered cashier, who was stunned and admitted to the crime after being confronted by the theft victim.

The 2-minute 30-second clip has since gone viral, a penalty worse than arrest for the 19-year-old coffee shop employee, Martinez told The Daily News.

“I think this is a worse punishment, honestly,” Martinez said. “I think it’s more than enough that she’s all over the Internet. People will know who she is.”

In the clip, the teen cashier identified as “Chanel” greets the customer and hands her a drink with a smile, which quickly turned into a frightful grimace once Martinez called her out for swiping her credit card digits. Read More > in the New York Daily News

These are the genius robots putting together your Amazon orders so quickly – Ever wonder how Amazon gets your package to you so quickly? Robots play a big role in that.

In 2012, Amazon acquired Kiva Systems — a manufacturer of robotic systems — for $775 million and transformed them into Amazon Robotics. These autonomous robots handle the picking and packaging process at Amazon’s large warehouses.

Here’s an inside look at the robots handling your Amazon packages:

The robots work in perfect harmony to transport merchandise around the fulfillment center.

First, human beings fill the shelves with items. The items don’t have to be shelved in any particular order — as long as the robot knows where an item is on the shelf, it will deliver it when it’s needed.

The robots will then bring the items to a different set of Amazon workers, who will grab them to place in boxes. Amazon workers used to have to roam the shelves searching for products to fill orders. Now the robots bring what is needed autonomously. Read More > at Tech Insider

Tobacco Giants Eye Lucrative $50 Billion Marijuana Market – Big tobacco is positioning itself to muscle into the growing marijuana business if the drug wins nationwide legal status, according to a Daily Caller News Foundation investigation.

Four states and the District of Columbia have already approved some level of legalization for possession of small amounts of marijuana, and 10 other states may have ballot measures in 2016 that give voters further opportunities to legalize possession.

Big tobacco, despite its conservative image since the 1970s, has been closely eyeing the marijuana market which venture capitalists regard to be worth $50 billion in annual revenues.

Tobacco companies are now on a buying spree of e-cigarette companies which produce vaporizers, a smoking device marijuana users prefer because it can offer a higher high. Read More > at The Daily Caller

A Former Teachers Union Member Explains Why He’s Suing to Abolish Mandatory Dues – Harlan Elrich, a math teacher in California’s Sanger Unified School District, is one of 10 teachers who have filed a federal lawsuit against the California Teachers Association to halt its mandatory collection of union fees. The Supreme Court will hear the case, Friedrichs v. CTA, next week.

Elrich explains in The Wall Street Journal why he left the union and why he thinks all teachers have the right to divest from political causes they don’t support:

I was a member of the union for years and even served as a union representative. But the union never played an important role in my school. When most teachers sought guidance, they wanted help in the classroom and on how to excel at teaching. The union never offered this pedagogic aid.

Instead, the union focused on politics. I remember a phone call I received before a major election from someone in the union. It was a “survey,” asking teachers whether they would vote for so-and-so if the election were held tomorrow. I disagreed with every issue and candidate the union was promoting. After that conversation, I thought about what the union represents. Eventually, I realized that my dues—about $1,000 a year—went toward ideas and issues that ran counter to my beliefs.

So I opted out of paying the portion of union dues that is put toward political activities. The Supreme Court requires unions to provide this option, but I was surprised by how difficult this is. To opt out you have to resign from the union and relinquish all benefits—insurance, legal representation, maternity leave. Although you are prohibited from voting on any new contract, you are still forced to pay for the union’s collective bargaining, on the theory that the union negotiates for everyone.

Read More > at Reason

2016: The Year of the Initiative – The legislature is back in town this week but in the major policy issues department the legislature is likely to be a sideshow in what can be labeled the Year of the Initiative.

With a rush to place measures on the ballot because of low signature requirements to qualify a measure, cheaper costs to file an initiative (a minor factor), and, especially, the lure of higher turnouts during a presidential election with all initiatives now legally bound for the November election rather than the June primary, the initiative process has become catnip for policy entrepreneurs and special interests.

Consider what the voters could be facing in November via the initiative process.

  • Increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
  • Legalizing marijuana.
  • Deciding whether to eliminate the death penalty altogether or speed up the process so that those receiving a death penalty would not linger so long before the sentence is carried out. There are two competing measures filed.
  • Banning one-time use plastic bags (a referendum that has already qualified) and perhaps requiring paper bag fees to end up in an environmental fund
  • New gun control measures, especially background checks for ammo purchase.
  • $9 billion in state bonds for school construction.
  • A requirement that all revenue bonds of $2 billion or more receive a vote of the people, designed we are told by observers, to undercut Gov. Brown’s Delta Tunnels plan.

As appears in many advertisements, this is only a partial list.

Then there are the many tax measures.

  • A 230% increase in cigarette taxes adding $2 a pack.
  • A continuation of the Proposition 30 taxes of 2012 on upper income earners that was supposed to be temporary. There are two different measures dedicated to that purpose.
  • A tax increase on property valued at $3 million and more to fund poverty programs. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

New Wireless Tech Will Free Us From the Tyranny of Carriers – Cell coverage can be fickle. You might get great reception at home but spotty coverage at work or at the gym even though other carriers work fine. And even if your carrier has your entire city pretty well covered, all bets are off when you travel. Sure you can roam on other networks, but your carrier will prioritize its own cell towers, even if there are better ones nearby. And those roaming fees can sure add up quick. It would be nice to be able to switch carriers on the fly, picking whichever one happens to have the best service in your exact location at any given time. Today that would mean carrying around multiple SIM cards, each with a different phone number. But in the near future, your phone may be able to switch between carriers without you having to swap out cards or phone numbers—even if you’re in the middle of a call.

Two year contracts are becoming a thing of the past, thanks in large part to carriers like T-Mobile and to new financing schemes from Apple. But it’s still a bit of a pain to switch. You still have to have to sign up for a new service, have your number ported over and get a new SIM card. And even if your phone is unlocked, there’s still a chance it won’t work on the carrier of your choosing if it wasn’t designed to handle both the GSM networks used by AT&T and T-Mobile and the CDMA networks used by Sprint and Verizon. But that’s starting to change. If you want a preview of the future, a future that started become clear in 2015, take a look at Google’s Project Fi.

Project Fi, which is still invite-only, is a wireless service that rides on both T-Mobile and Sprint’s networks, depending on which one has the strongest signal. If local WiFi is available, it will switch to that network, and even route calls over it. Instead of paying a monthly fee to both T-Mobile and Sprint, customers pay Google a lump fee, and Google handles paying out the carriers. Read More > at Wired

How Studying Stoned People Can Unlock Secrets of Paranoid Thinking – Someone is walking behind you. Their pace is even, but you know they’re close. You quicken your step, turn the corner–are they watching? Maybe you shouldn’t leave the neighborhood any more, or better yet, the house–but even in the house, you might not be safe. You check your phone; it seems like someone is tracking your calls. They can read your texts, maybe even your thoughts.

Paranoid thoughts like these are presented in movies and culture as a symptom of severe, rare mental illnesses like schizophrenia. But some say that these kind of thoughts are far more common than you might think. According to Oxford University professor Daniel Freeman and Jason Freeman in their book Paranoia: the 21st Century Fear, in a study of 1,005 mentally healthy New York adults, 10.6 percent thought someone was “following or spying on them.” In a sample of 1,202 British college students, the number was even higher: 29 percent. Similar percentages of mentally healthy adults in France and the United Kingdom believed that there were social conspiracies against them, with a reason to mistrust the intentions of those around them.

These mild delusions are less disruptive than clinical paranoia, and have been providing great fodder for researchers hoping to gain insight into what what happens in the mind of someone with mental illness. One technique for studying paranoid thinking is familiar for anyone who has had awkward times with a “mellow” pot brownie that was anything but: Researchers have been inducing these thoughts in the lab using cannabis, known to cause temporary paranoia.

In other words, by getting participants high and freaking them out. Read More > at Pacific Standard

California will see a lot more disease-carrying mosquitoes this year, experts say – Two types of nonnative mosquitoes that can transmit potentially fatal diseases have spread throughout California, and their populations could explode come spring.

The mosquitoes’ expansion of territory was largely attributed to abnormally warm weather in the summer and fall.

“It was quicker and more widespread than any of us could have anticipated,” said Chris Conlan, an ecologist with the San Diego County Vector Control Program.

The yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) can carry diseases linked to birth defects, painful illness and tens of thousands of deaths around the world each year.

The mosquitoes can be identified by their black-and-white striped bodies and aggressive behavior toward people, often following them indoors. These pests are smaller than average mosquitoes and distinguish themselves as daytime feeders. They’re tough to eradicate, needing as little as a thimble of water to reproduce. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Alarming Discovery Shows Bay Area’s 2 Most Dangerous Earthquake Faults May Be Connected – Scientists have discovered an alarming connection underwater: Two of the most dangerous earthquake faults in the Bay Area.

Experts long debated whether the Hayward Fault and the Rodgers Creek Fault connected, but now there’s strong evidence they do.

US Geological geophysicist Janet Watt made the discovery in an underwater survey using an acoustic instrument over the San Pablo Bay. She says the data is clearer than ever.

“We now have direct evidence that the faults come closer together in the bay and may be directly connected,” says Watt. “It would be devastating for an earthquake to rupture at both those faults — it’d be a very strong earthquake.”

Two Bay Area fault lines could potentially trigger a 7.3 magnitude earthquake if they ruptured together. That’s stronger than the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. Read More > at CBS San Francisco

These States Will Have the Highest Minimum Wages to Start 2016 – With their pay floors set at $10 per hour, California and Massachusetts are poised to begin 2016 with the highest state minimum wages in the U.S., according to information published online by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Washington, D.C., meanwhile, the minimum wage will be slightly higher at $10.50 per hour. The federal minimum wage is currently set at $7.25, but there are some exemptions that allow certain workers, such as those that receive tips or work on small farms, to be paid less.

Across the U.S., 29 states and the District of Columbia will have minimum wages set higher than the federal pay floor on Jan. 1, according to NCSL.

Five states, based on the information NCSL has published, have not put their own minimum wage laws in place. These states include: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee. New Hampshire repealed its minimum wage law in 2011, deferring to the federal minimum wage. Read More > at Route Fifty


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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