Sunday Reading – 02/14/16


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.

Kids who played shoot-em-up games in the ‘90s were probably (mostly) OK – The persistent suggestion that video gaming leads to violent behavior prompts innumerable eye-rolls and Internet rants from gamers. But it’s persistent because it’s surprisingly hard to nail down a solid answer to the question. A lot of the research just raises more questions, so consensus remains elusive, despite claims to the contrary.

A fair number of studies suggest that there is a link, but those can be contrasted with other research that says there isn’t. The problem is that there are so many different factors to take into account, along with a swiftly-changing medium and difficulty in obtaining high-quality data—we’d need an avalanche of research to answer the question definitively.

While it’s not an avalanche, a group of researchers, led by biological psychologist and video game violence skeptic Peter Etchells, has published an analysis suggesting that players of violent games might face a very small increase in risk for behavioral problems. They’re the kinds of small results that would be met with disappointment by authors who were hoping to find an effect, but they’re there. And yet, as always, this analysis isn’t the final word. Read More > at ars technica

Greener Power Likely Coming to Lafayette – City leaders want residents to have a choice of where their electricity comes from.

After weighing all the options, Lafayette City Council members voted to move forward with Marin Clean Energy – a nonprofit that procures electricity from renewable sources such as solar, wind, bioenergy, geothermal, and small hydro, then partners with PG&E to deliver it – so that they can conduct a membership analysis. Assuming the analysis is positive in terms of rates and environmental impact, the city will join MCE.

he energy used in homes, businesses and municipal buildings is now provided solely by PG&E, which currently reports that 27 percent of its energy production comes from renewable sources. The utility is working toward one-third of its energy portfolio from renewables by 2020.

By going with MCE, residents will have a choice of power options: stay with PG&E, or pick from MCE’s power options: “light green” with 56 percent renewable energy, “deep green” 100 percent renewable, or “Local Sol” with 100 percent local solar. Read More > in the Lamorinda Weekly

This Is Why You Can’t Afford a House – The rising cost of housing is one of the greatest burdens on the American middle class. So why hasn’t it become a key issue in the presidential primaries?

There’s little argument that inequality, and the depressed prospects for the middle class, will be a dominant issue this year’s election. Yet the most powerful force shaping this reality—the rising cost of housing—has barely emerged as political issue.

As demonstrated in a recent report (PDF) from Chapman University’s Center for Demographics and Policy, housing now takes the largest share of family costs, while expenditures on food, apparel, and transportation have dropped or stayed about the same. In 2015, the rise in housing costs essentially swallowed savings gains made elsewhere, notably, savings on the cost of energy. The real estate consultancy Zillow predicts housing inflation will only worsen this year.

Driven in part by potential buyers being forced into the apartment market, rents have risen to a point that they now compose the largest share of income in modern U.S. history. Since 1990, renters’ income has been stagnant, while inflation-adjusted rents have soared 14.7 percent. Given the large shortfall in housing production—down not only since the 2007 recession but also by almost a quarter between 2011 and 2015—the trend toward ever higher prices and greater levels of unaffordability seems all but inevitable. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Want Romance? Go to Church, Study Finds – The Institute on Family Studies released a study Thursday which found that couples who attend worship services together or when only the man attends services are happier than couples in which neither partner or only the woman attends.

Titled “Better Together: Religious Attendance, Gender, and Relationship Quality,” the study was authored by W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and Nicholas H. Wolfinger, professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Studies and Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the University of Utah.

“Seventy-eight percent of men and women in couples who regularly go to services together, or where only the man attends regularly, report that they are ‘very happy’ or ‘extremely happy,’ after adjusting for differences in race, age, education, marital status, region, and other factors,” read the study.

“By contrast, 67 percent of men and women in relationships where neither partner attends are happy, and just 59 percent of people in couples where only she attends regularly report they are very happy. Clearly, shared attendance and his attendance are linked to higher self-reported relationship quality.” Read More > at Christian Post

STAT-Harvard poll: Americans say no to ‘designer babies’ – Most Americans oppose using powerful new technology to alter the genes of unborn babies, according to a new poll — even to prevent serious inherited diseases.

They expressed the strongest disapproval for editing genes to create “designer babies” with enhanced intelligence or looks.

But the poll, conducted by STAT and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found that people have mixed, and apparently not firm, views on emerging genetic techniques. US adults are almost evenly split on whether the federal government should fund research on editing genes before birth to keep children from developing diseases such as cystic fibrosis or Huntington’s disease.

A majority, however, wants government regulators to approve gene therapy to treat diseases in children and adults.

Scientists recently used CRISPR to repair a gene that causes Duchenne muscular dystrophy and another gene that causes a rare inherited liver disease, both in mice. CRISPR has also been used in human cells growing in a lab dish to correct a gene that causes inherited blindness. While much research remains to be done, the technique holds promise as a treatment for numerous disorders. Read More > at STAT

Raiders sign lease to play 2016 season in Oakland – The Raiders signed a lease to stay in Oakland this year, officials announced Thursday afternoon at a news conference.

The team’s agreement with the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority comes the week before the Feb. 17 expiration date of the Raiders’ current lease. The new deal includes one-year options for 2017 and 2018.

Raiders owner Mark Davis also announced at the news conference that the team has hired real estate executive Larry MacNeil to represent its interests in negotiations with Oakland and Alameda County. MacNeil served for 10 years as chief financial officer for the San Francisco 49ers, and was an architect of the Levi’s Stadium deal in Santa Clara. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Whole Foods May Put Tattoo Parlors Inside New Millennial-Focused Stores – Whole Foods Market Inc. Co-Chief Executive Officer Walter Robb, seeking to appeal to younger, budget-conscious shoppers, says his company’s new 365 chain is going to try some tactics outside of the conventional grocery-store playbook.

Whole Foods has advertised that it’s looking to find suppliers and vendors to set up shop in its 365 stores through a program called “Friends of 365.” The new chain’s website says shoppers may see other businesses, such as body-care product sellers, record shops and tattoo parlors, inside 365 stores and on its outdoor patios.

The new locations will help Whole Foods “reach more communities than we would be able to with our mother ship,” Robb said during an interview on Bloomberg TV. Read More > at Bloomberg

Feel the Burn: Aloe Vera Added to Prop. 65 List – There are two very different types of actors in the realm of making our economy tick. Entrepreneurs wake of every day trying to think of new ways to innovate, to expand, and thus create new jobs. Then there are the regulators in Sacramento who wake up every day thinking of new, creative ways to add burdens and barriers to operating your business in California and beyond. Their latest regulatory red alert: Aloe vera.

You read that correctly: Aloe vera. In December of last year, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) published its intent to list Aloe vera, whole leave extract to the Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer. Despite the widely accepted extensive health benefits of Aloe vera, an unelected regulator in Sacramento can now tell you and all consumers it will cause cancer, even if no cases of cancer from Aloe vera exposure exist.

The problem is that the 800+ chemicals listed in Proposition 65 are not devised to protect consumers, but rather serve as a cash cow for private trial lawyers to sue small business and reap the hefty settlement payout. Since 1986, nearly 20,000 lawsuits have been filed, adding up to over half a billion dollars in settlement payments by business owners. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Windows 10 Worst Secret Spins Out Of Control – Back in November Microsoft confirmed Windows 10’s worst kept secret: its extensive telemetry (or ‘spying’ as it has been labelled) cannot be stopped. What no-one realised until now, however, is just how staggering the extent of this tracking really is…

Blowing the lid on it this week is Voat user CheesusCrust whose extensive investigation claims Windows 10 contacts Microsoft to report data thousands of times per day. And the kicker? This happens after choosing a custom Windows 10 installation and disabling all three pages of tracking options which are all enabled by default.

The raw numbers come out as follows: in an eight hour period Windows 10 tried to send data back to 51 different Microsoft IP addresses over 5500 times. After 30 hours of use, Windows 10 expanded that data reporting to 113 non-private IP addresses. Being non-private means there is the potential for hackers to intercept this data.

Taking this a step further, the testing was then repeated on another Windows 10 clean installation again with all data tracking options disabled and third party tool DisableWinTracking was also installed which tries to shut down all hidden Windows 10 data reporting attempts. At the end of the 30 hour period Windows 10 had still managed to phone home with data 2758 times to 30 different IP addresses.

A further interesting fact is these tests were conducted using Windows 10 Enterprise Edition – the version of Windows 10 with most granular level of user control and far more than the standard Windows 10 Home edition used by most consumers. All of which confirms, this controversial data tracking simply cannot be stopped. Read More > at Forbes

Six bold NFL predictions for 2016 -Predicting what will happen in a given NFL season is hard. Who saw Cam Newton winning MVP or a 7-8-1 Panthers coming within a game of a perfect 16-0 regular season? With that in mind, here are six crazy predictions for the 2016 season that we (kind of) expect to come true.

1. The Broncos miss the playoffs

2. The Raiders end their 13-season playoff drought

3. Colin Kaepernick returns to the Pro Bowl – Read More > in FTW

What Ever Happened To Waterbeds? – For kids and adults alike, waterbeds used to be the coolest—until suddenly they weren’t. After a heyday in the late 1980s in which nearly one out of every four mattresses sold was a waterbed mattress, the industry dried up in the 1990s, leaving behind a sense of unfilled promise and thousands upon thousands of unsold vinyl shells. Today, waterbeds make up only a very small fraction of overall bed and mattress sales. Many home furnishing retailers won’t sell them, and some that do say it’s been years since they last closed a deal.

So what happened? Although they were most popular in that decade of boomboxes and acid-washed jeans, waterbeds had been gaining steam since the late 1960s, and in retrospect seem to have more substance to them than other notorious fads. How did our enthusiasm for sleeping atop gallons and gallons of all-natural H2O drain away so quickly?

…Although many associate waterbeds with strait-laced suburban living, back in the ‘70s they were a symbol of the free-flowing counterculture movement—more likely to be sold with incense and Doors albums than with fluffy pillows and high thread count sheets. “That fluid fixture of 1970s crash pads” was how a New York Times story from 1986 described them. The names of manufacturers and distributors reflected this: Wet Dream, Joyapeutic Aqua Beds, and Aquarius Products were a few that rolled with the times.

…Here’s the thing about waterbeds, though: They were high maintenance. Installing one meant running a hose into your bedroom and filling the mattress up with hundreds of gallons of H2O—a precarious process that held the potential for a water-soaked bedroom. Waterbeds were also really, really heavy. In addition to the filled mattress, the frame—which had to support all that water weight—could be a back-breaker. When the mattress needed to be drained, an electric pump or some other nifty siphoning tricks were required. Waterbeds could also spring leaks (as Edward Scissorhands showed), which could be patched but, again, added to the cost and hassle.

In the ’90s, it became clear that the novelty of waterbeds couldn’t overcome the additional work they required. By that time, competitors like Tempur-Pedic and Select Comfort were also coming out with mattress innovations that offered softness and flexibility without making customers run a garden hose through their second-floor bedroom window. Read More > at Mental_Floss

Californians Are Voting With Their Feet – California has something of a migration problem. Yes, the state’s population growth rate has been hovering just under 1% for a few years with natural increases and international net migration staying just strong enough for the state to continue growing, but California’s consistent net domestic out-migration should be concerning to Sacramento as it develops state policy. As the adage goes, people vote with their feet and one thing is clear, more people are choosing to leave California than come.

…By understanding who these net domestic out-migrants are, we can get a better sense as to why more people are leaving California than coming to the Golden State. Using the Census Bureau’s March Supplemental Current Population Survey, we can get an approximation of just that. Between 2004 and 2015, roughly 930,000 more people left California than moved to the Golden State -just three years saw net domestic in-migration. The biggest beneficiaries of California’s net loss are Arizona, Texas, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

California is bleeding working young professional families. Approximately 18% of the net domestic out-migrants are children (ages 0 to 17), while another 36% are those between the ages of 40 and 54. From this we can tell that 1) children aren’t packing up and leaving on their own – they are going with their parents and 2) those in the heart of their prime working-age are moving out. Moreover, while 18-to-24 year olds (college-age individuals) make up just 1% of the net domestic out-migrants, the percentage swells to 17% for recent college graduates (25 to 39 year olds). While California may still be doing decently well at attracting college students, they aren’t sticking around.

…Knowing that net out-migrants are more likely to be middle-class working young professional families provides some hints as to why people are leaving California for greener pastures. For one, California is an extraordinarily high cost-of-living state. Whether it is the state’s housing affordability crisis – California’s median home value per square foot is, on average, 2.1 times higher than Arizona, Texas, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington’s – California’s very expensive energy costs – the state’s residential electric price is about 1.5 times higher than the competing states – or the Golden State’s oppressive tax burden – California ranks 6th, nationally, in state-local tax burdens – those living in California are hit with a variety of higher bills, which cuts into their bottom line. Read More > at Real Clear Markets

The quake-maker you’ve never heard of: Cascadia – Mother Earth slowly reveals her secrets, and this time, it’s a fault line deep in the belly of the planet.

Its name is a whopper: The Cascadia subduction zone.

Its gargantuan size and potential power amaze earthquake experts, who say it could cause the worst natural disaster in the history of North America — if it ruptures entirely.

This quake-maker sits at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, where the seabed meets the North American tectonic plate. In all, it stretches 700 miles along the Pacific Northwest, from British Columbia’s Vancouver Island to Washington to Oregon to northern California’s Cape Mendocino.

In fact, “the Cascadia” already has made history, causing the largest earthquake in the continental United States on January 26, 1700. That’s when the Cascadia unleashed one of the world’s biggest quakes, causing a tsunami so big that it rampaged across the Pacific and damaged coastal villages in Japan.

Now it’s a question of when the Cascadia will strike again, scientists say.

…Everyone knows the Cascadia’s cousin in California: the San Andreas Fault. It gets all the scary glamor, with even a movie this year, “San Andreas,” dramatizing an apocalypse in the western U.S.

Truth is, the San Andreas is a lightweight compared with the Cascadia.

The Cascadia can deliver a quake that’s many times stronger — plus a tsunami. Read More > at CNN

Dan Walters: California has 5 would-be governors – Five Democrats – all middle-aged men, interestingly – are emitting varying levels of vibration about running.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who rose to political prominence as mayor of San Francisco and pulled back from seeking the governorship in 2010, is the only declared candidate. He’s busily raising money and trying to get as much media attention as his powerless office allows.

John Chiang, state controller before segueing into the state treasurer’s office in 2014, all but announced his candidacy on Tuesday, telling a group of business executives, in response to a question, that he’s “strongly leaning toward running,” and adding, “I’m almost there.”

Antonio Villaraigosa had a mixed record as mayor of Los Angeles and has been out of office for three years, but he is trying to maintain a presence by traveling the state on what he describes as an effort to educate himself about its issues.

Former Controller Steve Westly, who made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2006, has maintained a low public profile, but has been quietly talking to political insiders and interest groups about giving it another try. He has considerable personal wealth.

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer has been trying to gain some attention not only on climate change but on gasoline prices and on income equality, about which he obviously has personal knowledge. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

The Top 3 Myths About Beatlemania – On February 9, 1964, the Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show, reaching an audience of over 70 million.

Overnight, America emerged from post-Dallas national mourning, thanks to the upbeat musical ministrations of those four loveable strangers from Liverpool.

One minute, no one had even heard of the Beatles; the next, thousands of hysterical girls spontaneously descended upon New York’s newly rechristened JFK International Airport to welcome the quartet.

“Beatlemania,” we called it.

The U.S. had never seen anything like it — and neither had the English, who promptly press-ganged more guitar groups to mount a “British invasion.” Read More > at PJ media

How RFID Chips Are Changing The NFL – The chip technology that’s making your credit card more secure is also bringing big changes to football. This past year, every NFL player got hooked up to the internet with little chips. Equipped into their shoulder pads are now two radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips that wirelessly communicate location data. The quarter-sized tags also contain an accelerometer for measuring speed. The technology is sold by Chicago-based location tracking solutions company Zebra Technology.

Every NFL stadium has 20 receivers placed around the field for picking up the data coming off the RFID tags. The chips are sending out a wireless signal 25 times a second to these receivers. From there, that data takes 120 milliseconds to get beamed to Zebra’s NFL command center’s server located in San Jose, California. And during games, the data is sent to broadcasters in under half a second.

For now, the majority of this data is used by broadcasters to show viewers the exact location and speed of every player on the field. This is all new data NFL fans never previously had access to. “NFL statistics hadn’t changed for 20-25 years,” said Jill Stelfox, vice president and general manager of location services at Zebra. With this new data, game analysis can include player speed and location for every play with extreme accuracy.

But football coaches are starting to use the chips during practice too. Players are increasingly getting hooked up with heart rate monitors, hydration patches and other wearable technology. Zebra’s RFID tags also have Bluetooth radios, so all that biometric data can be collected in real time. Using a Microsoft Surface Tablet, an app alerts coaches if a player has been running for too long, they’re dehydrated, or if their heart rate is too elavated. The NFL doesn’t currently allow for this kind of biometric data collection during games, though — during the game, coaches must still rely on their instincts and experience. However, these chips will be used for in-game analysis one day, Stelfox said. Read More > in Forbes

No plug? Why is Google working on wireless charging for cars – Google is working on wireless charging for its already driverless cars, according to recent reports.

IEEE Spectrum revealed that Google’s parent company, Alphabet, filed documents at the US Federal Communication Commission that suggest Google is working towards plugless charging for its cars.

…Both of the prototype chargers produced by HEVO and Momentum Dynamics employ resonant magnetic induction to transfer power from charger to receiver. HEVO’s chargers are shaped like large hockey pucks, and can be embedded in pavement. Self driving cars with wireless receivers would merely need to be parked over the chargers to power up.

…Manufacturers hope to eventually develop resonant magnetic induction technology to the point where cars will be able to charge as they drive. Not only would this enable cars to carry lighter batteries, but it would also increase travel ranges for electric cars. Currently, the inability to travel great distances between charging stations is one of the concerns electric car manufacturers must face. Read More > in The Christian Science Monitor

CSU threatens unprecedented 5-day strike in April – The California State University faculty union will bring teaching to a halt at all 23 campuses in April — an unprecedented move for the 470,000-student university system — unless an agreement over salaries is reached before then, it announced Monday morning.

The strike would be held for five days: April 13-15 and April 18-19.

“We don’t want to strike, but we will,” said Jennifer Eagan, president of the California Faculty Association and a professor at CSU East Bay. “The faculty will not back down.”

Citing the state’s economic recovery and the additional funding flowing to the massive university system, the union is demanding 5 percent raises for its members and an additional 1.2 percent for some faculty, a proposal that would cost nearly $102 million, according to CSU. The 5 percent raises alone would cost $82 million.

The union argues CSU can afford it, and that it must make faculty pay a priority. The average salary of its members, including part-time employees, is about $46,000, the union reports. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

November: Ballot props lining up – One thing about California’s lineup of looming ballot propositions: You can’t say they aren’t interesting.

The general election isn’t until November, but the array of measures facing voters is taking shape.

From school bonds to the environment to condoms to drugs to plastic bags, and more, voters already are set to vote on seven propositions on the November ballot.

And there are more in the wings: Backers of another 66 proposed initiatives are in the process of gathering signatures. Those include legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and boosting the minimum wage.

The longest list of propositions on a single California ballot, 48, was on the Nov. 3, 1914 ballot. Read More > at Capitol Weekly

Legislators ask California for $23M for Earthquake Early Warning System – Three state lawmakers introduced bills Monday that would direct $23 million in state funds toward an Earthquake Early Warning system being developed for the West Coast.

The concurrent legislation in both the Assembly and the state Senate would fund California’s portion of the $38 million ShakeAlert system that experts say could offer more than a minute warning before a temblor reaches a community. The system could slow trains, stop elevators at the nearest floor and give people a chance to take cover.

The legislators said California is expected to end the next fiscal year with a reserve of $11.5 billion, making the investment only a small fraction of that overall budget. The bills strike language from an earlier law that prohibited using general fund dollars to develop the warning system.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates that California accounts for $3.5 billion, or 66 percent, of the nationwide annual losses from earthquakes. Read More > in the Los Angeles Daily News

Rebellion in California – …At a nondescript gas station in the town of Redding, you notice the first sign of the breakaway movement: a rack of forest-green sweatshirts bearing a yellow seal marked with a bold black double X. It’s the seal of the State of Jefferson, an idea that dates back more than 70 years and is currently being revived by a passionate group of separatists. They are pushing to split from the Golden State and form a new state roughly the size of North Carolina, but with one-fifth of the population. It’s a move that would require approval from both the California Legislature and the U.S. Congress.

The fight to create Jefferson is the longest of long shots, a Hail Mary pass made by folks who are sick of being underrepresented in the state legislature and ignored by California’s urban centers. Cut off from the seats of power by geography, alienated by the state’s left-leaning politics and tendency toward regulation, enduring stubbornly high unemployment, facing the decimation of traditional industries such as logging, and harboring few prospects for economic growth, these disaffected citizens — overwhelmingly white and mostly conservative — share many of the concerns about central state overreach as the militia members who recently took control of a wildlife refuge in Oregon. They, however, are committed to a political solution rather than an armed rebellion.

…Of the 120 state representatives and senators in the California State Legislature, only seven hail from the 25 counties north of Sacramento, which have a combined population of about 2 million.

…Any such case would rely on a challenge to the Supreme Court’s 1964 decision in Reynolds v. Sims, a landmark in that era’s voting-rights struggle. In Reynolds, the plaintiffs argued that urban districts of Alabama (home to a significant percentage of the state’s black citizens) were harmfully underrepresented in the state’s legislature. The court ruled 8-1, on the “one man, one vote” principle, that state legislatures had to be apportioned on the basis of population, not geography. The way Chief Justice Warren put it in his famous decision was, “Legislators represent people, not trees or acres.”

That meant that in a state like California, the system for apportioning legislators — in which each county had one state senator, regardless of population — had to change. In 1964, L.A. County had 6 million residents and just one senator, the same representation as Lake County, with 14,000 residents. Today, thanks to Reynolds, L.A. County, with 9.8 million people, has eight state senators whose districts are completely within its borders, while 11 counties in the northern part of the state share just 1.

That, Baird says, means that the residents of rural northern California, where trees and acres are much more plentiful than people, don’t stand a chance of getting anyone to listen to them.

To solve that, he says a brand-new state is the best solution. In Baird’s imagining, Jefferson would have less government, more local control, and an almost archetypal incarnation of the democracy envisioned by the Founding Fathers. It is, at its heart, a fundamentalist vision. Read More > at the New York Daily News

Upfront: Coyote crazy – West Marin residents have lately been reporting a strange sight on Highway 1 near the Slide Ranch turnoff. It’s all the talk at Beth’s Community Kitchen in Bolinas and elsewhere: A coyote has taken to staring down automobile drivers as they drive through this twisting, turning section of highway, before attacking the car and then skulking off back into the wilderness. The coyote runs up to the cars, usually at night, forcing drivers to stop as the beast stares and sniffs around the vehicle.

The coyote “attacks” have happened a bunch of times, to enough people, to warrant calls to figure out what’s going on with the animal. Or, animals, as the latest grist out of Bolinas has it that there are now two coyotes acting a little weird, or a lot weird: Drive-by coyote stare-downs have now become part of the normative experience for a Bolinas-based individual who makes numerous nighttime airport runs every week. We are not identifying this individual, who fears retribution at the vengeful paws of these bushy-tailed beasts. He would only say, “It’s a terrifying, yet beautiful thing to behold.”

There are three possible scenarios to explain the behavior, ranging from least probable, kind of fun to consider and most probable. The least probable problem with the coyote, or coyotes, is rabies. This sort of “Old Yeller” type of aggression usually comes at the end-stage of the disease, the “terror stage” or “zombie stage” of rabies, at which point the animal is going to die, Bloch says.

These coyote attacks have been going on for at least three weeks. If it were rabies, Bloch says, the coyote would likely be dead by now. “If this is going on longer than a week or so, then it’s likely not rabies. And we don’t suspect rabies, just because it is pretty rare.”

Whew, it’s not rabies. It is possible, but not probable, that the coyote has eaten something—perhaps a fly agaric mushroom (amanita muscaria) which has hallucinogenic properties—and has subsequently been tripping its tail off. The cars would therefore be some sort of coyote vision, a dark vision of human interlopers, who must be stopped before the rents get any higher in West Marin. That would be kind of cool.

Bloch could not completely rule out the possibility that coyotes are having psychedelic experiences out on the feral fringes of civilization, and in fact she has been counseling dog owners of late on the dangers of poisonous mushrooms in our midst. Read More > at Pacific Sun

End of the Road May Be Near for Side Mirrors – BEFORE engineers dreamed of eliminating drivers in cars, they imagined eliminating the side mirrors. The protuberances are ugly, create aerodynamic drag, and their associated blind spots are the bane of parking-challenged drivers everywhere.

But now, a long-sought solution looks closer to finally stripping cars of their Mickey Mouse ears, as many automakers demonstrate video systems that replace side mirrors with cameras.

…In a customized Mercedes-Benz CLS, Continental demonstrated how its system would work. Thumb-size video cameras on the exterior of the car replace the side-mounted mirrors and use interior screens on the left and right side of the dashboard to deliver views of what is next to and behind the car.

The screens are near where a driver would normally look to check a mirror, and the camera views are wider than what a physical mirror can provide, eliminating blind spots along the side of the car. The cameras, which can automatically adjust to reduce glare from sunlight or increase brightness at night, are also helpful in tight parking spots.

…We were in an exotic-looking BMW i8 sports car with tiny cameras on stalks instead of side mirrors. Together with a camera just above the rear window, the three views can be displayed on a high-resolution monitor that replaces the rearview mirror. A glance up gives the driver a picture of what is beside and behind the vehicle. Read More > in The New York Times

I don’t care how you do it. Someone has to fix the cable box. – Last week, the Federal Communications Commission revealed a proposal that would loosen the cable industry’s hold on the cable box — that flat, gray or black box that sits on your TV stand and is largely ignored until you move to your next home.

Great, you may say. Why would any normal person care about something so boring? The truth is, this proposal could actually make that set-top box an interesting product. Not only could it affect how you watch your TV shows, movies and videos — it could also make products such as the Apple TV, the Amazon Fire TV and others a far more integral part of your home. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

As my colleague Brian Fung outlined last week, the immediate impact for consumers if this proposal is approved would be that they’d be able to save some money by not renting their cable box from their provider. On average, consumers pay $20 a month to rent the devices. But a more interesting development may be a little more nebulous: It could also change the way we watch television, by allowing other companies to make set-top boxes that can completely replace the one you get from your cable company.

And that’s been the source of a lot of controversy. Read More > in The Washington Post

Why Are Fewer American Women Getting Abortions? – American women are having significantly fewer abortions than in the past. Since 2010, the Associated Press recently reported, the number of abortions nationwide has decreased by about 12 percent. This decline has been happening, slowly and steadily, for a quarter of a century: Since 1990, the rate of abortions has fallen by more than a third, and the raw number of abortions has fallen by more than half.

If public opinion has not shifted on the issue, then why are American women getting fewer abortions? There are a number of possible explanations, although none are fully satisfying. The decline seems to be driven by three very different groups of women: those who can’t access abortions; those who no longer need to get abortions because of the availability of contraception; and those who don’t want to get abortions. For all these groups, one thing that seems clear: Americans don’t just see abortion as a political issue, and certainly not just as a health issue. Despite Americans’ increasingly progressive attitudes toward nearly every other aspect of reproduction and sexuality over the last half century, abortion continues to be a source of cultural conflict, a deeply personal and moral choice that defies the neat application of political language like “rights” and “freedom.” Abortion was, and is, a major tension point of the culture wars, but it has not followed the same political trajectory as its sister issues.

…Another explanation could be that the need for abortions has gone down. One important aspect of this is the decline in teen pregnancies. In 2010, teen pregnancy reached its lowest point in 30 years, and between 2002 and 2011, the rate of abortions among girls aged 15-19 decreased by 34 percent, according to the CDC. Over the last decade, teen pregnancy has “dropped off precipitously in a way that’s pretty amazing in terms of public-health outcomes,” said Mara Gandal-Powers, a lawyer at the National Women’s Law Center. “We know that’s because teens are, one, using contraception more and, two, using multiple methods of contraception at the same time.”

But among other American women, the situation is less clear. Since certain portions of the Affordable Care Act took effect in 2012, birth control has become free for many American women, since the law requires most insurance plans to cover contraception without charging individuals. According to the CDC, roughly 62 percent of American women of childbearing age used some sort of contraception as of 2013. Yet according to a report by a company that tracks the pharmaceuticals industry, women aren’t necessarily using more birth control. For example, the number of prescriptions for the pill—the most popular form of contraception—has only increased slightly the past half decade, rising from 93 to 95 million between 2009 and 2013. Read More > in The Atlantic

This radioactive life – Radiation is everywhere. The question is: How much?

Radiation is a part of life. There are radioactive elements in most of the materials we encounter on a daily basis, which constantly spray us with radiation. For the average American, this adds up to a dose of about 620 millirem of radiation every year. That’s roughly equivalent to 10 abdominal X-rays.

…Natural background radiation originates from outer space, the atmosphere, the ground, and our own bodies. There’s radon in the air we breathe, radium in the water we drink and miscellaneous radioactive elements in the food we eat. Some of these pass through our bodies without much ado, but some get incorporated into our molecules. When the nuclei eventually decay, our own bodies expose us to tiny doses of radiation.

It’s no reason to panic, though.

“The human species, and everything around us, has evolved over the ages while receiving radiation from natural sources. It has formed us. So clearly there is an acceptable level of radiation,” Rokni says.

Any radiation not considered background comes from manmade sources, primarily through diagnostic or therapeutic medical procedures. In the early 1980s, medical procedures accounted for 15 percent of an American’s yearly radiation exposure—they now account for 48 percent.

…Yearly radiation exposure varies significantly depending on where you live. People at higher altitudes receive a greater dose of radiation showered from space per year. Read More > at Symmetry

Mexico’s oil industry now has an organized-crime problem – Mexican oil prices fell after a brief rally earlier this week, slipping to $24.47 a barrel on Tuesday and prolonging the slide of one of the country’s most lucrative exports.

In addition to the continuing downstream pain — or the brutally low prices oil is being sold for on the market — Mexico’s oil industry is dealing with a severe theft problem preventing an increasing amount of its production from ever getting to market.

Pipeline theft in Mexico rose 52% in 2015 according to an Associated Press report, a spike that comes after a 43.7% annual increase recorded in 2014.

Drug cartels have also found fuel theft especially profitable.

In Tamaulipas state, which is close to Gulf of Mexico oil production, authorities “found that a cell of the deadly Zetas gang was organizing oil robbery and transporting the crude into Texas,” journalist Ioan Grillo reported in 2011.

Documents released by the Mexican government in early 2014 revealed that oil theft affected every Mexican state, with Los Zetas territory in Tamaulipas and Veracruz states experiencing the most rapid growth. Read More > at Business Insider

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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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