Sunday Reading – 02/28/16


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.

An Australian neurosurgeon has completed a world-first marathon surgery removing cancer-riddled vertebrae and successfully replacing them with a 3D-printed body part.

Tablets Are Dead – In 2010, tablets were supposed to be the new hot thing. Apple released the first iPad, Samsung was working on the Galaxy Tab and countless others were about to flood the market with Android tablets. Six years later, there weren’t any tablets at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Companies and consumers have moved on. Tablets are dead.

…There are a few reasons why tablets have become so unpopular. First, tablets are now a commodity. You can find dozens of perfectly fine tablets for less than $200. And there’s no differentiating factor between Android tablets. As a result, companies are not making a profit on them.

Second, chances are you already have a tablet at home and it’s working fine. There’s no reason why you should upgrade it — it probably runs Netflix, Facebook and the Kindle app. It has a browser and your emails. Long replacement cycles mean you don’t need to pay attention to the new and shiny tablets.

Third, phones are getting bigger. The LG G5 (5.3-inch display) and Samsung Galaxy S7 (5.1-inch display) are the two most interesting flagship phones that were announced at Mobile World Congress. The first Samsung Galaxy Note had a 5.3-inch display. At the time, we called it a phablet. Today, it would be an average phone. Big phones are the new normal, and everybody uses their phones constantly to interact with other people and do everything they’d do on a tablet. Read More > at Tech Crunch

Did Global Warming Slow Down in the 2000s, or Not? – The global warming “hiatus,” a controversy that spawned congressional hearings and thousands of skeptical blog posts before being curbed last year, is back.

The “hiatus” refers to the observation that global warming has slowed in the past 15 years. The planet is still warming, but just not as quickly as some climate scientists expected it to.

The debate between researchers and doubters reached a crescendo last summer, when scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration updated their temperature records and concluded that global warming has not slowed down in the 2000s (ClimateWire, June 5, 2015).

Now, a group of prominent climate scientists are challenging NOAA’s conclusion in a commentary published this week in Nature Climate Change.

“The interpretation [the NOAA group] made was not valid,” said John Fyfe, a climate scientist at Environment and Climate Change Canada and lead author of the commentary. “The slowdown is there, even in this new updated data set.”

The disagreement may seem esoteric, but it underpins the biggest climate disagreement of the past decades. Climate models, which are virtual representations of our planet, project that temperatures were much higher in the early 2000s than was the case in reality. Scientists have been trying to understand why. Read More > at Scientific American

Here’s How Electric Cars Will Cause the Next Oil Crisis – With all good technologies, there comes a time when buying the alternative no longer makes sense. Think smartphones in the past decade, color TVs in the 1970s, or even gasoline cars in the early 20th century. Predicting the timing of these shifts is difficult, but when it happens, the whole world changes.

It’s looking like the 2020s will be the decade of the electric car.

Battery prices fell 35 percent last year and are on a trajectory to make unsubsidized electric vehicles as affordable as their gasoline counterparts in the next six years, according to a new analysis of the electric-vehicle market by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). That will be the start of a real mass-market liftoff for electric cars.

By 2040, long-range electric cars will cost less than $22,000 (in today’s dollars), according to the projections. Thirty-five percent of new cars worldwide will have a plug.

This isn’t something oil markets are planning for, and it’s easy to see why. Plug-in cars make up just one-tenth of 1 percent of the global car market today. They’re a rarity on the streets of most countries and still cost significantly more than similar gasoline burners. OPEC maintains that electric vehicles (EVs) will make up just 1 percent of cars in 2040. Last year ConocoPhillips Chief Executive Officer Ryan Lance told me EVs won’t have a material impact for another 50 years—probably not in his lifetime.

But here’s what we know: In the next few years, Tesla, Chevy, and Nissan plan to start selling long-range electric cars in the $30,000 range. Other carmakers and tech companies are investing billions on dozens of new models. By 2020, some of these will cost less and perform better than their gasoline counterparts. The aim would be to match the success of Tesla’s Model S, which now outsells its competitors in the large luxury class in the U.S. The question then is how much oil demand will these cars displace? And when will the reduced demand be enough to tip the scales and cause the next oil crisis? Read More > at Bloomberg Business

Kohl’s is closing stores as the department store industry collapses – Kohl’s is closing 18 stores following a disappointing fourth quarter.

The department store chain reported a 20% drop in fourth quarter profit on Thursday, and said it expects relatively flat sales for the year.

The stores represent less than 1% of total sales, and closing them is expected to cut costs by roughly $45 million, the company said.

The retailer said it would provide a list of which stores are closing in late March.

“While the decision to close stores is a difficult one, we evaluated all of the elements that contribute to making a store successful, and we were thoughtful and strategic in our approach. We are committed to leveraging our resources on our more productive assets,” Kohl’s CEO Kevin Mansell said in a release.

Department store competitors Macy’s, Sears, and JCPenney have been closing stores. Read More > at Yahoo! Finance

Santa Ana Averaging One Shooting Per Day – The City of Santa Ana is reeling from a troubling uptick in violent crime since the start of 2016. There have been 55 shootings over the past 50 days, according to authorities, and Santa Ana Police Chief Carlos Rojas said last week was the worst of them all.

Between last Tuesday and Friday, three people died in shootings and two others were wounded. Among the injured was a Santa Ana police officer.

Like many other cops who have seen a crime increase in their communities, Rojas is pointing the finger at Proposition 47. The measure, which was passed by voters in 2014, reduced penalties for some crimes and allowed some criminals to avoid jail time.

“We’re seeing more gang activity now, and I think a lot of that has to do with gang members being released into the community and more of a soft-on-crime approach,” Rojas said. Police union President John Franks concurred, saying the law has created a “perfect storm” by leading to the release of rival gang members who end up battling each other on the streets. Read More > at California City News

Target is soaring past Walmart and Amazon in the most important category – Target’s sales are skyrocketing in a category that will determine the future of retail.

On Wednesday, the retail chain reported that digital sales increased 34% in the fourth quarter.

For comparison, Walmart’s digital sales increased by just 8% in the fourth quarter. Target even beat the e-commerce giant Amazon, which grew net sales 26% last quarter.

E-commerce still makes up only a small percentage of sales at most traditional retail chains — 5% in Target’s fourth quarter.

But it plays a major role in growth. Two-thirds of Target’s 1.9% increase in comparable sales was rooted in digital. Read More > at Business Insider

Samsung is building 256GB memory chips for smartphones – Your smartphone may soon have as much storage as a typical PC. Samsung has announced that it’s mass producing 256GB embedded chips, double what it had last year, using the Universal Flash Storage (UFS) 2.0 standard. That gives them read speeds nearly twice that of typical SATA-based SSDs at 850MB/s, though write speeds are lower at 250MB/s. It also supports 45,000 IOPS, more than double the speed of last-gen UFS memory. Samsung’s memory division VP says the company is “moving aggressively to enhance performance and capacity” of smartphone memory and SSD products, too.

The company says that the high 256GB capacity will make it possible to store weighty content like 4K movies and also transfer them faster thanks to the USB 3.0 interface. We’re not sure if you’ve downloaded too many 360-degree movies lately, but those are not exactly lightweight, either — and Samsung, for one, has made a bit bet on virtual reality. The company has started production of the chips and will ramp it up in line with global demand. Read More > at Engadget

How NASA accidentally found a way to make buildings safer during earthquakes – NASA developed a new stabilizing technology, known as the LOX Damper, in 2013 after working on a violently shaking rocket. Testing revealed that the Ares rocket, a crew launch vehicle, would shake so hard during ascent that it could harm astronauts on board. So one NASA team experimented with controlling the heaviest part of the rocket—its fuel. That got the team thinking: If this technique worked on a rocket, why not a building?

To understand what’s so distinctive about this new technology, it’s helpful to know that the normal approach to counteracting vibrations is to add more weight to an object. Hundreds of buildings around the world use a system called a tuned mass damper (TMD). A very heavy device, called a secondary mass, is attached to a building to counteract its movements. One of the world’s tallest skyscrapers, Taipei 101 in Taiwan, features a 730-ton gold ball set on springs. The Comcast Center building in Philadelphia, meanwhile, has a tank containing thousands of gallons of water. These systems respond to movements by shifting in the opposite direction. So if an earthquake or high winds force a skyscraper to sway to the right, the TMD responds by swaying to the left—mitigating the motion.

…In the case of the 650,000-pound Ares rocket, a TMD system wasn’t practical. Adding more weight would have made it impossible to get the rocket off the ground. Berry and his team had to get creative. They realized that making the rocket’s fuel move in a way that counteracted the vibration would perform the same function as adding more weight. So they identified the frequency of the rocket’s vibration—then changed the liquid’s frequency to match it.

The final version of the LOX Damper weighed less than 100 pounds and was installed in the rocket’s main fuel tank. This altered the fundamental response of the rocket, resulting in 20 times less vibration. The result was a rocket safe for humans.

The same concept can be applied to buildings, Berry explains. Read More > at Quartz

Poorest Areas Have Missed Out on Boons of Recovery, Study Finds – The gap between the richest and poorest American communities has widened since the Great Recession ended, and distressed areas are faring worse just as the recovery is gaining traction across much of the country.

These findings, outlined in a study to be released on Thursday by the Economic Innovation Group, a new nonprofit research and advocacy organization, may help explain why the country’s economic and political situation has become so polarized in recent years. The results, broken down into areas as small as individual ZIP codes, provide one of the most detailed looks at the nation’s growing inequality.

From 2010 to 2013, for example, employment in the most prosperous neighborhoods in the United States jumped by more than a fifth, according to the group’s analysis of Census Bureau data. But in bottom-ranked neighborhoods, the number of jobs fell sharply: One in 10 businesses closed down.

“It’s almost like you are looking at two different countries,” said Steve Glickman, executive director of the Economic Innovation Group, which created a new tool called the Distressed Communities Index. Read More > in The New York Times

Appeals Court Upholds Limit on Sharing of Tips Among Workers – Businesses cannot collect tips given to waiters, casino dealers or other service employees to share with support staff such as dishwashers even if the tipped employees are receiving minimum wage, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The 2-1 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2011 U.S. Labor Department rule.

The 9th Circuit said Tuesday that the rule was reasonable and consistent with Congress’s goal of ensuring tips stay with employees who receive them.

The court overturned district courts in Nevada and Oregon. The 9th Circuit ruling would largely apply to states that require workers to get the state minimum wage on top of any tips. Seven states fall into that category, according to the labor department’s Wage and Hour Division: Alaska, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Read More > at ABC News

Daylight saving time could end in California – Springing forward and falling back would be reserved for gymnasts under a California bill seeking to eliminate daylight saving time.

If you’ve ever awoken an hour early, showed up to work an hour late or groaned at having to reset all your clocks because of the biannual time shifts, Assemblyman Kansen Chu, D-San Jose, feels your pain.

“I heard some complaints last year from some of the senior citizens (in my district) and their care providers who say this one-hour difference really impacted their lives,” Chu said.

So he did some research. The results cast daylight saving time in a negative light. There’s evidence it’s correlated with an uptick in workplace accidents, he said. There’s evidence that it does not limit energy consumption: after instituting daylight saving time in 2006, one study found, Indiana actually used more electricity.

Hence Assembly Bill 2496, which would end the practice in California, undoing a law that voters approved back in 1949 via Proposition 12. Read More > at McClatchy DC

Laid Off Disney Worker Will Tell Congress: ‘Disney Is Not An Anomaly’ – One of the workers Disney fired and forced to train his foreign replacement is scheduled to testify before Congress Thursday, when he will share his story and plead with lawmakers to recognize it as part of a nationwide problem with the H-1b visa program.

“This situation at Disney is not an anomaly,” Leo Perrero says in prepared testimony obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation. “This same abuse of the H1B program is happening nationwide.”

Perrero was laid off just ahead of the holidays in 2014 and then forced to train his foreign replacement on an H-1b visa, before he and hundreds of other IT workers at Disney in Florida left their job. He had been at Disney for more than 10 years and received outstanding performance reviews, and actually thought he was being called in for a pat on the back when his boss laid him off.

Businesses say they need the H-1b program, which gives them access to temporary foreign guest workers, in order to fill jobs that Americans can’t or won’t do, particularly in the tech industry. But the program’s critics contend it was designed to give companies a way to displace American workers with cheaper foreign workers, and that Disney-style layoffs are happening all over the country. Read More > at The Daily Caller

The Status Quo City – It’s natural to be unsettled by change, but residents of San Francisco take resistance to change to absurd levels. In 1958, Gavin Elster—the shipping magnate played by Tom Helmore in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo—expressed San Francisco’s deeply engrained ambivalence to change well: “The things that spell San Francisco to me are disappearing fast.” A recent letter to the editor in the San Francisco Chronicle shared the typical modern lament: “Has San Francisco’s economic growth truly made it a more interesting place to live? Or just a place with more shiny but soulless places to spend money?”

Every day, similar hyperbole appears in the press, in social media, and in conversations: San Francisco is becoming a “hollow city” catering to highly paid tech workers. Most job growth has been in the Silicon Valley suburbs an hour or so south, and the “Google buses” ferrying young professionals up and down the peninsula have become symbols of an invasion. Contemporary San Franciscans resent them the way earlier locals resented the influx of Chinese in the 1870s and the gays and lesbians in the 1970s. This time around, it’s the young and well-paid newcomers who threaten the status quo, not the poor or marginalized. We hear that these people aren’t like us, they don’t share our values, and they should go back where they came from.

Paradoxically, in a city famed for new ideas, resistance to change is a cherished San Francisco value. The city’s population is less than one tenth that of New York, yet the San Francisco planning department processes three times more applications than Gotham’s planning commission. That’s because public review—with generous opportunities to appeal—is a cherished sport here. For example, any exterior building alteration to a structure more than 50 years old requires historic review by the city—a process that can easily take a year. Environmental review of a proposal to install bicycle lanes took three years. When a proposal for a cluster of office and residential towers downtown—without any residential displacement and with 40 percent of the housing to be permanently affordable—came before the planning commission recently, protesters chanting “genocide” shut the hearing down. Read More > at City Journal

US residents drove record 3.1 trillion miles in 2015 – U.S. drivers traveled a record more than 3 trillion miles on the nation’s roads and highways in 2015, according to statistics from the Department of Transportation.

The agency said Monday it has calculated there were 3.148 trillion miles traveled between January and December of last year. The DOT said the previous record was 3.003 trillion miles traveled in 2007.

The transportation department said the figures demonstrate the need for continued investment in the nation’s infrastructure.

“The new figures confirm the trends identified in ‘Beyond Traffic,’ a USDOT report issued last year, which projects a 43 percent increase in commercial truck shipments and population growth of 70 million by 2045,” the agency said.
“Our current infrastructure has ever increasing demands on it, and investments are needed in both the short and long term. Increased gridlock nationwide can be expected unless these investments are made. Read More > in The Hill

Saudi Oil Minister Rules Out Possibility of Production Cuts – Saudi Arabia’s petroleum minister on Tuesday ruled out the possibility that a recently announced oil production freeze by several countries might lead to cuts to reverse the plunge in oil prices.

“There is no sense wasting our time seeking production cuts,” Ali bin Ibrahim al-Naimi told energy executives at the annual IHS CERAweek conference. “That will not happen.”

Mr. Naimi’s comments put further pressure on oil prices. The price of West Texas intermediate crude oil, the United States benchmark, turned sharply lower after his remarks and settled at $31.87, down more than 4 percent.

Mr. Naimi is widely considered the most influential voice in energy policy in Saudi Arabia, which dominates the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, so his words are followed closely and typically move both energy and equity markets.

In recent days, there had been the prospect that a recent announcement by Saudi Arabia, Russia, Venezuela and Qatar to cap production at January levels might herald new coordination among producing countries. Read More > in The New York Times

Big-Box Stores Are One of Solar’s Largest Untapped Resources – If solar is going to meet a meaningful portion of America’s energy needs, it needs to find more markets. A new report examines a market that’s still largely untapped: the rooftops of big-box stores.

The report, released by Environment America and the Frontier Group, details why these rooftops are “perfect” for solar PV projects. The reasons are obvious. The rooftops of big-box stores are largely flat, vacant, and also plentiful.

Super stores represent a high-growth area in the non-residential market. But there are serious challenges to implementation.

Policy and financing aren’t necessarily hurdles — it’s customer acquisition, as well as the lengthy and costly sales process.

The report groups super stores, grocery stores and malls, and finds that these businesses account for 5 percent of domestic electricity use. These buildings also encompass 102,000 locations with 4.5 billion cumulative square feet.

Their rooftops could host 62.3 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity — the equivalent capacity of more than 7 million homes in the United States. Read More > at Greentech Media

California condors reach key survival milestone in the wild – A captive breeding program that at one time included every living California condor has passed a key milestone in helping North America’s largest bird return to the wild.

Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday that for the first time in decades, more condors hatched and fledged in the wild last year than adult wild condors died.

Fourteen young condors took flight compared with 12 that died. Officials say it’s a small difference but a big step since the last 22 wild condors were captured in the 1980s to start the breeding program that releases offspring into the wild.

“That’s an indication that the program is succeeding,” said Eric Davis, the Wildlife Service’s coordinator for the California condor program. “We hope that wild birds start producing wild chicks, and that is what is happening more and more.”

In 2011, California condors in the wild for the first time outnumbered condors in captivity since the start of the breeding program. The wild population has since grown to 268 wild condors with 167 in captivity.

Officials also counted 27 wild condor nests last year. Nineteen were in California, three in the Arizona-Utah border area, and five in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona has a condor nest, officials said, as does Zions National Park in Utah and Pinnacles National Park in central California. Read More > at KPCC

California tax board lowers gas tax 2.2 cents per gallon – California’s tax board voted Tuesday to lower the state excise tax on gasoline by 2.2 cents per gallon as of July 1.

Drivers in California overpaid their gas taxes last year under a complicated formula that was used to help bridge a state budget deficit in 2010, Board of Equalization Vice Chairman George Runner said. So the board voted 3-2 to lower the tax to 27.8 cents per gallon for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2017.

That move would reduce the amount of money going to roads and mass transit programs by about $328 million next year.

The board calculates the tax rate to bring in the same amount of money the old sales tax would have collected. Drivers may not see a difference at the pump because of that and other factors affecting gas prices. Read More > in The Orange County Register

The Trickle of U.S. Oil Exports Is Already Shifting Global Power – …For the Saudis and their OPEC cohorts, who collectively control 40 percent of the globe’s oil supply, the specter of U.S. crude landing at European and Asian refineries further weakens their grip on world petroleum prices at a time they are already suffering from lower prices and stiffened competition. With Russia also seeing its influence over European energy buyers lessened, the two crude superpowers last week tentatively agreed to freeze oil output at near-record levels, the first such coordination in a decade and a half.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is also poised to make its first shipments of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, from shale onto world markets within weeks, about two months later than scheduled. Cheniere Energy Inc. expects to have about 9 million metric tons a year of LNG available for its own portfolio from nine liquefaction trains being developed at two complexes in Texas. That’s enough to power Norway and Denmark combined for a year.

…Beyond corporations, the Dec. 18 lifting of the export ban by Congress and President Barack Obama created geopolitical winners and losers, too. The U.S., awash in shale oil, has gained while powerful exporters like Russia and Saudi Arabia, for whom oil represents not just profits but also power, find themselves on the downswing.

…The U.S. remains a net importer, but its demand for foreign oil has fallen by 32 percent since peaking in 2005. West Texas Intermediate crude fell 4.6 percent to settle at $31.87 on the New York Mercantile Exchange Tuesday, down about 35 percent from a year earlier.

Meanwhile, plummeting oil and gas prices, driven in part by the U.S. shale revolution, have already eroded OPEC and Russia’s abilities to use natural resources as foreign policy cudgels. They are also squeezing petroleum-rich economies from Venezuela to Nigeria that rely heavily on crude receipts to fund everything from military budgets to fuel subsidies. Read More > at Bloomberg

Top Republican and Democratic zip codes in the Bay Area – As primary election season comes into full swing many are beginning to question what role their locale will play in determining our nation’s next president.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle voter registration database, the Bay Area has very distinctive lines on where Republican and Democratic voters reside. If you are a resident of Contra Costa County you are more likely to vote Republican and if you live in San Francisco and Alameda Counties you tend to vote Democratic.

Some inland California cities like Dixon, Vacaville, and Morgan Hill tend to vote Republican.

Does your zip code make the top 10 for Republican or Democrat? Click the slideshow above to find out.

The Death of Political Parties in California? – Are both political parties collapsing in California?

Over the past few years the release of Secretary of State data showing a drop in Republican registration has become a routine news story in California.

The trend line for the Grand Ol’ Party certainly isn’t a good one, but it’s not as singularly bad as overly simplistic headlines might suggest. While no party wants to see a decline in membership it’s helpful to look at what’s happening to both major parties to provide better context.

Republican registration has dropped 7% since 2006 and now sits at just over 27% of registered voters in the state. Republican voters tend to be older, whiter and more likely to vote than their Democrat and ‘No Party Preference’ counterparts.

Democrat registration has remained relatively flat during the same time frame, holding the line at 43% of registrants. On paper it would appear that this 15% point differential explains why California has become such a blue state recently.

Not so fast.

Much of the new Democrat registration has been comprised largely of young minority voters – most notably Latinos. These New Democrats are also reflective of todays growing California reality that is poorer than in previous generations. Unfortunately, for Democrats and for a healthy society, young poor people of color have an extremely low likelihood of voting. Youth as we know is not a good indicator for voting. As California data guru Paul Mitchell of Political Data Inc. put it “In the year 2014, 18-19 year olds in California were more likely to be arrested than vote”. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

A race ’til dawn: BART’s overnight maintenance – It’s a mystery to some riders – why does BART shut down for a few hours each night? The answer is both simple and complex. The simple answer is that BART must turn off third rail power to the system to complete mandated inspections and critical maintenance work.

The complexity is in the multiple jobs required to keep a 44-year-old transit system operating reliably; painstaking jobs that must be done safely, professionally and all within a few hours. There’s no room for error and no time to waste. While the Bay Area sleeps, for BART, it is truly a “Race ‘Til Dawn.”

Michigan Says Its Potholes Make It the Best Place to Test Driverless Cars – Michigan and California, vying for control of our driverless future, are each proposing crumbling World War II military sites as ideal locations to test robot cars. Michigan’s secret weapon? Better potholes.

The Great Lakes state plans to make a test track out of a 330-acre (134-hectare) industrial ghost town near Ypsilanti, where Rosie the Riveter built B-24 bombers during World War II. Backers contend that tough winters make the Willow Run factory site a better proxy for the imperfect world of driving than California’s decommissioned Navy base in Concord.

The states are competing for a chunk of almost $4 billion in federal funding that President Barack Obama last month proposed for development of self-driving cars. While Congress has yet to approve the funding, the dangled money sets up a test-track showdown mirroring the larger struggle between Detroit and Silicon Valley for control of the connected car.

“We’re going to compete for that $4 billion — you can plan on that,” said Randy Iwasaki, executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority. The group oversees the California site, now called GoMentum Station, where munitions were stored underground during the war. “May the best organization win.”

Each site has advantages. GoMentum Station has an arid 2,100 acres where 20 miles (32 kilometers) of roads weave around empty barracks, a mess hall, gymnasium and bowling alley. While it doesn’t have any state or federal funding, it already has one client: Honda Motor Co. Read More > at Bloomberg

Is a Surrogate a Mother? – Last year, a 47-year-old California woman named Melissa Cook decided to become a commercial surrogate. Cook is a mother of four, including a set of triplets, and had served as a surrogate once before, delivering a baby for a couple in 2013. According to her lawyer, Harold Cassidy, she’d found it to be a rewarding way to supplement the salary she earned at her office job. “Like other women in this situation, she was motivated by two things: One, it was a good thing to do for people, and two, she needed some money,” Cassidy says.

For her second surrogacy, Cook signed up with a broker called Surrogacy International. Robert Walmsley, a fertility attorney and part owner of the firm, says he was initially reluctant to work with her because of her age, but relented after she presented a clean bill of health from her doctor. Eventually, Surrogacy International matched her with a would-be father, known in court filings as C.M.

According to a lawsuit filed on Cook’s behalf in United States District Court in Los Angeles earlier this month, C.M. is a 50-year-old single man, a postal worker who lives with his elderly parents in Georgia. Cook never met him in person, and because C.M. is deaf, Cassidy says the two never spoke on the phone or communicated in any way except via email. In May, Cook signed a contract promising her $27,000 to carry a pregnancy, plus a $6,000 bonus in case of multiples.* In August, Jeffrey Steinberg, a high-profile fertility doctor, used in vitro fertilization to implant Cook with three male embryos that were created using C.M.’s sperm and a donor egg. (According to the lawsuit, the gender selection was done at C.M.’s request.) When an egg donor is under 35, as C.M.’s was, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine strongly recommends implanting only one embryo to avoid a multiple pregnancy, but some clinics will implant more to increase the chances that at least one will prove viable. In this case, they all survived. For the second time in her life, Cook was pregnant with triplets. And soon, the virtual relationship she had with their father would fall apart.

Cook and C.M. are still strangers to each other, but they are locked in a legal battle over both the future of the children she’s going to bear and the institution of surrogacy itself. Because she’s come under pressure to abort one of the fetuses, Cook’s case has garnered some conservative media attention. This story, however, is about much more than the abortion wars. It illustrates some of the thorniest issues plaguing the fertility industry: the creation of high-risk multiple pregnancies, the lack of screening of intended parents, the financial vulnerability of surrogates, and the almost complete lack of regulation around surrogacy in many states.

The United States is one of the few developed countries where commercial, or paid, surrogacy is allowed—it is illegal in Canada and most of Europe. In the U.S., it’s governed by a patchwork of contradictory state laws. Eight states expressly authorize it. Four states—New York, New Jersey, Washington, and Michigan—as well as the District of Columbia prohibit it. In the remaining states, there’s either no law at all on commercial surrogacy or it is allowed with restrictions. Read More > at Slate

El Niño: Summer drought rules likely to continue unless big storms come in March and April – Even in the midst of a strong El Niño, California’s sunny weather this February is not surprising, experts say: The longest dry spell this month — 14 days — is actually less than the average for a strong El Niño winter.

But state water officials said Monday that unless the rainy weather returns with a vengeance, some drought restrictions are likely to continue this summer.

“It’s already a less dire situation, given the precipitation we have received so far this winter,” said Max Gomberg, climate and conservation manager for the State Water Resources Control Board.

“But it would have to rain almost every day — storm after storm after storm — in March for there to be no drought rules this summer.”

Gomberg, whose agency last year imposed mandatory water conservation targets on hundreds of cities across California, with fines for violators, under orders from Gov. Jerry Brown, said state water board officials plan to decide in mid-April whether the rules should continue for another year. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News

Internet by light promises to leave Wi-Fi eating dust – Connecting your smartphone to the web with just a lamp — that is the promise of Li-Fi, featuring Internet access 100 times faster than Wi-Fi with revolutionary wireless technology.

French start-up Oledcomm demonstrated the technology at the Mobile World Congress, the world’s biggest mobile fair, in Barcelona. As soon as a smartphone was placed under an office lamp, it started playing a video.

The big advantage of Li-Fi, short for “light fidelity”, is its lightning speed.

Laboratory tests have shown theoretical speeds of over 200 Gbps — fast enough to “download the equivalent of 23 DVDs in one second”, the founder and head of Oledcomm, Suat Topsu, told AFP.

“Li-Fi allows speeds that are 100 times faster than Wi-Fi” which uses radio waves to transmit data, he added.

The technology uses the frequencies generated by LED bulbs — which flicker on and off imperceptibly thousands of times a second — to beam information through the air, leading it to be dubbed the “digital equivalent of Morse Code”. Read More > at Yahoo! News

Largest fireball since Chelyabinsk falls into the ocean: Nasa reports huge explosion of seven meter space rock over the Atlantic – A huge fireball crashed into the Atlantic earlier this month – and went almost unseen.

The event took place on February 6 at 14:00 UTC when a meteor exploded in the air 620 miles (1,000km) off the coast of Brazil.

It released energy equivalent to 13,000 tons of TNT, which is the same as the energy used in the first atomic weapon that leveled Hiroshima in 1945.

This was the largest event of its type since the February 2013 fireball that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, leaving more than 1,600 people injured.

That fireball measured 18 meters across and screamed into Earth’s atmosphere at 41,600 mph. Much of the debris landed in a local lake called Chebarkul.

The Chelyabinsk fireball had 500,000 tons of TNT energy – 40 times more than the latest impact, according to Phil Plait.

‘As impacts go, this was pretty small,’ Plait writes in an in-depth report in his Slait blog. ‘After all, you didn’t even hear about until weeks after it occurred. Read More > at the Daily Mail

Proposed California law would require bartenders to stop serving drunk customers – A new bill in the state assembly, set in motion to help decrease instances of drunk driving, would legally require California bartenders in the state to stop serving patrons who have become too intoxicated.

The proposed legislation, introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, called the Responsible Interventions for Beverage Servers Training Act (or RIBS for short), mandates that bartenders would need to take a special training lasting at least four hours focusing on the topics of the “social impact of alcohol,” “the impact of alcohol on the body,” state laws and regulations related to alcoholic beverage control, and “intervention techniques” servers can use to prevent the sale of alcohol to drunk customer.

Bartenders would need to complete the course within three months of being hired, and need to retake it every three years. If they don’t, there are major ramifications: bars that don’t complete training will get their liquor licenses pulled.

Current law requires bartenders to decline to serve a person who is “obviously intoxicated,” however, there is no mandate for training, as the bill addresses. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

The FCC’s War to Liberate Your Cable Box – To understand the debate, it’s helpful to understand the device that centers it. The set-top box is a mainstay of the American cable subscriber’s living room, the faucet that makes those cable providers more than just dumb pipes. The premise that underlies the FCC’s actions is that they are bad, because they’re under no pressure to be good.

Even if you’re not already nodding your head in recognition of the slow, failure-prone box on your media console, there’s plenty of evidence to bear this thesis out. In Thursday’s hearing, FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn noted that 99 percent of paid TV customers rent a set-top box from their cable company, and that they pay over $200 per year in rental fees to do so. A report last fall from Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal estimated that these fees ad up to about $19.5 billion in revenue for pay TV companies annually.

The distribution of set-top boxes, then, is essentially a monopoly within an already monopolistic industry. The FCC, working off of a 20-year-old Congressional mandate that customers should be able to choose their equipment when they sign up for paid television, wants to foment an environment in which consumers pick which set-top box they want, whether it’s from their cable provider, or Google, or some unforeseen hero of basic cable delivery innovation.

If you’re a cable customer, it’s hard to find anything objectionable there. More competition means more choice, and more choice means you’re not left sticking HDMI cables into the bulky plastic trash heap your ISP issued. If you’re a cable industry executive, though, the needle scratched deep into the record the minute the word “Google” entered the conversation. Read More > at Wired

Would You Give Up Some Privacy to Pay Less at the Pump? – For decades, drivers have financed the building and maintenance of roads, highways, and bridges by paying more at “the pump” via a federal fuel tax of 18.4 cents per gallon in addition to various state taxes. But the Highway Trust Fund into which gas-tax revenue is funneled has been running on fumes. Roadway infrastructure has deteriorated as a result.

It’s easy to see why the Highway Trust Fund tank is perpetually on empty. The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), while the federal gas tax only brings in approximately $34 billion annually at its current rate.

In fact, when lawmakers finally passed a five-year $305 billion highway bill last fall, they had to forage for $70 billion from other areas of the federal budget to pay for this shortfall until 2021, the next time the Highway Trust Fund tank can be topped off. And the situation isn’t going to get better: The CBO has projected that in addition to the gas-tax take, another $100 billion would be needed to pay for a six-year transportation bill.

A prime reason for the gas-tax gap is that vehicles are getting much better mileage, in part because of federal fuel efficiency mandates being phased in as part of CAFE standards that require an automaker’s entire fleet be able to reach an average of almost 55mpg by 2025. With increasing fuel efficiency for gas and diesel vehicles—and some hybrids paying less in fuel taxes and electric vehicles paying none whatsoever—it’s easy to see why the federal fuel tax is outdated.

That’s why a recent report by the CBO said the nation would have been better off funding transportation infrastructure by charge drivers directly for their roadway use.

…Oregon has already begun a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) trial due to what the OReGO program website calls “diminishing fuel tax returns [that] led Oregon decision-makers back to the drawing board to create a fair, reliable source of revenue to fund transportation projects.” The site added that “OReGO volunteers will pay a road usage charge for the amount of miles they drive, instead of the fuel tax.” Read More > at PC Magazine

Foods High in Cholesterol Don’t Raise Heart Risks – new study provides more evidence that eating high-cholesterol food does not increase the risk for heart disease.

The Finnish study, in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, followed 1,032 initially healthy men ages 42 to 60. About a third were carriers of ApoE4, a gene variant known to increase the risk for heart disease (and Alzheimer’s). The researchers assessed their diets with questionnaires and followed them for an average of 21 years, during which 230 men developed coronary artery disease.

The men consumed an average of about 2,800 milligrams of cholesterol a week, more than a quarter of it from eating an average of four eggs weekly. (An egg contains about 180 milligrams of cholesterol.)

After controlling for age, education, smoking, B.M.I., diabetes, hypertension and other characteristics, the researchers found no association between cardiovascular disease and total cholesterol or egg consumption in either carriers or noncarriers of ApoE4.

The researchers also examined carotid artery thickness, a measure of atherosclerosis. They found no association between cholesterol consumption and artery thickness, either. Read More > in The New York Times

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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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