Sunday Reading – 03/13/16


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.

Six Percent of Americans Have Accepted Payment for Sex – In a new nationwide poll from YouGov, six percent of respondents said they have been paid for sex in the past, and seven percent have paid someone else for sex. Men and women were equally likely to have accepted payment for sex, but just one percent of the women said they had paid for it themselves, while 12 percent of the men said as much.

The findings were part of a broader survey about American attitudes toward prostitution and how society should handle it. YouGov interviewed 1,000 American adults between March 5-7, 2016, with results that get particularly interesting when broken down by demographics. One of the most notable findings is that twenty-somethings are much more likely than their elders to think buying and selling sex should be illegal and to recommend prison as an appropriate punishment.

Overall, slightly more people say getting paid for sex should be illegal (43 percent) than say that it should be legal (40 percent)—although with a 4.5 percent of margin of error on the study, the opposite could just as well be true. Seventeen percent weren’t sure. A somewhat larger number of respondents were in favor of criminalizing the purchase of sex, with 45 percent in favor, 39 opposed, and 17 percent again unsure.

Among the youngest cohort, however, a full 50 percent of respondents said it should be illegal to pay for sex and 46 percent said it should be illegal to accept payment for it.

The gender divide in prostitution views was also stark, with men significantly more likely than women to say that both buying and selling sex should be legal. Half of male respondents said paying for sex should be legal, a position shared by just 29 percent of female respondents. Just 37 percent of male respondents said it should be criminalized, while 52 of the women surveyed did. Read More > at Reason

Even robots can’t survive Fukushima’s ground zero – Five years after an earthquake-triggered tsunami hit Japan’s Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant, there’s still a tremendous amount of cleanup work left. The Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), which runs the plant, has managed to clean out spent fuel rods from one building, but it’s failed to reach others that have melted down. The incredibly high radiation levels at the site have even proven too much for five robots that were sent in to find those rods, Reuters reports. Even worse, it takes around two years for TEPCO to design robots suited to individual buildings at Fukushima.

According to Naohiro Masuda, TEPCO’s head of decommissioning, the heat levels due to radiation are so extreme that it simply melts the robot’s wiring. And at this point, robots are the only safe method to try and extract those melted fuel rods, whose locations are currently unknown. One intriguing method for finding the rods, which involved using subatomic particles, has so far been relatively useless. Read More > at Engadget

Bay Area housing crisis fueled by greed, study finds – “It (CEQA) has been abused in this state for 30 years by people who use it when it has nothing to do with an environmental reason,” said Carol Galante, faculty director of the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, and a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“NIMBY-ism is connected to the fact that for everyone who owns their little piece of the dream, there’s no reason to want development next door to them,” she said.

“CEQA gives them a tool to effectuate their interest,” she said. “It’s a sense of entitlement that comes with an incentive, because it makes their property worth more money.”

…In a study released in August by the San Francisco law firm of Holland & Knight, lawyers researched three years of state Environmental Quality Act challenges and came up with some startling findings.

Among them, the study found that 49 percent of all CEQA filings target taxpayer-funded projects. The usual targets are transit and renewable-energy projects often approved to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve environmental quality. It found that 80 percent of such filings challenged urban in-fill projects. And the most frequently targeted private sector development is housing.

“CEQA has been singled out as one of the key causes of runaway housing prices and as a major reason California has fallen far behind other states in creating, retaining and on-shoring the middle-class manufacturing jobs that have helped create a manufacturing renaissance in other states,” said Jennifer Hernandez, head of the law firm’s West Coast Land Use and Environment Group and lead author of the study. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco mulls state of emergency over homelessness. But will it help? – According to the 2015 annual homeless assessment performed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, homelessness in the United States has been declining steadily since 2007. But conditions on the west coast are different.

In 2015, California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii were four of the five states to see the greatest increase in their homeless populations (the fifth was New York). California alone accounts for 21% of the nation’s homeless population. And while nationwide, 31% of homeless people have some kind of shelter at night, California, Oregon and Hawaii all have unsheltered rates above 50%. In California, 63.7% of the homeless population lacks shelter.

Homelessness on the west coast is increasingly perceived by residents as an unacceptable crisis. In response, policymakers have begun declaring “states of emergency” over the manmade disaster unfolding on their streets.

On Tuesday, San Francisco supervisor David Campos introduced legislation to declare a “shelter emergency” in the city of San Francisco. The move came one week after city officials had cleared out a sprawling homeless encampment under a highway overpass where as many as 300 homeless people had been living in tents and makeshift shelters.

Campos’s legislation seeks to activate a California state law that allows cities to declare a “shelter crisis” when “a significant number of persons are without the ability to obtain shelter, resulting in a threat to their health and safety”. Such a declaration suspends certain liabilities and regulations that would “prevent, hinder, or delay” government action to address the crisis.

“This is usually reserved for natural disasters like floods and earthquakes,” Campos said. “This is not a natural disaster. It’s a manmade disaster, but it’s a disaster nonetheless.” Read More > in The Guardian

California’s Split Personality – Call it a tale of two states. On the one hand, California is briskly creating private-sector jobs, led by a Silicon Valley hiring spree. Sacramento’s budget, deeply in the red just a few years ago, is running a surplus, thanks to big income gains by the state’s wealthy residents. Meanwhile, however, large areas of the state lag behind. Six of America’s ten metro regions with the highest unemployment rates—including blue-collar communities like Merced and Fresno—are in the Golden State.

Nearly two-thirds of Silicon Valley firms said that they were expanding their payrolls in 2015, while just 2 percent were cutting. Their employment gains have fueled increases in other local industries, including construction, retail, and hospitality. The San Francisco Bay Area has accounted for more than half of all job growth in California since 2007, though it accounts for less than one-fifth of the state’s population. Robust Silicon Valley earnings have also driven up income among the state’s elite and bolstered California’s budget. Last year, capital gains—profit from the sale of investments—accounted for nearly 10 percent of general fund revenues.

For other areas of California, especially those with blue-collar jobs, it’s a very different picture. Since 2010, the U.S. has added about 800,000 new industrial jobs. But California, for years the leader in manufacturing jobs, has contributed just 30,000 of those new positions, a gain of merely 2.3 percent. The state’s mediocre record on creating new industrial jobs may be one reason that its biggest metro region, Los Angeles, has fallen behind. With nearly 30 percent of the state’s population, greater Los Angeles has accounted for just 6 percent of new jobs in California since 2007. Though it has more than half a million industrial jobs, the area has seen no manufacturing growth during the national rebound. Perhaps more ominously, L.A.’s struggles predate the recession of 2008. In the past 20 years, greater Los Angeles has lost 3.1 percent of its jobs, according to a 2014 study by UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.

Greater Los Angeles also leads California in business “disinvestments”—that is, firms that close up facilities and move to other states. Government doesn’t track relocations by individual companies, but California business-consultant Joseph Vranich—whose Spectrum Location Solutions provides businesses with site-selection advice—has compiled a list of more than 1,500 firms that have left the state since 2008. Some industry studies approximate that more than five companies relocate for every one that publicly acknowledges doing so, making it possible that some 9,000 businesses have left California since Vranich started tracking the trend. Read More > at City Journal

Everything Is Crumbling – …The authors called this effect “ego depletion” and said it revealed a fundamental fact about the human mind: We all have a limited supply of willpower, and it decreases with overuse. Eating a radish when you’re surrounded by fresh-baked cookies represents an epic feat of self-denial, and one that really wears you out. Willpower, argued Baumeister and Tice, draws down mental energy—it’s a muscle that can be exercised to exhaustion.

That simple idea—perhaps intuitive for nonscientists, but revolutionary in the field—turned into a research juggernaut. In the years that followed, Baumeister and Tice’s lab, as well as dozens of others, published scores of studies using similar procedures. First, the scientists would deplete subjects’ willpower with a task that requires self-control: don’t eat chocolate chip cookies, watch this sad movie but don’t react at all. Then, a few minutes later, they’d test them with a puzzle, a game, or something else that requires mental effort.

Psychologists discovered that lots of different tasks could drain a person’s energy and leave them cognitively depleted. Poverty-stricken day laborers in rural India might wear themselves out simply by deciding whether to purchase a bar of soap. Dogs might waste their willpower by holding back from eating chow. White people might lose mental strength when they tried to talk about racial politics with a black scientist. In 2010, a group of researchers led by Martin Hagger put out a meta-analysis of the field—a study of published studies—to find out whether this sort of research could be trusted. Using data from 83 studies and 198 separate experiments, Hagger’s team confirmed the main result. “Ego depletion” seemed to be a real and reliable phenomenon.

…Baumeister’s theory of willpower, and his clever means of testing it, have been borne out again and again in empirical studies. The effect has been recreated in hundreds of different ways, and the underlying concept has been verified via meta-analysis. It’s not some crazy new idea, wobbling on a pile of flimsy data; it’s a sturdy edifice of knowledge, built over many years from solid bricks.

And yet, it now appears that ego depletion could be completely bogus, that its foundation might be made of rotted-out materials. That means an entire field of study—and significant portions of certain scientists’ careers—could be resting on a false premise. If something this well-established could fall apart, then what’s next? That’s not just worrying. It’s terrifying. Read More > in Slate

El Niño Is About to Deliver California More Than 100 Inches of Snow – The drought break that Californians have been waiting for all winter is about to arrive: a series of storms bringing loads of rain and snow from the El Niño–fueled Pacific Ocean.

Over the next 10 days, beginning Friday, a series of Pacific storm systems will batter the California coastline, bringing intense tendrils of moisture northeastward from the deep tropical Pacific Ocean where El Niño has juiced the atmosphere’s energy. So far this winter, these storms have been largely directed on the Pacific Northwest, where on Tuesday, Seattle clinched its rainiest winter in history. That energy will now be directed squarely at California.

These storms are sometimes referred to as atmospheric rivers, or, more colloquially, as the “Pineapple Express” for their origins near Hawaii. The amount of moisture one of these storms contain is comparable to the flow of the Amazon River—and it now looks like California will get at least two big ones by midmonth, one this weekend and one next weekend. The event is such a big deal that for the first time ever, Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft will be dispatched into the atmospheric rivers, laden with scientific equipment to better understand what makes them tick.

…There’s some concern, though, that the storms might be too much of a good thing. At the top end, the series of storms could double the current snowpack in the Sierra, and fill Shasta Reservoir—the state’s largest and most important liquid water reserve—for the first time in years. These would be milestones almost too difficult to exaggerate in a state where every drop of water counts. The downside, of course, is the storms will create a risk of significant flooding Read More > in Slate

California lawmakers approve raising smoking age to 21 – California lawmakers voted Thursday to make the nation’s most populous state the second to raise the smoking age from 18 to 21 as part of a sweeping package of measures they are considering to crack down on tobacco.

Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown still must sign off on the legislation the Senate approved to make California the first state after Hawaii with the higher age limit. His spokesman said last week that the governor generally does not comment on pending legislation.

The bills also would restrict electronic cigarettes the same as tobacco products. The increasingly popular devices are not regulated by the federal government.

The higher age limit got approved despite intense lobbying from tobacco interests and fierce opposition from many Republicans, who say the state should butt out of people’s personal decisions, even if they are harmful to health. Read More > in the Orange County Register

Raiders aim at top of AFC West with big splash in free agency – We’re only one day into the new NFL calendar year, and one thing is already obvious: The Oakland Raiders are going to be much improved. They’ve got a franchise quarterback who’s already blossomed into a star after two seasons. They have a supporting cast of young playmakers with similarly bright futures. They also have a start to this free agency period that suggests this long struggling franchise has a plan that could pay huge dividends in the near future.

The Raiders spent Wednesday making the kinds of acquisitions that should’ve excited their entire fan base. Kelechi Osemele signed and immediately improved an offensive line that could use him at guard or left tackle. Linebacker Bruce Irvin agreed to a deal that gives Oakland another pass rusher to bookend with Pro Bowl defensive end/outside linebacker Khalil Mack. General manager Reggie McKenzie added another defensive part Thursday morning after agreeing to terms with cornerback Sean Smith. That’s yet another huge piece to a puzzle that makes this team a legitimate AFC West contender.

…If anything, everybody should be paying attention to what’s happening in Oakland. This is a team that has been irrelevant for years, one that has hired and fired plenty of coaches for more than a decade. Those days now feel like they’re becoming part of a much distant past, all because the first day of free agency just told us that the Raiders really are heading in the right direction. Read More > at NFL.com

Men’s Wearhouse parent closing 250 stores – Shares of Tailored Brands, formerly known as Men’s Wearhouse, jumped more than 11 percent in early trading Thursday, a day after the company announced plans to close roughly 250 stores this year. That includes shuttering 80 or 90 full-price Jos A. Bank stores.

The announcement followed worsening sales trends at that label in the fourth quarter, with the company adding that it expects weakness there to continue into 2016. Revenues at Jos. A. Bank have gotten whacked since the company ended its ubiquitous Buy One Get Three free promotion in October.

After reiterating Wednesday that Jos. A. Bank’s comparable sales dropped 31.9 percent during the fourth quarter (the company pre-announced its sales in February), management said it expects another mid-teens decline this year. That would follow the 14.6 percent slide the brand posted in the third quarter.

Men’s Wearhouse, which changed its name to Tailored Brands in January, acquired the Jos. A. Bank label for $1.8 billion in 2014. In a bid to bring the brand more upmarket, management last year put an end to the Buy One Get Three Free promotions that made the brand famous.

As part of its strategy to bring Jos. A. Bank back to profitability, Ewert said the brand will close 80 to 90 of its full-price stores this year. The company will also close all Jos. A. Bank and Men’s Wearhouse outlet stores, which the CEO said were collectively not profitable. It will also close 100 to 110 tuxedo shops. Read More > at CNBC

Microsoft doesn’t need Windows anymore – When you think of Microsoft, what product first comes to mind? Windows, you say? How quaint.

Yes, you’re probably reading this on a Windows-based PC, but Windows itself matters less and less to Microsoft. Ed Bott recently broke down Microsoft’s latest 10-Q, its quarterly report to the Securities and Exchange Commission. What he found out about how Microsoft is making money these days is very interesting.

Do you think that Windows is number one in bringing in the cash? It’s a reasonable assumption. Windows for years was the undisputed cash cow for Microsoft, and the company just rolled out a new version, Windows 10, that has been deemed a great improvement over its immediate predecessor, Windows 8. But the assumption is wrong. The biggest cash generator for Microsoft in the fourth quarter of 2015 was its server and cloud divisions.

So Windows must have been number two, right? No, that was gaming. There are a lot more Xboxes out there than you might think, and don’t forget that Microsoft recently bought Mojang, makers of Minecraft.

Surely Windows would be at least number three, though. Sorry; the answer is still no. That spot goes to Microsoft Office.

Down in fourth place, with just over 10% of Microsoft’s revenue, you’ll finally find Windows.

What happened? Read More > at Computer World

Cut College Costs by Cutting Colleges Out – We are all aware that the cost of tuition has been rising for decades. Furious political pandering is pushing a similar bloom in the number headlines concerning the economics of higher education.

Flourishing administrative overhead at universities is often named as a major culprit for this inflation. Hacking down some of this overgrowth is one way to address the problem.

Here’s a more radical idea: let’s plant some competition for the universities’ business. Instead of restricting the teaching of accredited courses to colleges, why not let individual instructors gain accreditation for particular courses?

The philosophy is simple. The most important qualification for a job is qualification itself, not the calligraphed paper that represents it.

If a job requires some knowledge of biology, it often demands a degree in the subject. Why not, instead, ask for just the particular set of biological knowledge germane to the task?

One applicant to a job opening could present an entire preciously expensive degree showing their breadth of knowledge. Individual accreditation would allow a second applicant to instead present a smaller, leaner, more targeted package of professionally certified skills to compete with the first at a much lower cost. Read More > at Real Clear Science

BART is not a homeless shelter – BART Director Joel Keller wants to pass a law that would make it illegal for individuals to take up more than one seat on the train. Call it the one-seat-per-butt rule. Keller told The Chronicle’s Michael Cabanatuan that the measure is not intended to target homeless people; it’s really aimed at everyone, including “people with backpacks, with luggage, with other things occupying seats.” Fed up commuters are bound to approve.

BART is experiencing record ridership — which makes BART riders cranky and envious of those who can sit and avoid the human crush. But who does Keller think he’s kidding when he says his proposal isn’t aimed at the homeless? If a simply inconsiderate passenger is taking up an extra seat for a backpack or luggage, another commuter will ask that person to make room. It’s only when the two-seat hog seems hostile, mentally ill or inebriated that others hesitate to inquire. Smell is also a factor.

During the winter months, the homeless can be especially vexing. When you are riding the train to work, it’s irritating to see others taking up space during heavy commute hours in an effort to stay warm and dry. The public pays fares to use BART as a conveyance, not to ride in railcars that double as homeless shelters (for which working stiffs also pay).

Also contributing to the dysfunction: Once you pay the minimum fare, you can ride all day; some charities give BART tickets to homeless people, ostensibly to help them travel for job interviews or social services. They mean well, but everyone would be better served if their charitable dollars went to shelters period, not to turn BART into a shelter. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

7 key Bay Area transportation projects likely to lose funding – Seven Bay Area transportation projects that could untangle congested interchanges, make East Bay BART stations brighter and more comfortable, create better routes for bicyclists and smooth the drive for commuters may be delayed for years, regional transportation officials decided Wednesday.

A committee of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission reluctantly identified a $71.3 million collection of projects to lose financing for at least five years to cope with a massive cut in state funding blamed on plummeting gas tax revenues and a lethargic Legislature that has failed to heed the governor’s call for a transportation funding fix.

The state Transportation Commission in January slashed $754 million from its five-year budget for projects. The Bay Area’s share of the cuts is projected to be $80 million to $96 million, a huge hit that leaves the region unable to keep pace with its growth and go-go economy. More cuts could be coming. Kenneth Kao, an MTC planner, said the agency will work with state officials to make any cuts above the $71 million.

The list of projects tentatively scratched, putting off their funding until at least 2021, includes:

• A new interchange where Interstate 680 meets Highway 4 in Contra Costa County. The interchange would replace an outdated and overwhelmed cloverleaf design that’s snarled with commuters forced to weave in and out of traffic. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Europe Faces Pension Predicament – State-funded pensions are at the heart of Europe’s social-welfare model, insulating people from extreme poverty in old age. Most European countries have set aside almost nothing to pay these benefits, simply funding them each year out of tax revenue. Now, European countries face a demographic tsunami, in the form of a growing mismatch between low birthrates and high longevity, for which few are prepared.

Europe’s population of pensioners, already the largest in the world, continues to grow. Looking at Europeans 65 or older who aren’t working, there are 42 for every 100 workers, and this will rise to 65 per 100 by 2060, the European Union’s data agency says. By comparison, the U.S. has 24 nonworking people 65 or over per 100 workers, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which doesn’t have a projection for 2060.

While the problem has long been building, it is gaining urgency as European countries’ debt troubles, growing out of the 2008 crisis, push governments to reassess their priorities. Greece, the worst off, has had to reduce the generosity of its pension system repeatedly. Though its situation is unusually dire, Greece isn’t the only European government being forced to acknowledge it has made pension promises it can ill afford.

Even the U.S., with a Social Security trust fund of $2.8 trillion, faces criticism for promising more than it can afford. That is because the fund—which is mostly in the form of IOUs from the Treasury—is projected to fall short of the sums needed to cover all benefits in a dozen years or so, and run out in 2035. Europe’s situation is much worse. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Ben Simmons shows the NCAA why the one-and-done rule is a sham – Ben Simmons, the freshman forward for LSU who is expected to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, handled his lone year of college the only way a mature, reasonable person in his situation could: by ignoring his classes.

Good for you, Ben. May all top recruits follow in your path. The arrangement between the NCAA and NBA that forces you to spend one year in college is unethical and disgraceful. You were right to make a mockery of it.

Simmons is 19-years-old, stands 6-foot-10 and has shocking athleticism. He has the chance to be an All-Star in the NBA — a league in which 77 players will make at least $10 million this year — for the next decade and a half. The only thing Ben Simmons needs to care about right now is playing basketball. If he does it well he’ll make enough money to keep his family secure for generations.

But because the NCAA needs its revenue-driving basketball tournament to include the top young talent in the world and because NBA owners are loathe to pay out big contracts to young players who may not work out or could take years to develop, Simmons was forced onto campus for a year. Read More > at FTW

In Preparation for Driverless Cars, States Start Upgrading Roads – The cars of the future may not need drivers, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be self-sufficient. In fact, they could force states and cities to upgrade their roads and other infrastructure.

What kind of infrastructure tomorrow’s vehicles will require, of course, depends on which technologies become commonplace. “Connected” vehicles that communicate with other vehicles, traffic lights and weather sensors, for example, will require more infrastructure than self-driving cars. But even driverless cars might require road upgrades.

…Driverless cars rely on cameras, radar and laser-mapping tools to determine where they are. (GPS, at least for now, is not precise enough to keep cars on the road.) Those cameras use striping and other pavement markings to understand their surroundings, but the quality and consistency of those markings can vary greatly.

After Delphi, an auto parts manufacturer, took its driverless vehicle on a cross-country trip, company officials told Steudle that despite nominally uniform standards across states, the pavement markings were actually all different.

…Connected vehicles can’t communicate with stoplights and pavement sensors unless those devices broadcast their information.

Those traffic devices, in turn, can benefit from information from the connected vehicles. For example, they can determine how long a left-turn signal should last and whether it should turn green before or after the light for drivers going straight.

The state of Michigan, the University of Michigan and the city of Ann Arbor recently put the idea of gathering more data to the test. For more than a year, about 2,800 connected vehicles traveled Ann Arbor’s streets, sharing information with the city’s traffic lights and road sensors. Even after the pilot program finished, the city has kept connecting more infrastructure to its network.

The result is an incredible amount of data to store and analyze, said Craig Hupy, the public services administrator for Ann Arbor. The city has been building out its fiber optic network to handle all the information. The same network can be used for the city’s tornado sirens, water infrastructure and even a few schools. Read More > at Governing

Oil Prices Should Fall, Possibly Hard – Oil prices should fall, possibly hard, in coming weeks. That is because fundamentals do not support the present price.

Prices should fall to around $30 once the empty nature of an OPEC-plus-Russia production freeze is understood. A return to the grim reality of over-supply and the weakness of the world economy could push prices well into the $20s.

An OPEC-plus-Russia production cut would be a great step toward re-establishing oil-market balance. I believe that will happen later in 2016 but is not on the table today.

In late February, Saudi oil minister Ali Al-Naimi stated categorically, “There is no sense in wasting our time in seeking production cuts. That will not happen.”

Instead, Russia and Saudi Arabia have apparently agreed to a production freeze. This is meaningless theater but it helped lift oil prices 37% from just more than $26 in mid-February to almost $36 per barrel last week. That is a lot of added revenue for Saudi Arabia and Russia but it will do nothing to balance the over-supplied world oil market. Read More > at Forbes

’36 Days’: The possibility of Cal State University faculty strike grows – The possibility of a strike at California State University campuses in April seemed more likely after the CSU Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday in Long Beach.

Members of the California Faculty Association held up notebook-paper sized signs saying “36 Days” as its leaders warned the trustees that a five-day strike was coming at the system’s 23 campuses if a contract agreement could not be reached.

The faculty union members, most wearing red shirts saying, “I don’t want to strike, but I will,” also groaned and booed during a presentation by CSU Vice Chancellor Lori Lamb on the status of the ongoing negotiations.

The two parties have been at a stalemate for more than a year. CSU officials have offered the faculty a 2 percent general salary increase, in line with what other unions and even system administrators have accepted.

But the faculty union says professors and lecturers need to catch up after five years of stagnant wages during California’s budget crisis and the recent recession. They are demanding a 5 percent salary increase. Read More > in the Orange County Register

The Crime You Have Not Yet Committed – …Now a team of scientists has demonstrated that a computer can outperform human judges in predicting who will commit a violent crime. In a paper published last month, they described how they built a system that started with people already arrested for domestic violence, then figured out which of them would be most likely to commit the same crime again.

The technology could potentially spare victims from being injured, or even killed. It could also keep the least dangerous offenders from going to jail unnecessarily. And yet, there’s something unnerving about using machines to decide what should happen to people. If targeted advertising misfires, nobody’s liberty is at stake.

For two decades, police departments have used computers to identify times and places where crimes are more likely to occur, guiding the deployment of officers and detectives. Now they’re going another step: using vast data sets to identify individuals who are criminally inclined. They’re doing this with varying levels of transparency and scientific testing. A system called Beware, for example, is capable of rating citizens of Fresno, California, as posing a high, medium or low level of threat. Press accounts say the system amasses data not only on past crimes but on web searches, property records and social networking posts. Read More > at Bloomberg View

Canada, America’s Apathetic Opioid Enabler – Two Americans will lose their lives to a prescription drug overdose as you read this. Another two will die in the next hour, and two more every hour of every day, according to federal statistics.

Monday, the New Hampshire Congressional delegation, whose state we know, has been ravaged by the opioid crisis, sent a letter to the Canadian government asking it to help fight prescription drug abuse in both countries by limiting the availability of non-abuse deterrent opioids, including oxycodone pain relievers.

The horrifying acceleration of opioid-related deaths is increasingly the consequence of federal health care policy set not by our government, but instead our apathetic neighbor to the north: Canada. That’s the real backdrop to the first bilateral meeting of American President Barack Obama and newly installed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The U.S. Federal Drug Administration in 2010 required drug makers to adjust existing formulations of all oxycodone products, like OxyContin and its generic form, to incorporate tamper-resistant mechanisms that make abuse difficult through injection or snorting. Almost overnight, all American-made oxycodone products had been reformulated, but Health Canada, FDA’s public health bureaucratic consonant to the north, made no such move.

Six years and two governments later, Canada still allows the production and sale of the old, abusable formula. Worse, Canadian health care regulators continued during this period to approve the sale of new, abusable generics based on the old formula. Read More > at Red State

Unicorn herd still grazing in San Francisco Bay Area despite market disruptions – With valuations cooling and unfriendly IPO prospects, unicorns may not be as invincible as they once seemed. But a survey from Expert Market shows that the Bay Area is still home to a disproportionate number of those billion-dollar companies, comprising $252 billion in value in total.

There are 183 such companies across the globe, according to data from Crunchbase and the Fortune Unicorn list. Of those, 60 were founded in the Bay Area (32.79 percent), and 70 were founded in California. Bay Area companies represented 41.04 percent of the total combined value of ‘unicorns’ globally.

In the age of unicorns, what do those startup valuations really mean?

“San Francisco and the Bay Area appeal to entrepreneurs across the globe due to the unrivaled access to talent, tech and prestige afforded by Silicon Valley,” says Jared Keleher of Expert Market, which analyzed data from the 183 private companies valued at $1 billion or more. “The ecosystem of success surrounding this area means that not only can startups find an immediate network, but they are also surrounded by venture capitalists and investors looking for the next Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) or Google (NASDAQ: GOOG).”

The Bay Area is the most popular location by a wide margin for billion-dollar companies, with Beijing in a distant second place with 20 companies. Read More > in the San Francisco Business times

The 4 Most Important Things MythBusters Taught the World – The MythBusters have been testing crazy myths since 2003—but now the show is coming to an end. Instead of despair, let’s look back at some of the great things we (myself included) have learned from the show.

The only MythBuster that had a technical degree was Grant Imahara, with B.S. in electrical engineering. Adam Savage and Jaime Hyneman have a background in special effects for movies. This is what makes them such epic builders.

But here is the awesome part—you don’t need a science degree to do science. In fact, I think that science is part of what makes us human (I adopted this from Chad Orzel). Science is just like other activities that make us human: art, music, and emoji (actually, just kidding about the emoji).

…Adam Savage is famous for his quote:

“Failure is always an option.”

In science, you have to build a model. Of course it’s unreasonable to expect that our initial models always agree with real life. Just look back at the history of science and see all the times we got things wrong. In fact, being wrong is the norm and not the exception. Read More > at Wired

UK to test self-driving trucks later this year – Later this year, the UK will open up its motorways to self-driving trucks under new plans to speed up deliveries and cut traffic congestion. The Times reports that Chancellor George Osborne will confirm funding for the project, which could see convoys of up to 10 autonomous trucks — or lorries as Brits call them — driving a few meters apart, during this month’s budget announcement, helping Britain position itself as one of the leading proponents of self-driving vehicles.

According to reports, a stretch of the M6 motorway near Carlisle has been touted as a possible testing ground. On this quieter part of the UK’s major road network, a driver can lead a “platoon” of autonomous trucks without having to navigate various entry and exit points.

Although it’s not known which vehicles will be tested on British roads, Daimler’s autonomous truck is likely to be a frontrunner. The company has already driven an augmented Mercedes-Benz Actros down Germany’s Autobahn 8 and also received the green light to test them on US roads. Read More > at Engadget

A Plagiarism Scandal Is Unfolding In The Crossword World – A group of eagle-eyed puzzlers, using digital tools, has uncovered a pattern of copying in the professional crossword-puzzle world that has led to accusations of plagiarism and false identity.

Since 1999, Timothy Parker, editor of one of the nation’s most widely syndicated crosswords, has edited more than 60 individual puzzles that copy elements from New York Times puzzles, often with pseudonyms for bylines, a new database has helped reveal. The puzzles in question repeated themes, answers, grids and clues from Times puzzles published years earlier. Hundreds more of the puzzles edited by Parker are nearly verbatim copies of previous puzzles that Parker also edited. Most of those have been republished under fake author names.

Nearly all this replication was found in two crosswords series edited by Parker: the USA Today Crossword and the syndicated Universal Crossword. (The copyright to both puzzles is held by Universal Uclick, which grew out of the former Universal Press Syndicate and calls itself “the leading distributor of daily puzzle and word games.”) USA Today is one of the country’s highest-circulation newspapers, and the Universal Crossword is syndicated to hundreds of newspapers and websites. Read More > at FiveThirtyEight

The magical thing eating chocolate does to your brain – …In the first of two analyses, Crichton, along with Elias and Ala’a Alkerwi, an epidemiologist at the Luxembourg Institute of Health, compared the mean scores on various cognitive tests of participants who reported eating chocolate less than once a week and those who reported eating it at least once a week. They found “significant positive associations” between chocolate intake and cognitive performance, associations which held even after adjusting for various variables that might have skewed the results, including age, education, cardiovascular risk factors, and dietary habits.

In scientific terms, eating chocolate was significantly associated with superior “visual-spatial memory and [organization], working memory, scanning and tracking, abstract reasoning, and the mini-mental state examination.”

…Why exactly eating chocolate is associated with improved brain function Crichton can’t say with absolute certainty. Nor can Elias, who admits that he expected to observe the opposite effect—that chocolate, given its sugar content, would be correlated with stunted rather than enhanced cognitive abilities. But they have a few ideas.

They know, for instance, that nutrients called cocoa flavanols, which are found naturally in cocoa, and thus chocolate, seem to have a positive effect on people’s brains. In 2014, one concluded that eating the nutrient can “reduce some measures of age-related cognitive dysfunction.” A 2011 study, meanwhile found that cocoa flavanols “positively influence psychological processes.” The suspicion is that eating the nutrient increases blood flow to the brain, which in turn improves a number of its functions.

Chocolate, like both coffee and tea, also has methylxanthines, plant produced compounds that enhance various bodily functions. Read More > in The Washington Post

Can the hoverboard be saved? A new plan heats up – Hoverboards were hot items over the holidays — for all the wrong reasons.

The popular self-balancing scooters grabbed headlines after reports that some had the unhealthy tendency to overheat and burst into flames. Last month, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission found all hoverboards unsafe, saying they pose an “unreasonable risk of fire.”

Soon after, Amazon, Toys “R” Us, Target and other retailers pulled the products from their stores. The federal watchdog said hoverboards will need to go through voluntary safety standards, which cover everything from a board’s battery to labeling, to be deemed safe again. All of that would suggest that the hoverboard fad may already be over.

Don’t tell that to the hundreds of Chinese companies that make and sell hoverboards. More than 100 of them have teamed up to create a new trade group with the intent of cleaning up the industry, Quartz reported Monday. The new Hoverboard Industry Alliance, which formed officially in January, met last week to hammer out safety and patent standards for hoverboards, the publication said. Read More > at C|Net

Why Boomers Will Drive Adoption of Driverless Cars – From social media to streaming entertainment, it’s typically the young who flock to new technologies. But with self-driving cars, the early adopters may not be teens and college kids but senior citizens.

“For the first time in history, older people are going to be the lifestyle leaders of a new technology,” Joseph Coughlin, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab in Cambridge, told Bloomberg Business. “Younger people may have had smartphones in their hands first, but it’s the 50-plus consumers who will be first with smart cars.”

…But with a rapidly graying population—more than 43 million people in the U.S. are now 65 and older, and 10,000 join the age group every day—elderly Americans are going to face tough choices about driving. And we all will have to deal with the dangerous consequences.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), older Americans are keeping their licenses longer and driving more miles than in the past. But health issues such as reduced vision, memory loss, and other ailments negatively affect their driving capability. Another sobering statistic proves this: IIHS has found that fatal crash rates are highest among drivers ages 85 and older, in part because the elderly are more fragile and often suffer medical complications from crash-related injuries. Read More > at PC Magazine

Quantifying Aspirin’s Reduction in Cancer Risk – Many people take a daily low-dose aspirin to lower the risk of heart disease, and several studies have shown that regular aspirin use reduces the risk for some cancers. Now a long-term analysis has found that its population-wide benefits against cancer may be even greater than previously believed.

Researchers studied aspirin use in 135,965 health care professionals, men and women, tracking their health for as long as 32 years. Over the course of the study, published in JAMA Oncology, there were 27,985 cases of cancer.

Regular aspirin use reduced the risk for all cancers by about 3 percent, though it had no impact on the risk for breast, lung or prostate cancer.

But regular aspirin use reduced the risk for all gastrointestinal cancers by 15 percent, and for cancers of the colon and rectum by 19 percent. 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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