Sunday Reading – 04/03/16

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.

New satellite images reveal fresh evidence that Vikings settled in North America – The Vikings’ claim to be the first Europeans to reach North America will receive a huge boost, with the announcement of the discovery of a new site that marks the farthest known westerly point of the Norse exploration across the Atlantic.

Scientists working with the BBC will today reveal that they believe they have discovered only the second known Viking site in North America, on the Canadian island of Newfoundland, 400 miles south-west of a settlement discovered in the 1960s – the farthest known point of all the Viking voyages.

The remains of metal and turf, dating to sometime between 800AD and 1300AD, were excavated after sophisticated new satellite searches, and give further credence to the claim that it was the Vikings, not Columbus, who were the first European explorers to discover the Americas.

The discovery also brings the Norse explorers hundreds of miles closer to the United States, raising hopes among some that evidence may yet emerge that the Vikings once walked upon the shores of New England. Read More > in The Telegraph

Judge says ‘no’ to seeking legalized prostitution in California – Americans may have a constitutional right to engage in consensual, intimate relationships, but that doesn’t mean they have a right to buy or sell sex, a Bay Area federal judge ruled Thursday in upholding California’s 144-year-old ban on prostitution.

In a lawsuit filed a year ago, the plaintiffs — three former prostitutes, a would-be client, and the Erotic Service Provider Legal, Education & Research Project, a San Francisco organization that “seeks to empower the erotic community and advance sexual privacy rights” — invoked the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling that overturned state laws against gay sexual activity.

In that ruling, the Supreme Court said the Constitution gives adults “substantial protection … in deciding how to conduct their private lives in matters pertaining to sex.”

But U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of Oakland said Thursday that the court was referring to intimate relationships and not merely to sexual activity.

He said the high court, in the 2003 ruling, disavowed any intention to legalize prostitution. White also cited a 1988 ruling by the federal appeals court in San Francisco that observed the relationship between a paid escort and a client “possesses few, if any, of the aspects of an intimate association. It lasts for a short period and only as long as the client is willing to pay the fee.” Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

‘First Time in Human History’: People 65 and Older Will Outnumber Children Under 5 – Sometime in the next four years the global population of human beings who are 65 and older will surpass those under 5 for the first time, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“For the first time in human history, people aged 65 and older will outnumber children under age 5,” says the report, entitled “An Aging World: 2015.”

“This crossing is just around the corner, before 2020,” says the report.

“These two age groups will then continue to grow in opposite directions,” it says. “By 2050, the proportion of the population 65 and older (15.6 percent) will be more than double that of children under age 5 (7.2 percent). Read More > at CNSNews

Construction starts on massive $6 billion Treasure Island redevelopment – Infrastructure work has begun on the $6 billion Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island redevelopment, one of the largest mixed-use projects in the Bay Area with 8,000 residential units planned.

A development partnership of Lennar Urban (NYSE: LEN), Kenwood Investments, Stockbridge Capital Group and Wilson Meany started work last week, which will include demolition of 40 existing structures, new roads, utilities and parks. The first phase will include around 2,100 residential units, up to 500 hotel rooms and 90 acres of parks, built on around 45 acres on Treasure Island’s western shoreline and the 80-acre Yerba Buena Island.

A rendering of the $6 billion Treasure Island redevelopment. dbox inc.

A rendering of the $6 billion Treasure Island redevelopment.
dbox inc.

Infrastructure work for the first phase will cost around $155 million and take around two-and-a-half years, said Kheay Loke, senior development manager at Wilson Meany. A $155 million construction loan has been secured for the project through the EB-5 foreign investment program, which allowed foreigners, mostly Chinese citizens, to obtain green cards by investing a minimum of $500,000 in U.S. projects. Read More > at the San Francisco Business Times

Can Lyft Finally Make Carpooling A Reality? – On Tuesday, Lyft launched a new program called Lyft Carpool in the San Francisco Bay Area to try to encourage carpooling, the latest in a series of moves by the company and its competitors (mainly Uber) that have failed to catch on. Lyft Carpool will try to make it significantly easier for drivers to find and pick up riders on their everyday route, making a few bucks to cover the cost of their commute.

The details: if you drive from the Bay Area suburbs into San Francisco for work on a daily basis, you can register to pick up a fellow commuter. Instead of keeping the Lyft app open and waiting for a fare, drivers are notified the night before, when someone along their normal route requests a ride for the following morning. Adding a passenger can earn the driver up to $10 per ride, enough to potentially reimburse the costs of commuting. Riders pay a fixed rate between $4 and $10 based on distance.

Lyft product manager Lev Popov told FORBES that the company will not, at launch, take a commission from carpool rides. “Our initial goal is not to make a profit, we’re really focused on our mission of reducing traffic and filling empty seats in the cars, but obviously long term we expect this to be a strong part of the business,” he said. Read More > in Forbes

Brennan: How can world let Russians compete in Rio? – The troubled Rio Olympic Games are little more than four months away, and everyone is getting ready: athletes, coaches, officials, apologists for the Russian track and field association, Vladimir Putin’s lawyers, mad Russian scientists, everybody.

You’ve no doubt heard about how bad the water is in Rio. You probably know the Brazilian government is immersed in scandal. You most likely have heard that they’re running out of money, and we’re all aware of the Zika virus.

Now, let’s add the Russians. Actually, can we not add the Russians? Can we kick their track and field association out of the Rio Games and call it a lifetime achievement award?

At the moment, Russian track and field athletes are banned from international competition, including August’s Rio Olympics, after the World Anti-Doping Agency last fall detailed a vast, systematic, diabolical, state-sponsored Russian doping program. But the international federation governing track and field is going to rule in May whether or not that ban will stick through the summer. Read More > in USA Today

The antibiotics dilemma: Why we’re running out of drugs to treat the superbugs – Some of the most common infectious diseases are caused by bacteria. They range from minor skin infections to meningitis, TB and pneumonia.

Before the advent of antibiotics, about one in three Australians died before the age of 30. People routinely died of pneumonia. A skin infection could lead to the amputation of a limb or even death. More people died from bacterial infection than anything else on the planet.

Penicillin, the quintessential antibiotic, was discovered in 1926, and the golden age of antibiotic development followed the end of the Second World War. Dozens of antibiotics were discovered every year from the ’50s through to the ’70s, and they changed medicine. Common procedures like open-heart surgery, chemotherapy for cancer patients with depressed immune systems, organ transplants, even hip replacements would not be possible without antibiotics.

…Along with the rise in antibiotic use came genetic mutations enabling bacteria to resist antibiotics—so-called superbugs. Turnidge says that means bacteria have evolved mechanisms that make them resistant to many of the most commonly-used antibiotics. And that means there may be only one or two options left to treat a given strain.

‘In some cases, we have no options,’ he says. ‘Multi-drug resistance is resistance to lots of antibiotics; extreme drug resistance is something that is very, very rare but growing now in the world where we have no options left.

‘When we first started using antibiotics they were seen as miracle drugs, and people really valued them, society valued them, they were precious compounds. We were blessed by our own innovative discoveries because we kept on finding new and better antibiotics every year.’ Read More > at ABC Science

California snowpack nearly average _ won’t end drought – State water surveyors found a barely average snowpack in the Sierra Nevada on Wednesday, setting the stage for tough decisions to come on water conservation requirements for California residents.

The key spring measurement found the snowpack at about 95 percent of normal. Officials say they intend to use the figure when they reopen a discussion on whether to ease or drop the savings mandates.

The snowpack was aided by an El Nino storm system that dumped more water on the northern part of the state while leaving southern areas relatively dry.

George Kostyrko of the State Water Board says officials will consider this difference while setting new conservation targets.

Northern California has seen the most rain and snow, lifting the state’s three largest reservoirs to above-normal levels and bringing the snowpack to nearly average depth.

Little rain and snow has hit Southern California, leaving most of its reservoirs low, and it will take years to replenish the overdrawn groundwater that has seen the state through four years of drought. Read More > from the Associated Press

U.S. Soda Consumption Falls to 30-Year Low – Slumping demand for diet sodas sold by PepsiCo and Coca Cola propelled a decline for the broader industry, as overall sales of carbonated soft drinks dropped for the 11th consecutive year in the U.S.

Total volume declined 1.2% in 2015, an acceleration from 2014’s 0.9% drop, as the biggest three players in the category all reported falling demand, according to a new report from industry tracker Beverage Digest. The group also reported that annual per capita consumption of carbonated soft drinks dropped to about 650 eight-ounce servings in 2015 – the lowest since 1985.

…Along those lines, the big losers were yet again the diet soda brands. Diet Pepsi and Diet Coke each reported declines of over 5%, while Diet Mountain Dew’s drop was 4.8%. That’s because consumers have becoming increasingly skeptical of artificial sweeteners, most recently fretting about the health implications of consuming aspartame, which is still deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration. Those concerns were so top of mind that it even led Pepsi to reformulate its diet soda last year. Read More > at TIME

‘Kissing bug’ sickens more in LA than Zika, but few know they have it – Some call it the kissing bug because it leaves a painless bite near a sleeping person’s lips.

But among health experts, including those from the federal government, the cone-headed Triatomine is no prince awakening a sleeping beauty. It’s an assassin, because it leaves behind a parasite in its love bite that can be deadly.

Photos of the dime-size insect hang inside Dr. Sheba Meymandi’s medical office as if on a wanted poster. The bug, she said, carries the Chagas disease, which can cause heart failure if left untreated.

…Chagas disease was once considered exotic, but more is known about it now than about the Zika virus. Still, most people have no idea they have it or, once they do, lack information about where to receive treatment, Meymandi said.

The disease is most common in rural Mexico and Latin America, researchers have said, adding that it kills more people in South America than malaria.

Meymandi said anyone who was born in Mexico or South America should have a blood test.

But U.S.-born residents also are infected. The insect is present in more than 20 states. At least 40 percent of raccoons tested in Griffith Park carried Chagas disease, Meymandi said. Read More > in the Los Angeles Daily News

Why every household is about to get a brand-new fridge – …By building smart fridges that can track consumption, deliver offers and manage purchasing and replenishment, manufacturers can extract subsidies from companies in order to tap into data and the revenue stream of each consumer, then provide them with a free refrigerator.

With a connected fridge, advertisers will pay to promote products to the consumer on the refrigerator’s screen, who will then use a related subscription-based service to buy the products. What makes promotion like this appealing to advertisers is that it’s data-driven, personalized and proactive.

In the same way, imagine receiving a $0.50 coupon for Heinz ketchup just as you toss your empty bottle. Or better yet, what if you got a coupon for a free bottle of Del Monte ketchup? Would you not try it? And what if this happened in hundreds of thousands of homes? Del Monte, by way of example, stands little chance in the battle over supermarket shelf space, but may find a way to challenge Heinz’s near 60 percent market dominance by going directly to a consumer’s fridge.

Food is a recurring purchase, with most Americans buying the same brands over and over again. While a bottle of ketchup does not have the lock-in protection of InkJet cartridges, the smart fridge provides a way to keep the purchase cycle going through replenishment reminders and promotions. It will play a central role in ensuring the consumption of the same food brands — or help drive consumers to a competitor. Read More > at Tech Crunch

Developer moves to drop out at massive Concord naval base project – Catellus Development Corp., one of two finalists seeking to redevelop the massive 2,200-acre former naval base in Concord, is set to drop out of contention, potentially clearing the way for rival Lennar Urban to win the rights to build another mega-project.

Concord’s City Council voted on Monday to allow Catellus to withdraw from the process and receive a refund of its previous $250,000 deposit, after it raised concerns last week over the selection process and sought financial changes to a potential development agreement.

…Catellus is now set to drop out after months of controversy. The city’s vote to select a developer for the site was delayed for months, after Catellus accused Lennar (NYSE: LEN) in September of improperly lobbying the city to gain the development rights.

Lennar consultants donated $17,000 to Tim Grayson, former Concord mayor and a current city councilman, who is running for state assembly. Catellus also said that Willie Brown, the former San Francisco mayor who has worked with Lennar, improperly lobbied the city.

An investigation into the claims was interrupted when former city attorney Mark Coon died in October in what police said was a suicide. In February, an independent investigation from attorney Michael Jenkins found that Lennar had improperly lobbied the city with its donations and that Concord had also improperly suppressed a city staff report that recommended Catellus as the developer. Grayson returned the funds and recused himself from future votes, and Lennar remained in contention. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

There will be no NFL TV blackouts in 2016 – Continuing a policy that began in 2015, the NFL announced that it will suspend all TV blackouts in the 2016 season. The league suspended the blackouts last season as part of a study to determine if the NFL will do away with them altogether. Daniel Kaplan of Sports Business Journal tweeted the news on Monday:

The NFL extended for another year suspension of TV blackout rule. Goodell said more study needed before league wipes policy from its books

As Kaplan tweeted, the league wants to further study the response to not having blackouts. Prior to 2015, all NFL games needed to be at least 85% sold out 72 hours in advance if a game was to be broadcast in the local market. In 2015 with no blackouts, attendance league-wide was down slightly by 0.5%.

The league wants to see how attendance fares in 2016 before making its final decision on whether it will eliminate the rule altogether. Read More > at Awful Announcing

We are facing an unprecedented age of terror – Christians are being persecuted in some 50 countries, among them North Korea, Syria, Somalia and Sudan. In 2003 there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq; today a few thousand. In Mosul, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, Christians were forced to flee by Islamic State (Isil) in the summer of 2014. In Afghanistan the last church was burned to the ground in 2010. In Gaza in 2007, after the rise of Hamas, the last Christian bookshop was destroyed and its owner murdered. In Yemen, on Good Friday, Father Tom Uzhunnallil, an Indian Catholic priest, was crucified by Isil. The ethnic cleansing of Christians throughout the Middle East is one of the crimes against humanity of our time, and I am appalled that there has been little serious international protest.

But the real target is not Christianity but freedom. Nor is this a war. Wars are fought between nations, by armies, and the intended victims are combatants. Terrorists wear no uniforms, and their intended victims are innocent civilians. I for one will never forget the episode two weeks ago on the Ivory Coast where terrorists gunned down a five-year-old child begging for his life.

There have been ages of terror before, but never on this scale, and never with the kind of technology that has given the jihadists the ability to radicalise individuals throughout the world, some acting as lone wolves, others, like the attackers in Paris and Brussels, working in small groups, often involving family members.

The aim of Isil is political: to re-establish the Caliphate and make Islam once more an imperial power. But there is another aim shared by many jihadist groups: to silence anyone and anything that threatens to express a different truth, another faith, a different approach to religious difference. Read More > in The Telegraph

Nobody Won the Apple-FBI Standoff – The FBI dropped its case against Apple on Monday, saying that it had “successfully accessed the data” stored on the San Bernardino, California, killer’s iPhone and, therefore, no longer needed the company’s assistance—which the bureau had been demanding in court and which Apple had been resisting.

This may seem like a happy ending all around, but in fact it’s a bad outcome for both parties—a bit more so for the bureau, at least in the short term.

Contrary to appearances, the fight was never about the specific phone used by Syed Farook. If it were—if FBI Director James Comey believed the phone contained data that was urgently needed for an investigation into terrorism—he could have sent a “Request for Technical Assistance” to the National Security Agency, as the FBI has done in such cases many times. The NSA could easily have hacked into the phone and turned over whatever it extracted to the bureau, officials say.

No, the FBI vs. Apple fight was always about—both parties rhetorically raised the stakes to make it about—the principles of privacy vs. security (or corporate security vs. national security) and whether decades of cooperation between telecoms and the intelligence agencies can survive new advances in encryption.

For years, Apple has crafted a brand based on its absolute commitment to security. Unlike Google and other giants of Silicon Valley, Apple doesn’t sell your data. Its operating systems aren’t licensed to other companies and are, so it’s claimed, much more resistant to hacking. In the past month’s court fight, the FBI was polishing Apple’s luster by claiming that not even the Federal Bureau of Investigation could crack the iPhone’s code without the help of Tim Cook’s engineers.

And now, some hole-in-the-wall private hacking firm has done the undoable—hacked its way in. Apple may have dodged a costly court battle, but its brand has been bruised. Read More > in Slate

BART nearing full restoration of service – BART is inching toward regular service on its outer Contra Costa County line, but a firm timeline has not been set.

The transit agency has started moving its renovated A/B cars, which have been more resistant to mysterious electrical surges, to the Concord yard in an attempt to run them exclusively on the Pittsburg-Bay Point line. Since March 16, BART has been running bus bridges or train shuttles between the North Concord and Pittsburg stations due to the unknown electrical bug.

The A/B cars have fared better than the C cars, which had hard-to-replace parts fried when they traveled over the trouble spot in the track. BART first will test the A/B cars in that area. Read More > in the Oakland Tribune

Who Votes, Who Doesn’t? The Haves and the Have Nots – Eighty-two percent of California’s adults are eligible to vote, but only half will bother to cast ballots in 2016. And those who do vote will not reflect the state’s diversity. That’s a key takeaway of California’s Exclusive Electorate, a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) examining voter participation.

The PPIC study found that the half of adults who vote tend to be older, whiter, more affluent and better educated than non-voters, who tend to be younger, Latino, renters and less wealthy than those who cast ballots.

While California’s population is 42 percent white and 36 percent Latino, six in 10 California voters are white and only 18 percent are Latino.

…California is taking steps to increase voter participation. There are more than 7 million eligible voters who have not bothered to register and soon, under AB-1461, the California Department of Motor Vehicles will begin automatically registering eligible voters who come into the DMV for a drivers license, unless they deliberately opt out.

But the PPIC report finds that’s only part of the battle. Once they’re registered they have to be motivated to actually cast a ballot. The key, according to PPIC researchers, is civic engagement. Read More > at KQED

The Desert Town Turning From Prisons to Pot to Save Itself From Bankruptcy

Can taking selfies contribute to skin aging? – We all have this dilemma of taking the perfect selfie-whether it’s worrying if the lighting’s okay, finding the perfect angle, or thinking of how to get the right fish gape-that we always end up taking a bunch of them until we’re content with it. However, doctors are now saying that taking selfies may be causing our skin to age faster.

This claim began when The Daily Mail featured blogger Mehreen Baig, who apparently takes at least 50 selfies a day for her blog, visited her cosmetic dermatologist one day. After the consultation, she found out that the light from her phone is causing skin damage and dark spots.

Meanwhile, Allure did some digging of their own, and also discovered similar results. Joshua Zeichner, assistant professor in the dermatology department of Mount Sinai Medical Center, tells the outlet, “Visible light has been shown to rev up pigment production, leading to dark spots, and promote breakdown of collagen, which leads to wrinkles. It can also create reactive oxygen species that damage the skin and cause premature skin aging and perhaps skin cancers.”

“There’s no way to avoid visible light totally, but limiting time in front of your computers and cell phones can certainly help,” he adds.

While some doctors also find this quite questionable, it doesn’t hurt to be careful, right? – Read More > at Women Asia One

Lifelong Marijuana Use Correlated With Troubled Middle Age – It’s well-known trope in movies and TV: the middle-aged burnout who smokes weed every day instead of finding a job. Now findings from a new study indicate that might not be pure fiction: frequent and heavy marijuana use over the course of years has been correlated to a drop in socioeconomic class and an increase in personal and financial difficulties. The study, published yesterday in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, was well done, but the reasons behind its conclusions are less clear than they may appear.

In the study, the researchers followed about 1,000 people from birth to age 38. All the participants were born within a year on each other in Dunedin, New Zealand, and were distributed among socioeconomic classes, sex, and health metrics. 93 percent of the participants were white. The researchers followed up with the participants 11 times throughout their lives; after age 18, the participants were asked about frequency of marijuana and alcohol use, social class mobility (ranked by profession and compared to that of their parents), financial difficulties (based on self-assessed appraisals of their personal finances), social behavior at work (self-reports of interpersonal problems in the workplace), relationship conflicts (quality of the relationship, history of abuse), and traffic convictions.

“Our study found that regular cannabis users experienced downward social mobility and more financial problems such as troubles with debt and cash flow than those who did not report such persistent use,” said Magdalena Cerdá, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Davis and one of the study authors, in a press release. “Regular long-term users also had more antisocial behaviors at work, such as stealing money or lying to get a job, and experienced more relationship problems, such as intimate partner violence and controlling abuse.” At age 18, those who went on to use marijuana heavily were no different from the rest of the cohort in their IQ, motivation, or impulsivity, indicating that many of these issues set in later. Read More > at Popular Science

Was March the Rainfall Miracle We’d Hoped For? – Yes, the Bay Area got a lot of rain this winter. But was it enough to end the drought?

Sadly, no. But there’s good news—this winter was the best we’ve had in five years in terms of precipitation. Rainfall in most Bay Area cities is about 100 percent of normal. San Francisco has received 21 inches of rain this winter, up from 16 inches last year.

And the state’s two biggest reservoirs, Oroville and Shasta, are now more than 80 percent full. Last March, they hovered between 50 and 59 percent.

In addition to Oroville and Shasta, Pardee reservoir, the biggest reservoir that serves the East Bay, is 99 percent full.

…But Rogers says southern California wasn’t as lucky. Some cities, like Los Angeles, are only at 50 percent of normal rainfall for this time of year.

The mandatory water cutbacks Governor Jerry Brown enacted last April have been extended through October, but some of those restrictions may be lifted in parts of northern California.

This map shows precipitation as a percentage of average for March. Areas in maroon are at less than 5 percent of average for this time of year while magenta areas are at more than 300 percent of average. (NOAA)

This map shows precipitation as a percentage of average for March. Areas in maroon are at less than 5 percent of average for this time of year while magenta areas are at more than 300 percent of average. (NOAA)

Read More > at KQED

What could change if recreational pot is legalized in California – Right now it’s not hard to buy pot legally in California: $40 and a trip to the doctor, and you have yourself a prescription for medical marijuana, which you can use to treat things like back pain and anxiety.

But a campaign is underway to make pot legal for recreational use. Supporters are gathering signatures now to put an initiative on the November ballot, asking California voters if pot should be fully legal, like it is in Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

Those signatures are for the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). It’s likely going to be the initiative that makes it to California’s ballot, according to Beau Kilmer, co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. So far it has more traction than the other marijuana-related initiatives being circulated. It’s been endorsed by notable marijuana advocacy groups like NORML and has received significant financial support from Napster’s Sean Parker, who donated $1 million to the campaign.

So, what’ll actually change if it comes to pass? Here’s what you need to know:

“If adult legalization passes in California in November, you’re not going to be able to walk into a supermarket in December and buy a joint,” said Kilmer. People 21 and older would be able to walk into licensed retailers and buy marijuana without a prescription. When those retailers could open up is unclear.

But where you could buy marijuana would still depend on what city you’re in. Currently, individual cities can decide whether or not they allow medical dispensaries to set up and sell pot. Some do, and some don’t. The ones that don’t — for example, Pasadena — can continue to outlaw marijuana shops, even if recreational weed becomes legal statewide. People living in cities where pot shops are not allowed could still have it delivered to their door, or they could simply travel to another city to buy it. Read More > at KPCC

Self-driving robots deliver food to your door after founders of Skype launch new tech company – These six-wheeled robots could be arriving at your door soon as deliveries start across London.

The self-driving machine is packed with nine cameras, GPS and is monitored by real people who can immediately step in and take remote control.

They can carry two full grocery bags and will be with you in 30 minutes or less, and with delivery costing under a £1, this could be a real winner.

Launched by Starship Technologies, a company set up by the co-founders of Skype, they have been riding around parts of Greenwich as part of a trial.

The robots ride on the pavement and are designed to detect people and other obstacles, adjusting their speed, stopping at roads, and as our footage shows they are courteous too. Read More > in the Mirror

PC Zealots Seek and Destroy Lars Ulrich at UC-Berkeley –  It was a sad day for the First Amendment at the University of California, Berkeley: militant far-left students stormed the stage during a recent forum featuring Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, fully intent on halting the event. Their actions—which included an alleged assault of one of the other speakers—are not merely a betrayal, but a repudiation of the values of the university that birthed the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s.

In an election season when U.S. political discourse has been profoundly damaged by an increasing contempt for free speech—both among the liberal hecklers who disrupt Donald Trump events, and among Trump’s own supporters and campaign staffers, who respond with violence—it’s more important than ever for universities to serve as bastions of tolerance and free expression. But if the episode at Berkeley is any evidence, universities have become breeding grounds for the illiberal values now permeating American society.

…Campus police were on hand, and intervened in time to prevent anyone from being hurt. Thankfully, the students did not succeed in their effort to derail the proceedings. But the mere fact that they tried—that they believe in violence and the heckler’s veto—is a serious indictment of their movement.

The incident would be worrisome enough if it were merely an isolated incident. Unfortunately, the University of California system is rife with examples of illiberal students refusing to let anyone else discuss ideas that they don’t want to hear. Recently, at the University of California-Davis, pro-choice protesters disrupted a pro-life demonstration by confiscating their flyers and throwing them on the ground. The perpetrator was caught on camera and was approached by police, but escaped without punishment.

Far too often, the universities themselves deserves blame for either humoring students’ censorious delusions or taking matters into their own hands. At another California university, California State University of Los Angeles, administrators told conservative students that they couldn’t bring right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro to campus unless they balanced out his perspective by also including a liberal voice. This is, of course, nonsense. Read More > at The Daily Beast

Samsung Smart Windshield

Changes could add hundreds of millions of dollars to first 29 miles of bullet train – The California rail authority is facing hundreds of millions of dollars in potential change orders and other prospective cost increases on the first 29 miles of the bullet train system, state and private contractor documents show.

The change orders and other claims are coming from construction firms, utilities and railroads involved in that first segment, according to the documents.

Several of the biggest claims and change orders could cost 10% to more than 30% above original estimates for the segment, which is to run between Madera and Fresno. Scores of smaller claims could mean additional spending.

Higher costs for the first construction phase of the project would carry implications for the entire $64-billion system.

The contractor team on the first segment has sent the rail authority a log that includes more than 300 pending change orders and notices, about 200 of which do not yet include cost estimates. The team, led by Sylmar-based Tutor Perini, won a $1-billion contract in 2013 for the first segment. The Times obtained a copy of the log dated last November and a subsequent update in January. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Joe Mathews: Redoing county boundaries would make sense – The heart of the problem is that California’s antiquated design, with its 58 counties drawn haphazardly more than a century ago, doesn’t make sense today. The divides produced by our counties are part of a larger fragmentation in California, which has more than 6,000 governments, with 480 cities and thousands of special districts that few Californians know anything about.

This fragmentation of regions is not merely a problem of untidy maps. Research shows that regions that are split up among many governments have less affordable housing and more sprawl, congestion, and segregation than those with more consolidated regional governance.

…California 2.0 shows how our biggest problems are regional: environmental systems, infrastructure, economic development, transit, and housing. But our counties don’t match up with these regions. So California 2.0 argues for consolidating counties so that each region of the state would be one county. There would be 19 in the author’s ideal structure, though California 2.0 suggests that even the old Spanish military’s 10 territorial districts would fit California better than today’s 58 counties.

Such regional counties would need more power to devise regional solutions to the state’s most pressing problems: schools, traffic, and housing. And, as California 2.0 argues, they’d need expanded boards of supervisors and elected county executives to improve democratic accountability. Read More > in The Desert Sun

Is there a place for car tech in the CNET Smart Home? – From LEDs to thermostats and security gadgets, we’ve decked out the CNET Smart Home with all sorts of connected tech. The Amazon Echo — a Wi-Fi-enabled speaker with voice control capabilities via Alexa, the Echo’s ever-present robot assistant — is at the center of these updates. That’s because Alexa is accessible, an easy entry point into the wild world of smart devices. Just say, “Alexa, turn on the lights,” and she will. No app, no hub, no fuss.

But voice control isn’t that helpful when you aren’t within range of your Echo (that could change with the portable Tap device due out from Amazon early next week). Not only that, but “universal” apps from hubs like SmartThings can be confusing to navigate.

Fortunately, there’s another way to communicate with your smart home: through your car. It’s a fledgling industry for sure, but one that’s gaining momentum.

Today’s cars are smarter than ever before. A quick glance at CNET’s new Roadshow automotive site and you’ll see coverage related to concerns over vehicle hacking, cars equipped with night vision tech, the development of robotic brakes and operational self-driving cars.

But there’s also a growing segment within that broader connected car contingent that’s focused entirely on integrations between your vehicle and your home. AT&T’s Digital Life home security and automation platform has announced plans to partner with automobile manufacturers on voice control in-dash displays; BMW now has its own beta IFTTT channel; Ford and Amazon have said they’re in talks to discuss potential voice control applications. The list goes on.

… created IFTTT rules linking Automatic with Philips Hue lights, an Ecobee3 thermostat and even a Schlage lock that connects to Automatic via SmartThings and IFTTT.

Whenever I turned my car’s ignition on or off at the CNET Smart Home, the Hue LEDs switched off and on accordingly and the Ecobee3 auto-adjusted to either Home or Away mode. Read More > at c|net

How Big Is the Internet, Really? – …With about 1 billion websites, the Web is home to many more individual Web pages. One of these pages,, seeks to quantify the number using research by Internet consultant Maurice de Kunder. De Kunder and his colleagues published their methodology in February 2016 in the journal Scientometrics. To come to an estimate, the researchers sent a batch of 50 common words to be searched by Google and Bing. (Yahoo Search and used to be included but are not anymore because they no longer show the total results.) The researchers knew how frequently these words have appeared in print in general, allowing them to extrapolate the total number of pages out there based on how many contain the reference words. Search engines overlap in the pages they index, so the method also requires estimating and subtracting the likely overlap. [Could the Internet Ever Be Destroyed?]

According to these calculations, there were at least 4.66 billion Web pages online as of mid-March 2016.

…In 2014, researchers published a study in the journal Supercomputing Frontiers and Innovations estimating the storage capacity of the Internet at 10^24 bytes, or 1 million exabytes. A byte is a data unit comprising 8 bits, and is equal to a single character in one of the words you’re reading now. An exabyte is 1 billion billion bytes.

One way to estimate the communication capacity of the Internet is to measure the traffic moving through it. According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index initiative, the Internet is now in the “zettabyte era.” A zettabyte equals 1 sextillion bytes, or 1,000 exabytes. By the end of 2016, global Internet traffic will reach 1.1 zettabytes per year, according to Cisco, and by 2019, global traffic is expected to hit 2 zettabytes per year.

One zettabyte is the equivalent of 36,000 years of high-definition video, which, in turn, is the equivalent of streaming Netflix’s entire catalog 3,177 times, Thomas Barnett Jr., Cisco’s director of thought leadership, wrote in a 2011 blog post about the company’s findings. Read More > at Live Science

It’s 2006 All Over Again – The state of American wealth and entrepreneurship might reside in cool coastal cities, like New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Seattle. But the future of American growth is still the big hot suburbs.

It’s 2006 again in America, and families are moving to sunbelt suburbs, picking up where they left off before the economy came crashing down in 2007. Seven of the 10 fastest-growing U.S. metros—and seven of the 20 metros with the largest numerical growth—were in Florida and Texas last year, according to new data this morning from the U.S. Census.

Between 2010 and 2015, the five sunny metros of Houston, Dallas, Miami, Phoenix, and Atlanta added a combined 1.57 million people through domestic and international migration. That’s more than the rest of the 20 largest U.S. metros combined. For every non-recession year this century, the fastest-growing metro has been one of three cities: Las Vegas (for three years), Austin (for four years), and Cape Coral-Ft. Myers, Florida (for another four years.)

Looking exclusively at immigration, the story is slightly different. Although about 700,000 people left New York City in the last five years, they were more than replaced by 770,000 immigrants. Los Angeles, too, bled domestic movers, but still grew through immigration. Indeed, this is a trend for some of America’s largest, richest cities, like Washington, D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Baltimore. All five metros would have shrunk since 2010 if not for new international families. Read More > in The Atlantic

It’s Past Time To End The IRS’ Reign Of Terror – Corruption: A federal court has harshly judged the IRS for harassing conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. We hope this brings far more trouble for the agency than it gave those groups.

Don’t think we’re downplaying what happened to these organizations. The IRS committed a serious offense. Its conduct was beyond outrageous. It held up nonprofit-status applications from Tea Party and conservative groups for political reasons, singled out the groups for unforgiving scrutiny and was actively looking for right-of-center organizations to grind in its 21st century inquisition.

On Tuesday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals censured the IRS, ordering it to turn over the list of groups it had targeted so that a class-action lawsuit filed by the NorCal Tea Party Patriots against the tax collector can move forward with those groups as plaintiffs. An agency that has long acted above the law has now been told it is accountable. This is significant.

The three-judge panel was not sparing in its judgment. It noted that “among the most serious allegations a federal court can address are that an executive agency has targeted citizens for mistreatment based on their political views.” It also told the IRS lawyers that they had conducted themselves in a manner unworthy of the government’s tradition of impartiality and decency as they fought the lawsuit. Read More > at Investor’s Business Daily

Annual state report begins showing pension debt – Following new accounting rules, the annual state financial report issued this month shows a “net pension liability” of $63.7 billion, a dramatic increase from the $3.2 billion “net pension obligation” reported last year.

It’s mainly the result of including, for the first time, the large debt or “unfunded liability” of the two big statewide pension systems: the California Public Employees Retirement System and the California State Teachers Retirement System.

New rules from the Governmental Accounting Standards Board are directing state and local governments to report more of their pension debt, a “hidden” and “unsustainable” long-term drain on basic services in the view of some critics.

…Next year the new accounting rules will be used to report the debt for retiree health care promised state workers, estimated to be $74.1 billion in an update issued by Yee in January.

This year a much lower state worker retiree health care debt is reported, a “net OPEB obligation” of $22.3 billion under old rules based on the contribution shortfall. (Retiree health care is labeled “other post-employment benefits” in the financial reports.) Read More > at Calpensions

Gov. Brown’s $17 billion Delta tunnels plan faces new hurdle — a leading taxpayers organization – In a development that casts significant doubt on whether Silicon Valley’s largest water district will help pay for Gov. Jerry Brown’s $17 billion Delta tunnels plan, a majority of Santa Clara Valley Water District board members now say they want to put the issue to a public vote.

The district, which provides 1.9 million residents of Santa Clara County drinking water and flood protection, has been a key player in Brown’s controversial plan. Its share of the tunnels project could cost up to $1.2 billion.

The district’s staff has insisted for years that it can raise property taxes on Santa Clara County homeowners without a public vote to help pay for the tunnels because the project is simply an addition to the State Water Project, the series of dams and canals that was authorized by state voters in 1960 at the urging of Brown’s father, Gov. Pat Brown.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — founded by the co-author of Proposition 13 — sent water agencies in Silicon Valley and Alameda County a letter suggesting possible legal action. The letter argued that the tunnels were not part of the original State Water Project plan and that any property tax hike to fund them would be illegal without voter approval. Read More > in the San Jose Mercury News


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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