Sunday Reading – 06/12/16

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.

Samsung president says 5G wireless is coming, and it’s going to be incredible – Mobile-phone companies are working on their next generation of wireless networks, known as 5G, which promise to be blindingly fast.

Early tests of 5G networks have hit 10 Gbps speeds. In comparison, the average speed of today’s fastest mobile network is 12.3 Mbps, so as much 100 times faster.

At the Rutberg Future: Mobile 2016 conference in Half Moon Bay, California, Gregory Lee, ‎president and CEO of Samsung North America, described how amazing it will be when 5G gets here.

He said that the network will be so fast that it will allow you to do things like:

  • Download a movie in three seconds
  • Have every device in your home connected, including things like your fridge and other appliances
  • Allow doctors to guide each other through a remote-surgery procedure
  • Let a jazz band play together remotely, creating real music in real time. Read More > at Yahoo! Finance

The Ad Campaign that Convinced Americans to Pay for Water – Even if they could afford it, many people would balk at the thought of paying $10,000 for a sandwich. And yet the majority of Americans pay a similar markup, essentially, for a bottle of water.

Americans weren’t always so open-minded about opening their wallets for H20. Mere decades ago, they would have laughed at paying astronomical markups for a liquid that flows freely, and usually safely, from their taps at home.

That all began to change in the 1970s, with a crazy idea from a Frenchman who wanted Americans to buy fizzy water in green glass bottles shaped like bowling pins.

His company was Perrier, and its carefully constructed, impeccably timed advertisements paved the way for one of the greatest feats (or scams, depending on whom you ask) in marketing history.

Perrier’s campaign created a massive new market for the American beverage industry, and it still serves as a playbook for how to convince people to pay for water. At the same time, it does not fully account for what remains an even greater mystery: the enduring appeal of bottled water.

Whether they choose fizzy Perrier, flat Poland Spring, or a different label, Americans are guzzling more bottled water than ever before. And in an era defined by speed and convenience, they show no signs of slowing down. Read More > at Priceonomics

El Niño is officially over. What comes next? – Did you wake up this morning with an overwhelming sense of sadness, a feeling that there was a hole in your heart? You’re not alone.

The world officially said goodbye to an old friend.

On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that the past year’s El Niño was no more. The declaration comes a few weeks after Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, the other big El Niño monitoring group, also declared it dead and gone.

That means ocean temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific are now near normal. But they might not stay that way for long, as odds are pointing to a cooling in the region that could herald the arrival of a La Niña event later this fall.

…There are already hints that a La Niña could emerge later this year. The climate phenomenon is characterized by cooler-than-normal ocean temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific that shift weather. And according to the latest analysis by NOAA, temperatures are already dipping below normal in some areas.

Even more telling of La Niña’s possible rise is the stash of cooler-than-normal waters below the surface. If those cooler waters push up in the coming months, it would almost certainly trigger a La Niña event. Right now, NOAA is calling for a 65 percent chance of a La Niña forming this summer and a 75 percent chance it will form by fall.

Like an El Niño, the two biggest wild cards with a La Niña are its strength and longevity.

La Niñas are also like snowflakes so their impacts are still uncertain, though they could include an increased number of Atlantic hurricanes, as well as cool and wet conditions during the winter in the Pacific Northwest. And a strong La Niña could also cause the global average temperature to fall off the record pace it’s been on. Read More > at Grist

Tesla Knows When a Crash Is Your Fault, and Other Carmakers Soon Will, Too – …The majority of cars sold in the U.S. now have event data recorders—sometimes described as black boxes—that log data to be examined in the event of an accident.

Most of those devices don’t record as much detail as Tesla does, or send it out over the Internet. But Internet connectivity in cars is becoming more common, and carmakers are keen to make use of whatever data they can get from our vehicles.

Only about a quarter of new cars have the necessary technology today, but that’s expected to reach over 90 percent by 2020. Companies such as GM are open about their interest in expanding the range of data they collect on driver actions to open up new business opportunities.

One big motivation for car companies is to get into the insurance business. Some insurance companies already offer discounts if you install a device in your car with sensors that monitor your driving habits, and GM has partnerships with several that tap into its OnStar system. But insurance companies could have much to gain by getting more detailed data as Tesla does, so they can see not only the car’s motion but every action of the driver. Read More > at MIT Technology Review

The Zombie Voter Apocalypse: California Refuses to Admit Its Voter Fraud Problem – …An investigation by CBSLA2 and KCAL9 found that hundreds of deceased persons are still on voter registration rolls in the area, and that many of these names have been voting for years in Los Angeles.

…The Los Angeles County Registrar pointed to the 1200 to 2000 voter registrations removed every month to update records and told reporters, “There’s really no way to connect a person whose death is recorded with a person who is registered to vote unless we get some kind of notification from the family.”

But that is plain nonsense. Other states do frequent comparisons between their voter registration lists and the death databases maintained by the Social Security Administration, and other state agencies consult vital records departments in order to remove voters who have died.

The CBS investigation shows both that voter fraud exists and that this type of fraudulent voting is detectable through proper investigation.

CBS reports that California is the only state that does not comply with the Help America Vote Act of 2002,

The Help America Vote Act establishes mandatory minimum standards of accuracy for state voter registration lists and requires states to engage in regular maintenance and updates to remove ineligible voters who die or move away. Read More > at The Daily Signal

Court Moves California Governor’s Parole Ballot Measure Forward – The state Supreme Court made it likely Monday that Californians will vote in November on Gov. Jerry Brown’s crime initiative, which would allow prisoners convicted of nonviolent felonies to be considered for early parole.

The California District Attorneys Association sought to keep the measure off the ballot, arguing that Brown had violated the public’s right to comment on initiative measures by combining his proposal with one that would require a judicial hearing before defendants as young as 14 could be tried as adults. The authors of the juvenile measure had already completed their public-comment period, required by state law, when they agreed to let Brown take it over and add his parole plan.

In a 6-1 ruling, the court said the two measures were “reasonably germane” to one another and could be submitted as a single initiative, without further public comment.

…The new initiative would make inmates eligible for parole after serving their sentence for the crime they committed. It would cover only those convicted of felonies classified as nonviolent, which would disqualify those who used a gun or inflicted serious injuries. Early release would not be guaranteed — the parole boards, composed mostly of former law enforcement and prison officials, now review the cases of murderers serving life sentences and usually vote to keep them in prison.

The initiative would also repeal a law, approved by voters in 2000, that allowed prosecutors to charge youths aged 14 to 17 in adult court for serious crimes, with potential sentences of up to life in prison. The measure would restore a previous law allowing a juvenile court judge to decide whether the youth should be tried instead as a juvenile, who could be held only until age 23. Read More > in Governing

The U.S. Marine Corps’ new tattoo policy spans 32 pages, complete with a glossary and rules down to the inch – Robert Neller is the commanding general of the United States Marine Corps. He has led American forces into Panama, Somalia and Iraq over his four decades of service.

Last week, he took steps to address the latest scourge facing his troops: Tattoos.

No longer will Marines be allowed to run rampant with body art — not under a 32-page set of regulations authorized by Neller on June 2. The bulletin lays out the Marine Corps’ tattoo policy in exacting detail, banning everything from tattoos above the baseline of the neck to those that run too close to elbows, wrists and knees.

It also comes with a glossary page — defining the elbow, wrist bone, knee and other terms — and a 14-page appendix of photos explaining what is and isn’t OK.

“The American people expect Marines to be disciplined, physically fit, and ready to accomplish any mission,” the first paragraph of the bulletin reads. “They also expect Marines to possess esprit de corps and a squared away and sharp personal appearance.”

In some ways, the updated policy is actually more lenient than past versions. Marines are now allowed to have an “unlimited” amount of tattoos on parts of the body covered by their uniform. Officers, though, are restricted to no more than four tattoos on exposed skin. Read More > in the National Post

The Little Train That Couldn’t: CA’s High Speed Rail – California’s high-speed rail project has fallen into a ditch due to yet another delay. Now would be a good time to put a bullet in this bullet-train scheme before even more billions of taxpayers’ dollars are wasted.

Once completed, the only bullet train in the nation is anticipated to move passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in fewer than three hours, supposedly reaching speeds up to 220mph. Its total length will be about 800 miles, linking Sacramento and San Diego.

…“In 2008, voters were promised fares of ‘about $50 a person’ ” between Los Angeles and San Francisco. But “that has gone up to $81 already,” Cox and Vranich reported in a follow-up study. Consequently, the argument that taking the train will be cheaper than traveling by car vanishes. Cox and Vranich say “out-of-pocket automobile costs would be approximately one-third to one-half less than high speed rail fares depending upon distance traveled and how many people are riding in a car.”

Promised travel times have also been too optimistic, as it’s unlikely the trains will ever reach 220mph. Cox and Vranich report the fastest non-stop San Francisco-Los Angeles trips over the first phase of the project “are estimated to operate at from 3:50 to 4:40” rather than the 2:40 initially claimed. The slower travel times will, of course, lead to fewer riders.

…When voters approved the rail by a 53-47 margin, they authorized the state to issue $9.95 billion in bonds to build it. At that time, the official estimate for full completion was $33 billion, the remaining funds to come from federal and private sources.

But, predictably, that figure was soon obsolete. A little more than a year later, the estimate was bumped up to $43 billion. That was more than doubled in late 2011, when projections soared to a range between $98.5 billion and $117 billion. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Analyst: Surge in Younger Voters Failed to Materialize in California Primary – Turnout for the California primary, which some expected to be pumped up by a surge in registrations among younger voters, fell short of analysts’ expectations. One major factor in that lower-than-anticipated turnout: For the most part, an analysis of vote-by-mail ballots suggests, those younger voters simply didn’t participate.

Paul Mitchell, vice president of Sacramento-based Political Data Inc., noted Wednesday that people under 35 made up more than half of 2.3 million new voters who registered before the primary, indicating an enthusiasm for the contest. And he says those younger voters told pollsters they would cast ballots.

“But then when they got the ballot with the 34 candidates for Senate, and who’s my congressman, and what’s this ballot proposition, and where do I keep a stamp and all these things … they kind of fell off and they didn’t participate in the same numbers,” Mitchell said.

According to Political Data’s analysis of about 3.1 million ballots returned to county registrars before Tuesday’s vote, voters under 35 made up just 10 percent of those who voted. That group makes up 25 percent of the state’s 17.9 million registered voters. Read More > at KQED

Why California’s record voter registration failed to result in record turnout – It had the makings of a surge in turnout for the California primary: a competitive Democratic presidential contest with no sitting incumbent, record numbers of registered voters and massive media coverage of candidate rallies throughout the state.

And when California’s secretary of state Wednesday revealed the preliminary turnout numbers, they were, in fact, considerably higher than 2012. But they were well short of 2008 and the two previous election cycles before that.

…Such factors as a noncompetitive Republican presidential primary and The Associated Press call the night before the primary that Hillary Clinton had secured enough delegates to win the Democratic nomination may have played a role, according to Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst and senior fellow at USC.

About 33.3 percent of registered voters turned out, compared with 21.9 percent in 2012. In 2008, turnout was 22 points higher.

As of Wednesday, some 5.9 million voters statewide cast ballots out of a record number 17.9 million registered voters. Read More > in the Los Angeles Daily News

IRS computer hack was worse than agency admitted – The IRS’ computer hack was worse than previously admitted, and the tax agency failed to alert thousands of people that their information was stolen, and didn’t give credit monitoring assistance to nearly 80,000 others who were targeted, an inspector general said Wednesday.

Investigators said nearly 1 million accounts were potentially targeted, and nearly 360,000 people actually had their accounts broken into. That’s far more than the 220,000 hacks the tax agency initially acknowledged.

In thousands of instances, the IRS missed the evidence of a hack, the inspector general said, leaving those taxpayers unaware of their vulnerabilities for months.

“While the IRS acted swiftly to disable its application upon learning of the data breach, our auditors found that it did not identify all taxpayers who were potentially affected, and whose tax information was at risk of being used by unauthorized individuals,” said J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

He said the IRS did notify the taxpayers after the inspector general pointed out the botch. Read More > in The Washington Times

Why are There Ashtrays In Airplane Bathrooms? – It’s been 28 years since the federal government banned smoking on US domestic flights (most international airplanes following suit shortly thereafter). And yet, take a look around on your next plane ride: there’s an ashtray in the lavatory. And according to a recently resurfaced Business Insider article, those ashtrays aren’t just vestiges on outdated airplanes.

Ashtrays are actually part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s minimum equipment list—in order to fly, an airplane must have an ashtray.

Airlines are afraid that, despite the countless “no smoking” signs and announcements, some badly behaved passenger will light up anyway—and toss the cigarette into the paper-filled waste basket. Read More > at Travel and Leisure

Driverless Car Testing May Spark a Tech Transformation for One California Town – It looks like something from a Cold War nightmare — a ghost town uninhabited for decades, abandoned after a nuclear war, overgrown with weeds and deathly silent. Single-pane windows crack and crumble to concrete floors below. Trees sway lazily in front of a building that could have been an elementary school. A single car, an Acura RLX, turns a corner.

On the road in front of it stands a figure: pale white, motionless, with a black and yellow duffel bag at his feet. He might be waiting for a friend to pick him up. He doesn’t move as the Acura approaches, and so the car swerves to avoid him.

It’s the most mundane of scenes, a daily occurrence on any number of residential streets in any city. And it just might transform the east San Francisco Bay Area suburb of Concord.

While the car’s maneuver happens countless times each day across the U.S., what makes the scene on June 1 at GoMentum Station, the former Concord Naval Weapons Station, special is that the driver had no hands on the wheel when the car swerved. The car recognized the dummy, planned an evasive maneuver and executed it without control from a human.

And it’s just the beginning for Concord and Contra Costa County. Government leaders in the area are banking on autonomous vehicle testing to become ground zero for a massive development effort meant to create jobs, reduce congestion, and improve the health and safety of the area’s residents. Read More > at Gov Tech

Delta islands: Court temporarily halts sale to Southern California water district – A state appeals court has temporarily blocked Southern California’s biggest water supplier from buying Delta farm islands that could be used for the governor’s plan for twin water tunnels.

The state’s 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento issued the temporary restraining order on Tuesday, a day before escrow was scheduled to close on the Metropolitan Water District’s purchase of four Delta islands for some $175 million.

Contra Costa and San Joaquin counties and the group Restore the Delta had sued to stop the plan they contend is part of a water grab to move more Delta water to Southern California.

Metropolitan plans to buy Webb and Holland tracks in Contra Costa County, and Bouldin and Bacon islands in San Joaquin County.

Metropolitan Water officials have said they plan to use the farm land to restore ailing wildlife, but they acknowledge that some of the islands could serve as a staging area for equipment to dig the twin water tunnels to move water through the Delta to export pumps near Byron. Read More > in The Mercury News

Why the Economic Payoff From Technology Is So Elusive – Your smartphone allows you to get almost instantaneous answers to the most obscure questions. It also allows you to waste hours scrolling through Facebook or looking for the latest deals on Amazon.

More powerful computing systems can predict the weather better than any meteorologist or beat human champions in complex board games like chess.

But for several years, economists have asked why all that technical wizardry seems to be having so little impact on the economy. The issue surfaced again recently, when the government reported disappointingly slow growth and continuing stagnation in productivity. The rate of productivity growth from 2011 to 2015 was the slowest since the five-year period ending in 1982.

One place to look at this disconnect is in the doctor’s office. Dr. Peter Sutherland, a family physician in Tennessee, made the shift to computerized patient records from paper in the last few years. There are benefits to using electronic health records, Dr. Sutherland says, but grappling with the software and new reporting requirements has slowed him down. He sees fewer patients, and his income has slipped.

The productivity puzzle has given rise to a number of explanations in recent years — and divided economists into technology pessimists and optimists. Read More > in The New York Times

Worker Scarcity Depresses Construction Employment – Construction employment dipped for the second consecutive month in May, but rising industry pay and plunging unemployment suggest contractors would be hiring more workers if they were available, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials cautioned that worker shortages may be reaching the point where they undermine the sector’s growth.

“Although construction employment slipped in April and May, the industry has added workers in the past year at double the rate of the overall economy,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Average pay in construction is rising faster than in the rest of the private sector, and the number of unemployed construction workers was at the lowest May level in 16 years. These facts support what contractors tell us: they have plenty of work but are struggling to find qualified workers to hire.”

Average hourly earnings, a measure of wages and salaries for all workers, increased 2.6 percent in construction to $28.04 in May. That was nearly 10 percent higher than the private-sector average, which rose 2.5 percent over the past 12 months, Simonson said. He added that the number of unemployed jobseekers who last worked in the construction industry decreased for the seventh year in a row, to 461,000, the lowest total for May since 2000.

Residential construction—comprising residential building and specialty trade contractors—declined by 4,400 jobs in May but is up by 127,700, or 5.2 percent, compared to a year ago. Nonresidential construction—building, specialty trades, and heavy and civil engineering construction firms—shed 10,300 jobs for the month but added 91,400 employees compared to May 2015, a 2.3 percent increase. Read More > at AGC of America

89 Ballot Measures Swamp California Voters As Inertia Paralyzes State Lawmakers – Good news for ballot-printing companies in California: there are 89 ballot measures up for a vote in the June 7 primary. Bad news for pretty much everyone else in California: there are 89 ballot measures up for a vote in the June 7 primary. Why such a mind-bogglingly large number of measures? Quite simply, local jurisdictions are struggling to fund key projects (including road repairs and transit improvements), thanks to a state legislature incapable of – or unwilling to – modernize its tax system to keep pace with the modern California economy.

As is true in many states, over the past several decades California has shifted increasingly toward a service economy. However, the tax code has not evolved to reflect this change. The sales tax – certainly the most predictable of revenues – is bizarrely under-utilized. In the Golden State, the sales tax applies almost only to retail goods (auto parts, shampoo) but not to service (auto repairs, haircuts). As a result, the sales tax is expected to make up just 22% of California’s general fund revenue next year (by way of contrast, in 1950 the sales tax provided 60% of this revenue). Making matters worse, the state legislature refuses to raise the gasoline tax – the very tax that was intended to fund the transportation projects and infrastructure improvements that many California towns need.

In the absence of a modern and logical state tax structure, jurisdictions are left to their own devices, and every two years voters must wade into the muddy public-finance waters in order to fund basic needs for their cities and towns. In the Sacramento County town of Isleton, voters will decide on adding a half-cent sales tax in order to pay for ambulances. In the city of Davis, voters will be asked whether they approve a 10% gross-receipts tax on marijuana sales. All told, according to, Californians will vote on about $6.6 billion worth of parcel taxes, business license taxes, sales taxes and school bonds. Read More > in Forbes

People are spending much less time on social media apps: Report – People are spending less time on social media apps, in some cases substantially less, a new study from marketing intelligence firm SimilarWeb found.

The company compared Android users’ daily time spent on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat from January to March 2016 with the same period in 2015. The firm looked at data from the U.S, UK, Germany, Spain, Australia, India, South Africa, Brazil and Spain.

Facebook’s Instagram saw the biggest year-over-year drop — usage was down 23.7 percent this year, closely followed by Twitter (down 23.4 percent), Snapchat (down 15.7 percent) and Facebook (down 8 percent), the study found. Read More > at CNBC

Why Are So Many Female Teachers Sleeping With Students? – …In 2014, Abbott said, two-thirds of reported teacher-related sexual misconduct cases with students involved men; that means one-third of the cases involved female teachers.

If Abbott’s statistics are accurate, it would represent an enormous increase from just a decade ago, when female teachers accounted for as little as four percent of reported sex crimes involving students. (This, of course, assumes the studies cited in Saleton’s article are accurate, as well.)

What does it all mean?

A more precise review of data is no doubt warranted before it would be prudent to declare this a sexual epidemic. Anyone who has worked with statistics knows they can be fickle.

But sometimes conventional wisdom is right.

So let’s assume for a moment that sex crimes committed by female teachers are on the rise. The question becomes: What is driving it? Read More > at Intellectual Takeout

How MSG Got A Bad Rap: Flawed Science And Xenophobia – …By the 1950s, MSG was found in packaged food across the U.S., from snacks to baby food. (Sand said in his 2005 paper that his 1953 edition of “The Joy of Cooking” referred to monosodium glutamate as “the mysterious ‘white powder’ of the Orient … ‘m.s.g.,’ as it is nicknamed by its devotees.”) Soon, though, MSG’s chemical nature would turn against it. After the publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and federal bans on sweeteners that the Food and Drug Administration deemed carcinogenic,3 consumers began to worry about chemical additives in their food. In 1968, the New England Journal of Medicine published a letter from a doctor complaining about radiating pain in his arms, weakness and heart palpitations after eating at Chinese restaurants. He mused that cooking wine, MSG or excessive salt might be to blame. Reader responses poured in with similar complaints, and scientists jumped to research the phenomenon. “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” was born.

Early on, researchers reported an association between consuming MSG and the symptoms cited in the New England Journal of Medicine. Inflammatory headlines and book titles followed: “Chinese food make you crazy? MSG is No. 1 Suspect,” wrote the Chicago Tribune, while books titled “Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills” and “In Bad Taste: The MSG Symptom Complex” prompted FDA reviews and “60 Minutes” investigations, as Alan Levinovitz, a professor of Chinese philosophy at James Madison University, chronicled in a 2015 book about food myths.

But those early studies had essential flaws, including that participants knew whether or not they were consuming MSG. Subsequent research has found that the vast majority of people, even those claiming a sensitivity to MSG, don’t have any reaction when they don’t know they are eating it. Read More > at FiveThrityEight

Uber, Lyft team up with Walmart for home delivery, in bid to compete with Amazon – Both Uber and Lyft are teaming up with Walmart to offer home grocery delivery, in a bid to complete with Amazon’s same-day services.

Walmart will enlist the ride-hailing competitors in separate markets – using Uber in Phoenix and Lyft in Denver – and roll out a pilot “within two weeks,” wrote Michael Bender, Walmart’s executive vice president of e-commerce. The retail giant’s e-commerce and innovation units are based in San Bruno.

Under the terms of the new delivery pilot, customers will pay a fee of $7 to $10, Walmart’s standard delivery rate, for home delivery of Walmart goods. Orders will be assembled by Walmart (NYSE: WMT) staffers, with a Lyft or Uber summoned to deliver the items. Customers won’t pay drivers any fees directly. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Please, please let Madison Bumgarner hit in the Home Run Derby – Madison Bumgarner, the ace of the San Francisco Giants’ pitching staff, thinks there should be a place for him in baseball’s Home Run Derby over all-star weekend.

That place, he says, is in the batter’s box.

Bumgarner made his case Sunday with an impressive display during batting practice. He socked more than a dozen pitches into the left field seats, with two landing in the third deck and another falling in the fourth deck — 460 feet from home plate. Members of the grounds crew told ESPN’s Buster Olney that they remember only Seattle’s Nelson Cruz hitting a ball there during the Home Run Derby, but the Mercury-News pointed out that Mac Williamson landed one in the top deck Saturday.

Bumgarner, Olney says, kept pleading for a berth in the derby. “He kept coming over and saying, ‘I want to be in it,’ ” Olney said. ” ‘Let me be in it.’ ”

Bumgarner has the stats to back him up, with 11 home runs in 194 plate appearances over the past three seasons. His most recent blast put him in rather elite company with a couple of MVPs. Read More > in The Washington Post

Who Should Public Swimming Pools Serve? – This week, a public pool in Brooklyn became the diving-off point for a new clash over religious law and religious coercion in New York City. For decades, the Metropolitan Recreation Center in Williamsburg has offered gender-separated swimming hours in an accommodation to the heavily Hasidic Jewish community that it serves.

After an anonymous complaint was lodged about its summer schedule, which includes two primetime hours of women-only swimming on Sunday afternoons, the city rescinded and then reaffirmed the right of the pool to maintain its separate hours. Some, a little less anonymously this time, registered dismay over the decision.

“Four times a week this summer —Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9:15 to 11 a.m., and Sunday afternoons from 2:45 to 4:45—a public swimming pool on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn will be temporarily unmoored from the laws of New York City and the Constitution, and commonly held principles of fairness and equal access,” a local-edition New York Times editorial began. Explaining that Jewish law forbids women to bathe in front of men, the paper, echoed by a not insignificant chorus on social media, inveighed against what it called “a theocratic view of government services.” Read More > in The Atlantic

Why Americans love the sharing economy – Even in today’s slow economic recovery, entire industries are transforming, consumers are more powerful than ever before and people are finding new ways to earn a living. All of these improvements stem from the rise of the so-called sharing economy.

While much has been written about the novel business models of the sharing economy and the opportunities they create, the idea behind the sharing economy is nothing new. What sets these innovative companies apart from those of the past is their ability to use the Internet and smart phones to easily connect those who want something with those who have something to offer.

The sharing economy offers easy access to an online platform that facilitates transactions between buyers and providers of goods or services.

Peer-to-peer online interaction, made available only recently by technological advances, is behind everything from eBay and Airbnb, to Zipcar and EatWith, to TaskRabbit and Uber. There have always been people who want to buy a hard-to-find product, find a place to stay, eat a home-cooked meal, get assistance on a task or find a way to get around.

The problem in the past was finding someone who was willing to offer the desired goods or services at a reasonable price. Imagine what it would have been like if people went from door to door and asked home owners if they had an extra room to rent and for how much. Now, travelers simply have to log on to Airbnb, and, with a few clicks of a mouse, they can find a room that fits their needs and budgets. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

From useful to wasteful: How utility ratepayers have borne the brunt of failed projects …Before the 2001 blackouts, a decades-old regulatory policy known as “used and useful” meant that customers wouldn’t bear financial responsibility for new utility projects until they were benefiting from them. Regulators vetted completed projects before utilities could collect money from customers to ensure that the investments in power plants, transmission lines and other projects were needed and being used.

Then in 2002, state lawmakers tweaked the language to remove that historic accountability to protect utilities’ financial health. As a result, the companies could collect money from customers with only a cursory preliminary review.

…The changes in the law contributed to a building boom. Over time, however, the altered approach has led to weaker consumer protection, said San Diego lawyer Michael Aguirre, a longtime critic of the utilities and how they charge their customers.

Now, there is little accountability — even when projects fail, Aguirre said.

“Whatever the utilities want, the CPUC will make sure they will get from the ratepayers,” said Aguirre, a former San Diego city attorney. “It’s resulting in billions of dollars in cost for what is not used or useful to utility customers.”

…Southern California Edison spent $680 million to replace steam generators at the San Onofre nuclear plant. The generators proved faulty, leaking a small amount of radiation. Current cost to ratepayers for the botched project and plant closure: $3.3 billion.
• Edison collected $31.9 million for an upgrade at the Mohave Generating Station, which closed at the end of 2005 after the Nevada coal-burning facility was found in violation of the Clean Air Act. Total customer bill for upgrade and closure: $122 million.
• Pacific Gas & Electric Co. scrapped a plan to build a 1,000-mile transmission line to Canada after partners PacifiCorp and others pulled out. Edison abandoned a separate line in Arizona after failing to get a permit. Total cost to ratepayers for the projects, which were dropped in 2011: $20 million. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Cadillac Bets on Virtual Dealerships – Buyers walking into a Cadillac dealer in the near future could find an interesting thing on the car lot: nothing.

General Motors Co. ’s luxury division has about three times as many U.S. stores as German luxury auto makers or Toyota Motor Co. ’s Lexus, but sells only about half the volume. Short of steering around rigid state franchise laws and hammering out financial settlements to shutter stores, a plan is being hatched to convert a portion of Cadillac’s 925 stores into virtual dealerships that will be low on overhead and big on sophisticated technology.

In a somewhat unprecedented way of moving metal, Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen will this month begin looking for commitments from some store owners willing to set up showrooms where buyers can get a car serviced or learn about products via virtual reality headsets without getting behind the wheel. Driving off immediately with a new vehicle will be impossible because these stores won’t have inventory. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Stroke patients are walking again after being injected with stem cells – People who’ve experienced a stroke have seen “remarkable” improvements in speech, strength, and mobility after having stem cells injected into their brains – with some even regaining the ability to walk.

It’s still very early days, but the success of this small trial suggests that we’ve seriously underestimated the brain’s ability to heal itself, and might one day be able to trigger it into regaining lost functionality.

This is the second trial that’s looked into how stem cell injections into patient’s brain can improve stroke recovery – a study carried out in the UK last year also showed similarly promising results in patients, more than a year after treatment.

The latest trial was based in California, and was run by a company called SanBio. The team only tested the procedure on 18 patients, but all of them reported some improvements in mobility, and seven of them reported “significant” progress. Read More > at Science Alert


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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