Sunday Reading – 07/03/16


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.

Butter is NOT bad and doesn’t raise the risk of heart disease, major study claims – Butter is not bad for us and does not raise the risk of heart disease, a major study has found.

Scientists discovered eating one tablespoon of butter a day had little impact on overall mortality, no significant link with cardiovascular disease and strokes – and could even have a small effect in reducing the risk of diabetes.

The robust research – one of the largest meta-studies to be carried out on the health effects of butter – adds weight to growing calls for the end of the ‘demonising’ of the dairy product and other saturated fats.

It follows reports earlier this month that the Government is reconsidering its advice to restrict saturated fat intake to limit the risk of heart disease, after two recent studies found no link. Read More > in the Daily Mail

Robot, Do You Know Why I Stopped You? – The list of offenses that commonly get you pulled over on the road is fairly well-known: speeding, using your cellphone while driving, tailgating, driving while black, etc. But in a few years, this list may be as anachronistic as 19th-century “horseless carriage” traffic laws, as autonomous cars render typical traffic stops unnecessary and unwarranted. David Strickland, former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has explained that self-driving cars have the “potential to change not only the way that vehicles operate, but also the way we at NHTSA regulate them. Most of NHTSA’s safety standards assume the need for a human driver to operate” the car.

Strickland has a point. Truly autonomous cars don’t speed, don’t require you to pay attention, and are designed to maintain safe distances from other cars—making most traffic laws and regulations obsolete. There is lots of speculation about the future of jobs as autonomous technology and artificial intelligence become ubiquitous. Will traffic cop be one of the first jobs lost to our robot overlords?

Probably not entirely, although there will likely be less need for the meter maid armies and Super Troopers that towns and states currently employ. But the highway and traffic police that remain will continue to pull over autonomous cars for the following:

  • Equipment violations: The car may be a safe driver, but that doesn’t mean it takes care of itself. Cars still need to be maintained properly, and state and federal regulations designed to ensure that cars are in safe condition will likely remain. However, even here, autonomous cars may change the criteria we use to make sure cars are safely maintained.
  • Seat belt violations: Seat belts will still serve the same safety purpose when cars drive themselves, so states with seat belt laws aren’t likely to change them. Read More > in Slate

Why America loves Wendy’s and Sonic more than McDonald’s – McDonald’s has recently made solid progress in turning around its business with all-day breakfast, new McPick value menu combinations, and next-gen initiatives like self-serve kiosks, table-mounted tablets, and tableside ordering. Unfortunately, the Golden Arches still isn’t faring too well in terms of brand perception.

In a recent Harris Poll, which ranks domestic brands based on familiarity, quality, and customer service, McDonald’s failed to rank among the top seven burger chains in America. Privately held In-and-Out, Five Guys and Culver’s claimed the top three spots in that order. Only two publicly traded companies — Wendy’s at No. 4 and Sonic at No. 5 — made the list. To make matters worse, Harris states that it reviewed McDonald’s during the study, but that it ranked below the category average.

…It’s hard to pinpoint a single reason as to why public opinion of McDonald’s is so low, but its vilification in obesity lawsuits and documentaries, urban legends regarding its meat processing facilities, and the perception of its burgers as “cheap” and “frozen” have all likely taken its toll on the company. Investors will notice that McDonald’s poor public image complements its weaker stock performance over the past five years compared to Wendy’s and Sonic. Read More > at USA Today

Berkeley Lab: It Takes 70 Billion Kilowatt Hours A Year To Run The Internet – America’s myriad server farms and data centers operate 100 million drives that hold 350 million terabytes of data — everything from your decade-old emails to lolcat videos and the collected offerings of Netflix NFLX +3.50%.

A new report from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory figures that those data centers use an enormous amount of energy — some 70 billion kilowatt hours per year. That amounts to 1.8% of total American electricity consumption. At an average cost of 10 cents per kwh, the annual cost of all that juice is on the order of $7 billion.

Seventy billion kilowatt hours is such a giant number that it’s helpful to put it into some other terms. For comparison purposes, 1 kwh is enough power to keep ten 100-watt lightbulbs illuminated for one hour, or to keep your smartphone charged for an entire year.

To generate 70 billion kwh you’d need power plants with a baseload capacity of 8,000 megawatts — equivalent to about 8 big nuclear reactors, or twice the output of all the nation’s solar panels. Read More > at Forbes

Pittsburg: Cops hid police misconduct records in three cases, public defender says – Defense attorneys may ask for new trials or conviction dismissals over allegations that the Pittsburg Police Department hid the misconduct files of officers who investigated at least three criminal cases that were being readied for trial.

In court motions filed this week, the Contra Costa Public Defender’s Office alleged that police intentionally withheld the files from judges; police, meanwhile, acknowledged for the first time they should have handed over documents involving officers Michael Sibbitt and Elisabeth Ingram but “inadvertently” failed to do so.

The three defendants were convicted and sentenced, but those convictions are now up in the air because of questions on whether they received a fair trial.

The rare motions asking for a post-conviction review of police misconduct mark the latest development in the allegations of wrongdoing by Pittsburg police first reported by this newspaper, involving claims of falsifying police reports to lower crime stats and hiding police personnel records from court cases. Read More > in The East Bay Times

How Syphilis Came Roaring Back – In recent months, newspapers around the country have published stories that sound like they could have been written 100 years ago. Indiana’s syphilis cases skyrocketed by 70 percent in a single year. Texas’ Lubbock county was under a “syphilis alert.” Various counties face shortages of the medication used to treat syphilitic pregnant women.

But the headlines are very much modern—and urgent. Syphilis is back, public-health experts say.

For many years, syphilis was considered a practically ancient ailment—a “Great Pox” that, like tuberculosis or polio, Americans just don’t get anymore. There were just 6,000 cases of primary and secondary syphilis in 2000, and the CDC briefly thought the disease’s total elimination was within reach.

But in November, the CDC reported that there were nearly 20,000 cases in 2014. While the rates haven’t climbed close to the devastating levels of the early 1990s, they’re rising at an alarming rate. Perhaps most concerning, the past two years have seen a cluster of cases of syphilis of the eye, and a rise in cases of congenital syphilis—something even developing countries have been able to eliminate.

Among gay men, the syphilis infection rate has increased to levels not seen since the start of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. Some public-health experts we interviewed think the syphilis resurgence might be driven, in part, by the rise of hook-up apps such as Grindr. And with the AIDS crisis now a distant memory, gay men might not be as careful with condoms as they once were. Indeed, those factors help explain why syphilis rates have also spiked in parts of Canada and Europe.

But others say a big reason is federal and state governments’ failure to adequately fund local public-health budgets.

Many cities and counties have dedicated, low-cost STD clinics that are staffed by government health workers who specialize in sexually transmitted infections. They typically allow people to walk in without an appointment and offer many services for free. Each year, these clinics identify a fifth of all syphilis cases in women and a quarter of those in men, but they’ve been gutted by state, local, and federal budget cuts. The CDC, which helps fund local STD prevention efforts, has lost more than a billion dollars in its budget since 2005. Read More > in The Atlantic

California Hits the Brakes on High-Speed Rail Fiasco – Sold to the public in 2008 as a visionary plan to whisk riders along at 220 miles an hour, making the trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles in a little over two and a half hours, the project promised to attract most of the necessary billions from private investors, to operate without ongoing subsidies and to charge fares low enough to make it competitive with cheap flights. With those assurances, 53.7 percent of voters said yes to a $9.95 billion bond referendum to get the project started. But the assurances were at best wishful thinking, at worst an elaborate con.

The total construction cost estimate has now more than doubled to $68 billion from the original $33 billion, despite trims in the routes planned. The first, easiest-to-build, segment of the system — the “train to nowhere” through a relatively empty stretch of the Central Valley — is running at least four years behind schedule and still hasn’t acquired all the needed land. Predicted ticket prices to travel from LA to the Bay have shot from $50 to more than $80. State funding is running short. Last month’s cap-and-trade auction for greenhouse gases, expected to provide $150 million for the train, yielded a mere $2.5 million. And no investors are lining up to fill the $43 billion construction-budget gap.

Now, courtesy of Los Angeles Times reporter Ralph Vartabedian, comes yet another damning revelation: When the Spanish construction company Ferrovial submitted its winning bid for a 22-mile segment, the proposal included a clear and inconvenient warning: “More than likely, the California high speed rail will require large government subsidies for years to come.” Ferrovial reviewed 111 similar systems around the world and found only three that cover their operating costs.

…At an April state assembly hearing, the authority’s chairman asserted that “virtually all” the world’s high-speed rail operations make operating profits. Not true. “It is very easy to falsify a claim like ‘Every HSR system in the world collects revenues that cover their cost,’ ” Bent Flyvbjerg, a professor at Oxford’s Saïd Business School who studies infrastructure cost overruns, told Vartabedian.

The truly damning revelation, however, isn’t just that Ferrovial’s research flatly contradicts the California authority. It’s that the company’s warning on subsidies disappeared from the version of the bid posted on the state’s website. The Times obtained a copy of the full document on a data disk under a public records act request. Read More > at Bloomberg

Ikea Recalls Millions Of Chests, Dressers Because Of Tip-Over Hazard – Ikea has announced a voluntary recall of 29 million chests and drawers, after three children died in the past two years after dresser tip-over accidents.

The recall affects Malm dressers and chests of drawers with three or more drawers, as well as a number of other Ikea models.

The dressers and chests in question can be pulled over by a child if they aren’t securely attached to a wall. When multiple drawers are opened, or if a child opens drawers and attempts to climb on them, even dressers that seem too heavy for a child to move can become vulnerable to tipping. (Seemingly stable televisions can pose a similar hazard.) Read More > at NPR

Imagine the DMV and California Highway Patrol overseeing Uber and Lyft – San Francisco ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft may soon have their California oversight switched from the California Public Utilities Commission to the California State Transportation Agency, as the state rolls out a suite of new rules for the burgeoning transportation sector.

A draft proposal from state lawmakers on Monday laid out new plans for the two companies that would shift licensing, registration and evidence of insurance to the Department of Motor Vehicles, and have the California Highway Patrol be in charge of investigating and enforcing rules for Lyft and Uber.

…For their part, Uber and Lyft seemed sanguine about the possible change of oversight, saying in a statement that they looked forward to statewide regulations as opposed to a grab bag of local rules that varied by town or county. PUC President Michael Picker also apparently welcomes the change, after telling lawmakers earlier this year that he doesn’t have time to police ride-hailing companies and often feels “underwater on a daily basis,” the paper reports.

Gatto said he felt confident the DMV was the best place for the state to silo oversight of the new and growing transportation sector. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Smartphones Won’t Make Your Kids Dumb. We Think. – …When Jessica’s mom, Sandy, tries to take away the iPad, there’s a tantrum that threatens to go nuclear: wobbly lip, tears, hands balled into fists and a high-pitched wail. “She does this a lot,” says Sandy. “She seems to prefer the iPad to everything else. Sometimes it’s the only thing that will keep her quiet,” she adds, frantically waving a pink fluffy unicorn in an attempt to appease her daughter.

Like many parents, she’s worried about her child’s obsession with screens. She wants to know which activities are best, and how much time spent on screens is too much.

It’s six years since the launch of the iPad and, with it, the rebirth of tablet computers. The academic research simply hasn’t been able to catch up, which means it’s hard to know the long-term impact on young brains of being exposed to tablets and smartphones.

The concern among some experts is that these devices, if used in particular ways, could be changing children’s brains for the worse—potentially affecting their attention, motor control, language skills and eyesight, especially in under-fives, for whom so much brain development is taking place.

…Few technologies, however, have invaded our lives—and those of our children—as stealthily as the mobile computer, most commonly the smartphone or tablet. These devices are the right size for little hands to handle them, and the touchscreens easy for tiny fingers to manipulate. Plus there’s so much you can do on these devices: watch videos, play games, draw pictures and talk to relatives thousands of miles away.

…There’s little clarity around the consequences of long-term use of such devices. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has erred on the side of caution, recommending absolutely no screen time for children under the age of two, and a two-hour daily limit for those older. These restrictions simply don’t tally with how many people are integrating these devices into their children’s lives, nor do they reflect the fact that some interactions with screens might actually be beneficial. Read More > in Scientific American

A Protein That Moves From Muscle To Brain May Tie Exercise To Memory – Researchers have identified a substance in muscles that helps explain the connection between a fit body and a sharp mind.

When muscles work, they release a protein that appears to generate new cells and connections in a part of the brain that is critical to memory, a team reports Thursday in the journal Cell Metabolism.

…Experiments showed that blood levels of cathepsin B rose in mice that spent a lot of time on their exercise wheels. What’s more, as levels of the protein rose, the mice did better on a memory test in which they had to swim to a platform hidden just beneath the surface of a small pool.

The team also found evidence that, in mice, cathepsin B was causing the growth of new cells and connections in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is central to memory. Read More > at NPR

“Water Windfall” Deep Beneath California’s Central Valley – Researchers at Stanford University found what they call a “water windfall” deep beneath the Central Valley, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences. Scientists say it’s three times more groundwater than previous state estimates and four times more if saltier water is included.

“We estimate there are about two billion acre-feet of fresh water underground in the Central Valley. That’s a lot of water,” says Rob Jackson, an earth science professor at Stanford and the study’s co-author.

An acre-foot is enough for the average California household for a year. Jackson says previous state groundwater estimates – which are decades old – didn’t include water deeper than 1,000 feet. The study looked at publicly-available state data from the oil and gas industry, which typically drills deeper into the earth. Read More > at Capital Public Radio

Hawaii becomes first U.S. state to place gun owners on FBI database – Hawaii’s governor signed a bill making it the first state to place its residents who own firearms in a federal criminal record database and monitor them for possible wrongdoing anywhere in the country, his office said.

The move by gun control proponents in the liberal state represents an effort to institute some limits on firearms in the face of a bitter national debate over guns that this week saw Democratic lawmakers stage a sit-in at the U.S. House of Representatives.

Hawaii Governor David Ige, a Democrat, on Thursday signed into law a bill to have police in the state enroll people into an FBI criminal monitoring service after they register their firearms as already required, his office said in a statement.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation database called “Rap Back” will allow Hawaii police to be notified when a firearm owner from the state is arrested anywhere in the United States.

Hawaii has become the first U.S. state to place firearm owners on the FBI’s Rap Back, which until now was used to monitor criminal activities by individuals under investigation or people in positions of trust such as school teachers and daycare workers. Read More > at MSN News

Inside Silicon Valley’s Robot Pizzeria – In the back kitchen of Mountain View’s newest pizzeria, Marta works tirelessly, spreading marinara sauce on uncooked pies. She doesn’t complain, takes no breaks, and has never needed a sick day. She works for free.

Marta is one of two robots working at Zume Pizza, a secretive food delivery startup trying to make a more profitable pizza through machines. It’s also created special delivery trucks that will finish cooking pizzas during the journey to hungry customers if approved by the Santa Clara County Department of Environmental Health. Right now Zume is only feeding people in Mountain View, California, but it has ambitions to dominate the $9.7 billion pizza delivery industry.

…Inside Zume’s kitchen, protective glass boxes separate the robots from humans. Marta hangs from the ceiling of her cage like a giant spider, her spindly robot arms converging, ladle-like, to douse a pie with sauce in under two seconds. “We created her to spread your sauce perfectly, but not too perfectly, so the pizza still looks like an artisan product,” Garden said.

Fully sauced, the pie travels on a conveyer belt to human employees who add cheese and toppings. The decorated pies are then scooped off the belt by a 5-foot tall grey automaton, Bruno, who places each in an 850-degree oven. For now, the pizzas are fully cooked and delivered to customers in branded Fiats painted with slogans, including: “You want a piece of this?” and “Not part of the sharing economy.”

In August, Zume wants to start cooking its pizzas in the startup’s patented delivery trucks. Each truck has 56 ovens that can be turned on and off remotely. Garden can barely contain his excitement for what comes next: “The robots will load all these individual ovens with different menu items. Then the truck will circle the neighborhood. At precisely 3 minutes and 15 seconds before arriving at the customer’s location, the cloud commands the oven to turn on and–” Garden made the symbol of a large explosion emanating from his brain– “BOOM, the customer gets a fresh, out-the-oven pizza delivered to their door.” Read More > in Bloomberg

A yellow fever epidemic in Angola could turn into a global crisis – Almost 80 years after the yellow fever vaccine was created in a New York laboratory, a massive outbreak of the disease has killed hundreds of people in this country, where most were never immunized

Now, the virus is jumping across borders into other nations whose populations are also largely unvaccinated. More than 3,000 suspected cases are in Angola and 1,000 are in neighboring Congo, making this the biggest urban epidemic in decades. More than 400 people have died. There are growing concerns that Chinese workers — of whom there are thousands in Angola — will carry the virus to Asia, where nearly all of the rural poor are also unvaccinated.

The explosion of yellow fever has put severe strain on stockpiles of the vaccine. And the four major manufacturers that produce the vaccine cannot make enough to conduct the kind of campaign that would quickly halt the spread of the disease in other parts of the region.

Yellow fever was once a devastating scourge in the West — in 1702, New York City lost 10 percent of its population to the virus. Thanks to the vaccine and mosquito eradication programs, it faded in the United States long ago. The fact that the disease is emerging again as an international threat reflects a lack of preparedness by local and global health institutions and Africa’s transformation into a more urbanized and interconnected continent. Read More > in The Washington Post

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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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