Sunday Reading – 07/17/16


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.

Monarch butterfly population drops 74 percent in California – Monarch butterflies, the beloved orange-and-black insects that return each winter to the California coast, are in steep decline, according to a new study released Friday.

Monarch populations have fallen 74 percent in the past two decades, from roughly 1.2 million in 1997 to 292,674 in 2015 along the California coastline where they spend winters escaping the cold, according to the most extensive scientific survey done to date.

…”Most children can identify one bug, and it’s monarch butterflies,” she said. “We’re seeing this decline in our lifetimes. It isn’t over 100 years, it’s over 18 years.”

The majestic, six-legged butterflies, which have wingspans of up to 5 inches, are generally grouped into two populations, eastern and western. The western population ranges west of the Rocky Mountains during warm months, breeding and feeding on milkweed and nectar from other plants, before heading every October to 412 known locations on the West Coast between Mendocino County and Baja California, Mexico.

Clumping together for warmth and shelter in eucalyptus, Monterey pine and other trees, the butterflies ride out the winter, heading back eastward by March. Read More > in The Mercury News

Barnes & Noble’s New Comeback Plan: Alcohol-Serving Restaurants – Barnes & Noble Inc. has a plan to enliven the slumping bookstore chain: adding restaurants that serve beer and wine.

On Thursday, the company appointed Chief Operating Officer Jaime Carey to the head of a newly created restaurant group, and discussed plans to open four new concept stores with eateries attached. The idea is to build on Barnes & Noble’s push into other non-book areas, such as the sale of toys, gifts and vinyl records.

Facing mounting competition from Amazon.com Inc., Barnes & Noble is seeking more creative ways to get customers in the door. The restaurant plan is part of a broader shift among brick-and-mortar retailers toward offering experiences, rather than just physical goods.

Barnes & Noble also said that same-store sales will probably range from flat to up 1 percent this fiscal year, and losses from its Nook e-reader business are shrinking. The company expects the division to post a loss of $10 million by fiscal 2018, compared with $98.6 million last year. Read More > at Bloomberg

The scary way Pokemon Go is making money off you – If you’re reading this, you must be taking a break from catching Pokémon, so for that I thank you.

In just one week, Nintendo’s augmented reality game Pokémon Go has become the most successful mobile app in history. The game uses geolocation to place Pokémon characters in the physical world for you to collect. It has been downloaded a reported 15 million times in the U.S, with the user base already overtaking longtime social media stalwarts like Twitter. The average Apple iPhone user is spending more time on the game than Facebook or Snapchat.

Shares of Nintendo, which holds a one-third stake in the Pokémon Company (controller of all Pokémon merchandising) and an undisclosed stake in game developer Niantic, rose 53 percent in three days, generating an added $12 billion in market value. The future of augmented reality, fusing the digital and temporal worlds for game-playing and other experiences, looks bright. Vox’s Ezra Klein gushed that Pokémon Go will “change how we live once again.”

But the economics of the enterprise can initially seem puzzling. Pokémon Go is a free download. Inside the game, you can buy virtual storage devices for the Pokémon for $1, or lures to ferret out the monsters. But while that generates $1.6 million a day, compared to a movie or a consumer product, it’s a fairly low number. And Nintendo only captures a small percentage of that revenue. So where are these unbelievable valuations coming from?

…In order to function, Pokémon Go needs access to a player’s smartphone camera and precise location, to generate maps and place Pokémon within them (even that data release may allow strangers to access your physical location). But upon downloading, the app asks for a user’s Google profile and device identifiers. It seeks to access user contacts and read any USB storage devices in the machine. It can control Bluetooth settings and vibration on the user’s smartphone, while blocking it from sleeping. Initially, the game even secured access to users’ individual Google accounts, like their Gmail inbox, contacts, photos and calendar. Niantic called this a mistake, saying they only wanted the profile information. Read More > in The Fiscal Times

Surveillance cameras on Highway 4 in Pittsburg – Surveillance cameras are now up along Highway 4 in Pittsburg which is a hot spot for violence in recent months.

The public wanted them, police wanted them and, now the city has them.

The cameras are being installed in phases.

The first phase is setting them up here along the borders of Antioch and also in Concord. That way, police can monitor who is driving in and out of Pittsburg.

Tucked below a sign above Highway 4 is a new batch of cameras keeping an eye on this part of the city never monitored with video until now.

“In six weeks, we have not only talked about putting cameras, but we are installing cameras,” Pittsburg Police Captain Ron Raman said. Read More > at KRON 4

Gonorrhea may soon become resistant to all antibiotics and untreatable – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday that the wily Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria may be developing resistance to the only two antibiotics left that can cure the sexually transmitted disease.

The drugs, azithromycin and ceftriaxone, are used in combination to treat gonorrhea, a strategy experts hope will prolong the period during which these critical drugs will work.

But a nationwide surveillance program showed rises in the percentage of gonorrhea samples that were resistant to one or the other drug in 2014. In the case of azithromycin, there was a fourfold rise in the portion of samples that were resistant.

…Gonorrhea is common. In 2014, more than 350,000 people in the United States were diagnosed with it. People who are infected may have no symptoms, or may notice pain, burning, or discharge, in the site of infection — usually the uterus, anus, throat, mouth, or penis.

Left untreated, it can cause infertility or chronic pelvic pain in women, and in men, testicular pain and infertility in rare cases. The bacteria can also get into the blood, infecting joints, and on rare occasions can move into the heart — which can be fatal. Read More > at STAT

As Japan’s population shrinks, bears and boars roam where schools and shrines once thrived – All across Japan, aging villages such as Hara-izumi have been quietly hollowing out for years, even as urban areas have continued to grow modestly. But like a creaky wooden roller coaster that slows at the top of the climb before plunging into a terrifying, steep descent, Japan’s population crested around 2010 with 128 million people and has since lost about 900,000 residents, last year’s census confirmed.

Now, the country has begun a white-knuckle ride in which it will shed about one-third of its population — 40 million people — by 2060, experts predict. In 30 years, 39% of Japan’s population will be 65 or older.

If the United States experienced a similar population contraction, it would be like losing every single inhabitant of California, New York, Texas and Florida — more than 100 million people.

Though demographers have long anticipated the transformation Japan is now facing, the country only now seems to be sobering up to the epic metamorphosis at hand.

Police and firefighters are grappling with the safety hazards of a growing number of vacant buildings. Transportation authorities are discussing which roads and bus lines are worth maintaining and cutting those they can no longer justify. Aging small-business owners and farmers are having trouble finding successors to take over their enterprises. Each year, the nation is shuttering 500 schools. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Why You Should Believe in the Digital Afterlife – Imagine scanning your Grandma’s brain in sufficient detail to build a mental duplicate. When she passes away, the duplicate is turned on and lives in a simulated video-game universe, a digital Elysium complete with Bingo, TV soaps, and knitting needles to keep the simulacrum happy. You could talk to her by phone just like always. She could join Christmas dinner by Skype. E-Granny would think of herself as the same person that she always was, with the same memories and personality—the same consciousness—transferred to a well regulated nursing home and able to offer her wisdom to her offspring forever after.

And why stop with Granny? You could have the same afterlife for yourself in any simulated environment you like. But even if that kind of technology is possible, and even if that digital entity thought of itself as existing in continuity with your previous self, would you really be the same person?

As a neuroscientist, my interest lies mainly in a more practical question: is it even technically possible to duplicate yourself in a computer program? The short answer is: probably, but not for a while. Read More > in The Atlantic

The 7 biggest problems facing science, according to 270 scientists – The scientific process, in its ideal form, is elegant: Ask a question, set up an objective test, and get an answer. Repeat. Science is rarely practiced to that ideal. But Copernicus believed in that ideal. So did the rocket scientists behind the moon landing.

But nowadays, our respondents told us, the process is riddled with conflict. Scientists say they’re forced to prioritize self-preservation over pursuing the best questions and uncovering meaningful truths.

Today, scientists’ success often isn’t measured by the quality of their questions or the rigor of their methods. It’s instead measured by how much grant money they win, the number of studies they publish, and how they spin their findings to appeal to the public.

Scientists often learn more from studies that fail. But failed studies can mean career death. So instead, they’re incentivized to generate positive results they can publish. And the phrase “publish or perish” hangs over nearly every decision. It’s a nagging whisper, like a Jedi’s path to the dark side.

(1) Academia has a huge money problem

To do most any kind of research, scientists need money: to run studies, to subsidize lab equipment, to pay their assistants and even their own salaries. Our respondents told us that getting — and sustaining — that funding is a perennial obstacle.

Their gripe isn’t just with the quantity, which, in many fields, is shrinking. It’s the way money is handed out that puts pressure on labs to publish a lot of papers, breeds conflicts of interest, and encourages scientists to overhype their work.

(2) Too many studies are poorly designed. Blame bad incentives.

Scientists are ultimately judged by the research they publish. And the pressure to publish pushes scientists to come up with splashy results, of the sort that get them into prestigious journals. “Exciting, novel results are more publishable than other kinds,” says Brian Nosek, who co-founded the Center for Open Science at the University of Virginia.

The problem here is that truly groundbreaking findings simply don’t occur very often, which means scientists face pressure to game their studies so they turn out to be a little more “revolutionary.” (Caveat: Many of the respondents who focused on this particular issue hailed from the biomedical and social sciences.) Read More > in at Vox

Tesla ends ‘Resale Value Guarantee’ on new vehicle purchases – Tesla has ended its Resale Value Guarantee program for cars purchased after July 1st, a company spokesperson has confirmed to The Verge. The program guaranteed the resale value of a Tesla Model S after three years when purchased through one of the company’s loan financing programs.

The resale value was calculated as 50 percent of the base purchase price of an entry-level Model S plus 43 percent of the value of all options added to the vehicle, including larger batteries. An update to the program guaranteed that the value of a Model S would remain higher than that of competing BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Lexus, and Jaguar models.

The program was initiated to reassure early buyers of the Model S that there would be a market for resale of the vehicles. In general, buyers of premium automobiles upgrade to newer models within a few years, making resale value an important consideration to purchasers. The program was “backed personally” by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, according to a Tesla blog post about the program, giving owners “complete peace of mind about the long term value of the product.” Read More > in The Verge

Marijuana changing the culture of high school football in Humboldt – High school football has its own distinct aromas—dewy field, sweaty shoulder pads, burgers sizzling on the booster club grill—but those smells are not usually intertwined with the one that flows beneath the Friday night lights of Humboldt County, Calif. It’s not the smell of burning cannabis, which has risen from beneath the bleachers of every American high school stadium at one time or another, but of growing cannabis, and it wafts across these stadiums from the hidden outdoor crops that Humboldt County is known for. As with most schools in the area, the crowd at South Fork High’s homecoming game last fall was as indifferent to this minty scent as spectators in Texas might be to the smell of manure, or south Floridians to sugarcane.

…Humboldt’s international reputation for producing the most copious and most potent marijuana harvests in the world is, for many locals, not a welcome thing. Certainly the football programs wish this brand recognition didn’t exist—from the 10 public high school teams sprinkled throughout the sparsely populated county to the Div. II Humboldt State Lumberjacks—for when these teams play road games outside Humboldt, their hosts half expect them to disembark from the bus looking like the Wailers.

Fall is not only football season in Humboldt County, it’s also harvest season. There are only 205 students at South Fork High, a remote campus of paint-chipped buildings that abuts the south fork of the Eel River. There were only 17 players dressed for the Cubs’ homecoming game. Both numbers were a lot larger back when the area’s timber and fishing industries were still vibrant. When those businesses started dying about 50 years ago, a handful of foresters and fishermen who were unwilling to give up Humboldt’s physical beauty and seclusion adopted a new vocation, and today, according to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Humboldt grows an estimated 9 to 13 billion dollars worth of cannabis annually.

Andy Olsen, South Fork’s bearded, 35-year-old coach, doesn’t provide details about the lives of his players or their parents, and he declines to comment on the prevailing estimate, shared by other locals, that more than half of South Fork’s players live in homes where illicit marijuana cultivation is the major source of income. Instead, Olsen, who is also South Fork’s athletic director, folds his ample arms and says: “It’s important to me that our kids not look like a bunch of stoners or criminals or bad kids, because they’re not. The topic you’re talking about is a way of life here. I don’t agree with it, personally. It’s not for me. Never has been. But it’s what drives our economy and frankly, we can’t do without it.” Read More > in Sports Illustrated

Alzheimer’s Effects on the Brain Found in Young People – Changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease can be seen as early as childhood in people with a heightened genetic risk, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Neurology.

Research on Alzheimer’s has largely focused on the characteristic proteins that build up in the brain in old age, but experimental drugs meant to target those symptoms have been disappointing. One relatively new theory is that the mind-robbing disease is actually a developmental disorder that begins much earlier in life.

The new study “very significantly extends that” hypothesis, said Rebecca Knickmeyer, a developmental cognitive neuroscientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who wasn’t involved in the research.

…The results, wrote Dr. Knickmeyer in an editorial that accompanies the study, “do not have immediate implications” clinically. But, they are part of a growing body of work that suggests Alzheimer’s is a developmental condition and provide a road map for future research. Studies that follow children through adolescence and into adulthood will be necessary to evaluate brain development in more detail, she said. Here, each child was tested only at one point in their young life. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Is California Really the 6th Largest Economy in the World? – In June, it was reported that in 2015 California’s economy ranked as the 6th largest in the world. This is a substantial rebound from 2014 when the U.S.’s largest state slipped from the 7th spot to 8th place, falling below Brazil. To many in Sacramento, the news of California jumping two spots globally was vindication for the criticism that the “California Comeback” was anemic. Unfortunately, for our state’s leaders, their celebrations are, once again, a bit premature.

At face value, California’s economy is impressive. But don’t forget that California has a lot of core advantages that should make it a very wealthy state. It is home to Silicon Valley; it’s a key import-export location between the United States, Mexico, and Asia, and has a large and generally young and productive population – not to mention a very favorable climate and topography. But one should take such reports of California’s global rankings with a grain of salt and a particular level of hesitation as these ignore and overshadow the very serious challenges lying underneath the surface.

It is common knowledge that California is among the most expensive states to live in – if not the most expensive. Housing costs more; electricity and gas cost more; and even most goods and services cost more than the national average…. Using the cost of living adjusted data from the International Monetary Fund and adjusting California’s GDP data provides a better snapshot of California’s economic standing in the world. Doing so shows that California is actually the 12th largest economy – a drop of 6 spots – and actually puts the state below Mexico. Maybe this explains why California has seen essentially net zero migration from Mexico recently.

…For instance, between 2009 and 2014, the Silicon Valley metro areas – a region that accounts for just 1/5th of the state’s population – accounted for 50% of California’s private industry real GDP growth. Thus, even if California’s surge in the global GDP rankings can be entirely attributed to the state itself, it is actually the function of just one region within the state. This lack of economic diversification, however, is entirely missed if you just focus on the topline number. Read More > at Real Clear Markets

Republicans Helped Create the Pension Crisis – For two decades leading up the the Great Recession, state and local governments across the country, under continuous pressure from deep-pocketed public sector unions, moved to steadily increase already-generous pension benefits for government workers, appeasing a powerful constituency while hiding the implausibility of their promises with accounting gimmicks.
The economic crisis of 2009 rattled the foundations of this Ponzi scheme. Five municipalities—along with Puerto Rico—have been forced into bankruptcy, with more almost certain to follow, as the combined shortfall approaches three-and-a-half trillion dollars. In response, GOP lawmakers have led efforts to beat back public sector unions and bring pension benefits back in line with states’ ability to pay.
But who engineered this epic fiscal crisis in the first place? One might assume that it was tax-and-spend Democrats, eager to grow government and do the bidding of unions, math be damned. In fact, according to a new study by political scientists at Stanford and UC Berkeley that should blunt Republicans’ self-righteousness about their party’s allegedly superior fiscal prudence, the creation of unsustainable state and local retirement systems was a thoroughly bipartisan affair.

The study notes that Republicans had little incentive to pick a fight with unions before conservative activists made belt-tightening a priority in the wake of the Great Recession. Moreover, Republican politicians relied on the votes of pensioners, who are older than the general population. Finally, the logic of defined-benefit pensions—make promises now, pay later—always encourages politicians to kick the can down the road. Read More > at The American Interest

Cops, Growers Unite Against Prop. 64 – An ironic united front is emerging to challenge the well-financed campaign to legalize marijuana for adults in California — a combination of cops and cultivators.

While endorsements are still being firmed up for and against the adult-use initiative, called Prop. 64 on the November ballot, a surprising trend is developing, with law enforcement authorities and their traditional targets in the marijuana patch joining forces to express concerns about the proposed law.

Many cops and growers believe Prop. 64, backed by millions of dollars from Facebook co-founder Sean Parker, is a rich man’s hammer to smash open California’s fragmented cannabis industry for global conglomerates to flood the state with marijuana.

First, they believe the proposal weakens regulatory agreements worked out last fall by the governor’s office and state legislature. After weeks of negotiations involving law enforcement, growers and lawmakers, three bills were passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Brown to regulate medical cannabis — a first for California after two decades of haphazard and inconsistent regulation.

Second, opponents say Prop. 64 will open the door for global corporate interests such as big tobacco and liquor companies to move in and dominate the industry. Read More > at California County News

Amazon Is Quietly Eliminating List Prices – In a major shift for online commerce, Amazon is quietly changing how it entices people to buy.

The retailer built a reputation and hit $100 billion in annual revenue by offering deals. The first thing a potential customer saw was a bargain: how much an item was reduced from its list price.

Now, in many cases, Amazon has dropped any mention of a list price. There is just one price. Take it or leave it.

The new approach comes as discounts both online and offline have become the subject of dozens of consumer lawsuits for being much less than they seem. It is also occurring while Amazon is in the middle of an ambitious multiyear shift from a store selling one product at a time to a full-fledged ecosystem. Amazon wants to be so deeply embedded in a customer’s life that buying happens as naturally as breathing, and nearly as often. Read More > in The New York Times

FBI leaves infamous “DB Cooper” crime mystery to the ages – I suppose it was inevitable after 45 years of intensive but mostly futile investigating the FBI this week said it pulled the plug on the Dan “DB” Cooper hijacking/ransom case.

You may recall that in November 1971, between Seattle and Reno, Cooper parachuted out of the back of an airliner he’d hijacked with a bag filled with $200,000 in stolen cash. He’s never been found, though some of the stolen money was recovered.

According to the FBI, the agency learned of the crime in-flight and opened an extensive investigation that lasted 45. Calling it NORJAK, for Northwest hijacking, the FBI interviewed hundreds of people, tracked leads across the nation, and scoured the aircraft for evidence. By the five-year anniversary of the hijacking, the agency had considered more than 800 suspects and eliminated all but two dozen from consideration. Over years the case has mostly grown cold.

In 2008, looking to stir up something, the FBI said: “Who was Cooper? Did he survive the jump? And what happened to the loot, only a small part of which has ever surfaced? It’s a mystery, frankly. We’ve run down thousands of leads and considered all sorts of scenarios. And amateur sleuths have put forward plenty of their own theories. Would we still like to get our man? Absolutely. ” Read More > at Network World

Pokémon Go Mayhem: Privacy, Muggings, Malware – The Pokémon Go smartphone app, released last week, is already a smash hit, sending maker Nintendo’s stock price soaring as the app gets installed on numerous iOS devices as well as an estimated 5 percent of all Android devices.

But the game’s rapid rollout and breakaway success has also sparked some information security, physical security and privacy concerns.

For anyone who’s not au courant with the game, it uses augmented reality to display virtual creatures – in real-world locations, called Pokestops – that players can capture, train and trade. While only “officially” available in Australia, New Zealand and the United States so far, the app has also seen massive use by people in Brazil, India, Great Britain, Mexico, Spain and Turkey, among other countries, reports market researcher SimilarWeb. While the app is “free,” it also allows for microtransactions via “Pokecoins,” which can be collected inside the game or purchased using real-world cash.

Regardless, this geocaching game – meaning it’s tied to real-world locations – is earning plaudits for getting kids, and older players, off the living room couch and into the real world as they seek out Pokémon and then take aim, via their screen, using a virtual ball designed to capture the critters…

…Less than 72 hours after Pokémon Go was first released, attackers had already Trojanized a legitimate version of the free Android app to include malware and potentially released it via unofficial, third-party app stores, warn researchers at security firm Proofpoint.

The malicious Android application file “was modified to include the malicious remote access tool called DroidJack – also known as SandroRAT, which would virtually give an attacker full control over a victim’s phone,” the researchers warn in a blog post. While the app was spotted in a malicious-file repository service, they say, it’s unclear how many people, if any, have actually installed this or some other Trojanized version of the app. Read More > at Data Breach Today

Prescott, Ohanian: How the Golden State lost its luster – Last month’s $167 billion dollar budget deal forged by Gov. Jerry Brown and California lawmakers is four times as large in per capita terms as it was in the early 1960s under Brown’s father, Gov. Pat Brown. But despite spending less, the budgets of yesteryear contributed considerably more to economic growth.

State governments of the 1950s and 1960s were an integral part of California’s postwar boom, when the state grew from 11 million in 1950 to 30 million in 1990.

The budgets of yesteryear provided a blueprint for how government can promote growth by making investments in education, water and transportation infrastructure.

…Pat Brown would undoubtedly be disappointed with today’s California education system. A recent UC Berkeley report estimates that over half of California schools do not adequately repair their physical plants. California’s K-12 education is now regarded as among the worst in the country.

…California also made remarkable transportation and water infrastructure investments in the 1960s, but those investments are not being adequately maintained nor expanded. The Reason Foundation ranks California roads as the second worst in the country. The Road Information Program estimates that bad roads coststate drivers $44 billion per year, despite the fact that California gasoline taxes are 40 percent higher than the national average.

…California’s water infrastructure situation is no better. The last major water infrastructure was the 1960 California Water Project. But as state capital spending declined, the California Water Project never realized the capacity that its planners envisioned. Most of the project was completed by the early 1970s, but California’s population has grown by 18 million since then. Read More > in The Mercury News

San Francisco Police Disproportionately Search African-Americans, Report Says – African-Americans in San Francisco are stopped and searched by police officers in disproportionate numbers and are subject to a host of other actions that appear to be discriminatory, according to a report issued on Monday that found the Police Department was in need of significant overhaul. The report also said that the department’s disciplinary system was riddled with shortcomings.

San Francisco’s police force has been shaken by a series of scandals over the past two years, including racist and homophobic text messages exchanged by officers, cellphone videos of officers abusing residents, and questionable shootings of Latinos and African-Americans — including the fatal shooting in May of an unarmed black woman.

Gregory P. Suhr, the police chief, resigned under pressure in May, and the department is undergoing a review by the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. That review is separate from the city analysis released Monday.

…The department’s own data from February 2016 found that 15 percent of people pulled over in traffic stops that month were African-Americans — far higher than their percentage of the city’s population.

By contrast, the percentage of traffic stops where the driver was white was 36 percent, according to the data. Whites make up about 41 percent of the city’s population.

Further, during traffic stops, African-Americans and Latinos were far more likely to be searched, including nonconsensual searches, the analysis showed. “As a result, although black people accounted for less than 15 percent of all stops in 2015, they accounted for over 42 percent of all nonconsent searches following stops,” the report said. Read More > in The New York Times

What’s the Matter with Police Using Robots to Kill? – The Dallas PD’s use of a “bomb robot” to take out cop-killer Micah Xavier Johnson is believed to be the first use of such machinery to deliver lethal munitions by police in the U.S.

Details were spare and slow to emerge in the first few days after the tragedy, but here’s what we know now:
The Dallas robot is manufactured by Northrop Grumman, and per the Washington Post, “the device is driven by a human via remote control, weighs 790 pounds and has a top speed of 3.5 mph. It carries a camera with a 26x optical zoom and 12x digital zoom. When its arm is fully extended, it can lift a 60-pound weight. The “hand” at the end of the arm can apply a grip of about 50 pounds of force.”
The robot was armed with an approximately one pound brick of C4 plastic explosive.
Dallas Police Chief David Brown reportedly instructed the robot’s handlers to not blow up the school attached to the parking garage where Johnson was holed up (and intermittently negotiating and exchanging fire with officers), but otherwise the chief gave them the green light to use deadly force.
Upon the robot’s detonation of the C4, Johnson was killed and the robot’s arm suffered some damage, but the machine is “still functional,” the Post quotes Brown as saying.

Johnson had shot both police and civilians, was clearly unafraid to die, and continued to fire on the officers in his vicinity. Few would argue that this is a case where the justifiable use of deadly force was deployed. But it is completely predictable that such an unprecedented action by police would spur conversation about when it is and isn’t appropriate to use automated machinery to kill dangerous suspects.

Police consultant and former police chief Dan Montgomery told CBS News that the possibility of law enforecement increasingly using armed robots in hostage or active-shooter situations doesn’t necessarily trouble him, because “If you’ve got a robot that has C4 explosives, someone’s got to detonate that, so it’s the same as pulling a trigger.” To Montgomery, these robots are just a technological advance on the sniper rifle, where deadly force can be deployed at minimal risk to officers. Read More > at Reason

California Comes Up Short on Allstate’s Latest Best Drivers Report – It’s official: California is the teenage daughter of states.

The proof is in the pudding. And in this case, the pudding is Allstate’s annual Best Drivers Report, a yearly ranking of driving prowess in the U.S.’s 200 largest cities.

The top spot went to Brownsville, TX this year. It was trailed by Kansas City, KS; Madison, WI; Cape Corale, FL; and Boise, ID.

Sadly, no California cities made the top 50. Our best performing city was Lancaster (#52), followed by Thousand Oaks (#58).

Plenty of locales made the bottom 50 though. Glendale came in at #195, barely beating out only a handful of cities on the East Coast. Los Angeles did poorly too, coming in at #193.

More terrible driving can be found in the cities of San Francisco; Fullerton; Garden Grove; Oakland; and—–

This is just depressing. Time to hit the breaks.

See the full rankings for yourself here. Read More > at California City News

Ashley Madison tries to win back users with first-ever TV commercials – Like a cheating lover begging for forgiveness, infidelity-themed dating service Ashley Madison is trying to win back people’s hearts with a new ad campaign.

The site, previously billed as a way to coordinate extramarital affairs, became infamous last summer when a massive hack revealed personal information belonging to 32 million of its users.

Since then, the company and its owner, Avid Life Media (which just renamed itself ‘Ruby’ in an attempt to sound more feminine), have shuffled in new executives and dialed down the service’s blunt, devil-on-your-shoulder brand — its infamous tagline, “Life’s short. Have an affair,” is long gone — with an eye on a fresh start.

“It’s going to take a lot of work,” Ruby CEO Rob Segal told Mashable. “This is the start of a journey. We feel like we’re setting the right tone here, but we’re hoping to build trust in the long-term.” Read More > at Mashable

Proposed ‘Tech Tax’ Would Devastate San Francisco’s Economy – San Francisco–now known better for its high-tech prowess than its iconic trolleys and foggy bay–appears to be facing a tense battle between technology giants and politicians. Tech giants like Twitter TWTR +2.48%, Salesforce, Square and Uber have injected billions into the Bay Area economy, yet their positive impact on the region is being met with some skepticism. The city is now considering a proposal that would require these technology companies to pay a 1.5% payroll tax, the revenue from which would be used to combat the city’s growing homeless problem.

This “tech tax,” as the proposal quickly came to be known, specifically targets tech companies and startups that generate $1 million or more each year in gross receipts (a fairly low threshold when one considers that “gross receipts” also includes earned interest). Right now, the proposal appears to be a long shot for the November ballot, but its mere existence highlights the tension between some San Francisco residents (and legislators) and the tech companies that have become so successful there.

To put it mildly, many members of the tech community are not pleased. In an interview with CNNMoney last week, early Uber investor Jason Calacanis said, “San Francisco is an amazing city run by incompetent people, who not only can’t solve basic problems like crime, homelessness, housing and transportation–they are making these problems worse.” Read More > at Forbes

How Pokemon is luring millennials to the church (parking lot) – If your church is suddenly overtaken by millennials with their heads stuck in their phones, you can thank Pokemon.

Yes, Pokemon. The Nintendo-owned franchise, which produced colorful cards and later video games, is back — this time luring young adults out of their apartments and into museums, parks and places of worship.

How? Technology, of course. Pokemon’s newest iteration is a free augmented reality app that brings its now-adult fans’ fantasies to life.

The app uses players’ phone GPS to locate where they are, then makes Pokemon appear on the phone screen in real-life locations so players can “catch” all 151 virtual creatures.

The app has become a viral sensation among teens and young adults, overtaking Tinder on Android and on course to beat Twitter in daily users. Millennials are walking around with their phones, finding “PokeStops” and “Gyms” at local places of interest: libraries, parks, art galleries, subway stations, zoos and more.

But, as some gamers are discovering, virtual Pokemon can also be found at several churches, too. Read More > at Religion New Service

After the Baby Bust – The Politics and Ecology of Zero Population Growth – Having calmed down from the overblown twentieth-century fears of overpopulation, the world has yet to grapple with the end of population growth–and even de-population–that will occur this century. As Paul Robbins observes, global population growth rates peaked in the 1970s, and if current trends continue, some countries could see their citizenries substantially depleted in the coming decades. As native populations in Germany and the United Kingdom dwindle, replaced by immigrants from rapidly growing countries in Africa and Asia, a surge in nationalism and cultural upheaval is already apparent. What comes next depends on how governments and civil society this radical new order of things.

…A scarcity of people, or at least the end to a constantly increasing surplus of laboring bodies, in short, has an enormous influence on politics, economics, and ecology. Demographers have been observing falling fertility rates around the world for many decades. Our ideas about geo-politics, social relations, economics, and ecology, meanwhile, have scarcely evolved at all.

…What Smith is documenting is a growing schism between demographic anxieties and personal aspirations, between fixed notions of ethnonational identity and changing gender roles and responsibilities. Increasing education, economic opportunities outside the household, and access to health care and birth control in countries around the world are leading to greater autonomy, equity, and power for women within households and beyond. This, in turn, is leading to different fertility choices, and with that, a host of new challenges and conflicts, in a world where births are decreasingly common and, hence, increasingly political.

As in Ladakh, ethno-nationalists around the world decry the threats associated with demographic transition. A flurry of racial fears of a coming nonwhite majority have swept through the United States in recent years. In Europe, similar unease has mounted as birth rates have fallen, leading to hand-wringing about insufficient family size among the native majority, revealing what the Dutch geographer Luiza Bialasiewicz has called a “moral geopolitics of birth.”

Beyond the North Atlantic, pronatalist policies are rampant. In Singapore, the fertility rate has been below 1.3 for years. Here, the government has attempted to create a new tradition, procreation as a national holiday. The ad campaign for “National Night,” cosponsored by the Mentos candy brand, is hilariously explicit, but the fact that Singapore’s government simultaneously monitors and manages the fertility of immigrant workers from South and Southeast Asia reveals the disturbingly racialized nature of this campaign. Read More > at The Breakthrough

Watchdog: Another tough year for CalPERS as retirement fund loses billions – Public workers are pumping more money into retirement funds. Public agencies are pumping more money into retirement funds.

Yet the market seems distinctly unimpressed.

The California Public Employees Retirement System – the nation’s largest – lost about 2 percent of its market value in the fiscal year that just ended, according to unofficial numbers published last week on the CalPERS website. This came despite doubled-down efforts to beef up its bottom line.

The value of CalPERS investments was $293.7 billion on June 30, down from $301.9 billion one year earlier, according to CalPERS’ daily valuation report. That number accounts for daily movement of some assets but not others, which are updated quarterly.

…Projections from independent third parties are “materially lower” than what CalPERS forecast just two years ago, he said. With its current mix of investments, CalPERS can expect a total return of just 6.4 percent over the next decade.

It has assumed a return of 7.5 percent.

That difference is of great import, because investment income is the bulk of public pension payments. And since pension payments are guaranteed, any shortfall would have to be made up by taxpayers. Read More > in The Orange County Register

Local Voices Unwelcome As State Promotes Affordable Housing – From 2011 through the first quarter of 2014, more building permits for single-family homes were issued in the city of Houston than in the entire state of California.

That might be one reason that in April, the median selling price of a single-family home in Houston was $217,000 while in California it was $509,100.

There is widespread agreement that housing affordability in California is a problem, but there’s less agreement on what to do about it. Still, we should be able to agree that whatever is done ought to be transparent, publicly debated by the elected officials who represent us.

But that’s not what’s happening. Instead, Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders are working on a backroom deal to “streamline” the approval of residential housing projects by cutting local voices out of the process.

Under this deal, any “attached housing” development that meets local zoning requirements could be built without local review of the project’s impact on traffic, parking, local businesses, the environment or the neighborhood, as long as 20 percent of its units were designated as affordable housing. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

Sharing Your Netflix Password Is Now a Federal Crime – On July 5th , the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion which found, in part, that sharing passwords is a crime prosecutable under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The decision, according to a dissenting opinion on the case, makes millions of people who share passwords for services like Netflix and HBOGo into “unwitting federal criminals.”

…Nosal’s conviction under CFAA hinged on a clause that criminalizes anyone who “knowingly and with intent to defraud, accesses a protected computer without authorization”. Though CFAA is often understood to be an anti-hacking law, that clause in particular has been applied to many cases that fall far short of actual systems tampering.

…One of the Ninth Circuit judges, Stephen Reinhardt, seemed to agree with those interpretations in his dissenting opinion. While Reinhardt took no issue with Nosal’s convictions on trade secrets violations, he said the new decision also makes “consensual password sharing” a prosecutable offense. Reinhardt noted that the decision “loses sight of the anti-hacking purpose of the CFAA, and . . . threatens to criminalize all sorts of innocuous conduct engaged in daily by ordinary citizens.” Read More > in Fortune

Android is imploding, and there’s nothing that can be done to stop it – Things are not good in Androidland.

In the space of a few short weeks we’ve seen Sony cease smartphone production in Brazil, Dell quit the Android tablet market, and LG show some of its execs the door after the “flagship G5 smartphone failed to generate sales.”

…And no wonder. While Android might have 80 percent of device sales, it only pulls in some 20 percent of the money. Apple’s figures here are reversed, which gives the company considerable resources for advertising and R&D into new products.

So what’s going on here?

Simple. The mobile market is contracting. Apple data offered a bellwether for this, because what happens to iPhone and iPad sales hits other smartphone and tablet makers – those with far less cash in the bank and lower sales to begin with – much harder. Think about that the next time you gloat at falling Apple sales. The market is saturated, and gimmicks such as modules for a smartphone aren’t going to change that.

Another problem is that the market has steered itself into a position where there’s little room to innovate because customers don’t really want innovation. Android consumers want an iPhone or iPad that runs Android, and that’s it. Forget the gimmicks or the slide-on camera or removable battery.

Then there’s the issue that customers aren’t loyal to a particular OEM. People switch, because unlike the walled garden that iOS users dwell in, there’s nothing to keep them bound to one maker over another.

Android is Android. Read More > at ZDNet

The Gun-Manufacturing Boom – Employment in the gun-making industry in the U.S. isn’t exactly booming. But as the overall manufacturing sector hemorrhaged jobs from 2001 to 2010, gun makers did at least hold employment reasonably steady.

That’s partly because their output was booming. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the number of firearms produced in the U.S. more than tripled from 2001 through 2013:

Also, firearm imports quadrupled over that period, from 1.4 million in 2001 to 5.5 million in 2013.2 The U.S., while a net exporter of armaments overall, according to the International Trade Administration, is mainly an importer of small arms. The biggest foreign suppliers of guns to the U.S. are Austria (revolvers and pistols) and Italy (sports shotguns and rifles). The military-style AR-15 semi-automatic rifles that have been used in several recent shooting sprees appear to be mostly homegrown.

Despite the spectacular rise in the number of guns out there, gun violence has actually not increased in the U.S. in recent years. It fell sharply in the 1990s, before the gun boom. Since then, according to the Pew Research Center, the gun homicide rate is down, the gun suicide rate is up and the overall gun death rate is flat. Read More > at Bloomberg

‘Confusing’ California primary ends on sour note – State officials will write the June 7 primary’s final chapter this week by certifying that more than 8.5 million ballots were cast, though it’s unlikely to assuage voters or local elections officials who complained that overlapping and confusing rules left them with a lingering political hangover.

The primary’s sour ending note seems largely due to the asymmetric rules governing the presidential and statewide elections. Unlike the primary for state races – where anyone could vote for any candidate – the presidential contests were governed by a patchwork of rules that differed by political party.

Independent voters, known in California as having “no party preference,” were allowed to vote in the Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. But they were banned from voting in the Republican presidential primary.

The Democratic Party required unaffiliated voters to use a special “crossover” ballot so they couldn’t vote for the party’s governing committee — but voters had to proactively ask elections officials for the special ballot.

Those rules were supposed to be enforced by local elections officials, but procedures varied county to county. Activists, many of which were fervent Sanders supporters, leveled accusations that some independent voters were being cheated out of voting for the insurgent Democrat. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

More Nonsmoking Teens Inhaling Flavored Nicotine Through Vaping – Many teenagers who never would have smoked cigarettes are now “vaping” with flavored e-cigarettes, leading to a new generation using nicotine at rates not seen since the 1990s, a new study suggests.

The study, released Monday in the journal Pediatrics, tracked the use of cigarettes and e-cigarettes among 5,490 California high school seniors who graduated between 1995 and 2014. E-cigarettes do not burn tobacco, but are battery-operated inhalers that heat up and vaporize liquid containing flavors and nicotine, a practice known as vaping. The liquids used in vaping range in taste from traditional tobacco and menthol flavors to fruity and sweet combinations like gummi bear, banana bread and cotton candy.

When e-cigarettes came on the market in 2007, some public health experts hoped that they would serve as a substitute for traditional tobacco products and lead to declines in tobacco use.

But the data from the latest study, conducted by researchers at the University of Southern California, tell a different story. E-cigarettes do not appear to have made a dent in regular cigarette use — the number of high school seniors who reported smoking tobacco in the past 30 days has largely plateaued. In 2004, the number of 12th graders who reported smoking tobacco in the past 30 days was 9 percent; in 2014 that number was just under 8 percent.

But the rate of teenagers using nicotine — either through tobacco cigarettes or e-cigarettes — is on the rise. About 14 percent of Southern California high school seniors in 2014 said they had smoked or vaped in the last 30 days. Researchers say they have not seen similar levels of nicotine use among teenagers since 1995, when 12th-grade smoking rates were 19 percent. Read More > in The New York Times

Drones will cause an upheaval of society like we haven’t seen in 700 years – The human race is on the brink of momentous and dire change. It is a change that potentially smashes our institutions and warps our society beyond recognition. It is also a change to which almost no one is paying attention. I’m talking about the coming obsolescence of the gun-wielding human infantryman as a weapon of war. Or to put it another way: the end of the Age of the Gun.

You may not even realize you have been, indeed, living in the Age of the Gun because it’s been centuries since that age began. But imagine yourself back in 1400. In that century (and the 10 centuries before it), the battlefield was ruled not by the infantryman, but by the horse archer—a warrior-nobleman who had spent his whole life training in the ways of war. Imagine that guy’s surprise when he was shot off his horse by a poor no-count farmer armed with a long metal tube and just two weeks’ worth of training. Just a regular guy with a gun.

That day was the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of modernity. For centuries after that fateful day, gun-toting infantry ruled the battlefield. Military success depended more and more on being able to motivate large groups of (gun-wielding) humans, instead of on winning the loyalty of the highly trained warrior-noblemen. But sometime in the near future, the autonomous, weaponized drone may replace the human infantryman as the dominant battlefield technology. And as always, that shift in military technology will cause huge social upheaval. Read More > at Quartz

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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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