Sunday Reading – 07/31/16


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.

13 signs your coworker is a psychopath – Andrew Faas, a former senior executive with Canada’s two largest retail organizations, found this out the hard way when he blew the whistle on a corrupt colleague, and subsequently had his phone and email hacked and even received an anonymous death threat.

…Here are 13 sign that one of your coworkers may be a psychopath, from Hare’s checklist, Faas, and articles we found on Psychology Today:

A psychopath motivates others through fear, rather than respect, he says, and they intend to destroy rather than correct.

Psychopaths are masters at presenting themselves well.

They are great conversationalists who can easily sprinkle chit-chat with witty comebacks and “unlikely but convincing” stories that make them look good

Psychopaths see themselves as the center of the universe, writes Hare, on Psychology Today. They are so important in their minds that they believe other people are just tools to be used. Read More > at Business Insider

How slow is US economic growth? ‘Close to zero’ – Friday’s gross domestic product reading fell below even the dimming hopes on Wall Street. The 1.2 percent growth ratein the second quarter combined with a downward revision to the first three months of the year to produce an average growth rate of just 1 percent.

In total, it was far below the Wall Street forecast of 2.6 percent second-quarter growth and didn’t lend a lot of credence to a Fed statement earlier this week that sounded more confident on the economy. (The Atlanta Fed was much closer, forecasting 1.8 percent.)

In short, they are not numbers upon which a rate hawk would want to hang one’s hat. Read More > at CNBC

5G Wireless Is Coming, and It’s Going to Blow You Away – Mobile data consumption is soaring, but a broad set of technology advances is poised to transform what today’s smartphones and other wireless mobile devices can do—ushering in high-resolution video and fully immersive, 3-D environments.

At the NYU Wireless lab in Brooklyn, students are testing prototype equipment—forerunners to next-generation phones—that are able to transmit a blazing 10 gigabits of data per second, all while moving around crowded courtyards. And Samsung recently showed how a car traveling at 25 kilometers per hour could maintain a gigabit-per-second connection as the car moved in and out of range of mobile transmitters called base stations.

Both achievements are roughly 100 times faster than what current commercial mobile phone technology can do.

The next-generation technology will eventually be defined in a standard that will be known as “5G.” It is expected to provide Internet connections at least 40 times faster—and with at least four times more coverage worldwide—than the current standard, known as 4G LTE. Read More > at MIT Technology Review

Which Cars Cost the Most (and Least) to Maintain As They Get Old? – The average American depends on a car for 37 miles of transportation per day. Commuters spend around one hour in their car every day. Long commutes can be a bummer, but breaking down is worse.

We wanted to know which cars can go the distance and which will leave drivers stranded on the side of the road. So we teamed up with YourMechanic, a Priceonomics customer that has a dataset that includes the make, model, and mileage of the cars it has serviced.

The average car costs $1,400 to maintain for the first 25,000 miles, and the costs increase from there. Costs increase dramatically until the 100,000 mile mark, and less intensely after 100,000 miles. A car’s maintenance costs may top out, or it could be that drivers scrap their cars once maintenance costs trump the car’s value.

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Read More > at Priceonomics

Building a Better Human With Science? The Public Says, No Thanks – Americans aren’t very enthusiastic about using science to enhance the human species. Instead, many find it rather creepy.

A new survey by the Pew Research Center shows a profound distrust of scientists, a suspicion about claims of progress and a real discomfort with the idea of meddling with human abilities. The survey also opens a window into the public’s views on what it means to be a human being and what values are important.

Pew asked about three techniques that might emerge in the future but that are not even close to ready now: using gene editing to protect babies from disease, implanting chips in the brain to improve people’s ability to think, and transfusing synthetic blood that would enhance performance by increasing speed, strength and endurance.

The public was unenthusiastic on all counts, even about protecting babies from disease. Most, at least seven out of 10, thought scientists would rush to offer each of the technologies before they had adequately tested or even understood them. Read More > in The New York Times

Can Autonomous Cars Learn to be Moral? – Autonomous machines—those that can gather information about their surroundings and decide what to do without human input—are slowly emerging from their quiet applications in factories and outer space and entering our immediate environment. You might already own a robotic vacuum cleaner or a self-adjusting thermostat, and soon, when you order a replacement on Amazon, it might be delivered by drone.

But for most people, cars may be the most noticeable vanguard of robotics, and one of the most consequential. “An autonomous car is like a robot that you’re sitting inside of. It exemplifies a lot of the big issues when you’re dealing with machines,” says Wendy Ju, the executive director for interaction design research at Stanford’s Center for Design Research.

One of the biggest issues will be trust. Autonomous cars are a showcase for machine learning, a relatively new way to program computers. Most of today’s programs that run on our phones and in our cars are algorithms consisting of a fixed list of commands that respond in prescribed ways. While these command-response pairs can be extremely complicated, they are all initially programmed into the computer. But machine learning algorithms are different—they adapt their behavior when presented with new information. In short, they learn and not always in ways we expect.

…Most of the time, autonomous vehicles will have to make mundane decisions: when to merge, how quickly to merge, and whether to swerve to avoid a pothole. Not all decisions will be as consequential as the trolley problem, but many will involve engaging in social subtleties, something that’s simple for a person but nuanced and complex enough to stymie robots. For example, if a self-driving car is waiting at a stop light and the light turns green but the car in front doesn’t move, how long should it wait before honking? Will it be able to intuit why the car is stopped at a green light?

“The thing we are discovering when we’re making autonomous cars is how amazing people are. The way we drive and negotiate the road and figure out what’s going on—most of the time in one piece—is pretty amazing,” Ju says. Read More > at Nova Next

California Must Bolster Its Strengths, Address Weaknesses – …There is one business climate index that attempts to capture all of the various considerations: CNBC’s “America’s Top States for Business”. By examining ten categories – cost of doing business, the economy, infrastructure, workforce, quality of life, technology & innovation, business friendliness, education, cost of living, and access to capital – CNBC’s index aims to illuminate a state’s strengths and weaknesses.

Overall, in 2016 California ranks as the 32nd best state to do business, much better than indexes like the Tax Foundation and CEO Magazine’s, but still not stellar. Moreover, this is a 4 spot drop since 2007. Just nine states had a larger drop than California between 2007 and 2016 in their overall ranking; four of which still outrank the Golden State in 2016.

…Out of ten categories, though, California only saw an improvement in two of them. Every other one saw deterioration since 2007. Three of them – education, infrastructure, and quality of life – saw decreases greater than its overall ranking drop. This is a problem for California as all three of these categories have been historical strengths for the state.

The Golden State’s K-12 and higher education systems were once the national standard. Now they struggle. And we see it in the rankings. Since 2007, California has dropped 7 spots in the education category. A quality education is the single most effective means to improve opportunity and economic mobility. This isn’t just an economic problem; it is also a social one. Read More > Real Clear Markets

Bernie Sanders Leaves the Democratic Party – The nomination was barely sealed up at the Democratic National Convention before Bernie Sanders, who had campaigned against Hillary Clinton for the party’s nod, went back to being an Independent.

Sanders, who considers himself, officially, an Independent in Congress because his views lean further left than the Democratic party’s platform, caucuses with Democrats. But until declaring an intention to run for the presidency in 2015, he had rarely, if ever, identified as a member of the Democratic Party (he’s been in politics since 1979).

And now, despite pleading with his base to support Hillary, even though they’re concerned that she’s too moderate, Sanders will return to Vermont and to his seat in the Senate, and he’ll do it with no official party affiliation. Read More > at Heatstreet

Who Buys Legal Weed? – Marijuana pop culture has traditionally centered around the young male smoker and his high times. But the legalization movement has made marijuana more accessible than ever been before, and cannabis’s application as a painkiller is particularly appealing to senior citizens.

So what does the typical, recreational marijuana user look like today? And how do the preferences and spending habits of groups like young men and senior citizens differ?

We explored these questions by drawing on the data of Headset, a Priceonomics customer with a large dataset of cannabis retailer transaction data. Since many of these cannabis dispensaries have customer loyalty programs, the data includes information about customers’ age and gender. We decided to use to this data to learn more about who buys weed and what they smoke or consume.

The data suggests that smokers in the customer loyalty program are overwhelmingly male, accounting for about 70% of all members. And, while customers range from ages 21 to 95, over 50% of loyalty members are under 40.

We also found that while Flower (your typical marijuana bud) accounts for about half of the purchases made by each demographic, each group has its own quirks. Compared to the opposite sex, men prefer concentrates and women prefer pre-rolls and edibles. Older consumers prefer edibles to pre-rolled joints. Read More > at Priceonomics

Sears Denies Plan to Close K-Mart – While it has already closed or plans to shutter over 100 K-Mart locations this year, Sears Holdings has shot down rumors that it plans to do away with the entire chain.

Those rumors arose recently when employees of the remaining K-Mart stores began reporting that they have been emptying their stockrooms and putting merchandise out on the sales floor. That’s a common step a chain would take if it were on a path toward liquidation.

While it does not always happen this way, it makes sense to try to sell off inventory at regular prices before having a closeout sale. That’s because once the going-out-of-business sign is up, consumers expect a bargain.

So, in appearance, at least to some of its employees, K-Mart seems to be in the early stages of going out of business, but the parent company insists that’s not true. Read More > at The Motley Fool

Lafayette: Sales tax measure heading to November ballot – City leaders have approved placing a sales tax measure on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The unanimous decision Monday to put the 1 percent general transactions and use tax on the upcoming ballot caps months of discussion about a possible measure. If approved, the levy would increase Lafayette’s sales tax to 9.75 percent, and could generate $3 million annually for 29 years.

It needs a simple majority, or 50 percent plus one vote, for approval.

According to final ballot language, the tax will “maintain the city’s quality of life” by generating funding for general city services, including protecting open space, reducing downtown congestion and enhancing police protection. Beefing up downtown parking, acquiring land for downtown parks, and revitalizing the Park Theater on Golden Gate Way are also on the list of priorities. Read More > in the East Bay Times

San Francisco marijuana use scores highest in the nation – On Tuesday the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released pot survey data of Americans age 12 and older.

Over 15 percent of San Franciscans age 12 and over used pot in the last month, which the Washington Post called “the highest rate in the country”.

San Francisco spearheaded both the adult-use and medical cannabis movements, beginning in the late ‘60s. Today it sports record-low unemployment and record-high housing prices as local innovators reshape the global marketplace.

Southern Texas near the Mexico border sports the lowest pot use rates at less than four percent.

Nationally, about 7.7 percent of Americans 12 and older used weed in the last month — 20.3 million people. Personal cannabis use is a federal crime, and about 700,000 people will get arrested for it this year. Americans consume an estimated 4,000 to 8,000 metric tons of marijuana each year. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Could these kind of jobs help prevent Alzheimer’s disease? – New research unveiled at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference suggests people who have either more complex careers or busy social lives may be more resistant to Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia will cost the U.S. $236 billion in 2016, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The disease affects more than 5 million Americans.

“These new data add to a growing body of research that suggests more stimulating lifestyles, including more complex work environments with other people, are associated with better cognitive outcomes in later life,” Maria C. Carrillo, Alzheimer’s Association chief science officer, said in a press release issued Sunday.

…Other pieces of research presented at the conference found that brain-training exercises could protect against dementia, that poor diet was related to declining brain activity and that people who had received higher education were more resilient to cognitive decline. Read More > at CNBC

What If Cameras Stopped Telling the Truth? – …Cheap smartphones with cameras have brought the power take documentary evidence to just about anyone, and the credibility of phone-shot video has held up in court and in the news. But a patent awarded to Apple last month hints at a future where invisible signals could alter the images that smartphone cameras capture—or even disable smartphone cameras entirely.

Apple filed for the patent in 2011, proposing a smartphone camera that could respond to data streams encoded in invisible infrared signals. The signals could display additional information on the phone’s screen: If a user points his or her camera at a museum exhibit, for example, a transmitter placed nearby could tell the phone to show information about the object in the viewfinder.

A different type of data stream, however, could prevent the phone from recording at all. Apple’s patent also proposes using infrared rays to force iPhone cameras to shut off at concerts, where video, photo, and audio recording is often prohibited. Yes, smartphones are the scourge of the modern concert, but using remote camera-blocking technology to curb their use opens up a dangerous potential for abuse.

The next few iPhones will almost certainly not have this technology, and it’s likely that it’ll never show up in a mass-produced smartphone at all. Apple files for and is granted hundreds of patents that it doesn’t end up using. But the fact that camera-blocking proposals are coming from a hugely influential tech company—which also happens to be the leading camera manufacturer in the world, according to data from Flickr—might not bode well for the direction camera technology will go in 10 or 15 years. Read More > in The Atlantic

Veterans Can’t Keep Waiting for Reform – A bipartisan commission created by Congress to investigate the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has released its findings and confirmed what we already know – the VA is deeply troubled and has been for years. The Commission on Care’s report comes just days after new developments in the agency’s latest health-care scandal, which shows exactly how far-reaching these problems are.

The latest VA failure is that nearly 25,000 veterans learned they may have waited as long as eight years to get the right diagnosis. Professionals not qualified to diagnose traumatic brain injuries – a common injury for many veterans – had for years been examining veterans for the affliction. When a local news investigation uncovered the story last summer, it took the VA nearly a year to even begin notifying the affected veterans that they had been potentially misdiagnosed.

But this was only the latest in a long string of failures that have plagued the agency and jeopardized veterans’ health.

…All the while, the VA has attempted to downplay the significance of these troubles. VA Secretary Robert McDonald even compared waits for VA health care to lines at Disney, arguing that since the theme park doesn’t use wait times to measure performance, neither should the VA.

But we know the truth – wait times are an effective measure of performance. And the diminishing quality of care and service from the VA is hurting veterans.

No matter what state we live in, we deserve to get better care and treatment from the VA. Whether this means more accountability and better treatment at VA facilities, or greater access to care through a functioning choice program, something must be done. Read More > at Real Clear Defense

The Public Pension Problem: It’s Much Worse Than It Appears – When financial markets slumped in 2008, the assets in government-worker pension funds plunged and public sector retirement debt soared. Although pension officials rushed to assure the public that their funds would recover as soon as stocks rebounded, the long bull market that began the following year didn’t do much to cut states steep retirement debt.

Now, 18 months of mediocre investment returns have sent the unfunded liabilities of state and local pension funds soaring to unprecedented levels and have raised new questions about whether some of these traditional retirement plans supported by tax dollars are sustainable.

Most state and local pension funds closed the books on their latest fiscal year on June 30, and during that 12-month period the bellwether Standard & Poor’s 500 increased by less than half a percentage point. While many funds have yet to report their results for the year, early returns suggest that the industry fell well short of its lofty investment goals.

The nation’s largest pension fund, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, earned a mere 0.6% in the last year, significantly below its 7.5% target. Its sister fund, the California State Teachers Retirement system, which also aims for a 7.5% annual return, instead notched a 1.4% gain for the year. Read More > at the Manhattan Institute

Measuring Californians’ Daily Water Footprint – In California we commonly debate how much water is used by agriculture, the environment, industry and urban users. We talk about water in terms of acre-feet and entire sectors. But we spend less time thinking about water on the individual level.

California’s water conservation mandate helped bring this back into focus, at least for a time. But the information on water usage provided by water utilities on our monthly bills is only a small part of how much water we really use.

If you want to get a better sense of your water usage there is an online tool, the Water Footprint Calculator, developed by GRACE Communications Foundation. The calculator walks you through how much water you use in your home and yard, but also how much is related to the energy you use, how much you drive, how much you shop, how much you recycle and the food you (and your pets) eat. If you take all those things into consideration, it turns out the average American consumes about 2,220 gallons (over 8,300 liters) of water per day. Read More > at KQED

Want to Live? Stay Away from Semi-Trucks – …Late last year, our sister publication Esquire ran a harrowing tale of a year spent as a long-haul trucker. It’s absolutely worth reading, for two reasons: it’s brilliantly written, and it will make you think long and hard about ever hanging out in a freeway lane next to a truck, particularly after dark. Driving a real truck isn’t like driving a car, an F-350, or a U-Haul box van; it’s a full-time occupation that often results in sleep deprivation and risky driving to make a delivery on time. I once had the chance to spend an afternoon in a bar next to a career driver who bragged that “I run hot (above the speed limit), heavy (above the legal weight) and hard (for eighteen hours or longer between rest stops).” It was a relief to me when he started complaining that the modern trucking firms wouldn’t let him do all three at once.

Happily, many of the professional drivers out there are safe, sober, and in command of the most modern, well-maintained equipment possible. But that doesn’t mean that you are totally safe. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration permits loaded trucks a 355-foot stopping distance from 60mph. That is a full three times longer than what a family sedan in good condition can manage. Think about that for a minute. You might be killed just because you stopped in front of a truck. It’s also worth considering those numbers the next time you cut a truck off in fast-moving heavy traffic. The driver is leaving that space in front of his grille for a reason, and it’s not because he wants to do you a favor.

Then there’s the question of tire explosions, like the one that set off the chaos described at the beginning of this article. We’re all familiar with the old trope of the exploding “retread” truck tire, but the truth is that all kinds of truck tires fail at about the same rate, and for the same reasons. That doesn’t change the fact that an exploding truck tire can be deadly, particularly if you are right next to the tire when it blows. Driving over a tire tread fragment in the middle of the road isn’t likely to do much more than damage your front bumper or scuff up your rocker panels, but if the tire is still in the air when you hit it, you could be looking at a fifty-pound object being shoved through your windshield to share your personal space. Read More > at Popular Mechanics

What is Old, and New, and Scary in Russia’s Probable DNC Hack – There is nothing new in one nation’s intelligence services using stealthy techniques to influence an election in another. According to William Daugherty’s Executive Secrets: Covert Action and the Presidency, the United States by covert action:

  • Attempted to “forestall a Communist government” in Indonesia in 1957
  • Intervened “in Italian political processes to prevent the Italian Communist Party (PCI) from winning elections between 1948 and the late 1960s.”
  • Used “extensive propaganda and political action programs in election campaigns” in Chile during the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations.
  • Provided “funds, desktop publishing materials, and other means of support to the banned trade union Solidarity following the imposition of martial law in Poland after 1981”

In addition, David Ignatius reported that in the Fall of 2004 President Bush signed (but later withdrew) a covert action finding designed to spend $20 million to counter Iranian influences in Iraqi elections. There are surely many, many other examples, in the United States and abroad.

While there is nothing new in one nation using its intelligence services to try to influence an election in another, doing so by hacking into a political party’s computers and releasing their emails does seem somewhat new. The combination of pilfering sensitive information and then “weaponiz[ing] Wikileaks” or some similar organization will surely recur. The possibilities do not end there. Foreign governments could “hack a voting machine,” “shut down the voting system or election agencies,” “delete or change election records,” “hijack a candidate’s website,” “dox[] a candidate,” “and target campaign donors.” Read More > at Lawfare

How technology disrupted the truth – One Monday morning last September, Britain woke to a depraved news story. The prime minister, David Cameron, had committed an “obscene act with a dead pig’s head”, according to the Daily Mail. “A distinguished Oxford contemporary claims Cameron once took part in an outrageous initiation ceremony at a Piers Gaveston event, involving a dead pig,” the paper reported. Piers Gaveston is the name of a riotous Oxford university dining society; the authors of the story claimed their source was an MP, who said he had seen photographic evidence: “His extraordinary suggestion is that the future PM inserted a private part of his anatomy into the animal.”

…Then, after a full day of online merriment, something shocking happened. Isabel Oakeshott, the Daily Mail journalist who had co-written the biography with Lord Ashcroft, a billionaire businessman, went on TV and admitted that she did not know whether her huge, scandalous scoop was even true. Pressed to provide evidence for the sensational claim, Oakeshott admitted she had none.

…Oakeshott went even further to absolve herself of any journalistic responsibility: “It’s up to other people to decide whether they give it any credibility or not,” she concluded. This was not, of course, the first time that outlandish claims were published on the basis of flimsy evidence, but this was an unusually brazen defence. It seemed that journalists were no longer required to believe their own stories to be true, nor, apparently, did they need to provide evidence. Instead it was up to the reader – who does not even know the identity of the source – to make up their own mind. But based on what? Gut instinct, intuition, mood? Read More > in The Guardian

Armour: IOC’s decision on Russia a copout – The International Olympic Committee has sold its soul. Worse, it’s sold out all those clean athletes who have been begging for someone to have their backs, along with the woman brave enough to reveal Russia’s dirty secrets.

Integrity, decency, fair play — those are no longer the ideals on which the Olympic movement proudly and firmly stands. They’ve become chips to be bargained away in exchange for money, support and power. What’s the disappearance of a few hundred positive tests among friends when compared with $51 billion to further the myth that the Olympics are a celebration of the world at its best?

By refusing to impose a blanket ban on Russia for the Rio Games, despite damning evidence of a widespread doping program traced to the highest reaches of its sports administration, the IOC left no doubt whose side it’s on.

And it sure isn’t the athletes.

…This was not an individual athlete or two cheating or even a dirty training group. This was a massive doping program spread across winter and summer federations, with the McLaren report finding that positive tests were made to disappear in 29 different sports. Read More > at USA Today

Leaked DNC Emails Show Lax Cybersecurity – The WikiLeaks release of 19,252 emails stolen by hackers from the Democratic National Committee’s computer systems has lurched the party into crisis, showing just how deep an impact data breaches can have on an organization. A look at the emails gives insight into the organization’s cybersecurity practices, as well its view of the threat landscape.

A hacker going by the nickname Guccifer 2.0 claimed to have stolen the emails and other material from the DNC’s network (see Lone Hacker Claims to Have Breached DNC). But prior to his claim, the DNC’s appointed cyber forensics firm, Crowdstrike, said two Russian hacking groups had access to the DNC’s network for more than a year, through early June (see Report: Russia’s ‘Best’ Hackers Access DNC’s Trump Research).

Guccifer 2.0 published some of the stolen material on a WordPress site, and he said he’d passed it to WikiLeaks.

…Another email shows a general disregard for password security. It involves Factivists.democrats.org, a blog funded by the DNC that’s designed to refute false campaign claims. Rachel Palermo, a press assistant with the DNC, sent an email on April 29 warning that Factivists had been hacked.

“We have been compromised!,” she writes. “But it’s all ok. Here is our new password: ‘HHQTevgHQ@z&8b6’. It will now change every few weeks to prevent future issues. So as it is re-set, I will forward it along.”

The DNC would get points for creating a strong, complex password. But a strong password is useless when it’s sent to email accounts that have been compromised. Palermo sent the email to “regionalpress@dnc.org,” a group email address.

…In fact, handing out USB drives is a terrible idea, especially in retrospect for the DNC. One Russian group nickname Cozy Bear was apprently inside the DNC’s network since mid-2015, according to Crowdstrike, which believes that Cozy Bear may be linked to the FSB, Russia’s state security service.

Crowdstrike says the other group in the DNC’s network, called Fancy Bear, gained access in April and focused on collecting the DNC’s research on its opposition, including Donald Trump. By rooting around in the DNC’s network, either group would have likely been able to learn if the DNC was loading USB drives for events and possibly try to corrupt the process by implanting malware. Read More > at Data Breach Today

In the future you will own nothing and have access to everything – …Yet only in a science fiction world would a person own nothing at all. Most people will own some things while accessing others; the mix will differ by person. Yet the extreme scenario of a person who accesses all without any ownership is worth exploring because it reveals the stark direction technology is headed. Here is how it works.

I live in a complex. Like a lot of my friends, I choose to live in the complex because of the round-the-clock services I can get. The box in my apartment is refreshed four times a day. That means I can leave my refreshables (like clothes) there and have them replenished in a few hours. The complex also has its own Node where hourly packages come in via drones, robo vans, and robo bikes from the local processing center. I tell my device what I need and then it’s in my box (at home or at work) within two hours, often sooner. The Node in the lobby also has an awesome 3-D printing fab that can print just about anything in metal, composite, and tissue. There’s also a pretty good storage room full of appliances and tools. The other day I wanted a turkey fryer; there was one in my box from the Node’s library in a hour. Of course, I don’t need to clean it after I’m done; it just goes back into the box. When my friend was visiting, he decided he wanted to cut his own hair. There were hair clippers in the box in 30 minutes. I also subscribe to a camping gear outfit. Camping gear improves so fast each year, and I use it for only a few weeks or weekends, that I much prefer to get the latest, best, pristine gear in my box. Cameras and computers are the same way. They go obsolete so fast, I prefer to subscribe to the latest, greatest ones. Like a lot of my friends, I subscribe to most of my clothes too. It’s a good deal. I can wear something different each day of the year if I want, and I just toss the clothes into the box at the end of the day. They are cleaned and redistributed, and often altered a bit to keep people guessing. They even have a great selection of vintage T-shirts that most other companies don’t have. The few special smartshirts I own are chipped-tagged so they come back to me the next day cleaned and pressed. Read More > in BoingBoing

Boy Scouts faring well a year after easing ban on gay adults – There were dire warnings for the Boy Scouts of America a year ago when the group’s leaders, under intense pressure, voted to end a long-standing blanket ban on participation by openly gay adults. Several of the biggest sponsors of Scout units, including the Roman Catholic, LDS and Southern Baptist churches, were openly dismayed, raising the prospect of mass defections.

Remarkably, nearly 12 months after the BSA National Executive Board’s decision, the Boy Scouts seem more robust than they have in many years. Youth membership is on the verge of stabilizing after a prolonged decline, corporations that halted donations because of the ban have resumed their support, and the vast majority of units affiliated with conservative religious denominations have remained in the fold — still free to exclude gay adults if that’s in accordance with their religious doctrine.

Catholic Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, South Carolina, whose duties include liaising with the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, says he knows of no instances where a Catholic unit — there are more than 7,500 — has taken on an openly gay adult leader since the policy change. Gay sex and same-sex marriage are considered violations of church teaching. Read More > in the Deseret News

The Mall of the Future Will Offer Dinner, Movies, and a Colonoscopy – The Runway at Playa Vista in Los Angeles recently added a Whole Foods, a movie theater, and upscale shops and restaurants—retail center staples intended to attract affluent shoppers, condo-buyers, and tech companies to the mixed-use development. The next big tenant slated to move in, however, is a little different: A 32,000-square-foot doctors’ office, where the Cedars-Sinai Health System plans to house outpatient services, including cardiology and orthopedics.

While urgent-care centers have been strip-mall staples for decades, the chance to catch dinner, a movie, and a surgical procedure under the same roof is new—and coming soon to a mall near you. The reason is commerce: Mall operators are looking for tenants that trade in entertainment and services to replace the brick-and-mortar retailers slowly being strangled by Amazon.com and its online competitors. Rents, particularly at older malls, are a bargain.

The health-care industry, meanwhile, is moving away from centralized campuses to bring services closer to patients at a time when two key demographics are entering prime years for consumption. Boomers are hitting an age when they can expect to use more health-care services; millennials are starting families and beginning to make doctors appointments for their kids.

Put those factors together, and voila: You can get your blood pressure checked just steps from the steakhouse. Read More > at Bloomberg

Justice Department sues Pennsylvania town for rejecting mosque – The Justice Department is taking a Pennsylvania town to court over a municipal board’s denial of a zoning application for a mosque, accusing officials of discriminating against a local Muslim organization on the basis of religion.

The Bensalem Township violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act when its zoning board in 2014 rejected a zoning request that would have allowed the Bensalem Masjid to build a mosque in the town, Justice Department attorneys wrote in a complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

“Our Constitution protects the rights of religious communities to build places of worship free from unlawful interference and unnecessary barriers,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to challenge unjustified local zoning actions around the country when they encroach upon this important civil right.” Read More > in The Washington Times

THE FAKE FACTORY THAT PUMPED OUT REAL MONEY – The biodiesel factory, a three-story steel skeleton crammed with pipes and valves, squatted on a concrete slab between a railroad track and a field of storage tanks towering over the Houston Ship Channel. Jeffrey Kimes, an engineer for the Environmental Protection Agency, arrived there at 9 a.m. on a muggy Wednesday in August 2011.

He’d come to visit Green Diesel, a company that appeared to be an important contributor to the EPA’s fledgling renewable fuels program, part of an effort to clean the air and lessen U.S. dependence on foreign fuel. In less than three years, Green Diesel had reported producing 50 million gallons of biodiesel. Yet Kimes didn’t know the company. He asked other producers, and they weren’t familiar with Green Diesel either. He thought he ought to see this business for himself.

Kimes, who works out of Denver, was greeted at the Green Diesel facility by a man who said he was the plant manager. He was the only employee there, which was odd. “For a big plant like that, you’re going to need a handful of people at least to run it, maintain it, and monitor the process,” says Kimes, a 21-year EPA veteran. The two toured the grounds, climbing metal stairways and examining the equipment. The place was weirdly still and quiet. Some pipes weren’t connected to anything. Two-story-high biodiesel mixing canisters sat rusting, the fittings on their tops covered in garbage bags secured with duct tape. Kimes started asking questions. “They showed me a log, and from that you could see they hadn’t been producing fuel for a long period of time,” he says.

…Per EPA rules, each gallon of ethanol or biodiesel produced is assigned a 38-digit number—a renewable identification number, or RIN—that travels with the product as it moves from producer to refiner to end user. Ethanol RINs generally remain fixed to their respective gallons throughout the process. But the EPA allows biodiesel makers to strip RINs off their product and sell them separately as tradable credits. Refiners who fall short of blending the statutory minimum of biodiesel into their refined products must buy RINs to make up the difference or pay penalties.

All an unscrupulous biofuel trader really needed in the early RIN years was a talent for Microsoft Excel. Over a phone or a computer, he’d negotiate with a refining company or a third-party broker to sell RINs at an agreed-upon price. Then he’d generate some numbers, send them over, and get paid. No fuel exchanged hands. And the onus was on buyers to make sure the numbers were associated with gallons of actual fuel; if the RINs proved fraudulent, the holder had to purchase new credits to replace phony ones. A man named Rodney Hailey sold $9 million in counterfeit RINs from his Maryland garage without even trying to make biodiesel. When EPA inspectors wanted to visit the plant he didn’t have, he told them he had recently removed all the equipment and sold it. When they asked who the buyer was, he said he couldn’t remember. He did send pictures of the plant before it was dismantled—but those turned out to be images he’d found on the internet. He was convicted in June 2012 of selling fraudulent RINs and is serving a 12 ½-year prison sentence. Read More > at Bloomberg

Shipping container housing complex to be developed in Houston’s Fifth Ward – A new collection of homes is about to take shape in Houston’s Fifth Ward, and it will be made almost entirely out of portable containers.

Houston native Jerry Hartless, owner of Houston-based contracting company Build-A-Box, says he will build a 42-unit residential complex in that neighborhood — specifically in the Denver Harbor area.

…One completed Build-a-Box house currently on the market — at 1709 Dan St. — offers a glimpse of what he’s planning to create on a much larger scale. The two-bedroom, 1,280-square-foot house is unlike the standard tiny home. Its facade tricks the eye into imagining a Craftsman-style bungalow. A look just beyond the structure’s small front porch reveals it to be a royal-blue-hued shipping container, the kind that typically transport industrial and consumer goods of all types across the world.

The home, which sits on 3,000 square feet of land, is currently listed at $189,995. Hartless says the houses could cost anywhere between $80 and $120 per square foot, depending on how the outside will be outfitted.

Though Hartless adds that the costs can vary widely. Read More > at Chron

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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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