Sunday Reading – 08/07/16


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.

Mercedes-Benz said to plan EV sub-brand, with multiple SUVs and sedans – Mercedes-Benz isn’t just planning one or two all-electric vehicle options to woo customers away from competitors, including BMW and Tesla who are further along with their EV lineups — it has four models in the works, according to sources speaking to Bloomberg. These cars will be offered under a new sub-brand with a new name, per the report.

The first of these will likely come at the Paris Motor Show, which happens in October, and at which Mercedes-Benz CEO Dieter Zetsche has also promised an electric vehicle from the company will be revealed. But Bloomberg says the lineup will include two electric SUVs and two electric sedans, which are currently set to go to market by 2020. The first, which is the one that we’ll apparently see at the Paris show, will be an SUV, with an impressive max range of about 500 km (310 miles) on one charge.

This prototype vehicle, if it indeed boasts that kind of range in addition to the cargo capacity advantages of a sport utility, would have a lot of potential among EV competitors. Tesla’s Model X, which is the closest production vehicle comparable to what it sounds like Mercedes is going to reveal, notably hits the exact same max range when the 250-257 mile on the P90 and P90D variants is translated into the European testing method. Read More > at Tech Crunch

Only 16% of American Jobs Are ‘Good’ Jobs – … According to a new analysis by Hiring Lab, Indeed.com’s research arm, a scant 16% of U.S. jobs paid enough in the years from 2012 to 2015 to keep up with, or exceed, the cost of living. Those few occupations, which the study dubs “opportunity jobs,” are concentrated in just five categories: health care (including nurses and skilled technicians), management, computer and mathematics, business and financial operations, and architecture and engineering.

Location matters. More than 50% of openings in those fields are clustered in just nine states — California, Washington, Maryland, Alaska, New York, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Virginia, and New Jersey — and the District of Columbia. People who live somewhere else, or who lack the training to work in one of the five thriving fields, have earned steadily less in real dollars and have sunk deeper into debt during the past 12 years.

Pretty grim, but the future looks even worse. The researchers looked at which occupations are at highest, and lowest, risk of automation. The 16% of jobs that have escaped wage stagnation are also those least likely to be automated out of existence. The chance that someone in an “opportunity job” can be replaced by a smart machine is about 9%, the study says — versus 46% for everyone else. Read More > at Fortune

Self-Driving Trucks Tested On Concord Naval Grounds – Self-driving cars are rolling around America’s roads, and commercial vehicles are close behind.

Two Bay Area companies are partnering to produce the first generation of autonomous trucks, and testing them at Concord’s naval weapons station.

“We focus on self-driving trucks,” Otto Technologies co-founder Lior Ron told KPIX 5.

The trucks are equipped with sensors, radar, lasers, cameras, and GPS.

The system is not meant to drive on city streets – it’s being optimized for long haul freeways.

The developers say the computers would take control of the truck as it enters the freeway on-ramp, and maintain that control until it reaches its destination off-ramp. That off-ramp could be anywhere in the nation.

“The problem in the united states is that we don’t have enough drivers and as the population grows is that we are going to need more services,” Randy Iwasaki, Executive Director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority said. Read More > at KPIX

Office Depot Is Closing 300 More Stores – Office Depot, which scrapped a plan to merge with larger rival Staples in May on antitrust concerns, said it would close about 300 more stores in the next three years to help cut annual costs by $250 million by the end of 2018.

Office Depot, which closed 400 U.S. stores by the end of the second quarter, said its sales fell 6.5% to $3.22 billion in the quarter ended June 25, roughly in line with the average analyst estimate, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

It was the company’s seventh straight drop in quarterly sales. Both Staples and Office Depot have been hit by competition from online retailers such as Amazon.com that have been discounting school and office supplies.

Office Depot said it had 1,513 stores in North America at the end of the second quarter, and about 1,800 globally. Read More > at Fortune

A blind eye to sex abuse: How USA Gymnastics failed to report cases – Top executives at one of America’s most prominent Olympic organizations failed to alert authorities to many allegations of sexual abuse by coaches — relying on a policy that enabled predators to abuse gymnasts long after USA Gymnastics had received warnings.

An IndyStar investigation uncovered multiple examples of children suffering the consequences, including a Georgia case in which a coach preyed on young female athletes for seven years after USA Gymnastics dismissed the first of four warnings about him.

In a 2013 lawsuit filed by one of that coach’s victims, two former USA Gymnastics officials admitted under oath that the organization routinely dismissed sexual abuse allegations as hearsay unless they came directly from a victim or victim’s parent.

Legal experts and child advocates expressed alarm about that approach, saying the best practice is to report every allegation to authorities. Laws in every state require people to report suspected child abuse.

…USA Gymnastics would not disclose the total number of sexual misconduct allegations it receives each year. But records show the organization compiled complaint dossiers on more than 50 coaches and filed them in a drawer in its executive office in Indianapolis. The contents of those files remain secret, hidden under seal in the case filed by Ganser’s daughter. IndyStar, as part of the USA TODAY Network, filed a motion seeking to make the files public. The judge in that case has not yet ruled.

But even without access to those files, IndyStar tracked down four cases in which USA Gymnastics was warned of suspected abuse by coaches but did not initiate a report to authorities. Read More > in the IndyStar

Where are California’s uninsured? – The number of Californians who have health insurance has grown by more than 2 million since the federal government began requiring two years ago that everyone have coverage. About 90 percent of Californians are insured, data show — up from 85 percent before major features of the federal law kicked in.

But more than 3 million people in the state remain uninsured, and policymakers are searching for ways to reach them. Experts say knowing where the uninsured live and work in California is key to reducing their numbers. City and county outreach efforts can be critical to raising awareness among those who are eligible for federal health insurance programs but not enrolled. The most recent statistics available are from 2014.

Where are the uninsured in California? Here is a map of California cities and their estimated percentage of uninsured residents. Read More > at CALmatters

Wal-Mart in Talks to Buy Web Retailer Jet.com – Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is in talks to buy online discount retailer Jet.com Inc., according to people familiar with the matter, escalating its costly quest to compete head-on with Amazon.com Inc.

A deal could give Wal-Mart’s e-commerce efforts a much-needed jolt as the world’s largest retailer seeks to grow beyond its brick-and-mortar storefronts with speedy home delivery from a network of massive suburban warehouses.

It isn’t clear how much Wal-Mart would pay for the unprofitable startup, but a person familiar with the matter said Jet could be valued at up to $3 billion. That would be Wal-Mart’s biggest acquisition since buying South African retailer Massmart Holdings Ltd. for $2.3 billion in 2010, a sign that executives at the retail behemoth are willing to spend big to catch up with Amazon.

Jet, barely a year old, has sought to underprice Amazon with a vast marketplace that would require billions of dollars in funding and a plan to rely more on suppliers than warehouse inventory. A part of its growth strategy early on relied on taking orders for products it didn’t sell and placing orders on behalf of its customers on other sites, often selling the items below what it paid while absorbing steep shipping costs. Jet has curtailed the practice. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

The next Google Maps update could show how bad the parking is – Google’s next iteration of its popular Maps app looks to be adding a whole bunch of new functions, if the recently released 9.34 beta is any indication. The big news is that the update could include text-based alerts informing users to parking shortages at their destination. This will allow you to account for not just enroute traffic but also fighting for a spot once you get there. It’s not like Google can actively track open spaces so the service will more likely be based on the total number of spaces available in given area while taking into account time of day and nearby public sporting/concert events. Still, that’s valuable information especially if you aren’t a local.

The new update may also finally fix the issue where you accidentally reorient the map with an errant finger swipe and get yourself completely turned around. This beta includes an “Always point North” option that effectively locks the compass and prevents the map from turning. We’ll have to wait for the official update release to see if these new features actually make it into Maps — and whether they’ll be joined by any surprises. Read More > at Engadget

Comfortably Numb: The NFL Fell In Love With a Painkiller It Barely Knew – Players have depended on Toradol injections to keep them on the field for two decades. Now, the NFL could be facing its next health crisis because of it.

Toradol found a place in professional sports shortly after it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1989. It had a foothold in the NFL by Errict Rhett’s rookie year in 1994. The former Buccaneers running back never imagined he’d need it, but by the second half of the season — after training camp, preseason and eight weeks of games — he says that he started hopping in line for a weekly Toradol shot alongside the veterans.

Perhaps the first outward mention of Toradol in the NFL was a 1995 Houston Chronicle story about the Oilers’ medical staff. Even then, players like defensive back Steve Jackson were leery of the use of painkillers.

…Toradol was never meant to be used as former players describe it is in the NFL: Frequently, and as a proactive measure against pain. Joe Muchowski was directed in the mid 1970s to make something 10 times better than naproxen, the generic name for Aleve. His Syntex superiors even wanted to call it the Son of Naproxen, an emphasis that whatever Muchowski’s compound was, it would be newer and stronger than an already effective painkiller.

One of Muchowski’s earliest breakthroughs was nearly perfect. A colleague suggested a simple modification to a derivative of indomethacin, and the result was something he says was about 1,000 times more effective at relieving pain than aspirin when tested in mice and rats. There was one problem:

“It caused the animals to pass green urine,” Muchowski says, which stopped the drug just short of clinical trials, to Muchowski’s dismay: “I said this would have been a great thing to use at Christmas time.”

…Toradol is a very good drug. It works quickly, especially as an injection. Its analgesic effect lasts four to six hours, though players have claimed it can last until the next day. More importantly, Toradol almost eliminates the need for opiates, which have the insidious side effect of addiction.

The study of the long-term use of milder NSAIDs suggests that Toradol’s effect on the kidneys could be transient — all NSAIDs affect kidneys acutely, but stop taking them and normal function returns. But no one can say for sure, and even the people dedicated to studying and treating kidneys don’t agree. Dr. David Goldfarb, director of the kidney stone prevention program at NYU Langone Medical Center, says he has a more “liberal” view of Toradol among nephrologists. He says that Toradol can be prescribed to patients with chronic kidney disease, provided their doctors do regular blood work to monitor kidney function. Read More > at SB*Nation

The coming electoral crack-up? – Heading into the 2016 presidential election cycle, the most influential guide for political journalists was a 2008 book called The Party Decides. Written by four eminent political scientists, it explained that for several decades presidential nominees have effectively been chosen by unelected political insiders, as candidates fight in “invisible primaries” for endorsements by prominent politicians and interest groups. The voters, it argued, tended to ratify these choices and rally around candidates with widespread and prestigious support.

But like John Kenneth Galbraith’s 1967 book The New Industrial State, which argued that big corporations, tempered by big government and big labor unions, determined the course of the economy, The Party Decides turned out to be a better description of the recent past than an accurate forecast of the near-term future. Political science, despite its name, is not a science, and generalizations about presidential elections are risky because there have been so few of them—only 46 since something like the current two-party system sprang into existence in 1832 and only 11 since primaries started dominating the selection of party nominees in 1972…

One way to look at this election is as a collision of an irresistible force with an immovable object. This irresistible force is the widespread discontent with the direction of the nation today. The immoveble object is the persistent partisan divisions that have prevailed and intensified in presidential, congressional, and state elections over the past twenty years.

The sources of the irresistible force of discontent are not hard to discern. After resurgent growth and victory in the Cold War in the 1980s, and continuing economic growth in the 1990s, the 21st century brought Americans 15 years of mostly sluggish growth and a series of mostly unsuccessful, or at least inconclusive, foreign military interventions. Major legislation passed by one-party votes, notably the 2009 stimulus package and the 2010 Affordable Care Act, have proved to be far less popular than their sponsors expected. Major bipartisan legislation, frequent in Bill Clinton’s presidency and the first term of George W. Bush’s, has become rare if not extinct, with a President lacking the inclination and skill to negotiate and a Republican House majority often unwilling to trust its leadership.

This discontent found an outlet in the disruptive candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Each attracted constituencies different from those in his party’s recent nomination contests… Read More > at AEI

Zika, Rio And The Rising Health Hazards Of Megacities – The biggest problem facing the Rio Games may not be the filthy venues for aquatic events, or even security concerns in one of the world’s highest crime cities, but basic public health. The fears of transmission of Zika virus may be overblown, given that it’s the winter in Brazil and mosquito populations will be lower, but travelers run a real risk of contracting food-borne illnesses and influenza, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

Rio, covering an urban area of over 11 million, belongs to a class of developing world megacities that, in too many cases, have become “a breeding ground for infectious diseases,” according to researcher Carl-Johan Neiderud, including another feared mosquito-born scourge, dengue.

Outbreaks of new pandemics have become increasingly common in the developing world, where urban growth is now three times faster in low-income countries than in their higher-income counterparts. Developing country megacities already represent the majority of the world’s 29 urban areas with over 10 million residents. The United Nations predicts 16 more megacities could emerge by 2030, all but one in the developing world.

This is a problem not only for developing countries, but the health of the world. Zika, like dengue, may have proliferated in unsanitary, dense cities in the developing world, but it’s spreading to the United States. The FDA just called for Miami and Fort Lauderdale to halt blood donations due to cases discovered locally. The number of those infected is climbing in Puerto Rico as well. How long before other wet, hot parts of America — say east Texas and Louisiana – also report infections?

Why is this happening? David Heymann, head of the center on global health security at Chatham House and a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, blames our interconnected world. Even megacities in the most impoverished countries are just an airline trip away from the rest of the world. Once a disease starts in a developing country, he says, it’s likely to find its way into more prosperous ones as well. Read More > in Forbes

Generation Safe Space Is Having Less Sex: Thanks A Lot, Capitalism. (Seriously, Thanks.) – Millennials aren’t having as much sex as older folks, which is cause for either widespread panic—ugh, kids these days—or a collective sigh of relief—yay, kids these days—depending upon what sort of moral panics one subscribes to.

The news comes courtesy of a study released Tuesday: “Sexual Inactivity During Young Adulthood Is More Common Among U.S. Millennials and iGen: Age, Period, and Cohort Effects on Having No Sexual Partners After Age 18.” It contains a lot of interesting findings, but the big one is that people born in the 1990s are twice as likely to refrain from sex during their early 20s as members of the previous generation were. Older millennials*—those born in the 1980s—are having more sex than younger millennials, too.

It’s not just that young people are waiting longer to have sex (although that’s true, too: the percentage of high schoolers engaged in sexual activity has fallen from 54 percent to 41 percent over the last 25 tears). It’s that people in their 20s who have had sex before—they aren’t, say, morally opposed to premarital sex—are consciously deciding to pursue other activities.

Researchers note that there is an upside to all this: less people having risky, unsafe sex is definitely a good thing from the standpoint of fighting disease and preventing unwanted pregnancy. It also might reflect changing consent norms and the empowerment of women. Maybe fewer people are being forced to have uncomfortable or undesired sex. Read More > at Reason

U.S. police body camera policies put civil rights at risk: study – Police forces in 50 U.S. cities are failing to protect the civil rights and privacy of residents due to the inadequacy of programs that govern how their officers use body-worn cameras, a report by a coalition of rights groups said on Tuesday.

“Body cameras carry the promise of officer accountability, but accountability is far from automatic,” Harlan Yu, principal of Upturn, said on a conference call with reporters

“Without carefully crafted policy safeguards, these devices could become instruments of injustice rather than tools of accountability,” Wade Henderson, the coalition’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. (Link to the report: http://www.bwcscorecard.org/) Read More > in Reuters

Hacking An Election: Why It’s Not As Far-Fetched As You Might Think – The recent hacking of Democratic Party databases — and strong suspicions that the Russian government is involved — have led to new fears that America’s voting systems are vulnerable to attack and that an outsider could try to disrupt the upcoming elections.

A cyberattack on U.S. elections isn’t as far-fetched as you might think. Just a week and a half ago, Illinois election officials shut down that state’s voter registration database after discovering it had been hacked. In June, Arizona took its voter registration system offline after the FBI warned it too might have been hacked, although no evidence of that was found.

In May, security analyst David Levin was arrested after he gained access to the Lee County, Fla., elections website. Levin said in a YouTube video he was only trying to show how vulnerable the system was: “Yeah, you could be in Siberia and still perform the attack that I performed on the local supervisor of election website. So this is very important.” The county says the problems were later fixed.

…The problem is exacerbated by the fact that U.S. elections are locally run, with thousands of different systems and varying degrees of security. The good news is that a growing number of voters are using machines that have paper backups to double-check any suspicious results.

“Today, 80 percent of Americans will vote either on a paper ballot that’s read by a scanner, or on an electronic voting machine that has a paper trail that they can review,” says Larry Norden with the Brennan Center for Justice in New York.

But that also means 20 percent of voters don’t use a paper-backed system — including a large number in the key battleground states of Pennsylvania and Virginia. Security experts argue that if those machines are hacked, it might be almost impossible to know. Norden thinks election officials have to take steps now to ensure it doesn’t happen. Read More > at NPR

The Cheapest Generation – …How do you sell cars to Millennials (a k a Generation Y)? The fact is, today’s young people simply don’t drive like their predecessors did. In 2010, adults between the ages of 21 and 34 bought just 27 percent of all new vehicles sold in America, down from the peak of 38 percent in 1985. Miles driven are down, too. Even the proportion of teenagers with a license fell, by 28 percent, between 1998 and 2008.

…All of these strategies share a few key assumptions: that demand for cars within the Millennial generation is just waiting to be unlocked; that as the economy slowly recovers, today’s young people will eventually want to buy cars as much as their parents and grandparents did; that a finer-tuned appeal to Millennial values can coax them into dealerships.

Perhaps. But what if these assumptions are simply wrong? What if Millennials’ aversion to car-buying isn’t a temporary side effect of the recession, but part of a permanent generational shift in tastes and spending habits? It’s a question that applies not only to cars, but to several other traditional categories of big spending—most notably, housing. And its answer has large implications for the future shape of the economy—and for the speed of recovery.

…Needless to say, the Great Recession is responsible for some of the decline. But it’s highly possible that a perfect storm of economic and demographic factors—from high gas prices, to re-­urbanization, to stagnating wages, to new technologies enabling a different kind of consumption—has fundamentally changed the game for Millennials. The largest generation in American history might never spend as lavishly as its parents did—nor on the same things. Since the end of World War II, new cars and suburban houses have powered the world’s largest economy and propelled our most impressive recoveries. Millennials may have lost interest in both.

…The typical new car costs $30,000 and sits in a garage or parking spot for 23 hours a day. Zipcar gives drivers access to cars they don’t have to own. Car ownership, meanwhile, has slipped down the hierarchy of status goods for many young adults. “Zipcar conducted a survey of Millennials,” Mark Norman, the company’s president and chief operating officer, told us. “And this generation said, ‘We don’t care about owning a car.’ Cars used to be what people aspired to own. Now it’s the smartphone.” Read More > in The Atlantic

Bay Area housing prices surpass last bubble’s record to hit an all-time high – Housing prices in the Bay Area are now higher than they were at the peak of the nation’s last housing bubble, hitting an all-time high, new data from statistics database Statista shows.

Business Insider crunched the platform’s numbers and found that median housing prices in the Bay have now officially passed their summer of 2007 peak of $665,000, achieved during the country’s last housing bubble. That new high has been created by a perfect storm of factors that have included the desirability of living in the area, not much new housing stock and a booming business sector with high wages.

“In addition to high tech salaries paid by companies like Apple, Alphabet (Google), and Facebook, Bay Area home prices are driven by foreign investment, regulations and market forces that discourage new housing, and the simple fact that lots of people want to live here,” Business Insider reports. Read More > in The San Francisco Business Times

What’s Ahead For U.S. Cities: Getting Around On A Driverless Bus – When residents outside San Francisco need to catch the train, the perennial question of how to get to the closest station may soon have a high-tech answer — a driverless, electric bus.

Two such shuttles are slated to hit the road later this year at a San Francisco Bay Area test facility before they embark on a test route in 2017 between a private business park and a nearby train station operated by Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART.

“We want this technology to be deployed — if it works — as soon as possible, because this solves a problem for our constituents,” said Randy Iwasaki, executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, a county agency that oversees the test facility. The county, east of San Francisco, is only partially served by three BART train lines.

Autonomous shuttles don’t need special infrastructure and can technically travel anywhere, but given their low speed, they’re ideally suited to cover short distances. Transportation planners are eager to roll out autonomous buses in the suburbs or outlying urban areas for residents who want to take mass transit, but need to drive or walk a long way to catch a bus or train.

…Iwasaki expects the French-made EasyMile buses in Contra Costa to help the county meet rigorous greenhouse gas reduction goals laid out by the state. Read More > in Forbes

You’re Bad at Remembering Names Because There’s No Reason You Should Be Good at It – …But so many people say they struggle with names, even when they’re looking directly at the person whose name they’re trying to recall. I’ve done this myself. It makes for a very awkward wedding ceremony.

Why does this happen? Why can we recognize someone’s face but not their name? Surely both are equally valid ways of identifying someone? We need to delve a bit deeper into how human memory works to grasp what’s really going on.

Firstly, faces are very informative. Expressions, eye contact, mouth movements, these are all fundamental ways humans communicate. Facial features also reveal a lot about a person: eye color, hair color, bone structure, teeth arrangement; all things that can be used to recognize a person. So much so that the human brain has seemingly evolved several features to aid and enhance facial recognition and processing, such as pattern recognition and a general predisposition to pick out faces in random images.

Compared to all this, what does someone’s name have to offer? Potentially some clues as to their background or cultural origin, but in general it’s just a couple of words, a sequence of arbitrary syllables, a brief series of noises that you’re informed belong to a specific face. But so what?

As it turns out, for a random piece of conscious information to go from short-term memory to long-term memory, it usually has to be repeated and rehearsed. However, you can sometimes skip this step, particularly if the information is attached to something deeply important or stimulating, meaning an episodic memory is formed. If you meet someone and they’re the most beautiful person you’ve ever seen and you fall instantly in love, you’d be whispering the object of your affection’s name to yourself for weeks. Read More > at Science of Us

America’s Electronic Voting Machines Are Scarily Easy Targets – This week, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump openly speculated that this election would be “rigged.” Last month, Russia decided to take an active role in our election. There’s no basis for questioning the results of a vote that’s still months away. But the interference and aspersions do merit a fresh look at the woeful state of our outdated, insecure electronic voting machines.

We’ve previously discussed the sad state of electronic voting machines in America, but it’s worth a closer look as we approach election day itself, and within the context of increased cyber-hostilities between the US and Russia. Besides, by now states have had plenty of warning since a damning report by the Brennan Center for Justice about our voting machine vulnerabilities came out last September. Surely matters must have improved since then.

Well, not exactly. In fact, not really at all.

Most people remember the vote-counting debacle of the 2000 election, the dangling chads that resulted in the Supreme Court breaking a Bush-Gore deadlock. What people may not remember is the resulting Help America Vote Act (HAVA), passed in 2002, which among other objectives worked to phase out the use of the punchcard voting systems that had caused millions of ballots to be tossed.

In many cases, those dated machines were replaced with electronic voting systems. The intentions were pure. The consequences were a technological train wreck.

The list of those problems is what you’d expect from any computer or, more specifically, any computer that’s a decade or older. Most of these machines are running Windows XP, for which Microsoft hasn’t released a security patch since April 2014. Though there’s no evidence of direct voting machine interference to date, researchers have demonstrated that many of them are susceptible to malware or, equally if not more alarming, a well-timed denial of service attack.

The extent of vulnerability isn’t just hypothetical; late last summer, Virginia decertified thousands of insecure WinVote machines. As one security researcher described it, “anyone within a half mile could have modified every vote, undetected” without “any technical expertise.” The vendor had gone out of business years prior. Read More > at Wired

What’s the Matter With San Francisco? – I moved to San Francisco for its radical politics. Lots of people did, for generations. Maybe it was like moving to Los Angeles if you longed to be a movie star: If you wanted to be part of the grand project of reconstructing the American Left in the petri dish of a single city, San Francisco beckoned.

The quirky, counter-cultural San Francisco so many of us fell in love with is almost gone now, destroyed by high housing costs. We’ve lost not only the politics, but all kinds of cultural experimentation that just doesn’t thrive in places that are expensive.

…But progressive San Francisco had a fatal, Shakespearean flaw that would prove to be its undoing: It decided early on to be against new buildings. It decided that new development, with the exception of publicly subsidized affordable housing, was not welcome.

At the outset, let’s say the late 1960s, this stance seemed logical, even urgent. The previous era of city building had brought terrible projects of urban destruction: bulldozing black neighborhoods, ramming freeways through cities, building foreboding public housing towers. Across the country the movement to roll back modernist urban planning took on a preservationist bent: Since the bad guys were trying to destroy the city, the good guys needed to defend it from change.

But somewhere between 1970 and 2000, the context changed. It was, in fact, one of the most profound cultural and demographic shifts in American history: after years of suburban migration, people started moving to cities again.

…When San Francisco should have been building at least 5,000 new housing units a year to deal with the growing demand to live here, it instead averaged only about 1,500 a year over the course of several decades. In a world where we have the ability to control the supply of housing locally, but people still have the freedom to move where they want, all of this has played out in predictable ways. Read More > at Citylab

Medical benefits of dental floss unproven – It’s one of the most universal recommendations in all of public health: Floss daily to prevent gum disease and cavities.

Except there’s little proof that flossing works.

Still, the federal government, dental organizations and manufacturers of floss have pushed the practice for decades. Dentists provide samples to their patients; the American Dental Association insists on its website that, “Flossing is an essential part of taking care of your teeth and gums.”

The federal government has recommended flossing since 1979, first in a surgeon general’s report and later in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued every five years. The guidelines must be based on scientific evidence, under the law.

Last year, the Associated Press asked the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture for their evidence, and followed up with written requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

When the federal government issued its latest dietary guidelines this year, the flossing recommendation had been removed, without notice. In a letter to the AP, the government acknowledged the effectiveness of flossing had never been researched, as required.

The AP looked at the most rigorous research conducted over the past decade, focusing on 25 studies that generally compared the use of a toothbrush with the combination of toothbrushes and floss. The findings? The evidence for flossing is “weak, very unreliable,” of “very low” quality, and carries “a moderate to large potential for bias.” Read More > in The Washington Post

Chip Card Nightmares? Help Is on the Way – 1. Swipe card.2. Get scolded by cashier to use the chip reader.3. Insert chip and cancel all foreseeable plans.4. Wait.5. Wait some more.6. Celebrate once you hear that joyless “Remove card” sound.

Next time you experience this, I want you to remember that it’s not you. It’s the banks, credit card companies, merchants, payment processors, terminal manufacturers and many others that have created this checkout catastrophe. But there’s a ray of hope: Your smartphone.

After pulling out the stopwatch for over 50 transactions at various retailers in recent days, I can confirm that it takes twice as long to pay with a chip card than with a card swipe or mobile payment—on average, 13 seconds versus 6 seconds.

It is completely understandable to think the U.S. transition to more secure chip-based credit cards—years after the rest of the world—is the worst thing to ever happen to our payment system. Except I now believe it’s the best thing.

Yes, there are serious security benefits to chip cards, and the transactions will get drastically faster, from what I have seen. But the real payoff? The technology that supports chip cards is also laying the groundwork for the death of all plastic cards. Smartphones will replace our wallets once and for all.

…Hardware makers and credit-card companies are owning up to their role in this card-pocalypse, and are working to speed up check-out times. With new quicker chip options, instead of leaving the card in the terminal during the entire transaction, you can pull it out after two seconds and put it away.

This week, New Leaf Community Markets, a small Bay Area grocery chain based in Santa Cruz, Calif., is expected to be first in the country to update its registers with the faster system. In a live video demo, it worked as promised. Just a few seconds until you see that glorious “Please Remove Your Card” prompt. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Email at home hurts employees, study finds – Being always-on, along with pressure to answer email out of work hours, is leading to dangerous levels of emotional exhaustion, a study has found. As a result, employees are experiencing burnout, absenteeism and low job productivity.

The report suggests that managers are kidding themselves when they think workers checking email at home adds to productivity. The folks are, in fact, feeling like they never left the workspace and aren’t able to mentally detach from work, which is something experts say is necessary for family balance and emotional health.

The technology that’s supposedly there to help them is failing them, the Lehigh University in Pennsylvania press release about report says. And “modern workplace technologies may be hurting the very employees those technologies were designed to help.”

The workers didn’t need to do any actual work, even, to suffer. The mere expectation of email that might have to be addressed at home caused the destructive issue. The researchers say it’s serious, and they place it alongside “high workload, interpersonal conflicts, physical environment or time pressure.” Read More > at NetworkWorld

Cities In Southern California Can’t Escape The Fire At Their Door – …Though the majority of the land scorched in the Sand fire is public and less developed, flames have also spilled into the “wildland-urban interface” (or WUI), which is “where houses meet or intermingle with wildland vegetation,” in the phrasing of the Forest Service. Fires in the WUI are often harder and costlier to fight. While firefighters work to protect homes and property, they are unable to focus on suppressing a fire, giving wildfires more opportunity to spread farther and last longer. Protecting homes also requires more expensive equipment such as planes and helicopters and more personnel, adding to the cost. These financial burdens strain an already tight Forest Service budget: 52 percent of the Forest Service budget for the 2015 fiscal year went toward fire-related costs, up from 16 percent in 1995. What’s more, as suppression costs rise, less money goes toward conservation programs that could reduce fire potential.

… A third of California’s homes are built in the WUI, and California has the most homes (and the greatest population) in the WUI of any state. When I looked to see which cities in the country had the most fires, 11 of the top 16 were in Southern California, including Santa Clarita, which was third on the list.

…So should we all abandon our homes in scenic forested areas and take for the relative safety of concrete and pavement? Basic precautions can be taken, says Tidwell, that will greatly reduce the risk of fire, even in the WUI. Homeowners should retrofit structures with fire-resistant materials and create “defensible space” around their homes that is clear of brush and other potential fuel. Dr. Kimiko Barrett, a geographer at the non-profit research group Headwaters Economics, agreed and added that local decision makers have an important part to play in reducing the threat of fire. After the devastating Cedar fire in San Diego in 2003, the city implemented strict brush management policies for homeowners with regular on-site inspections. “The unfortunate thing,” Barrett said, “is that awareness often comes after the fact.” We shouldn’t wait, she said, for a devastating fire to remind us that we must protect ourselves against disaster. Read More > at FiveThirtyEight

Startup Otto Aims To Leapfrog To First In Self-Driving Vehicles With Big Trucks – Google’s push to perfect self-driving cars sparked the current race among automakers and tech companies to commercialize the technology for passenger vehicles. For two former Google engineers, the projected timetable for introducing truly autonomous cars, sometime around 2020, is too far off.

Instead, Lior Ron, former Product Lead for Google Maps, and Anthony Levandowski, who was Technical Lead for Google’s self-driving car division, see long-haul commercial trucks as a faster entry point to an era of robotic vehicles. In January they launched Otto, a self-funded startup operating out of a 50,000-square-foot San Francisco warehouse. They’re readying an option for truck owners to upgrade their vehicles with a package of software, sensors, cameras, radar, LIDAR and automated steering and braking technology that they say would allow 18-wheelers to drive autonomously on U.S. highways.

Instead, Lior Ron, former Product Lead for Google Maps, and Anthony Levandowski, who was Technical Lead for Google’s self-driving car division, see long-haul commercial trucks as a faster entry point to an era of robotic vehicles. In January they launched Otto, a self-funded startup operating out of a 50,000-square-foot San Francisco warehouse. They’re readying an option for truck owners to upgrade their vehicles with a package of software, sensors, cameras, radar, LIDAR and automated steering and braking technology that they say would allow 18-wheelers to drive autonomously on U.S. highways.

As of this month, Otto’s 90-member team has outfitted five Volvo 780 semis with its autonomous drive system and is operating the trucks with three shifts a day, seven days a week in road tests in states including California, Arizona and Nevada. Otto is in talks with interests across the trucking industry that Ron declined to identify. For now, the company also isn’t sharing plans for additional fundraising. Read More > in Forbes

PG&E customers face triple whammy in gas and electric bills – PG&E’s customers face a triple whammy in the coming months with higher monthly gas and electricity costs, even so the utility argued Monday that ratepayers still pay below the national average.

The array of increases in power rates began on Monday — the first day of higher gas bills that are rolling out to customers throughout August.

Before Monday’s hike, total monthly bills for residential customers averaged $145.36. Once all the approved and proposed increases are in effect, monthly power bills could jump to $158.21.

That would be an 8.7 percent increase from the end of July, or $12.65 a month — if PG&E gets everything it requests, combined with what it has been awarded by a recent state regulatory decision.

…In June, the state Public Utilities Commission gave final approval to higher gas bills connected to a gas transmission and storage case that became a crucial proceeding in the wake of a fatal explosion in San Bruno. In the June ruling, the PUC authorized higher monthly gas bills, effective Monday.

The latest increases may just be the start.

The PUC is pondering PG&E’s request for higher gas and electricity rates, as part of a general rate case that could be decided by the end of December. Read More > in the East Bay Times

Nuts, by the truckload, make appetizing targets for thieves – Almonds, pistachios and other high-value nuts are an appealing commodity for not only health nuts, but also more recently to highly sophisticated criminal organizations in the San Joaquin valley.

A cargo theft specialist describes the motivation behind a crime wave hitting California’s lucrative tree nut industry: “It’s not easy to track a nut.”

It’s also not easy to immediately detect the criminals strategically robbing millions of dollars in nut cargo. But that’s what’s facing growers, the industry and authorities in California, where nut production brought in $9.3 billion in 2014.

While over 600,000 loads or 310.847 tons of tree nuts were stolen last year, the majority of robberies involve no breaking in. Rather, criminal organizations are exploiting the industry’s weaknesses and scamming their way through the system via strategic cargo theft, said CargoNet, a cargo theft prevention and recovery network. Read More > at CNN

BREAKING: Chinese Mole Uncovered Inside the FBI – Today the Department of Justice revealed that a longtime employee of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been charged with espionage on behalf of China, his homeland. Kun Shan Chun, who was employed by the FBI since 1997, was arrested back in March of this year and has already pleaded guilty to his betrayal.

Chun, who went by “Joey,” worked for nearly two decades as an electronics technician with the FBI’s huge New York field office, where ten percent of the Bureau is assigned. He held Top Secret security clearances since 1998. Part of his job, as one of the legions of technical personnel who support the FBI’s storied special agents, included accessing classified information. It seems safe to assume that was what Chun was sharing with Beijing.

Chun admitted that, from 2011 to 2016, he passed sensitive information to a Chinese official whom he knew to be a government representative, i.e. a spy. Among the classified information he passed included the identity and travel plans of an FBI agent, an internal organizational chart, plus photos taken by Chun of documents in a restricted area related to surveillance technology. Read More > in the Observer

The Department of Veterans Affairs Blew $1.2 Million on Decorative Rock Sculptures – As long waiting times and bureaucratic inertia left veterans unable to get medical care, the federal Department of Veteran’s Affairs was spending more than $1.2 million on a giant rock.

The “large decorative rock” outside the VA’s Palo Alto Health Care System cost $489,000. The VA also paid another $800,000 to prepare the site for the rock’s installation, according to a new report from Open The Books, a government spending watchdog.

That’s one of the more questionable purchases detailed in the new report, which looks at how the VA spent more than $20 million between 2004 and 2014 on luxury artwork.

“Included in the expenditures is a 27-foot artificial Christmas tree for $21,500 delivered to Chillicothe, Ohio and two sculptures costing $670,000 for a VA facility in California that serves blind veterans,” reported Open The Books. Read More > at Reason

Can Counties Fix Rural America’s Endless Recession? – …Job training is all well and good, in other words, but it doesn’t serve much purpose if there aren’t any jobs to be had. Last year, Oregon was tied with California as having the fastest-growing economy of any state, but almost all the action was in Portland. Half of the jobs in the state are now in a three-county metropolitan area. In four out of 10 rural counties in the state, employment remains substantially below where it was prior to the recession.

There’s a similar problem throughout rural America. While some metro areas are thriving, two out of three rural counties have experienced a net loss in their total number of businesses since 2010, after the recession had technically ended. According to a recent report by the Economic Innovation Group, half the new businesses started throughout the nation since 2010 were created in just 20 counties, out of more than 3,000 nationwide.

Urban America recovers from recessions, but rural America no longer seems able to. “You look all across this country and some of these places are dying,” says Seth McKee, an expert on rural politics at Texas Tech University. “They’re either going to be wiped off the map, or they’re getting smaller and smaller and there’s nothing to sustain them.”

That may be overstating the case, but it’s no longer far-fetched to talk about permanent, Appalachian-style poverty spreading across rural America. There just aren’t enough jobs. By now, it’s a familiar story that many manufacturing plants have shut down or moved and taken their jobs with them. The prevailing fear of the moment — that robots are going to take over all the work — has already happened in agriculture. A machine knows more about the exact fat and protein content of the milk from every cow it touches than a human hand ever would. Farmers are becoming almost as likely to plant sensors as seeds, helping them map out where their drones should apply fertilizer. Already, farms account for less than 1 percent of employment, but the number of agriculture jobs is projected to decline another 6 percent by 2024. Read More > at Governing

Help for Middle-of-the Night Insomnia – It is a frustratingly common scenario: You fall asleep easily at bedtime but are wide awake at 2 or 3 in the morning. Only after a half-hour or more of staring at the ceiling can you finally fall back to sleep. This middle-of-the-night insomnia happens to everyone every once in awhile. It is an appropriate, normal response to stress, doctors say.

But for a significant number of people it can become a chronic disorder. In fact, this type of insomnia is the most common, more so than having trouble falling asleep at bedtime.

About 30% of American adults have symptoms of some sort of insomnia each year, according to scientific studies. Chronic insomnia is generally defined as having difficulty sleeping at least three times a week for three months or more.

…The best thing to do to prevent an occasional bout of middle-of-the-night insomnia from turning into a chronic problem seems simple: “Nothing,” says Dr. Perlis. “Don’t sleep in. Don’t nap. Don’t go to bed early the next day and everything will turn out fine.”

Compensating for sleep loss can fuel chronic insomnia, because it can make it tougher to sleep the next night. It is better to use caffeine to power through the day, Dr. Perlis says. If you have to get extra rest because of an important work presentation, go to bed later the next night. “Balance the books,” he says. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

These 6 major issues — and 1 big unknown — will confront lawmakers returning to Sacramento – California’s two-year legislative session will come to a close at the end of August, which means the next few weeks will see a sprint of public policy infused with interest-group politics on as many as 1,500 bills.

The August proceedings in the second year of a legislative term, before lawmakers return home for the fall campaign season, are historically fraught with intense last-minute negotiations and private deals.

In short, it’s seen as an opportunity to push through controversial plans by twisting the arms of lawmakers either in need of support for the November election or those who are ineligible to run again because of term limits and thus are more willing to cast votes that once had been too politically dangerous.

Even with a large number of issues on tap, a few key policy battles likely will garner the most significant attention. Here are a few worth watching.

A climate change clash: Will lawmakers extend California’s landmark law?

Next month, the state law that mandates a rollback to 1990 greenhouse gas levels celebrates its 10th anniversary. And it has sparked an intense debate about whether the law needs to be renewed and, if so, whether to also expand the state’s climate change goals.

A final push on affordable housing, and a tough one for Brown

When striking a state budget deal in June, Brown and lawmakers agreed to spend $400 million on low-income housing subsidies if the Legislature passed a bill in line with the governor’s idea to streamline local approval for developments that reserved units for low-income Californians. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Shale Ready to Tango with the Saudis – When oil prices first started falling two summers back, market observers turned their attention to OPEC to see if the cartel would constrain production to stop the slide. But Saudi Arabia strong-armed its fellow petrostates into staying put, reasoning that market share was more important than robust prices, and so oil fell down below $30 per barrel earlier this year before rebounding into the $40s where it remains today. Riyadh’s reasoning was based on the assumption that bargain prices would hurt upstart non-OPEC producers (read: American shale firms) more than it would hurt the big petrostates, and its strategy of inaction has been somewhat successful: U.S. oil production is down roughly one million barrels per day from a year ago.

But this dip is hardly the precipitous fall the Saudis were hoping for. Shale production is relatively expensive, but U.S. frackers have innovated their way out of a tight spot and managed to keep the oil flowing in quantities most analysts expected wouldn’t be possible in today’s price environment. But a slower-than-expected decline isn’t the only trick shale has up its sleeve, because as Reuters reports, one fracking company believes it can compete on cost with Saudi Arabia’s mega-fields…

This doesn’t mean that every shale well could stay online if prices suddenly plunged below $10 (Pioneer is citing its lowest cost wells in its most productive fields here), but it does evince one of the underlying strengths of the American shale boom: its ability to constantly improve, iterate, and innovate new techniques and technologies to bring costs down while boosting output. Read More > at The American Interest

Not Much Is New in This Election – The United States now knows who the candidates of the two major political parties are. One of these two will most likely become president of the United States in January. As usual, each candidate and their partisans are predicting total catastrophe if the other wins. There are also claims that there has never been an election like this in history. As is normally the case, the candidate of the party out of power is claiming that the United States has reached a catastrophic point because of the current government. The other candidate is saying that the country is not collapsing but that it will collapse if the opposition’s candidate is elected.

This is pretty normal stuff, including the belief by much of the public that there has never been such an election before. But that is wrong. There have been others with much more at stake. The 1860 election resulted in a civil war that killed 600,000 soldiers on both sides. In 1968, the leading candidate of the Democratic Party, Robert Kennedy, was murdered after winning the California primary. Martin Luther King Jr. had been murdered a few months before and the Democratic Convention was held amid massive riots outside the convention hall. In the end, Richard Nixon was elected, about which no more needs to be said. In the 2000 general election, there was a recount in Florida and the case wound up in the Supreme Court. The Democrats continue to claim the election was stolen.

On a minor note, John F. Kennedy was the first Catholic running for president and some people seriously believed that he would be controlled by the Pope. Some also believed Ronald Reagan was a hack actor without any knowledge of the world and unqualified to be president. The same thing was said of Harry Truman when he ran in 1948, after serving as president for over three years. Chevy Chase portrayed Gerald Ford as too stupid to walk without falling over during the 1976 election. Barry Goldwater, in 1964, was accused by a bunch of psychiatrists who had never met him of being psychologically unstable. Lyndon B. Johnson was accused of being a criminal in 1964 because he became a multi-millionaire without ever holding a job outside government. Read More > at Geopolitical Futures

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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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