Sunday Reading – 08/14/16


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.

Ending daylight saving time in California closer to the ballot – Daylight saving time in California is closer to the ballot.

Assembly Bill 385, which would end the tradition of turning clocks back, passed a tough Senate committee on Thursday.

If the bill gets through the Senate floor, it will go to the governor’s desk and if it’s signed it will head to the ballot, likely 2018’s, for a public vote. Read More > at ABC 10

California Legislature Kills Fentanyl, Whistleblower Protection Bills – California lawmakers churned through more than 500 bills one-by-one in the blink of an eye Thursday.

The Senate and Assembly appropriations committees froze some measures while advancing and amending others – all without any debate or explanation.

Among the noteworthy measures that died:

  • stronger criminal penalties for illegal distribution of fentanyl, a powerful opioid that health officials say is responsible for multiple deaths and hospitalizations in recent months;
  • a bill that would have given whistleblower protection to legislative employees, who unlike other state workers do not have such protection
  • a tax on medical marijuana growers
  • a reduction in the fine for drivers who roll through red lights without stopping before making right turns
  • a bill that would have strengthened rape kit reporting requirements
  • a state tax break on Olympic medals
  • a bill that would have extended the “school district of choice” program, which allows parents to transfer their children to a willing school district without the agreement of the district that child lives in. The program is currently set to expire at the end of the 2016-2017 school year.

More than 350 bills advanced, but even some measures that moved on weren’t left untouched. Read More > from Capital Public Radio

These States Are at the Greatest Risk of Having Their Voting Process Hacked – Not everything belongs on the Internet, and the American electoral process is a textbook example. But 31 states don’t see it that way.

The recent cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee has raised the specter of an Internet-based assault on the democratic process in the U.S., leading computer security experts to call on the federal government to do more to protect the voting process from hackers.

Since national elections involve some 9,000 separate jurisdictions, and they use a variety of technologies, the problem at first appears to be hopelessly complex. But there is a simple way to manage the risk of cybercrime: keep voting off the Internet.

Many states are currently exposing their systems to the risk of cyberattack by allowing voters to return absentee ballots via poorly secured e-mail, Web portals, or Internet-connected fax machines.

Internet-based voting has obvious potential benefits, especially for voters who live outside the country and for people in the military. But most security experts agree that it is not technically feasible to guarantee the security of online voting systems at this point.

Of the 31 states that now do this, 29 allow it only for military and overseas voters, and several of those impose fairly tight restrictions on the process, according to Verified Voting. Utah extends the option to voters with disabilities, too. Alaska allows any voter in the state to use a Web portal to return a completed ballot. Read More > at MIT Technology Review

Yelp will soon let you skip the line at restaurants thanks to Nowait partnership – Yelp and Nowait announced a partnership that will enable Yelp users to check nearby restaurants’ wait times and “get in line” remotely from the Yelp app. Yelp will be making an $8 million strategic investment as part of the partnership, which was announced as part as Yelp’s 2Q earnings release yesterday.

Based in Pittsburgh, PA, Nowait is a mobile platform that has a network of more than 4,000 casual-dining restaurants across the country, including national chains such as Chili’s and First Watch. By using the Nowait guest app, users can see how long they would have to wait at a restaurant that does not accept reservations, as well as put their names on the waitlist without being physically present at a restaurant.

When their table is ready, users get a text message. Customers can also text back to say they’re running late, and restaurants can decide whether or not to hold the table for them. Read More > at Techcrunch

College Football Becomes Latest Goal Line for LGBT Activists – The Big 12 will be making a big mistake if the college sports conference cowers at the latest assault on the First Amendment and freedom of religion by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender activists.

Ten teams currently make up the Big 12 conference, but discussions are underway about whether to add two to four schools, and if so, which ones.

Normally, the main considerations when picking new universities to join would be: What is their fan base? How large is their stadium? How strong are their ticket sales? And will they increase the conference’s opportunities to get more games nationally televised?

In other words, what do potential schools bring to the table that will make a conference more competitive and more profitable?

Considering the above, of all the schools thought to be in contention to join the Big 12, Brigham Young University should be a top contender. It most certainly has a larger national following than several other teams said to be in the running, such as Cincinnati, Northern Illinois, or Memphis.

But there is just one problem. Brigham Young, a university run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has an honor code that, shocker of shockers, aligns with its religious beliefs.

One of those Mormon beliefs is that homosexual behavior is incompatible with the church’s religious tenets. That has the LGBT bully community all aflutter and demanding that the Big 12 not allow BYU to enter the conference because, in their view, the university has an “express policy of discriminating against same-sex couples and LGBTQ students.” Read More > at The Daily Signal

The Lesson of the Delta Debacle: The Future Isn’t That Fast – You probably saw the reports about a power outage that led to a massive failure in the Delta Air Lines online reservation system. Hundreds of flights were cancelled, and they’re still not done sorting it out. This followed another failure earlier for Southwest Airlines.

Note that part of the problem was “antiquated technology,” as mergers in the airline industry piled legacy system on top of legacy system and left them “reliant on IT systems that date from the 1990s.” Certainly, the airlines might be able to create a more reliable system by building the whole thing up from scratch with new technology. But that’s actually quite expensive and difficult, requiring new equipment and extensive training…

From this little debacle in one industry, we can draw some important lessons for the future of technological change in every industry. The main lesson is that the future rarely arrives as fast as it seems like it should.

That’s worth pointing out because sometimes both the boosters and the alarmists assume that new technology will change the world much more rapidly and extensively than is really likely. Take a recent Vox analysis worrying about the sudden disappearance of relatively well-paid blue-collar trucking jobs as self-driving trucks take over. The key line is: “Maybe it’s two years, maybe five, maybe 10, but either way, the trajectory is toward drivers being put out of business.” Now, let’s stipulate that any estimate that vague should probably just be shortened to: “I don’t know.” But given that autonomous vehicles are still very much in the testing phase, it’s definitely not going to be two years, and it probably won’t even be ten years…

…The first is that self-driving trucks are going to be expensive. The new computers and software and sensors will require a significant layout of capital that will be used only for the most high-value applications first. The nation’s entire long-haul trucking fleet costs billions of dollars to replace, and that will be done over a long period of time.

So a combination of the expense of replacing older vehicles and the continuing limitations of new vehicles mean that we’re likely to see a very long phase-in for self-driving technology…

This is why the alarmists are wrong. The history of technology and of the economy is a history of constant disruption, to which we are constantly adapting. But it is also a history of non-disruption, of old ways that persist because they still work, and because for some uses, it’s just too much cost and trouble to replace them. Read More > at Real Clear Future

Flying cars could become a reality in just 5 years – Peter Diamandis, a board member of Hyperloop One, told Business Insider that personal forms of flying transportation — whether that be flying cars or personal drones — will be a reality in select places in just five years.

“I think we’ll see a lot of demos happening in the next two or three years,” he said. “And I think we’ll see, within five years, we’ll start to see them in specific places. We’ll start to hear a lot about it in the fall.”

Terrafugia is another flying car start-up attempting to have the technology ready by 2025.

Diamandis said that flying transportation systems will fundamentally change how we commute. People could live farther away from the city they work in and opt to take a personal drone to a select landing location. A driverless car could then pick them up and drive them to their final location. Read More > at the Business Insider 

I already live in the future — and so should you – I drive a Tesla electric vehicle, which controls the steering wheel on highways. My house in Menlo Park, Calif., is a “passive” home that expends minimal energy on heating or cooling. With the solar panels on my roof, my energy bills are close to zero — and that includes charging the car. My iPhone is encased in a cradle laced with electronic sensors that I can place against my chest to generate a detailed electrocardiogram. Because I have a history of heart trouble, including a life-threatening heart attack, knowing that I can communicate with my doctors in seconds is a comfort.

I spend much of my time talking to entrepreneurs and researchers about breakthrough technologies, such as artificial intelligence and robotics. These entrepreneurs are building a better future, often at a breakneck pace. One team built in three weeks a surgical-glove prototype that delivers tactile guidance to doctors during examinations. Another built visualization software that tells farmers the health of their crops using images taken by off-the-shelf video cameras flown on drones. That technology took four weeks to develop. You get the idea. I do, in fact, live in the future as it is forming. It is forming far faster than most people realize, and far faster than the human mind can comfortably perceive.

In short, the distant future is no longer distant. The pace of technological change is rapidly accelerating, and those changes are coming to you very soon, whether you like it or not.

Such rapid, ubiquitous change has, of course, a dark side. Many jobs as we know them will disappear. Our privacy will be further compromised. Future generations may never drive a car or ride in one driven by a human being. We have to worry about biological terrorism and killer drones. Someone you know — maybe you — will have his or her DNA sequence and fingerprints stolen. Man and machine will begin to merge into a single entity. You will have as much food as you can possibly eat, for better and for worse. Read More > in The Washington Post

The Typical Home in San Jose Now Costs More Than $1 Million – Rising home prices and growing affordability concerns showed no signs of abating in the second quarter, as San Jose, Calif. became the first city where the price of a typical home eclipses $1 million.

Home prices rose in 83% of metropolitan areas across the U.S. in the second quarter compared with a year earlier, according to data released Wednesday by the National Association of Realtors. That is a slight decline from the first quarter, when price increases were reported in 87% of metro areas.

…Nonetheless, home prices hit record highs during the quarter, driven by rapidly rising prices in California and northwestern cities, such as Portland and Seattle. The national median home price was $240,700, according to NAR, up nearly 5% from the previous peak in the second quarter of 2015.

…Falling mortgage rates and modest income gains failed to improve housing affordability for average families. To purchase a single-family home at the national median price, a buyer making a 5% down payment would need an income of $52,255. During the same quarter last year, such a buyer would need to make just over $49,000. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Macy’s soars after topping Wall Street estimates, outlining plans to close 100 stores – Macy’s reported Thursday fiscal second-quarter sales and earnings that topped analysts’ expectations, as shoppers responded to the department store’s steep discounts. Yet with sales still on the decline, the retailer said it will shutter 100 locations to focus on its best-performing stores.

The company’s shares shot more than 13 percent higher in early trading.

“Whenever there’s been a setback in our company, we’ve been first in the industry to take a very aggressive stance at moving us forward,” CEO Terry Lundgren told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “That’s just part of it. By closing 100 stores… we’re getting out in front of this.”

Most of the 100 stores the company plans to close will be shuttered in early 2017, with the remainder shutting down as leases and other obligations expire or are waived. The locations of these stores will be released at a later date. Read More > at CNBC

Macy’s to sell prime Men’s Store property in San Francisco’s Union Square – Macy’s plans to sell and close its Men’s Store in San Francisco’s Union Square as part of a broader effort to streamline the retail giant’s brick and mortar presence.

The company announced Thursday it plans to close 100 stores and is in negotiations to sell the 263,640-square-foot San Francisco men’s store “for redevelopment.” Macy’s did not name the prospective buyer as the deal is not final, but market sources said it involves a real estate investor.

The store at 120 Stockton St. will likely shut down once a new buyer takes the reins and the men’s offerings move to the flagship Macy’s store at 170 O’Farrell St. Read More > at the San Francisco Business Times

Five Red Flags That Scream ‘Don’t Hire This Person’ – You’re right — there are red flags that tell me “This is not the best candidate for this job!” Here are five of them:

1. The candidate knows almost nothing about our business.
2. The candidate has no questions for me, or only questions about the dental-plan deductible and the size of the workstation — no questions about the actual work.
3. The candidate gives me vague answers to my questions and when I press for details, changes the subject.
4. The candidate cannot explain his or her career choices and shifts.
5. The candidate is openly rude or hostile. Read More > at Forbes

Where Americans smoke the most weed – Take a bow, San Francisco: The Bay Area is home to the highest concentration of marijuana smokers anywhere in the country, according to new data released Tuesday by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Every few years, SAMHSA combines data from the annual National Surveys on Drug Use and Health to derive estimates of monthly marijuana use among Americans age 12 and older. The latest cut of that data, encompassing the years 2012 to 2014, include responses from approximately 204,000 people. That huge sample makes it possible to visualize marijuana use rates with a level of detail not possible with traditional surveys.

Over 15 percent of San Francisco residents age 12 and over use marijuana monthly or more, the highest rate in the country. By contrast, the lowest use rates are in the far south of Texas, where fewer than 4 percent use monthly.

The report finds that nationally, 7.7 percent of people 12 an older — roughly 20.3 million Americans — use marijuana monthly or more. Broadly speaking, marijuana use rates are highest in the Western states and lowest in the South. Read More > in The Washington Post

A faithful coach wants his job back – High school football coach Joe Kennedy was fired for praying and now he wants his job back.

Kennedy, a former Marine Corps gunnery sergeant, has filed a federal lawsuit against the Bremerton School District in Washington State, claiming he was let go because of his religious beliefs.

…The coach is not asking for a single penny in his lawsuit – he just wants his job back.

…Since 2008 Coach Kennedy has taken a knee at the 50-yard line at the conclusion of every football game to offer a brief, quiet prayer of thanksgiving – for player safety, sportsmanship and spirited competition.

The coach’s petition to the Almighty usually lasted about 30 seconds. He did not proselytize nor did he compel players or anyone else to participate. In other words, it was just a private prayer – not a Billy Graham Crusade.

Over time, some of the teenage players asked if they could join him in prayer and the coach replied, “This is a free country. You can do what you want.”

The lawsuit also points out that other coaches engaged in religious expression at the beginning and the end of football games. The lawsuit specifically mentioned David Boynton, an assistant coach who delivered a Buddhist chant near the 50-yard line.

It’s not quite clear what led to the school district’s investigation, but on Sept. 17, 2015, Coach Kennedy received a letter informing him that the district was conducting an inquiry into a policy regarding “religious-related activities and practices.”

The district directed the coach to refrain from praying around students – or doing anything that might cause people to think he was praying. He was forbidden from bowing his head or kneeling, too. Read More > at Fox News

Saudi Arabia, Iran Oil Battle Ramps Up – Saudi Arabia and Iran increased oil production last month to the highest levels since 2008. Saudi Arabia boosted oil output to a record 10.67 million barrels a day in July. Iran’s daily July output was up to 3.85 million barrels.

An informal meeting among OPEC members is planned next month in Algeria, to discuss ways to stabilize falling prices, which have dropped 50% since 2014.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude exporter, is battling Iran for market share by cutting prices in Asia. Global oil markets continue to weaken, a condition that’s dragged prices to three-month lows, and is expected to persist as a result of slowing seasonal demand and abundant inventories. Read at Connect Media

What are the levels of vehicle automation? – Most automakers agree that your car is sooner or later going to take more control of primary functions over time. But how autonomous are the cars we know today, compared to the fully automated driverless cars we expect?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has classified vehicle automation into five different levels, ranking from no autonomy to complete autonomy.

By 2020, Google says its prototype can potentially be fully autonomous. Their competitor, Tesla, announced the same and Tesla’s autopilot is already a NHTSA level 2 automation.

But yet. Volvo claims its driverless car which will be tested in 2017 is a level 4 automated car.

…Level 3: Limited Self-Driving Automation
At this level of automation, the driver can give up full control of functions that are safety-critical in certain traffic or environmental conditions. The driver has to be available to take control, but is not expected to constantly monitor the driveway. The self-driving car is constructed to operate independently until the driver can take over.

Level 4: Full Automation
The driverless car is in full control of all operations and is responsible for safe driving the whole trip. The driver does not need to be available to take over control. Read More > at readwrite

How many businesses have left California? This report claims to have an answer – California’s costly tax and regulatory policies prompted more than 10,000 businesses to leave the state, reduce their operations or curtail plans to locate here between 2008 and 2015, according to a report from Spectrum Location Solutions.

The Irvine-based company conducts site-selection studies and other assessments to help businesses relocate to optimum states and locales for their operations. Some of their clients include corporations that have relocated out of California, like Honda.

The report, “California Business Departures: An Eight-Year Review 2008-2015,” reveals that at least 1,687 California disinvestment events occurred during that period, a count that reflects only those that became public knowledge.

And for every disinvestment that became known — either through media reports, company announcements or company reports to the U.S. Department of Labor, the Securities and Exchange Commission or the California Employment Development Department — another five occurred, the report said. Read More > in the Los Angeles Daily News

Kathryn Steinle’s family fights to keep lawsuit against SF alive – A city that releases a prisoner usually can’t be held responsible when the former prisoner harms a random victim. San Francisco officials cited that long-standing legal doctrine in asking a federal magistrate to dismiss a lawsuit by the parents of a woman who was shot to death by an immigrant who had been freed from city custody 2½ months earlier.

But a lawyer for Kathryn Steinle’s parents says their case is different because a similar tragedy had taken place in San Francisco seven years earlier — a triple killing by an unauthorized immigrant, formerly in city custody — and city officials knew what could happen by turning loose the man who would later be charged with killing Steinle, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez.

Ross Mirkarimi, who as sheriff refused to tell immigration officials in 2015 that his office was releasing Lopez-Sanchez, was on the Board of Supervisors in 2008 when gang member Edwin Ramos fired shots into a car that killed Tony Bologna and his two sons, Michael and Matthew. Bologna’s survivors sued San Francisco because the city had not notified immigration agents before releasing Ramos from custody several years earlier.

A federal judge dismissed the suit, citing the rule that shields government officials from liability for harm caused by a released inmate unless they had reason to know that a specific victim was in danger.

From that case, an attorney for Steinle’s parents said in a court filing Monday, Mirkarimi knew that a policy of not cooperating with federal immigration officials could “result in yet another undocumented felon, with a history of erratic and criminal behavior, being free on the streets of San Francisco and committing a heinous crime.” Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Time is money – $50 million – for high-speed rail delays in Fresno area – Construction delays connected to the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s slow pace of acquiring land to build its first Fresno-Madera segment have ended up costing the agency about $50 million.

A change order in June between the agency and its prime contractor, Tutor Perini / Zachry / Parsons, calls for compensation of $49.9 million to the contractor for delay-related effects on the construction schedule, according to a report presented to rail authority board members at their meeting Tuesday in Sacramento. Tutor Perini / Zachry / Parsons, a joint venture of companies from Southern California and Texas, was awarded a contract of just over $1 billion in mid-2013 for a 29-mile segment from the northeastern edge of Madera to the south end of Fresno.

But the contractor could not start major construction activities until last summer.

In the meantime, Tutor Perini had about $10 million worth of new cranes, bulldozers and other heavy equipment sitting idle for about a year in a construction yard in northwest Fresno as it waited for the authority to assemble a critical mass of property where meaningful work could begin. The delays prompted Tutor Perini CEO Ron Tutor to tell investors in a conference call last year that he wanted to negotiate compensation from the state for the delays. Read More > in The Fresno Bee

As Corn Devours U.S. Prairies, Greens Reconsider Biofuel Mandate – Environmentalists who once championed biofuels as a way to cut pollution are now turning against a U.S. program that puts renewable fuels in cars, citing higher-than-expected carbon dioxide emissions and reduced wildlife habitat.

More than a decade after conservationists helped persuade Congress to require adding corn-based ethanol and other biofuels to gasoline, some groups regret the resulting agricultural runoff in waterways and conversion of prairies to cropland — improving the odds that lawmakers might seek changes to the program next year.

…The Natural Resources Defense Council used a 96-page report in 2004 to proclaim boundless biofuel benefits: slashed global warming emissions, improved air quality and more wildlife habitat.

Instead, farmers plowed millions of acres of prairie grasses to grow corn for making ethanol, with fertilizer runoff contributing to a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists warned that carbon dioxide emissions associated with corn-based ethanol were higher than expected. And alternatives using switchgrass, algae and other non-edible plant materials have been slow to penetrate the market.

“The ethanol policy was sold to environmentalists as something that was going to clean up the environment, and it’s done anything but,” said Democratic Representative Peter Welch of Vermont, who is co-sponsoring legislation to revamp the RFS. “It’s truly been a flop. The environmental promise has been transformed into an environmental detriment.” Read More > at Bloomberg

The Robots Are Coming … For the Farms – The factory belongs to SPREAD, a Japanese company run by an ambitious and unlikely CEO, 56-year-old Shinji Inada. SPREAD was the subject of splashy press earlier this year when Inada announced plans for an automated factory by 2017. For now, SPREAD produces 21,000 heads of lettuce daily using vertical farming techniques; rather than a greenhouse, it utilizes hydroponics and fluorescent or LED lighting. Its expansion plans are huge — around 20 factories that will produce half a million heads of lettuce a day. Around 200 companies use artificial light methods in Japan alone, estimates vertical farming expert Toyoki Kozai, chief-director of the Japan Plant Factory Association and president of Chiba University.

SPREAD won’t tell us exactly what the automated factories will look like. But you can bet there won’t be C-3PO-esque gardeners strolling around. Instead, automation will subtly replace the most labor-intensive tasks, says J.J. Price, global marketing manager — which means spacing out the lettuce heads as they bloom then harvesting. Kozai says “most operations” can be automated in plant factories today — floor cleaning, nutrient prep — but some processes will still require a human eye, like trimming damaged parts of the plant, monitoring subtle nuances in color to watch for physiological disorders and preventing the arrival of hungry insects.

Automated farming could correct for rural areas’ hemorrhaging populations worldwide, and account for nasty environmental impacts: 60 percent of Japanese food is imported, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, despite the country’s fertile landscape. Globally, the urgency of water shortages — from India to California — is mounting, and USDA data shows 80 percent of freshwater goes to agriculture. SPREAD reduces water usage nearly 99 percent from traditional agriculture, and is doing it faster: Normally a head of lettuce takes 60 days to go from farm to shelf; at Kameoka, it’s 42, and at the new plants, they’re shooting for 35. (They’re messing with other leafy greens beyond lettuce, which isn’t native to the Japanese palate.) Read More > at Ozy

The Unfortunate Physics of Male Urination – If you use a urinal or stand when you use the toilet, pee splashes back on you.

If you share a bathroom with someone who stands when he pees, a fine layer of pee covers your bathroom floor.

If you’ve used a urinal at the same time as someone standing next to you, his pee has splashed on you.

Debbie Wiener is a veteran of the interior design business, but she doesn’t know of a splash-proof toilet to recommend to her clients. “If there was one, I would consider buying it,” she says. “I’ve never seen such a thing in the trade magazines.”

Instead she recommends the same solution she has settled on in her home: towels. She keeps a drawer full of big, bleachable towels, and every day she puts a fresh one on the floor in front of the toilet. She has no solution to keep pee from splashing on men’s pants.

If you want to avoid splashing pee on your pants, you should stand closer to the urinal.

…“In the absence of dividers between urinals, it would not be unlikely for urine droplets to travel a distance of 5 feet to the side of the urinator,” Dr. Truscott tells us in an email. “And if someone were standing next to him, they would most definitely get small droplets OF THE OTHER MAN’S URINE on their pants and shoes.”

…The BYU team also learned that a “low angle of attack” produces the least splash. When pee hits the porcelain at a 90 degree angle, the splashback is terrible. But when the urine simulator aimed low—imagine hitting just above the drain of the urinal—the splash was more modest and not angled back at the urinator. This is also a good reason to aim sideways rather than straight at the urinal. Read More > at Priceonomics

California high court says legislators’ votes are protected by free speech rights – The California Supreme Court decided Monday that the votes of elected officials are protected free speech.

The state high court ruled in a lawsuit brought by the city of Montebello against three former council members and a city administrator. Montebello contended the officials had violated a conflict of interest law in supporting a garbage hauling contract in exchange for campaign contributions.

In a 5-2 decision, Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote that voting by an elected official was protected by a state law designed to combat lawsuits that chill free speech. The law allows defendants to bring a special motion to throw out such a lawsuit at an early stage.

“It is not necessary to sue government officers in their personal capacities to challenge the propriety of a government action,” Corrigan wrote.

She said elected officials also may invoke the protection of free speech when sued over a vote “without chilling citizens’ exercise of their right to challenge government by suing the public entity itself.” Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

No major US hurricanes in 11 years. Odds of that? 1-in-2,300. – On Thursday some meteorologists (who are by nature a cheesy lot) had an opportunity to channel their inner Dixie Chick and sing “Goodbye Earl” as yet another hurricane went into the Yucatan Peninsula to die. Most of the rest of the United States yawned—another hurricane in the Atlantic, and no harm done.

But the hurricane was remarkable precisely because of this. Earl, which attained a maximum wind speed of 80 mph before striking Belize, marked another in a long line of hurricanes that have formed in the Atlantic basin—the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico—but have not affected the United States.

Consider some of the following statistics: the last hurricane to reach the Gulf of Mexico was Ingrid in September, 2013. The current, nearly three-year-long drought for the Gulf has not been equaled since at least 1851. The drought in hurricanes that make Florida landfalls is even more pronounced. The Sunshine State, which juts into the Atlantic Ocean like a lightning rod for tropical weather, has not been hit by a hurricane since Wilma (2005). Earl was in fact the 67th Atlantic hurricane in a row to not make landfall in Florida, according to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach. The previous record was a mere 33 hurricanes, a streak between Hurricanes David (1979) and Elena (1985). Read More > at Ars Technica

Watson correctly diagnoses woman after doctors were stumped – After treatment for a woman suffering from leukemia proved ineffective, a team of Japanese doctors turned to IBM’s Watson for help, which was able to successfully determine that she actually suffered from a different, rare form of leukemia than the doctors had originally believed.

Watson managed to make its diagnosis after doctors from the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Medical Science was fed it the patient’s genetic data, which was then compared to information from 20 million oncological studies.

This analysis found a different diagnosis for the type of leukemia from which the patient suffered, and it suggested a different form of treatment, which proved far more effective than the original methods doctors had been using up to that point.

Watson’s success demonstrates the huge potential of data analysis and artificial intelligence, which extends far beyond predicting networking needs or following stock market trends. With enough genetic data an the right algorithms, tools like Watson could be used for everything from diagnosing rare illnesses to prescribing perfectly correct dosages of medicine based on each patient’s personal genetic makeup. Read More > at Silicon Angle

One in Eight U.S. Adults Say They Smoke Marijuana – Thirteen percent of U.S. adults tell Gallup they currently smoke marijuana, nearly double the percentage who reported smoking marijuana only three years ago.

Although use of the drug is still prohibited by federal law, the number of states that have legalized recreational marijuana use has grown from two in 2013, Colorado and Washington, to four today — with the addition of Alaska and Oregon — plus the District of Columbia. Five states will vote on whether to legalize marijuana this November.

Half of U.S. states (including the four above) have some variation of a medicinal marijuana law on the books, and four more will be voting this fall on whether to legalize marijuana for medicinal use. Both major-party presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, have voiced support for medicinal marijuana but say they defer to the states in terms of policymaking on both recreational and medicinal marijuana use.

More broadly, 43% of Americans say they have ever tried marijuana, similar to the 44% recorded last year and up slightly from 38% in 2013. The percentage of Americans who say they have tried the drug has slowly increased from 4% in 1969. Read More > at Gallup

Political Correctness: UW-Stout Censors ‘Harmful’ Native American Murals – The University of Wisconsin-Stout has removed two historic murals from their places of prominence after members of the Diversity Leadership Team complained that they might make Native American students feel uncomfortable.

It’s hard to see why. Both murals are rather innocuous. One depicts fur trappers and Native Americans canoeing down a river. The other depicts an American fortress from colonial times. There’s no violence depicted in the works of art. Indeed, the white traders and natives seem to be getting along perfectly well.

Ah, but the murals could theoretically be offensive to someone, so they have to go.

“There’s a segment of Native American students, that when they look at the art, to them it symbolizes an era of their history where land and possessions were taken away from them, and they feel bad when they look at them,” said UW-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer in an interview with NPR. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Read More > at Reason

It’s about to get a lot harder for minors to vape – New federal regulations for electronic cigarettes go into effect Monday, requiring greater scrutiny of the products and making it more difficult for minors to vape.

The Food and Drug Administration will have to approve all e-cigarette products that have been available since February 2007. That means nearly every e-cigarette product on the market must go through an application process to deem whether it can continue to be sold.

Manufacturers will be able to keep selling their products for up to two years while they submit a new production application, plus an additional year while the FDA reviews it.

Vape shops cannot give free samples to customers or sell to people younger than 18, under the new regulations. Merchants will be required to ask for identification from customers who appear to be under the age of 27. And vending machine sales of e-cigarettes are prohibited unless the machines are in adult-only facilities. Read More > in USA Today

How AI Will Redefine Love – Artificial intelligence is beginning to disrupt entire industries from finance to medicine. Yet the most revolutionary application has yet to arrive—and it’s an existential one.

As thinking machines become more integrated into our lives, we must expect a transformation in how we define what it means to be conscious; what it means to live and to die; and ultimately, what it means to love a non-human being.

These questions are artfully explored in the plot of the 2013 sci-fi film, Her, which tells the story of a man who falls deeply in love with an intelligent operating system. This OS, Samantha, is designed to evolve and adapt her personality to appeal to Theodore. She has a very human voice and provides constant empathetic support. As Samantha’s psychological and intellectual capacities grow, so does Theodore and Samantha’s love for each other.

Samantha’s rapid intellectual growth may sound out-of-reach but echoes the advancements we are seeing in deep learning today. Deep learning is a powerful new trend in machine learning which aims to mimic the neuronal activity in the neocortex of the human brain.

Advancements in deep learning have allowed computers to rival humans in many areas where they’ve traditionally struggled such as pattern recognition, natural language processing and computer vision. The beauty of deep learning is that these artificial neural networks train themselves in such tasks, allowing them to improve their skills without human intervention. Many projects are also attempting to move AI beyond automated visual and language tasks. One secretive AI firm, Vicarious, is striving to teach computers imagination, and Google is programming them to be creative. Read More > at Singularity Hub

It’s Time To Dump The Unemployment Rate – Economy: The July jobs report was a good one, and the unemployment rate held steady at 4.9%, which in the past would have been sure signs of a robust economy. So why is the country in such a bad mood?

An unemployment rate below 5% is a relatively rare thing. Only twice before in the past 40 years has it dropped that low — once in the late 1990s during that economic boom, and again briefly in 2006-2007.

Yet unlike before, there is little joy in Mudville today. Instead of confidence and optimism, there is only malaise.

…Signs of gloom abound. The latest IBD/TIPP poll finds that more than a third of adults (37%) think the country is in a recession. Less than half (48%) say that the economy is improving, while 49% say it’s not. More than half (55%) are dissatisfied with federal economic policies.

And in almost a third of households (31%), there is either someone who is out of work or worried about losing a job.

What is going on here? Put simply, what’s happened is that the official unemployment number has grown increasingly useless as a reliable economic indicator, for the simple reason that millions of people have simply quit looking for a job. Since the unemployment rate is based only on those who are actively looking for work, the more people who drop out of the labor force, the lower the unemployment rate becomes. Read More > at Investors Business Daily

How to Hack an Election in 7 Minutes – When Princeton professor Andrew Appel decided to hack into a voting machine, he didn’t try to mimic the Russian attackers who hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s database last month. He didn’t write malicious code, or linger near a polling place where the machines can go unguarded for days.

Instead, he bought one online.

With a few cursory clicks of a mouse, Appel parted with $82 and became the owner of an ungainly metallic giant called the Sequoia AVC Advantage, one of the oldest and vulnerable, electronic voting machines in the United States (among other places it’s deployed in Louisiana, New Jersey, Virginia and Pennsylvania). No sooner did a team of bewildered deliverymen roll the 250-pound device into a conference room near Appel’s cramped, third-floor office than the professor set to work. He summoned a graduate student named Alex Halderman, who could pick the machine’s lock in seven seconds. Clutching a screwdriver, he deftly wedged out the four ROM chips—they weren’t soldered into the circuit board, as sense might dictate—making it simple to replace them with one of his own: A version of modified firmware that could throw off the machine’s results, subtly altering the tally of votes, never to betray a hint to the voter. The attack was concluded in minutes. To mark the achievement, his student snapped a photo of Appel—oblong features, messy black locks and a salt-and-pepper beard—grinning for the camera, fists still on the circuit board, as if to look directly into the eyes of the American taxpayer: Don’t look at me—you’re the one who paid for this thing. Read More > at Politico

The next big fight over housing could happen, literally, in your back yard – The Coffees built their two-bedroom home, the smallest they’ve lived in since they were married 44 years ago, in their daughter’s back yard. They were just finishing the place when a lawsuit earlier this year against the city of Los Angeles brought permits for homes like theirs — second units on single-family lots — to a halt. As a result, city officials who gave them permission to build now haven’t given them a certificate of occupancy, and the utility won’t connect them to the power grid.

Second homes, often called “granny flats,” have become a new front in the conflict that pits the need for more housing in the country’s most expensive cities against the wishes of neighbors who want to preserve their communities. The same battles flare over large developments that might loom over single-family neighborhoods. But even this modest idea for new housing — let homeowners build it in their own back yards — has run into not-in-my-back-yard resistance.

And the difficulty of implementing even such a small-scale solution shows why it will be hard to make room in crowded cities for the middle- and working-class households who increasingly struggle to afford to live there.

…The California law meant to encourage second units in the face of a housing crisis has run up against local ordinances that make them all but impossible to build. Pasadena requires 15,000-square-foot lots to build them. Other cities require additional covered parking spots for each unit and utility hookup fees that cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Wieckowski sponsored one of two bills in the California legislature this year to overrule some of those restrictions. The California Teachers Association, desperate for more affordable housing, is among the powerful groups backing it. Of the state’s previous law, Wieckowski said, “it’s been a complete failure.” Read More > in The Washington Post

30-plus drug citations equal zero felonies, thanks to Prop. 47 -Redlands police officers know Frankie Alvino Capetillo by sight.

They should: They’ve cited and released him on the spot almost three dozen times, almost all for alleged drug offenses, since Proposition 47 passed on Nov. 4, 2014.

The law reduced many drug and theft offenses that once could have been charged as felonies ­— bringing longer jail or prison sentences — to misdemeanors that could bring sentences of at most a year in jail but in practice are weeks or days.

Twelve of Capetillo’s citations were for such reclassified offenses. In 11 of those cases, Capetillo failed to show up for his first court date, according to San Bernardino Superior Court records. Even with warrants out, Capetillo would be cited by officers and deputies instead of jailed.

For advocates of Prop. 47, Capetillo is precisely the type of offender who should be kept out of jail: someone who is not violent and who could benefit from services such as substance-abuse counseling.

For others, particularly those in law enforcement, Capetillo, 27, is a prime example of someone who is gaming the system. Read More > in the Long Beach Press Telegram

Is Prop. 47 working? Depends whom you ask – The premise behind the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, or Proposition 47, overwhelmingly approved by California voters in November 2014, was simple:

Reduce the penalties for nonserious, nonviolent offenses such as drug possession and minor theft and pass along the savings from less-crowded prisons and jails to programs that would reduce recidivism and crime and help victims.

But nothing about Prop. 47 has been simple in the 21 months since then.

As intended, the law has prevented nonviolent offenders from serving significant jail terms. But some law enforcement officials firmly believe — and there are equally strong opinions to the contrary — that these offenders are responsible for a documented uptick in crime since the law’s passage.

…California’s violent and property crime rates rose in 2015 — up 8.4 percent and 6.6 percent, respectively, from 2014, a year that saw the lowest crime rates since the 1960s. However, there is disagreement about whether Prop. 47 is responsible and whether the increases were just a blip or the end of a 25-year trend of decreasing crime rates. Read More > in the Long Beach Press Telegram

Miracle escape of the new Rorke’s Drift Paras: Cut-off, surrounded and outnumbered – the incredible untold story of the 88 British soldiers who spent 56 days holding off 500 Taliban fighters… and survived – Outgunned, outmanoeuvred, hopelessly outnumbered and besieged in the Afghan desert, a small band of British soldiers chose to save a final bullet for themselves rather than fall into Taliban hands.

For nearly two months, the 88 men of Easy Company – a mix of Paratroopers and the Royal Irish – had faced the overwhelming force and firepower of up to 500 Taliban determined to over-run the remote Helmand outpost of Musa Qala.

And their near miraculous survival has been described as a latter day Rorke’s Drift, evocative of the 1879 siege in which 140 British soldiers held off a Zulu force of 3,000, later immortalised in the blockbuster film starring Michael Caine.

For 56 days in the autumn of 2006, the men at Musa Qala faced constant fire from fixed machine gun posts and mortars. Read More > in the Daily Mail

Being vegan isn’t as good for humanity as you think – The moral high ground of food just shifted a little bit.

Using biophysical simulation models to compare 10 eating patterns, researchers found that eating fewer animal products will increase the number of people that can be supported by existing farmland. But as it turns out, eliminating animal products altogether isn’t the best way to maximize sustainable land use. Their work was published in Elementa, a journal on the science of the anthropocene.

The researchers considered the vegan diet, two vegetarian diets (one that includes dairy, the other dairy and eggs), four omnivorous diets (with varying degrees of vegetarian influence), one low in fats and sugars, and one akin to the modern American dietary pattern.

Based on their models, the vegan diet would feed fewer people than two of the vegetarian and two of the four omnivorous diets studied. The bottom line: Going cold turkey on animal-based products may not actually be the most sustainable long choice for humanity in the long term. Read More > at Quartz

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About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Data Center Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit and Transplan
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