Sunday Reading – 09/04/16

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.

Seat hogger beware: New law on BART goes into effect – Seat hoggers beware, your time is over.The BART seat hog ordinance officially went into effect Thursday, meaning that riders taking up more than one seat on train cars during busy hours can be hit with citations.

On their first offense seat hoggers will get a warning and their name entered into a database. A third violation earns the miscreant a $100 ticket, with the punishments only getting more severe from that point on – up to and including being arrested.

The seat hogger law will be enforced on weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 7:30 p.m.

At least for the first month the law is in effect, law enforcement will only issue verbal warnings. BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey told the Chronicle the goal of the ordinance was to lower congestion on the train, while also being fair to all riders. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

Perpetual Motion Machines – …Our future passenger experience might bear little resemblance to either driving or riding; we’ll inhabit a space that only coincidentally happens to be in motion.

Once designers of automated vehicles are no longer bound by the outdated limitations of accommodating either internal combustion technology or human operators, they could move far beyond our present-day intuitions of what a car should look like. Replacing bulky gasoline engines and transmissions with multiple smaller electric motors and slim under-floor battery packs would enable radical new possibilities for the configuration of interior space. As early as 2002, GM’s Hy-Wire concept car separated an interchangeable passenger compartment from its fuel cell and electric motor powertrains, opening up space for an interior that more closely resembled a living room than conventional expectations of passenger-car seating. Where one would expect to see a hood and dashboard, the windshield extended to become a panoramic window framing the road ahead as a scenic view.

With a system of automated vehicles, transit passengers will no longer need to pay any attention while distances are being traversed. With the possibility of traffic collisions theoretically eliminated, safety requirements mandating fixed seats, air bags, and seat belts would become obsolete. Passengers who no longer needed to be restrained would be able to move around freely. After ease of handling becomes an irrelevant design consideration for new vehicles steered by computers, designers will be free to stretch wheelbases, raise ceiling heights, and specify softer suspensions to make that movement more natural and comfortable. And since the people inside wouldn’t necessarily need to see where they were going, a growing range of possible wall fixtures — storage cabinets, LCD screens, perhaps a kitchen sink — could substitute passenger convenience over views of the world outside. The elimination of the driver will mean the end of the car as a car.

The social impact could be broader than we expect. When we don’t have to look where we are going, we have to deliberately choose what we want to see. One of IDEO’s more radical visions of how automated vehicles could be used, the WorkOnWheels mobile office, is designed to allow employees to travel to new locations as they work. The pod contains office furniture and pull-down shades over the windows, letting workers choose which aspects of their surrounding environment they want to see, without having to visually process the travel in-between. Cityscapes become optional, consumable on demand rather than by necessity. Meanwhile, the mobile workplace’s controlled internal habitat would remain constant no matter where it was. Read More > at Real Life Magazine

How can you tell if a driver is stoned? – In a famous scene from the Coen Brothers’ cult classic “The Big Lebowski,” Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski is cruising behind the wheel of his car, tunes blasting as he sips beer and smokes pot. In a classic stoner move, he tries to flick his lighted roach out the window – except that it’s closed. The burning roach ricochets onto his lap, causing him to wildly swerve and then crash into a garbage can.

Lebowski doesn’t get hurt, but there are those, such as State Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), who fear an increase in real-life risky driving if on Nov. 8 Californians pass Prop. 64, the initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana.

Lackey, a retired California Highway Patrol officer, wants the state to adopt a legal limit for THC – the mind-altering ingredient in cannabis. Without it, he says, patrol officers must rely mostly on their own subjective judgment as to whether a driver is impaired. That, he says, makes many officers uncomfortable.

But that bill failed this spring, in large part because THC levels are not good indicators of intoxication.

… And that poses a quandary that researchers, including Marcotte and his colleagues, are hoping to solve. The state legislature has awarded UCSD’s cannabis research center $1.8 million to study THC impairment and to develop a scientifically-sound field sobriety test for marijuana intoxication.

…The studies at the cannabis center are funded for three years. If Californians approve Prop. 64, the research will be extended. The ballot initiative provides for more funding to help researchers develop better ways of measuring when drivers are stoned. Read More > at KPCC

California lawmakers deliver for liberals on climate, wages – California delivered on its reputation as a testing ground for liberal ideas as state lawmakers wrapped up a legislative session that extended the nation’s most ambitious climate change programs, raised the minimum wage to $15 and toughened gun laws.

While they failed to address some of the maddening challenges afflicting Californians’ daily lives — most notably, skyrocketing housing costs and crumbling roads — lawmakers advanced top priorities for the labor, environmental, gun-control and anti-tobacco movements.

Democrats, who have strong majorities in both the Assembly and the Senate, celebrated their victories and said the nation’s largest state should be the model that others emulate.

The advances for Democrats’ liberal base left conservatives dejected and concerned that the crushing weight of new business mandates will take a toll on important sectors ranging from agriculture to retail and restaurants — hurting California’s massive economy.

“Can’t they pace themselves?” said Tim Scott, California director for the National Federation of Independent Business. “It seems like they were literally trying to go through their whole agenda in one year. We have time. Let’s have a thoughtful discussion.” Read More > from the Associated Press

Hollywood’s Summertime Bombs Got a Lot More Disastrous This Year – Hollywood studios bet big on the summer of 2016, yet only a few winners emerged alongside several epic bombs.

Because of those big-budget disasters, which cost $100 million or more each, the movie industry’s peak season is a disappointment even though ticket sales were about equal to 2015’s haul. Projections by researcher The Numbers underscore the pain felt by some studios whose films failed to live up to their high hopes, such as “Ben-Hur,” from MGM and Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures, and “The BFG,” a megaflop from Steven Spielberg and Walt Disney Co.

Summer moviegoing, from the first weekend in May through Labor Day, is a vital stretch for Hollywood, when studios release many of their biggest pictures and generate about 40 percent of annual sales. This year’s results reveal flaws in the industry’s focus on costly remakes and sequels, casting doubt on a strategy they’ll be relying on for years.

“Overall it was pretty awful,” said Doug Creutz, an analyst at Cowen & Co. “We have been talking about the increasingly bad ecosystem that we see theatrically and I think it definitely played out this summer.”

Of 32 summer movies released through Aug. 19 by the six major studios, 17 lost a total of $915.6 million, according to The Numbers, which looks at film costs and projects revenue for movies all the way through their release on commercial TV. Last year the studios released a total of 15 bombs with losses of $546.3 million. Read More > in Bloomberg

“If You Own A Home In Palo Alto, CA; Sell It Now” – In Palo Alto, a small town of about 67,000 souls, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, about an hour south of San Francisco, in the middle of Silicon Valley, and part of the 9 million people in the vast Bay Area, the median home value in July, according to Zillow, fell to $2.486 million.

That’s still up 103% from July 2011. These are not palaces. Median price means 50% cost more, 50% cost less. These are modest homes, in theory where the median household can settle down. Drop to $1 million, and you get the “million dollar shack.”

But the median price is up only 1.6% from July last year, and down 0.5% from the peak in April of $2.5 million, a tiny fraction really – “tiny fraction” in Palo Alto means $12,500.

The median listed price per square foot, at $1,357, is down 7% from June.

…The power behind this rampant home price inflation? Maybe “tech.” But probably not anymore, given that tech salaries for most employees no longer suffice to live adequately in the town.

And foreign buyers looking to get their money out of harm’s way, and not caring about what price they pay? “Realty bus tours popular with Chinese and Indian buyers are a common sight, with purchases leading to unoccupied investment properties dubbed ‘ghost houses,’” as Bloomberg put it. But China is cracking down on money laundering. And the US government’s anti-money-laundering efforts recently stopped ignoring real estate. So foreign buyers too may be drying up, as the languishing prices indicate.

Many folks have suggested that Palo Alto needs more subsidized “affordable” housing – though that may not help much either, except make life even more expensive for the rest of them.

The real solution? As a matter of principle, I don’t give financial advice. But if I were out there giving financial advice and charging an arm and a leg for it, it would sound like this: “If you own a home in Palo Alto, sell it now.” Read More > at Zero Hedge

Why Is Interracial Marriage on the Rise? – In 1950, when Mildred Jeter met Richard Loving, marrying a person of a different race was illegal in 29 states. According to Census data, while 90.4% of the married people in America were White and 7.6% were Black, marital unions of Blacks and Whites made up only 0.1% of all marriages.

Jeter, a Black and Native American woman, and Loving, a White man, fell in love and decided to get married. They lived in Virginia, one of the states that still banned “miscegenation” – the derogatory term used to describe interracial coupling – so they needed to travel to the District of Columbia to be officially recognized as a couple. They were married in 1958.

Five weeks after the couple married and returned to Virginia, the county sheriff and two deputies broke into Jeter and Loving’s bedroom to arrest them. They were charged with violating Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, which outlawed interracial marriage in order to protect “Whiteness.” Although the couple initially pled guilty, they later decided to dispute the law, and took their fight all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on the side of the couple. The Loving v. Virginia verdict made interracial marriage bans illegal across the country.

…Since Loving v. Virginia, millions of couples have availed themselves of what Chief Justice Earl Warren called their “fundamental freedom” to marry a person of any race or ethnic background. The rate of couples intermarrying in the United States continues to rise.

Yet this rise is not necessarily a result of a change in attitudes about marrying across racial/ethnic lines. Much of it is just math. There are now more Asians, Hispanics, and people of Other racial/ethnic backgrounds, and those groups have long been most likely to intermarry.

Progress has been made, but significantly less than the raw numbers would make you think. Read More > at Priceonomics

Knight Rider cometh: Kawasaki building AI into its motorcycles – If you want to fight crime with an automotive companion, a la Knight Rider, we’ve got some good news — Kawasaki is developing a learning, talking artificial intelligence for its motorcycles.

Although in the early stages of development, the new system, named the Kanjo Engine (which translates to Emotion Engine) is expected to provide ride-along companionship and driver status monitoring, all the while being able to understand and respond to natural human speech.

Think of it as an on-board Siri, one that learns to adapt to your personal driving style and habits.The AI technology is being developed in conjunction with Cocoro SB of the Softbank Group, who’s responsible for the lovable Pepper robot. Read More > at c|net

Soda Taxes Leave Bitter Taste, Empty Wallets – Lawmakers in cities such as Boulder, Colorado and Oakland, California are asking voters to approve ballot measures that would increase the cost of soda and other sweetened beverages. These so-called “health-related taxes” are supposed to improve the general health of the public by making drinks lawmakers deem unhealthy more expensive to buy, thereby reducing consumer demand for those drinks.

But instead of harnessing economics and social engineering to improve people’s health, soda taxes end up abusing taxpayers and improving only the health of governments’ revenue streams.

In Boulder and Oakland, for instance, the tax will be paid directly by grocery distributors. But consumers will be the ones paying the bill in the form of price hikes that will be passed along to cover the additional cost of doing business and selling food to consumers.

Not only will consumer prices go up, the price increases will almost certainly fail to achieve their stated goal: Reducing consumer demand for unhealthy products. Scholarly research has shown the link between lawmakers’ intentions and consumers’ reactions to be as fleeting and tenuous as the fizz escaping from a freshly opened two-liter can of soda.

In 2015, University of Massachusetts-Amherst researchers Francesca Colantuoni and Christian Rojas examined datasets consisting of nearly a decade’s worth of consumer data collected in two states in order to study how consumers in the real world have reacted to health-related taxes on soda. They found that instead of reducing consumption of sugary drinks, health-related taxes had no measurable impact on consumers’ purchases — even though the taxes did increase the price of the goods they bought. As they put it: “after the tax is applied, there is an overall increase in the tax-exclusive price in the treatment city that does not translate in a decrease in consumption either.” In other words, soda taxes don’t make consumers buy less soda, but they do make groceries more expensive. Read More > at Real Clear Policy

How Self-Driving Cars Will Change It All—From Energy to Real Estate – Saving human lives

Every year, a global total of 1.2 million people die in car accidents. 40% of those accidents involve alcohol. While it’s undeniable that fatalities will occur in self-driving cars, the precision of the computers running the cars will be far superior to human motor skills, coordination, and reactive ability. Plus, self-driving cars aren’t likely to throw back one last cocktail before making the journey home.


A staggering 25% of energy use and greenhouse gases come from cars. According to Templeton, anyone who says they’re working on environmental issues isn’t really doing so unless they’re working on cars. The gradual elimination of petroleum-based fuel, changes in car design and manufacturing processes, and corresponding reduction in emissions will result in a cleaner planet and an abundant amount of energy resources that can be re-directed to other purposes.

Real estate

Picture your own city, suburb, or town. How much of the land area has been paved over and sectioned off to serve as parking space? Parking lots are everywhere, taking up land that could otherwise hold buildings or green space. When self-driving cars replace human-driven vehicles, we won’t need all those parking lots anymore, hence a lot of real estate will be freed up. Not to mention the fact that you might opt to live farther out of town—where homes don’t cost an arm and a leg—because you have a more comfortable and productive commute in a car that drives you to work. Read More > at Singularity Hub

Congressional Chaplains: Can They Welcome All Religions and No Religion at All? – This past spring, on the National Day of Prayer, the Freedom from Religion Foundation—a group that advocates for the separation of church and state—filed suit against Congress. Their claim? That House of Representatives Chaplain Patrick Conroy rejected an application from their co-president Dan Barker, an atheist, to deliver a secular guest invocation before the House. An atheist or agnostic has never spoken before Congress as a guest chaplain. Jews have delivered less than three percent of House innovations in the last fifteen years, and Muslims and Hindus even fewer according to the complaint.

This case raises important questions not just about guest chaplains in Congress but about congressional chaplains themselves and the historical precedent of opening all sessions of Congress with a prayer or invocation. How, in a country committed to the formal separation of church and state, did this come to be the practice? And who, in our religiously diverse nation should be allowed to speak? If people from some religious backgrounds are given a place at this congressional podium, a wide range must be represented—including atheists—if we are committed to being a truly pluralistic nation.

Before the question of who can open Congress with a prayer or invocation, some history. The U.S. Congress has almost always had formal chaplains, though there is little historical or social scientific research about them or their prayers and invocations. The American tradition of legislative prayer dates to 1774, when Jacob Duché, rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, was recruited to offer prayers before the First Continental Congress. After the U.S. Constitution was ratified, the Senate selected Samuel Proovost, an Episcopal bishop from New York, as chaplain in April 1789. The House elected William Linn, a Philadelphia Presbyterian minister, as its first chaplain a month later. Proovost and Linn each received an annual salary of $500. After Congress moved to Washington, D.C., local clergy took turns leading prayer until permanent chaplains were appointed. Read More > at Religion & Politics

Football’s Endgame: What would happen if America’s pastime just … died? – Scrimmaging is out, scrummaging is in. Rucking and mauling are legal; the forward pass, not so much.

It is Sunday, Sept. 7, 2036. Still aglow from Team USA’s dominant performance in the Nairobi Olympics—yet again, Americans ruled the obstacle-course racing events—sports fans across the republic eagerly anticipate a full slate of American Rugby League matches.

Locks, props and hookers, it turns out, were the primary beneficiaries of the demise of the NFL. Long believed to be invincible, that cash-minting colossus collapsed in the late 2020s under the weight of litigation, insurance woes and the dramatic decline in youths taking up the sport. The cancellation of hundreds of high school programs—the result of exorbitant insurance after a succession of lawsuits—starved colleges of players. No longer nourished by its once reliable feeder system, the league’s days were numbered.

The first autumn post-football was the most traumatic. Hotlines were set up in NFL cities to provide grief counseling. Bereft fans learned about DABDA, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of coping with traumatic loss. They became adept at figuring out where they stood on her grim continuum of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

…The quietus of football also gave a Haloti Ngata-sized boost to the very sport that midwifed it a century and a half earlier. Responding (too late, alas) to concerns over head injuries, college and NFL teams, most notably the Seahawks, had begun teaching their players rugby-style tackling—target the thigh, hit with the shoulder—which proved far safer than using one’s helmeted head as a missile. With Pop Warner no longer an option, tens of thousands of kids turned to rugby. Once a fallback for college football players who saw no future for themselves on the gridiron (but liked the idea of a contact sport with a keg on the sideline), American rugby evolved. With boys and girls learning fundamentals at an early age, rugby, as Ken Burns opined in his 2032 documentary, Death Spiral, satisfied “those overlapping urges baked into the American DNA alongside the doctrine of Manifest Destiny: bloodlust and the seizing of territory.” Read More > in Sports Illustrated

Alzheimer’s: New drug that halts mental decline is ‘best news for dementia in 25 years’ – The first drug that can prevent Alzheimer’s disease is finally on the horizon after scientists proved they can clear the sticky plaques from the brain which cause dementia and halt mental decline.

Hailed as the “best news” in dementia research for 25 years, the breakthrough is said to be a potential “game changer” for people with Alzheimer’s.

Scientists said they were amazed to find that patients treated with the highest dose of the antibody drug aducanumab experienced an almost complete clearance of the amyloid plaques that prevent brain cells communicating, leading to irreversible memory loss and cognitive decline.

Crucially they also found that after six months of the treatment, patients stopped deteriorating compared with those taking a placebo, suggesting that their dementia had been halted.

If shown to be effective in larger trials, the first drug to prevent dementia could be available in just a few years. Read More > in The Telegraph

For students, the overlooked test score gap that isn’t closing – For decades, the standardized test scores of California students have shown that achievement gaps based on race, ethnicity and class—while troubling—tended to narrow over time. And an alarming gender discrepancy that once showed girls testing significantly behind boys in math has actually vanished.

But while the state’s newly released 2016 scores show small improvements overall compared to last year’s results, one largely overlooked gap persists. In virtually every major school district in the state, boys continue to score lower than girls in English. That gender gap is not only dramatic; it actually increased slightly from last year.

Statewide, 54 percent of California girls passed the 2016 English portion of the exam, compared to about 42 percent of boys. That 12 percentage point gap is 1 point larger than it was in 2015.

But perhaps more remarkable is how consistently girls edged boys across the entire state.

A CALmatters analysis of the test results that parents will receive about their children this month discovered that out of the 700 school districts where at least 100 students of each gender took the test, only two school districts in the entire state saw male students outperform their female peers. That encompasses a wide swath (about 70 percent) of school districts with students of diverse demographic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Read More > at Calmatters

Rutgers: to avoid microaggressions, only speak when ‘necessary’ – Students in at least one Rutgers University residence hall are being encouraged to use only language that is “helpful” and “necessary” to avoid committing microaggressions.

The display, photos of which were obtained by Campus Reform, is titled “Language Matters: Think,” and was placed in the College Avenue Apartments by a resident assistant, according to a current resident of the building who does not wish to be identified.

Erected as part of the university’s “Language Matters” campaign, the bulletin board instructs students to ask themselves whether their choice of words is “true,” “helpful,” “inspiring,” “necessary,” and “kind” before speaking out, and also includes a list of potentially-offensive terms, such as “retarded” and “illegal aliens.”

The board warns students that failing to follow these guidelines could lead them to commit a microaggression, which include “microassaults,” “microinsults,” and “microinvalidations.” Read More > at Campus Reform

Court Upholds Ban on Gun Sales to Marijuana Card Holders – A federal ban on the sale of guns to holders of medical marijuana cards doesn’t violate the Second Amendment, a federal appeals court said Wednesday.

The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco came in a lawsuit filed by S. Rowan Wilson, a Nevada woman who said she tried to buy a firearm for self-defense in 2011 after having obtained a medical marijuana card. The gun store refused, citing the federal rule banning the sale of firearms to illegal drug users.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has told gun sellers they can assume that a person with a medical marijuana card uses the drug.

The 9th Circuit said in its 3-0 decision that Congress reasonably concluded that marijuana and other drug use “raises the risk of irrational or unpredictable behavior with which gun use should not be associated.” Read More > at NBC News

Driverless Cars: When the Internet Takes the Wheel – As researchers around the globe continue to tinker with autonomous driving software, they’re also anticipating its potential impact. Handing the keys over to algorithms means our cars will, in effect, become an information technology. But unlike laptops and smartphones, connected cars will alter the world around us.

Most cars on the road today are either Level 1 (the driver controls everything) or Level 2 (which incorporates newer bells and whistles like adaptive cruise control and automatic lane centering). Level 3 provides limited self-driving automation; drivers are still expected to commandeer navigation at some points along the journey. Once we reach Level 4, passengers just get in and say “Hey Siri, take me to grandma’s house.” That’s what Google is working on; its prototype has no steering wheel or pedals (video below), though the Little Tikes-esque AVs currently cruising California streets require them by law for now.

Before anything approaching Level 4 is let loose in the wild, though, a not-insubstantial number of legal, ethical, and technical issues need to be addressed—the sensors on Google’s cars, for example, reportedly still have trouble discerning between a bag blowing in the wind and a deer galloping into oncoming traffic. Still, it’s a good bet that most people reading this will see an autonomous car on a street near them in their lifetime. Read More > at PC Magazine

Opinion: September is the worst month for U.S. stocks, and no one knows why – September is an awful month for the U.S. stock market, regardless of how you slice and dice the data.

Since the Dow Jones Industrial Average was created in the late 1890s, September has produced an average loss of 1.1%. The 11 other months of the calendar, in contrast, have produced an average gain of 0.8%.

Furthermore, September’s awful record can’t be traced to just one or two terrible years. On the contrary, the month has an impressively consistent record at or near the bottom of the rankings.

In fact, as you can see from the accompanying chart, September was a below-average performer in all but one of the dozen decades since the late 1800s. And in more than half of those decades, it was in 11th or 12th place in a ranking of monthly average performance. Read More > at Market Watch

IRS doesn’t tell 1M taxpayers that illegals stole their Social Security numbers – The IRS has discovered more than 1 million Americans whose Social Security numbers were stolen by illegal immigrants, but officials never bothered to tell the taxpayers themselves, the agency’s inspector general said in a withering new report released Tuesday.

Investigators first alerted the IRS to the problem five years ago, but it’s still not fixed, the inspector general said, and a pilot program meant to test a solution was canceled — and fell woefully short anyway.

As a result, most taxpayers don’t learn that their identities have been stolen and their Social Security files may be screwed up.

“Taxpayers identified as victims of employment-related identity theft are not notified,” the inspector general said. Read More > in The Washington Times

Y Combinator startup uses Big Data to invest in civil lawsuits – Peter Thiel’s funding of Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker showed many Americans, apparently for the first time, that civil lawsuits are sometimes heavily backed by people who aren’t personally involved in the cases.

It’s actually grown into a $3 billion “industry” that Legalist, a startup in Y Combinator’s summer batch, is taking aim at. It isn’t the first new company jumping into litigation finance. LexShares, YieldStreet and Trial Funder are three others.

But Legalist founders Eva Shang and Christian Haigh — a pair of Harvard undergrads — are applying algorithms to determine which civil lawsuits are the most likely to pay out and which won’t.

Legalist has invested $75,000 in one case so far, with a predicted potential for a $1 million verdict. The amount Shang expects her company will invest in a case is between $50,000 and $500,000. It hopes to get up to 50 percent of any award or settlement. Read More > in the Silicon Valley Business Journal

Preseason CFB rankings: 128 to 1 – The 2016 college football season had its soft launch late Friday night, when California beat Hawaii 51-31 in Australia, and now we’re just moments away from the real start of the season: a marathon opening weekend, from Thursday to Labor Day night, filled with intriguing matchups that make this one of the best first weeks of football ever.

Over the past few months, Sports on Earth has broken down every team and every conference, ranked the top 128 players and predicted a Heisman winner, all 40 bowl matchups and the national champion.

Now, it’s time for one last evaluation of every Football Bowl Subdivision team, counting them all down from 128 to 1, featuring a positive comment or reason to watch all of them. (Note: these may not line up completely with bowl projections; they are a combination of current talent and projecting what will happen during the season.) Read More > at Sports on Earth

Caution: Men (Not) At Work – While the Fed and government policymakers fret over “full employment,” a new study by one of America’s leading demographers and economists argues that in fact we are in the midst of a full-blown unemployment crisis — one that remains, in his words, “hidden.”

This Friday, a new jobs report will come out. If the Wall Street consensus is correct, it will show the unemployment rate continuing to hover around 5% while nonfarm payrolls will grow about 180,000 for the month. But that won’t tell the whole story.

Nicholas Eberstadt, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, argues in a new book called “Men Without Work,” due out next week, that we’re suffering not from full employment, but massive underemployment — in particular, nearly one out of six working-age men have no job and are no longer looking for one. A release for his book calls this “a hidden time bomb with far-reaching economic, social and political consequences.” With 10 million fewer male workers in the labor force than we should have, it’s hard to disagree.

Eberstadt, who is highly respected on both sides of the political spectrum for his rigorous use of data, notes a number of shocking statistics that belie the current wisdom of a booming jobs market. To wit:

  • Men age 25 to 54 now have a lower labor participation rate than they did in 1940, as the Great Depression was winding down. It’s also far lower than in 1948, the year millions of men from World War II were flooding the labor market.
  • As noted earlier, one in six men today have no job and most have given up looking. At current trends, one in five will be out of the labor force in a generation.
  • African-American men are twice as likely to be in this condition as either whites or Latinos.
  • Many of these nonworking men support themselves by government disability benefits. Read More > at Investor’s Business Daily

New smartphone batteries lasting twice as long will hit the market next year – A US startup is about to release a new kind of battery that offers twice the energy capacity of the lithium ion batteries we use in our devices today.

The doubling of capacity in these new lithium metal batteries comes from components that make the energy storage twice as dense as lithium ion, but the developers say their technology is just as safe and equally durable.

“With two-times the energy density, we can make a battery half the size, but that still lasts the same amount of time, as a lithium ion battery,” Qichao Hu Hu, CEO of SolidEnergy, told Rob Matheson at MIT News. “Or we can make a battery the same size as a lithium ion battery, but now it will last twice as long.” Read More > at Science Alert

Foreign hackers attacked two state election systems, FBI warns – Hackers outside of the United States attacked two state election databases in recent months and the FBI is warning voting officials across the country to bulk up security and investigate their own systems for similar malicious activity, Yahoo News reports. The twin hacks were outed in a “flash” alert from the FBI’s Cyber Division. The alert does not say which states were targeted, though Yahoo reports that it likely refers to attacks in Arizona and Illinois.

Officials in Illinois closed the state’s voter registration system for 10 days in July after hackers stole the personal data of 200,000 citizens. In Arizona, malicious software was found in the state voter registration system in June, but no information was stolen.

The FBI alert discloses eight IP addresses used in the hacks and suggests that the attacks were linked, as one of the addresses was used in both intrusions. The bureau is investigating whether the hackers attempted to infiltrate other state election systems as well. Read More > at Engadget

Sleep ‘resets’ brain connections crucial for memory and learning, study reveals – For Jules Verne it was the friend who keeps us waiting. For Edgar Allan Poe so many little slices of death. But though the reason we spend a third of our lives asleep has so far resisted scientific explanation, research into the impact of sleepless nights on brain function has shed fresh light on the mystery – and also offered intriguing clues to potential treatments for depression.

In a study published on Tuesday, researchers show for the first time that sleep resets the steady build-up of connectivity in the human brain which takes place in our waking hours. The process appears to be crucial for our brains to remember and learn so we can adapt to the world around us.

The loss of a single night’s sleep was enough to block the brain’s natural reset mechanism, the scientists found. Deprived of rest, the brain’s neurons seemingly became over-connected and so muddled with electrical activity that new memories could not be properly laid down.

But Christoph Nissen, a psychiatrist who led the study at the University of Freiburg, is also excited about the potential for helping people with mental health disorders. One radical treatment for major depression is therapeutic sleep deprivation, which Nissen believes works through changing the patient’s brain connectivity. The new research offers a deeper understanding of the phenomenon which could be adapted to produce more practical treatments. Read More > in The Guardian

California Utility Wants to Install Huge Number of Electric Car Chargers – The biggest utility in California will soon learn whether it can install as many as 7,600 electric vehicle charging stations, a controversial plan that would be the single largest deployment of plug-in spots in the country.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s proposal would have ratepayers foot the $160 million cost. The utility would partner with charging companies but largely would build and maintain the infrastructure. PG&E would prioritize placements at workplaces and multifamily housing, including apartment buildings. A portion would go in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

The utility’s region stretches 70,000 square miles from Humboldt County in Northern California to Bakersfield in the Central Valley. There are 5,000 public chargers right now in PG&E’s territory. Supporters argue a shift is needed in the marketplace to get needed charging stations and attract more EV buyers, as the Golden States aims to cut the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change.

Utilities need to get involved in charging to make EVs mainstream, said Max Baumhefner, an attorney for clean vehicles and fuels at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Read More > in Scientific America

An alarming number of scientific papers contain Excel errors – A surprisingly high number of scientific papers in the field of genetics contain errors introduced by Microsoft Excel, according to an analysis recently published in the journal Genome Biology.

A team of Australian researchers analyzed nearly 3,600 genetics papers published in a number of leading scientific journals — like Nature, Science and PLoS One. As is common practice in the field, these papers all came with supplementary files containing lists of genes used in the research.

The Australian researchers found that roughly 1 in 5 of these papers included errors in their gene lists that were due to Excel automatically converting gene names to things like calendar dates or random numbers.

You see, genes are often referred to in scientific literature by symbols — essentially shortened versions of full gene names. The gene “Septin 2” is typically shortened as SEPT2. “Membrane-Associated Ring Finger (C3HC4) 1, E3 Ubiquitin Protein Ligase” gets mercifully shortened to MARCH1. Read More > in The Washington Post


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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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