Sunday Reading – 09/18/16


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.

Heavenly New Comedy Lampoons Technocratic Rule – Choose your metaphor—the buzzards returning to Hinckley, the lemmings to Lapland—but every year around this time, we swarm to our TV sets for the new fall broadcast season. And a few weeks later, like—choose your metaphor, sated ticks or Zika-bloated Aedes aegypti—we roll dazedly off our couches, wondering what just happened and why.

Between now and Halloween, as the networks roll out 21 new shows, the tube will reel with time-traveling homicide detectives, visionary doctors, bewildered corpses, Mexican exorcists, girl pitchers, Jack Bauer clones, doomed lovers trying to cross stuff off their apoca-lists, stay-at-home dads amazed to find out what wretched little swine they’ve spawned, and remakes of movies you hated the first time around.

Fully half the new shows debut next week as the nets, after several live-and-let-live years of staggering their premieres to avoid quick head-to-head knockouts, resume their ancestral kamikaze ways. The strategy is puzzling, especially since the networks are otherwise proceeding conservatively, avoiding the huge start-up costs of new series (20 is the smallest number in years) and padding out their schedules with sports and one-shot specials. But who am I to question the wisdom of the collective industry braintrust that gave us Supertrain and Viva Laughlin!

Admittedly that’s a low bar, but the comedies that kick off the season Monday night are several hundred thousand cuts above those two epic disasters. NBC’s The Good Place, in fact, is a gem of subversive mockery, trashing everything from New Age cosmic-muffin deism to central planning with gleeful comic bloodlust. Read More > at Reason

Americans divided on how much to spend to battle climate change – It’s going to take a lot of money (among many other things) to help combat climate change, and one of the challenges there has been getting citizens to pay for it. But a new survey from Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research indicates some Americans may be warming to the idea. While the data gathered shows that a whopping 42 percent of people wouldn’t even pay $1 a month on their energy bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, those who were willing to pay might put up some decent cash.

29 percent of survey respondents said they’d pay $20 per month to reduce greenhouse emissions, and 20 percent said they’d pay $50 a month. The $20 threshold is a significant one, as it’s the cost that the government estimates the damages from climate change would be on each household in the country. Still, the negatives in this study are hard to ignore: despite the fact that 77 percent of respondents said they think climate change is happening and 65 percent said the government should do something with it, that 42 percent who wouldn’t even pay a buck a month to do something about it is hard to ignore. Read More > at Engadget

Someone Is Learning How to Take Down the Internet – Over the past year or two, someone has been probing the defenses of the companies that run critical pieces of the Internet. These probes take the form of precisely calibrated attacks designed to determine exactly how well these companies can defend themselves, and what would be required to take them down. We don’t know who is doing this, but it feels like a large nation state. China or Russia would be my first guesses.

First, a little background. If you want to take a network off the Internet, the easiest way to do it is with a distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS). Like the name says, this is an attack designed to prevent legitimate users from getting to the site. There are subtleties, but basically it means blasting so much data at the site that it’s overwhelmed. These attacks are not new: hackers do this to sites they don’t like, and criminals have done it as a method of extortion. There is an entire industry, with an arsenal of technologies, devoted to DDoS defense. But largely it’s a matter of bandwidth. If the attacker has a bigger fire hose of data than the defender has, the attacker wins.

Recently, some of the major companies that provide the basic infrastructure that makes the Internet work have seen an increase in DDoS attacks against them…

…But this all is consistent with what Verisign is reporting. Verisign is the registrar for many popular top-level Internet domains, like .com and .net. If it goes down, there’s a global blackout of all websites and e-mail addresses in the most common top-level domains. Every quarter, Verisign publishes a DDoS trends report. While its publication doesn’t have the level of detail I heard from the companies I spoke with, the trends are the same: “in Q2 2016, attacks continued to become more frequent, persistent, and complex.” Read More > at Schneier on Security

Uber is winning the driverless race, even though it isn’t using its own cars — here’s why – Uber just edged ahead in the driverless car arms race.

The company made a huge move Wednesday when it released its self-driving car to the public for the first time. As part of its pilot program, select Uber users in Pittsburgh will be able to hail and ride in a driverless car. At first, the trips will be for free, but an Uber spokesperson said that may change in time.

A number of car companies are aiming to do this, but Uber is beating them all to the punch.

…Because automakers and tech companies alike predict that the traditional car ownership model will dwindle with the rise of self-driving cars. The theory goes, as cars become more autonomous, it will become cheaper for consumers to hail a driverless car than to own a personal vehicle.

…Car companies are prepping for the decline of personal car ownership by investing in autonomous vehicles that can be used in a fleet setting to transport people wherever they want to go. They know that whoever has the relationship with the customer will ultimately win the ride-sharing market.

But automakers and tech firms will have to play catch-up with Uber in building out a ride-sharing network. Read More > in the Business Insider

Stadium plan to lure Raiders to Las Vegas passes vote – A plan to build an NFL stadium in Las Vegas and lure the Raiders from Oakland crossed a major hurdle Thursday when a Nevada oversight committee voted unanimously to recommend $750 million in public funding for the project.

The Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee recommended raising the hotel tax in the Las Vegas area to help pay for a 65,000-seat domed venue that was promoted and would be partially financed by billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. Proponents still need to win over the governor, the Legislature and three-quarters of NFL owners to make the project a reality, but it’s a significant milestone for a city that’s never had a professional football team and has been hammering out the particulars of the Raiders deal for months. Read More > in the Associated Press

New state water plan may force tighter conservation restrictions – San Francisco faces potentially drastic cutbacks in its water supply, as state regulators proposed leaving more water in three Northern California rivers Thursday to protect wildlife in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta estuary, the linchpin of California’s water supply.

The draft rules by the State Water Resources Control Board would raise the amount of water into the Merced, Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers to 30 to 50 percent of what would naturally flow in them. That means less water would be available for urban users and farmers in the northern San Joaquin Valley, compounding their need to conserve.

Current flows into those rivers dip as low as 10 percent during parts of the year, and, if the plan is made final, state officials said they would start the increase with a midpoint of 40 percent during spring flows from February through June.

“The bottom line is we’ve simply diverted too much water for fish to be able to survive,” said board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus in a telephone interview. “This should have been done earlier, but it’s a hard thing to do in the worst drought in modern history.” Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Campuses Cautiously Train Freshmen Against Subtle Insults – A freshman tentatively raises her hand and takes the microphone. “I’m really scared to ask this,” she begins. “When I, as a white female, listen to music that uses the N word, and I’m in the car, or, especially when I’m with all white friends, is it O.K. to sing along?”

The answer, from Sheree Marlowe, the new chief diversity officer at Clark University, is an unequivocal “no.”

The exchange was included in Ms. Marlowe’s presentation to recently arriving first-year students focusing on subtle “microaggressions,” part of a new campus vocabulary that also includes “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings.”

Microaggressions, Ms. Marlowe said, are comments, snubs or insults that communicate derogatory or negative messages that might not be intended to cause harm but are targeted at people based on their membership in a marginalized group.

Among her other tips: Don’t ask an Asian student you don’t know for help on your math homework or randomly ask a black student if he plays basketball. Both questions make assumptions based on stereotypes. And don’t say “you guys.” It could be interpreted as leaving out women, said Ms. Marlowe, who realized it was offensive only when someone confronted her for saying it during a presentation. Read More > in The New York Times

Get Smart: 13 Big Industries Where Deep Learning Is Being Used To Innovate – From detecting gene abnormalities to predicting weather patterns to identifying false insurance claims, deep learning is creating a new standard for how data is being processed and utilized across industries.

Technology that can mimic and improve on the cognitive abilities of human brain has been the stuff of dystopian movie storylines for decades. But for large companies and research labs, such artificial intelligence has been a longstanding pursuit. Now, a specific breakthrough in AI — deep learning — is allowing business to use data to teach computers how to learn.

Here are 13 industries that are drawing on innovations pioneered by deep learning to make major advances.

1. Healthcare/genomics – Diagnosis and treatment of diseases have become much more precise as doctors have begun to look at an individual’s gene sequence and molecular makeup. They use this information to gain a better understanding of what the markers on an individual’s DNA mean and tailor treatments accordingly. In other words, genetics allows doctors to treat the individual rather than the generalized disease. But there is far more molecular information than doctors can analyze, and a lack of clarity in understanding how an individual may react at a molecular level to external factors, from the environment to drug interactions. This is where deep learning comes in.

5. Retail/e-commerce – Pinterest — where people often share aspirational images of products — is arguably the leading site for social commerce. But often, these images show a collection of items and don’t necessarily identify where something similar might be purchased. Now, using deep learning, the company is turning that repository of images into potential sales by allowing users to zoom in on specific items within an image and be served visually similar pins, some of which could be purchased from retailers’ pins. Pinterest is using the same deep learning-based discovery technology to surface more relevant videos. Read More > at CB Insights

Ford previews the future of self-driving vehicles – This week, Ford invited members of the tech and automotive press to check out the latest developments, including the first rides in its autonomous vehicles. CEO Mark Fields already revealed the company is targeting 2021 for the release of a “Level 4” vehicle that’s fully self-driving, without contrivances like steering wheels or pedals. For now, it’s testing vehicles like these Ford Fusions on its Dearborn, MI campus, the Mcity test track in Ann Arbor, and on public roads in Arizona, Michigan and California.

The video above gives you a taste of what the vehicle actually “sees” on its test route, thanks to a combination of cameras, radar and LIDAR units. Like other self-driving car demonstrations I’ve experienced, the Fusion could navigate the test route without much of a problem, responding to both simulated and live situations easily. The reason the company is waiting until 2018 to deploy its on-campus autonomous transports is partially due to the risk of the unexpected. Besides the scare stories of Tesla Autopilot crashes, in some of the demos the cars hesitated because of situations they weren’t quite ready to handle.

…Still, Ford is going heavy into self-driving tech, with Fields saying he expects it to have as big of an impact as the assembly line did. That video of the data its cars are producing in real-time could even mean more to the future of Ford than the usual HP ratings, as customers increasingly value information and services, in addition to manufacturing and technology Similar to Uber’s self-driving test vehicles, Ford plans to make its first self-driving cars available as part of some type of ride-sharing/ride-hailing. CTO Raj Nair said in an interview that he was surprised by how quickly that market grew, but clearly, the economics are appealing as automakers get ready for a future where people might put more miles on cars that they don’t own. Read More > at Engadget

Hackers Dump US Olympic Athletes’ Drug-Testing Results – Confidential drug-testing results for four U.S. Olympic athletes have been released by a suspected Russian hacking group, one month after the World Anti-Doping Agency warned that one of its critical enforcement databases had been illegally accessed.

On Sept. 13, WADA confirmed that Russian hackers known as Fancy Bear accessed the Anti-Doping Administration and Management System, which organizes drug testing schedules and is used by athletes to keep authorities up-to-date on their locations.

“WADA condemns these ongoing cyber attacks that are being carried out in an attempt to undermine WADA and the global anti-doping system,” says WADA Director General Olivier Niggli. “WADA has been informed by law enforcement authorities that these attacks are originating out of Russia.”

In response to those allegations, a Kremlin spokesman denied that Russia was involved, speaking to Russian state-sponsored broadcaster RT, formerly known as Russia Today.

…The U.S. government says it’s continuing to investigate whether the Russian government is directly involved in the attacks. Several private security companies have linked Fancy Bear and another Russian group, Cozy Bear, to the DNC attacks. Many security firms suspect that Fancy Bear is linked with the GRU, a Russian intelligence agency. Read More > at Data Breach

Bayer clinches Monsanto with improved $66 billion bid – German drug and crop chemical maker Bayer clinched a $66 billion takeover of U.S. seeds company Monsanto on Wednesday, ending months of wrangling with a third sweetened offer that marks the largest all-cash deal on record.

The $128-a-share deal, up from Bayer’s previous offer of $127.50 a share, has emerged as the signature deal in a consolidation race that has roiled the agribusiness sector in recent years, due to shifting weather patterns, intense competition in grain exports and a souring global farm economy.

…But the proposed merger will likely face an intense and lengthy regulatory process in the United States, Canada, Brazil, the European Union and elsewhere. Hugh Grant, Monsanto’s chief executive, said Wednesday the companies will need to file in about 30 jurisdictions for the merger.

Competition authorities are likely to scrutinize the tie-up closely, and some of Bayer’s own shareholders have been highly critical of a takeover that they say risks overpaying and neglecting the company’s pharmaceutical business. Read More > in Reuters

The Basic Income Is the Worst Response to Automation – We’ve been hearing a drumbeat recently of claims that a universal basic income—in effect, a monthly welfare check sent to everyone—is going to be necessary to save all the poor unfortunate souls put out of work by self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, robots, and other new forms of automation.

We are told that the basic income will be “the only way to keep the country’s economy afloat” in an age of automation, or that it will be necessary to absorb millions of truckers thrown out of middle-class jobs by the advent of autonomous vehicles.

Of course, this being the field of high technology, there are always those who will say that it’s not a bug but a feature. So we get Peter Diamandis reassuring us that “technological socialism” can “demonetize living.”

I have already thrown some skepticism at the idea that there is going to be a traumatic transition that will throw middle class people out on the streets without warning—rather than a long and gradual transition over decades, to which people can adapt. The future doesn’t come that fast, and we will get a chance to see it coming. The best response is to encourage people to respond to technological progress and to seek out the new jobs that will become available as the old ones fade away.

Yes, automation is going to disrupt the economy, just as technological progress has always disrupted the economy, continually, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. But helping people to adjust by putting them on a permanent welfare subsidy is the worst and cruelest response, precisely because it pays them not to adapt to the new economy. Read More > at Real Clear Future

The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity – In the early 1600s, pioneering astronomer Johannes Kepler put forth his three laws of planetary motion, which, for the first time, provided an accurate and evidence-based description of the movement of the Solar System’s planets around the Sun. By the end of the century, Isaac Newton followed Kepler’s example with three laws of his own, describing the relationship between an object and the forces acting on it, thus laying the foundations for classical mechanics. Almost exactly three hundred years later, Carlo M. Cipolla, a professor of economic history at the University of California – Berkeley, introduced a set of laws no less revelatory than those of Kepler or Newton: The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity.

While these laws are not taught in grade school, they do hold lessons worthy of reflection in this modern era. Stupidity today is on display more than ever before — on TV, YouTube, and the city streets you frequent each and every day. To better react to and avoid such dimwitted behavior, one must first understand it. Cipolla’s insightful set of five laws is a helpful guide.

His first law sets the stage.

“Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.”

Glaringly pessimistic, the first law is meant to prepare you for what’s out there, and what’s out there are hoards of people who do stupid things, often without notice. And there are always more of them than you think.

Contributing to the first law is Cipolla’s second law.

“The probability that a certain person will be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.”

Anybody, whether intellectual or ignorant, blue-collar or white collar, book smart or street smart, can be stupid. Moreover, idiocy persists at roughly equal proportions at all levels of society. The rate of stupidity amongst Nobel laureates is just as high as it is amongst male swimmers on the U.S. Olympic team. Read More > at Real Clear Science

Frustrated transportation groups urge the Legislature to come back in a lame-duck session – Saying that “it is time to stop ignoring the transportation needs of our state,” a coalition of more than four dozen economic and local government groups urged state lawmakers on Wednesday to restart talks on a transportation funding agreement before the end of November.

“Everyone in California seems to recognize that our transportation system is in terrible shape and the cost of repairs are going up each year,” said the letter, signed by 64 representatives of business, labor and government groups.

“Leaders in both parties and the governor must work together to develop a consensus approach that will provide additional funding, protect and dedicate those dollars for transportation improvements and include appropriate reforms so the money is spent in an accountable and efficient manner.”

Gov. Jerry Brown convened special legislative sessions in 2015 on healthcare and transportation funding needs, and a broad agreement on the healthcare portion of the task was struck earlier this year.

Transportation negotiations, though, have failed to resolve the key sticking point: A supermajority vote is needed in both the Assembly and Senate to increase the state’s gasoline tax, a key component of plans from Brown and Democrats. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Sunlight is the best disinfectant — and in California’s Legislature, there’s a lot to disinfect – California’s November ballot will be crammed with contentious and complex state ballot measures, enough to give voters a migraine. But one of them shouldn’t require two minutes’ thought.

It’s Proposition 54, a motherhood-and-apple-pie proposal if there ever was one.

That doesn’t mean there’s no opposition. There’s plenty. It’s just that hardly anyone — the state Democratic Party being one exception — wants to stand up and admit they’re against good government.

Proposition 54 is all about trying to make the state Legislature more transparent and thoughtful — less secretive and, too often, slimy.

The measure would do three things:

First, and most important, it would require any bill to be in print and accessible on the Internet for at least 72 hours before the Legislature could pass it. No more last-minute cut-and-paste jobs covertly created by lobbyists, a handful of legislative leaders and the governor.

The 72-hour mandate could be waived if the governor declared a public emergency — in the event of an earthquake or flood, for example — and the relevant legislative house approved the move by a two-thirds vote.

Second, the Legislature would be required to video-record all its public meetings and post them online within 24 hours. The Senate already does this, mostly, but the Assembly is inconsistent.

Third, citizens would be allowed to record a public meeting and use the audio-video for any purpose, including in a negative campaign ad. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Ford shifting all U.S. small-car production to Mexico – Ford plans to eventually shift all North American small-car production from the U.S. to Mexico, CEO Mark Fields told investors Tuesday, even though the company’s production investments in Mexico have become a lightning rod for controversy in the presidential election.

“Over the next two to three years, we will have migrated all of our small-car production to Mexico and out of the United States,” Fields said at a daylong investor conference in Dearborn.

The impact on Ford’s U.S. employment will be minimal in the near-term. Ford already builds the Fiesta subcompact and the Fusion mid-size sedan in Mexico. There is an expectation that Ford will build a new Ranger mid-size pickup truck in Wayne and possibly a new Bronco compact sport-utility.

The automaker also still will make the Ford Mustang at its plant in Flat Rock, Michigan and will begin making the full-size Lincoln Continental there later this year. It also makes the full-size Ford Taurus in Chicago. Read More > in the Detroit Free Press

Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low – Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with 32% saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. This is down eight percentage points from last year.

Gallup began asking this question in 1972, and on a yearly basis since 1997. Over the history of the entire trend, Americans’ trust and confidence hit its highest point in 1976, at 72%, in the wake of widely lauded examples of investigative journalism regarding Vietnam and the Watergate scandal. After staying in the low to mid-50s through the late 1990s and into the early years of the new century, Americans’ trust in the media has fallen slowly and steadily. It has consistently been below a majority level since 2007. Read More > at Gallup

Good News! We’re Almost as Rich as 15 Years Ago – Good news—in fact, terrific news—permeates the newest government report on the incomes Americans report on their federal tax returns.

After more than a decade in the economic doldrums, with too few jobs and stagnant wages afflicting the vast majority of Americans, average incomes rose significantly in 2014, though the average income remains below the level in 2000. Investors did especially well.

Overall, Americans reported significantly more income in 2014 than in 2012 and 2013, my analysis of a new Internal Revenue Service report shows. The number of tax returns also grew.

Total adjusted gross income—the last line on the front page of a Form 1040 tax return—was almost $9.8 trillion, up 5.7% over 2013 after adjusting for inflation. It was also higher than in 2012, the last year that the George W. Bush tax cuts applied to the top 1%. Read More > in The Daily Beast

Fewer California homes went into foreclosure last month. What does that mean for home prices? – Marty Rodriguez can remember the days when Southern California was awash in home foreclosures.

Banks were giving out mortgage loans to borrowers who often didn’t have to verify their income. In some cases, they didn’t even have prove they had a job. At the peak of the housing meltdown in 2010, nearly 2.9 million U.S. homes fell victim to foreclosure filings.

“It was raining foreclosures and short sales,” said Rodriguez, owner of the Century 21 Marty Rodriguez realty office in Glendora. “Back then about 40 percent of our transactions involved foreclosures or short sales.”

Fortunately, things have changed.

Figures released Tuesday from industry tracker CoreLogic show that in July just 0.3 percent of all California homes with a mortgage were in some stage of foreclosure. That’s a considerably lower percentage than New Jersey (3.3 percent) and New York (3 percent).

California’s inventory of foreclosure properties also fell more than 30 percent in July from a year earlier. Read More > in the Los Angeles Daily News

Walmart Is Developing A Self-Driving Shopping Cart – In the future, shopping carts may push themselves.

Walmart is now working on a self-driving shopping cart that customers would be able to hail like an Uber – possible through a smartphone app.

The retailer filed a patent for a cart that has a motor and video cameras.

The best part? It would also be able to return itself from customers’ cars to the store. Read More > at CBS Boston

Uber Debuts Self-Driving Cars in Pittsburgh – When Pittsburgh wakes up on Wednesday morning, some residents will have the choice of going about their day in an Uber that drives itself.

The launch of Uber’s self-driving pilot program marks the public unveiling of the company’s secretive work in autonomous vehicles and the first time self-driving cars have been so freely available to the U.S. public.

More than two years ago Uber – like most in the car business – identified autonomous driving technology as the springboard for the next stage of growth.

The aggressive San Francisco-based startup has already shaken up the world’s taxi services, earning a valuation of $68 billion. It plans ultimately to replace many of its 1.5 million drivers with autonomous vehicles.

But it is not as if robots are taking over the Steel City. There will be only four self-driving vehicles available to passengers, to start, and two people will sit in the front to take over driving when the car cannot steer itself. Read More > in Fortune

The comeback of cursive – PARENTS are not the only ones bemoaning the way so many schools have given up teaching children to write longhand. Researchers are also aware that more than mere pride in penmanship is lost when people can no longer even read, let alone write, cursive script. Not being able to exchange notes with the boss or authenticate signatures, for instance, can hurt a person’s chances of promotion. More importantly—and intriguingly—though, learning to join letters up in a continuous flow across the page improves a child’s ability to retain and understand concepts and inferences in a way that printing those letters (and, a fortiori, typing them on a keyboard) does not. It even allows insights gained in one learning experience to be applied to wholly different situations.

Neurophysiologists in Norway and France, for example, have found that different parts of the brain are stimulated when reading letters learned by writing them on paper, rather than by typing them on a keyboard. The movement and tactile response involved in handwriting leaves a memory trace in the sensorimotor part of the brain, which are retrieved when reading the letters involved. Being essentially the same for each key stroke, the feedback from typing lacks the kind of motor memories associated with individual letters. If handwriting reinforces reading, the implications for teaching are huge.

Similarly, researchers in America tested how college students performed when taking notes of a lecture by hand as opposed to using a laptop. While the laptop users took copious (mostly verbatim) notes, they fared far worse than the pen-and-paper scribblers when tested on what they recalled about the concepts and inferences of the lecture. Being slower, taking notes by hand forced those who did so to process what the lecturer was saying and then paraphrase it. This reflection and reframing allowed them to understand and recall the material better. In contrast, typing merely led to mindless processing. Read More > in The Economists

The Simple Solution to Traffic

Scientists just got closer to understanding the genetic roots of crime — and it’s making them nervous – There is no easy explanation for why some people commit crimes and others don’t.

But at the same time, the population of people who end up in prison do share some traits. And scientists have now traced one common criminal trait to specific genes.

Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) is wildly overrepresented in prisons. Take a crowd of 100 people of the street, and chances are just one to three of them will have ASPD. Take 100 people from a prison, and you can expect 40 to 70 of them to have the disorder.

That’s significant, because ASPD has been linked with aggression, irritability, disregard for rules, disregard for other people, and dishonesty.

It’s a controversial diagnosis — broad, ill-defined, and overlapping heavily with other disorders like psychopathy.

But there’s reason to take it seriously. Twin studies suggest that genetics explain about half of the variance in ASPD diagnoses, and environmental factors the other half. And a new study has begun the task of identifying which genes are most likely involved in ASPD, with significant success. Read More > in the Business Insider

Apple “Rejiggers” Self-Driving Car Project – Apple is “rejiggering” its electric self-driving car program, cutting some employees and reassigning others to new areas of focus, sources told BuzzFeed News.

The New York Times reported Friday that Apple has “shuttered parts of its self-driving car project and laid off dozens of employees.” Sources confirmed to BuzzFeed News that while Apple has cut more than 20 employees, others have been shifted to new positions as the company refines Project Titan’s focus, which is increasingly oriented on autonomous driving technologies and away from self-driving cars.

Apple hired the former head of Blackberry’s auto software division, Dan Dodge, to support an increased focus on self-driving technology, Bloomberg reported in July. The company also moved Bob Mansfield, a longtime senior executive and hardware veteran, to Project Titan this year.

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment Friday.

The increased focus on autonomy comes as automakers race to put self-driving vehicles on the road. Uber will begin a pilot program next week in Pittsburgh to pick up passengers in self-driving Volvos. Ford said last month that it plans to mass-produce self-driving vehicles by 2021. Read More > at Buzz Feed

ROBOCROOK Computers and robots will commit more crimes than humans by 2040, experts warn – You’ve heard of Robocop, the fictional man-machine on a mission to lock human criminals away.

But experts fear the opposite will soon come true and it will be machines that end up becoming the criminals, leaving us humans powerless to stop them.

Artificial intelligence experts have claimed that computers and robots will commit more crimes than humans by 2040.

….“Futurists have been forecasting a sharp rise in lone-wolf terror attacks for years. But once robots can be hacked to become suicide-bombing machines, lone-robot attacks could become rife too.”

The robotic crime wave will be driven by the rise of artificial intelligence, which is expected to give machines a cognitive ability which could even surpass that of humans.

If the robotic crimewave seems like a distant prospect, you should consider a statistic from the National Crime Agency, which found that cyber crime made up 54 percent of total offences in 2015.

As our world becomes increasingly connected, the crimes will become more and more sophisticated, with effects in the real world and not just the virtual one. Read More > in The Sun

How Does America Keep Finding Vast Stores of Energy? Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported on an energy bonanza. A company discovered a new field with “the equivalent of at least two billion barrels of oil” that “has the promise to become one of the biggest energy finds of the past decade.”

But the discovery wasn’t made by a foreign company in the Amazon, or deep in the waters off the coast off Africa, or in Kazakhstan—or any of the other politically treacherous, high-risk, low-infrastructure places where Big Oil has been prospecting for gigantic new gushers. Instead, the lucky firm was Texas-based Apache Corporation, which struck black gold in Texas’s Permian Basin, one of America’s most prolific and picked-over sources of oil and natural gas for decades…

What has been dubbed the “Alpine High” is just the latest output of an energy equation that works for America and American firms in a way that doesn’t work anywhere else. You start with an embarrassment of natural resources arrayed across an expansive territory, multiply it by new technology and innovation that allows for the efficient mining and harnessing of the resources, add capital, and then raise it to an exponential power through the propensity to scale. The result? While many parts of the world suffer from energy and power scarcity (I just returned from Tanzania, where only about one-quarter of the population has electricity), and while many companies and countries are looking far beyond their borders for the fuel that can satisfy their customers, the U.S. is solving the problem of expensive energy and forging new domestic industries. Read More > at Slate

‘Unprecedented’ $200B in transportation funding nationwide; $13B locally – Transportation infrastructure has reached crisis levels across the country — and perhaps nowhere is that more true than in the Bay Area, where voters in November’s election will be asked to contribute close to $14 billion to shore up the region’s aging public transit systems and improve roadways to relieve traffic congestion.

Leaders across the region said the stakes couldn’t be higher.

“Our economic growth and our future is literally choking in traffic,” said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo in an interview Monday. “It is always expensive to expand transit infrastructure and to maintain our streets and roads, but the alternative is far more costly.”

Nationwide, voters will be asked to pay for nearly $200 billion in transportation improvements in what Richard White, president of the American Public Transportation Association, called “unprecedented” levels. At a gathering of transportation officials from across the country in Los Angeles on Monday, White described it as a “historic opportunity” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support local economies and create healthier communities.

But to local government officials and transportation districts, the hope of more funding for key projects is a mere sliver of light in what has otherwise been described as a maelstrom: Not only are urban mega regions like the Bay Area experiencing booming populations with soaring transit ridership, but the infrastructure meant to carry those people is growing older and less reliable. Read More > in The Mercury News

Pot Breathalyzer Hits the Street – American police have for the first time used a marijuana breathalyzer to evaluate impaired drivers, the company behind the pioneering device declared Tuesday, saying it separately confirmed its breath test can detect recent consumption of marijuana-infused food.

The two apparent firsts allow Hound Labs to move forward with plans to widely distribute its technology to law enforcement in the first half of next year, says CEO Mike Lynn.

Lynn, an emergency room doctor in Oakland, California, also is a reserve officer with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and he helped pull over drivers in the initial field tests, none of whom were arrested after voluntarily breathing into the handheld contraption.

Two people admitted smoking marijuana within the past 30 minutes, Lynn says, and in a satisfying validation for his technology — created with University of California chemistry assistance — their readouts were much higher than the rest.

Other drivers, he says, admitted to smoking marijuana within the two-to-three-hour window that the device appears able to detect the high-inducing compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) on a smoker’s breath, and the test confirmed it. Read More > at U.S. News and World Report

The four-letter word that has liberal celebrities ducking for cover – On Aug. 30, actor and liberal activist Mark Ruffalo was suddenly less “woke” than he’d been the day before.

His crime? He’d signed on to executive produce a film in which the openly gay actor Matt Bomer will play a trans woman. The trans community was outraged: Why had a trans actor not been cast?

…Yet casting Bomer endangered Ruffalo’s wokeness — which is now the ne plus ultra of political correctness.

To be woke is to be beyond awake to every civil and humanitarian injustice, large or small. It is to be aware not just of “white privilege” — another legitimate concept that sounds smugly chic — but of whatever societal, economic, racial privilege you may enjoy, to feel just enough guilt about it and to engage with the world thusly.

“Woke” was added to Dictionary.com this year, along with cisgender (anyone not transgender), misgender (mistaking someone as male or female) and panromantic (someone attracted to all gender identities and orientations). Wokeness is the subject of countless essays and online forums. There are sites where you can buy “woke” merchandise, branded sweatpants and baseball caps. (Sartorially, the Black Panther movement this is not.) Read More > in the New York Post

Regulators Slam Wells Fargo for Identity Theft – For years, some Wells Fargo employees subscribed the bank’s customers to products they didn’t request, and that practice has now triggered $185 million in fines.

The second-largest U.S. bank was accused by state and federal regulators of allowing its employees to access customers’ personal information – and in some cases forging data – to subscribe them to products, such as credit cards, that both generated revenue for the bank as well as commissions for salespeople. Prosecutors say an astounding 2 million ghost deposit and credit card accounts were opened without customers’ knowledge, or through misrepresentation.

This institutionalized campaign of fraud at Wells Fargo may represent one of the largest incidents of organized identity theft ever recorded.

On Sept. 8, Wells Fargo accepted related penalties imposed by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Los Angeles city attorney. It will pay a $100 million fine to the CFPB – the largest fine the agency has ever levied; $35 million to the OCC; $50 million to Los Angeles and $5 million in remediation to customers. Read More > at Data Breach

Older and jobless – the U.S. recovery’s forgotten story – Six years after the Great Recession ended, jobless older workers are the forgotten story of the economic recovery. U.S. employers are creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs every month, but millions of older workers who want a job cannot find work.

The economic data documenting the problem is clear. So is one of the most important causes: age discrimination.

Consider the government jobs report released late last week. On the surface, job growth look is looking solid – the national jobless rate in August was unchanged at 4.9 percent, and 151,000 new jobs were created. More than 270,000 new jobs were added in each of the previous two months.

The jobless rate for workers over 55 was even lower, at just 3.5 percent. But that figure is deceptive. If you add in workers holding part-time jobs who would rather be working full time, and unemployed workers who have recently given up on seeking work, the jobless rate for older workers last month was 8.7 percent, according to analysis of the government figures by the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis (SCEPA) at the New School.

Further, if you add jobless workers who gave up looking after more than four weeks, the 55-plus unemployment rate is a whopping 12 percent, SCEPA analysis shows. Looked at another way, 2.5 million older Americans want a job but do not have one. Read More > in Reuters

‘An aggressive proposal that touched a lot of nerves’: Why Gov. Brown’s plan to stem the housing crisis failed – The idea behind Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to stem the state’s housing affordability crisis was simple: Make it easier to build houses.

If developers pledged to set aside some units in their projects for low-income residents, the governor’s proposed legislation would have eliminated some local hurdles to building, likely leading to a modest increase in construction.

Yet the proposal the governor unveiled in May represented a profound shakeup in how the development process would have worked in California. The measure challenged the primacy of local control over housing, inflamed powerful entrenched interests and was eyed warily by the very groups representing those the plan was supposed to help.

Because of the resistance, Brown’s effort became so unpopular in the state Capitol that not one of 120 lawmakers was willing to publicly stand behind it. After weeks of little action, the plan died a quiet death last month, never having received a vote in the Legislature.

The defeat of Brown’s effort reveals the high obstacles in the way of the governor and legislators who hope to make meaningful increases to home building in California at the same time the problem is getting worse. The state’s average home price of $466,900 is nearing 2 ½ times the national figure and rising. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

It’s Kim Jong-un’s World; We’re Just Living In It – News that North Korea has detonated another bomb comes as no surprise; few things are as obvious in this crazy world as the fact that this murderous dictatorship is making steady progress on its weapons program. The Norks are getting better and better at making more powerful bombs and longer range missiles to put them on. President Obama, like Presidents Clinton and Bush before him, sputters indignantly and wrings his hands, but the tick-tock tick-tock of North Korean nuclear build-up goes on.

This tells us many things. It tells us that the security situation is going to continue to deteriorate in East Asia. It tells us that China has resigned itself to an era of confrontation with Japan. It tells us that both South Korea and Japan are losing confidence in America’s will and ability to do anything serious about the scariest security problem they face.

Beyond that, it’s a harsh reminder that, despite the illusions and the optimism of the liberal internationalists among us, the world still runs much the same way it did one hundred years ago.
When hard power fails, all the UN Declarations of Human Rights, all the Security Council resolutions, all the noble speeches about the “international community” are just so much hot air.

Kim Jong-un is getting away with a nuclear build-up and a murderous dictatorship because he can. In theory, the world’s great powers have the ability to stop him. In practice, they are too divided, too busy knifing each other in the back, to cooperate against even a very small and poor country. China won’t cooperate with the United States to stop North Korea because the government in Beijing doesn’t think it is in its national interest to do so. The United States can’t compel China to change its mind about its Korea policy because we lack the strength. Read More > at The American Interest

Dead by Election Day – (Sept. 29 2008 6:54 PM) – What happens if a presidential candidate dies at the last second?
Vice-presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Joe Biden will face off in their first and only debate this Thursday in St. Louis, Mo. Quite a few Explainer readers have asked what would happen if one of the presidential candidates were to die or become otherwise incapacitated before Election Day: Would Palin or Biden assume the nomination?

Not necessarily. Each party has its own protocol for this scenario, but in neither case does the running mate automatically take over the ticket. If John McCain were to die before the election, the rules of the Republican Party authorize the Republican National Committee to fill the vacancy, either by reconvening a national convention or by having RNC state representatives vote. The new nominee must receive a majority vote to officially become the party candidate. If Barack Obama were to die before the election, the Democratic Party’s charter and bylaws state that responsibility for filling that vacancy would fall to the Democratic National Committee, but the rules do not specify how exactly the DNC would go about doing that. (Congress could also pass a special statute and push back Election Day, giving the dead candidate’s party time to regroup.)

What happens if the party doesn’t have time to select and endorse a new candidate? In 2000, Akhil Reed Amar outlined for Slate some of the head-scratching scenarios that might occur if a candidate died just before the election, without enough time to prep new ballots or to decide how votes should be counted.

The outcome would be a little more straightforward—though not necessarily more politically satisfying—if the candidate dies between the general election on Nov. 4 but before the Electoral College votes on Dec. 15. There’s no federal law that mandates how electors must cast their votes; theoretically, if the candidate to whom they were pledged dies and their party has not made a preferred successor clear, electors can vote for their party’s VP candidate, a third-party candidate, or a leading preconvention contender within their own party. Under this scenario, however, individual state laws have the potential to make things murky, given that each state has the power to determine exactly how its electoral votes are to be cast and distributed. Read More > in Slate

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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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2 Responses to Sunday Reading – 09/18/16

  1. Kevin says:

    Ric
    Thanks for the heads up. I haven’t made any significant changes in the website from quite sometime, but I’ll try and see what has changed.

  2. Ric Rickard ( we would eat breakfast together usually Saturdays at 'Mike's Beef and Brew' says:

    I enjoy your blog Mayor Kevin. Your whole blog is cutting off the first 8 or 9 characters to the left side of the page. This has been consistent for the last 4 months or so.

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