Sunday Reading – 10/16/16


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.

Energy-related CO2 emissions for first six months of 2016 are lowest since 1991 – U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions totaled 2,530 million metric tons in the first six months of 2016. This was the lowest emissions level for the first six months of the year since 1991, as mild weather and changes in the fuels used to generate electricity contributed to the decline in energy-related emissions. EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook projects that energy-associated CO2 emissions will fall to 5,179 million metric tons in 2016, the lowest annual level since 1992.

Changing fossil fuel consumption mix. Coal and natural gas consumption each decreased compared to the first six months of 2015. However, the decrease was greater for coal, which generates more carbon emissions when burned than natural gas. Coal consumption fell 18%, while natural gas consumption fell 1%. These declines more than offset a 1% increase in total petroleum consumption, which rose during that period as a result of low gasoline prices. Read More > at the U.S. Energy Information Agency

There’s Never Been A Better Time to Be Alive – Johan Norberg wrote his excellent new book Progress for three reasons. First, because something important happened. Second, because no one believes it. And third, because it’s dangerous that they don’t believe it.

Norberg’s book comprehensively documents the myriad ways the state of humanity has vastly improved over the past couple of centuries. Global life expectancy was just 31 years in 1900. Now it has risen to over 71 years. In 1800, no country on earth had a life expectancy greater than 40 years. Now no country has a life expectancy under 40 years. And people aren’t just living longer; they’re living longer with fewer disabilities.

The World Bank has defined the level of abject poverty at the equivalent of $2 per day. In 1800, when world population was around one billion, 94 percent of our ancestors lived in abject poverty. In 1990, some 37 percent of people still lived below the abject poverty line. Since then, the percentage of people on earth living in abject poverty has fallen below 10 percent.

Being healthier has gotten cheaper. In 1900, for example, the infant mortality rate in countries with a per capita income of $1,000 was 20 per 100 live births. Today, in a country with exactly the same per capita income, the infant mortality rate is 7 per 100 births.

We probably live at the most peaceful time in recorded history; your chances of being killed by another human being are far lower than in the past. For example, the annual homicide rate in medieval Europe was 32 people per 100,000. In the late 20th century, that rate dropped to about 1 per 100,000. The death rates of people being killed in wars have also fallen steeply, dropping from 195 people per million in 1950 to 8 per million in 2013. Read More > at Reason

Self-Driving Cars Could Derail the Future of Passenger Trains – When autonomous vehicles first reach the road, they may be the perfect complement to existing public transportation, helping to shuttle commuters between their homes and commuter rail stations. When fully self-driving cars arrive, they might replace passenger rail altogether.

A new report from The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) sketches that dire future for passenger-train travel and warns private and public rail officials to consider autonomous vehicles as a “serious competitive threat.” Over time, the report says, at least 40 percent of current train passengers will prefer using a driverless car instead of a train.

That transition may be particularly swift in the United States, where cars have long been king. More than three-quarters of Americans commute to work alone in their cars, according to a 2015 American Community Survey report, while an additional 9.4 percent carpool. Only 5.2 percent use public transportation in any form, so even a small shift in habits could send rail into a downward spiral. Read More > at Car and Driver

Record-setting Soberanes Fire in Big Sur finally under control – After burning for nearly three months, the Big Sur wildfire that may go down as the most expensive firefight in U.S. history was brought under full control.

One of the last persistent hot spots of the 132,127-acre Soberanes Fire, flaring in a remote corner of the Los Padres National Forest near Marble Peak, died down amid cooler temperatures and low humidity, allowing firefighters to declare victory Wednesday night.

“It had nowhere to go, and it ended up burning itself out,” Patrick Mahoney, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, said Thursday. “There’s always the potential that it’s burned underground and it could pop back up, but I don’t see any danger of it getting out and making another run.”

Wednesday also marked the official end of the 4,474-acre Loma Fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The blaze, which ignited Sept. 26, destroyed 12 homes along the Santa Clara-Santa Cruz county line near Los Gatos. The cause is under investigation. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

‘Peanuts’ cartoonist Charles Schulz near top of highest-paid “dead celebrities” list – Beloved ‘Peanuts’ cartoonist Charles Schulz ranks second on Forbes’ list of celebrities who amass fortunes after their death.

The list, out Wednesday, put the Santa Rosa resident’s earnings at $48 million, a distant second to the $825 million pulled in by the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

Schulz lives on through the wildly popular antics of Snoopy and the gang, featured most recently in 2015’s ‘The Peanuts Movie’ which made $246.2 million at the box office.

Jackson’s earnings were boosted by Sony’s $750 million purchase of the late singer’s share of Sony/ATV Publishing in March. Read More > in The Press Democrat

$1.6 Million Bill Tests Tiny Town and ‘Bulletproof’ Public Pensions – Until the certified letters from Sacramento started coming last month, Loyalton, Calif., was just another hole in the wall — a fading town of just over 700 that had not made much news since the gold rush of 1849. Its lifeblood, a sawmill, closed in 2001, wiping out jobs, paychecks and just about any reason an outsider might have had for giving Loyalton a second glance.

But then came those letters, thrusting Loyalton onto center stage of America’s public pension drama. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, or Calpers, said Loyalton had 30 days to hand over $1.6 million, more than its entire annual budget, to fund the pensions of its four retirees. Otherwise, Loyalton stood to become the first place in California — perhaps in the nation — where a powerful state retirement system cut retirees’ pensions because their town was a deadbeat.

Public pensions are supposed to be bulletproof, because cities — unlike companies — seldom go bankrupt, and states never do. Of all the states, experts say, California has the most protective pension laws and legal precedents. Once public workers join Calpers, state courts have ruled, their employers must fund their pensions for the rest of their careers, even if the cost was severely underestimated at the outset — something that has happened in California and elsewhere.

Across the country, many benefits were granted at the height of the 1990s bull market on the faulty assumption that investments would keep climbing and cover most of the cost. And that flawed premise is now hitting home in places like Loyalton.

There and elsewhere, local taxpayers are paying more and more, and some elected officials say they want to get off the escalator. But Calpers is strict, telling its 3,007 participating governments and agencies how much they must contribute each year and going after them if they fail to do so. Even municipal bankruptcy is not an excuse. Read More > in The New York Times

What Dreams Are Like When You’re Blind – Here’s a challenge: Reach back in your brain to the last dream you had, or at least the last one you can remember reasonably clearly. Think through how you’d describe it to someone else — where you were, who you encountered, what happened.

And now take a minute to think about how you know those things. If you’re like most people, the answer is pretty straightforward: You know because you saw them. Dreams are primarily visual, heavily influenced by the things we see while we’re awake (so much so, in fact, that people who grew up watching black-and-white television also tend to dream in grayscale).

But when you don’t have any images to draw from, the brain is forced to use other materials to construct its dream world, creating sleeping scenarios rich in sensory information that would otherwise be confined to waking life. On a science website hosted by the University of Illinois, one user summed it up this way: “Our dreams are based on our memories. So a person who has never experienced ‘seeing’ will not dream using sight,” they wrote. “This is just like how you do not dream with sonar images, as humans can not use sonar.”

In dreams, “people occur to me the way that I know them,” says Tommy Edison, who hosts a YouTube channel as the Blind Film Critic. Edison, who’s been blind since birth, interacts with others in his dreams through sound, smell, and sometimes touch: “If I were to meet you in a dream, what I would know is your voice, maybe what perfume you’re wearing.” If it’s someone who’s helped guide him in the past, he might know them in a dream by the feel of their arm. Read More > at New York Magazine

The state government pension crisis: You will be made to care – California Gov. Jerry Brown just signed SB 1234, a bill that establishes the California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Trust, a state-run retirement fund for 7.5 million Californians. All firms with more than four employees will be forced to participate unless they already offer a retirement plan. Unless they opt out, private sector employees will see 3 percent of their salaries automatically deducted from their paychecks to be held in trust by a panel of politicians and political appointees.

What could go wrong?

Per section 100004 (c) of the new law: Moneys in the program fund may be invested or reinvested by the treasurer or may be invested in whole or in part under contract with the Board of Administration of the Public Employees’ Retirement System or private money managers, or both, as determined by the board. What is the California Public Employees’ Retirement System or CalPERS for short? It’s America’s largest public pension fund with some 1.8 million current and retired government employees.

But, as with many public retirement systems around the nation, CalPERS is grossly underfunded. Including the California teacher retirement system and smaller local government systems, the unfunded liability for future retirement payouts is about $991 billion, according to the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research’s Pension Tracker run by Joe Nation, Ph.D., a former Democratic member of the California State Assembly.

Since cash is amazingly fungible in government hands, dragooning some 7.5 million Californians into a retirement system that supports 1.8 million state government workers by levying what amounts to a 3 percent payroll tax is going to go a long way towards ensuring CalPERS’ short-term solvency while, perhaps more importantly, building public support for bailing out CalPERS’ looming trillion-dollar shortfall.

7.5 million Californians will be made to care about CalPERS fiscal health. Read More > at Texas policy

Could dinosaurs really roar? Ancient voice box offers clues. – Tyrannosaurus rex may have let out a loud, fearsome roar in the film “Jurassic Park,” but paleontologists don’t actually know what dinosaurs sounded like – or if they even could make sounds.

Reconstructing the behavior of an animal that has been dead for at least 66 million years is a difficult task, and paleontologists have had little help when it comes to whether or not dinosaurs could vocalize. There is little fossil evidence of a dinosaur voice box.

For clues, scientists have turned to other animals, like birds, which are technically the only living dinosaurs. And buried in a rock from Antarctica, paleontologists have found a tantalizing clue, reported in a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

There are two kinds of voice boxes: a larynx and a syrinx. Almost all living land-dwelling vertebrates vocalize using a larynx, which is a cartilaginous structure that helps produce sounds at the back of the mouth, explains Julia Clarke, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Texas at Austin, in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor. Read More > in The Christian Science Monitor

Nevada Senate votes to help fund stadium for Raiders – The Nevada Senate approved a plan Tuesday to spend $750 million in public funds for a new stadium in hopes of luring the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, despite critics saying the deal “is deeply flawed.”

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval called a special session that began Monday in Carson City so lawmakers could take up a bill that would finance a $1.9 billion stadium off the Las Vegas Strip by providing $750 million from bonds that would be repaid with new revenue raised from a hotel tax.

The plan, which is being pushed by casino moguls, also includes funds for the expansion of a convention center that business groups say is crucial to keeping Las Vegas competitive with other host cities. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Uber Confirms “Testing” of Self-Driving Cars in San Francisco – The city of San Francisco is pushing to fully replace the city’s cars with driverless vehicles by 2025, and it’s Uber, not the government, that might be helping them get there faster. After a growing number of sightings, Uber recently confirmed it is testing self-driving cars in the city.

“These are for internal use only. They have a safety driver upfront and are not part of our ride-sharing service in the city,” Uber tells Inverse. While it’s unclear what “internal use” means, the company told the San Francisco Examiner earlier this month that the cars are largely being used for “mapping purposes.”

“Testing these cars in different environments is critical to the future success of self-driving technology, which will help improve road safety and cut congestion over the long term,” Uber tells Inverse. Read More > at Inverse

California’s Suicidal House Policies – California’s Silicon Valley area set records earlier this year as the median home price surpassed $1 million. The natural response, of course, was to blame wealthy tech companies for bidding up housing prices. While blaming the tech industry is a convenient narrative, it misses the main driver of high housing prices—government policies that limit residential construction.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis calculates a regional price index for rent in every metropolitan region in the United States. The most recent data show that in 2014, the Silicon Valley region had the highest rent in the nation with an index value of 200.7, meaning that rent is double the average U.S. rent. However, Silicon Valley is not an isolated problem in the Golden State. The average California metro area’s index value was 150.5, and 16 California metro areas boasted index values greater than 100.

California’s statewide housing crisis is also remarkably long lasting. Starting between 1970 and 1980, housing prices increased to 80 percent more than the national average. Today, a California home costs two and a half times more than that average.

Distorting market forces for over 40 years takes a special dedication to failed policies. A tangled web of zoning restrictions, environmental regulations, community planning commissions, and affordable housing initiatives have successfully prevented necessary construction and made California the most expensive state to live in the continental United States.

…On top of costly local regulations and independent review boards, state law adds another layer that drives up housing costs. Disguised as a measure to increase access to affordable housing, inclusionary zoning in California requires any developer building more than 20 units to sell 15 percent of units below market value or pay a large fee. A 2004 study found that new construction in the Bay Area drastically fell after an inclusionary zoning policy was put in place, leading to a 31 percent decrease in new construction one year after implantation. The cost of inclusionary zoning policies in the Bay Area alone was estimated to be $2.2 billion.

Another state law, Proposition 13, limited property taxes to one percent of a home’s purchase price instead of basing it off current market value, which is the norm throughout the United States. This creates incentives for homeowners not to move and for local politicians to zone for retail spaces instead of residential areas in order to increase tax revenue. Furthermore, such low property taxes make developers much more likely to hold onto vacant land. Read More > at Economics 21

Los Angeles ‘summit’ focuses on California’s acute housing crisis – …A lengthy report presented to the session laid out arithmetic of the crisis – a shortage of at least 600,000 units in SCAG counties (more than a million statewide) that grows as construction lags behind very modest population growth, and soaring costs that far outstrip stagnant incomes of middle-class and poor families.

Increasing shortages and ever-rising costs discourage job-creating investment, driving it to other states with much lower housing burdens, and contribute to a net outflow of Californians in search of jobs and housing they can afford.

“The housing crisis in California is due to a combination of both a housing shortage and a lack of affordability,” conference attendees were told. “The problem is not limited to housing for low-income families. The goal of the housing summit … is to get decision-makers to say ‘yes’ and build housing with actionable options.”

NIMBYism lies at the core of the crisis – the reluctance of those already housed to accept additional development, particularly high-density and low-income units, in their neighborhoods, fearing adverse impacts such as crime or traffic congestion. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Personal computer sales continue to slide – Industry reports released on Tuesday showed that shipments of personal computers slid anew in the recently ended quarter as lifestyles continued to shift to smartphones and tablets.

Worldwide PC shipments in the third quarter of this year totaled 68.9 million units in a 5.7 percent decline from the same period a year earlier, according to preliminary estimates by Gartner.

International Data Corporation put the figure even lower in a Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker report that said just shy of 68 million units shipped in a year-over-year drop of 3.9 percent.

It was the eighth quarter in a row that PC shipments have dropped, marking the longest duration of decline in the history of the industry, according to Gartner. Read More > at Yahoo! News

Cancer in Retreat on One Front: Fewer Children Are Dying – Children are dying less often from cancer, with substantial declines in all races and age groups, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics.

From 1999 to 2014, the overall deaths from childhood cancer fell by 20 percent. The rate among 1- to 19-year-olds went down to 2.28 per 100,000 population, from 2.85. Adolescents 15 to 19 were the most likely to die, but their rate fell by 22 percent.

There were no significant differences in the death rates of white and black children with cancer. Among whites, the rate declined 17 percent; among blacks, 23 percent. The death rate for boys was about 30 percent higher than that for girls. Read More > in The New York Times

How Much Can You Trust a “Certified Pre-Owned” Car? – One of the most common phone calls I get at my law office goes like this: “I just bought a CPO car and found out that it has all sorts of problems that should have been found in the CPO inspection. Can I return the car?” The answer is almost always no. Mainly because most people do not understand what rights they get with a CPO car.

The Certified Pre Owned designation is a fairly modern marketing tool where a manufacturer creates a program to help its used cars sell for more money. The manufacturer asks dealers to inspect late model used cars and then, if they pass the inspection, label them as “Certified Pre-Owned.” The CPO label is highly touted in advertising by both automakers and the dealers. But what do you really get with a CPO car?

Most CPO programs are very clear. All you are getting is a used car with a slightly better warranty than what might be available on a non-CPO car. Can you count on the inspection? No. The inspection is done by the dealer at the behest of the manufacturer. They might say the car was checked against a 175-point checklist, but if the technician doing the checking missed something? Too bad. Nowhere does it say that the dealer is guaranteeing that nothing on the checklist was missed. The checklist was done for the sake of the manufacturer, not the buyer. And nowhere in any company’s CPO guidelines does it ever say that the items on the checklist are guaranteed any differently than how the car would be covered otherwise.

The manufacturers are very careful about this. Most CPO guidelines simply state that the CPO car is a fabulous car with a wonderful warranty from the manufacturer. The first half of that statement—about the car—is not legally enforceable as a warranty. And the second half is only as enforceable as the warranty the CPO car comes with. Read More > at Road and Track

Denver Police Running Out Of Space For Confiscated Marijuana – Marijuana may be legal in Colorado, but the Denver Police Department is confiscating more weed than they ever have before.

“Prior to the legalization with Amendment 64, we received small quantities of marijuana, maybe a couple ounces or a few pounds,” said Lt. Cliff Carney, who manages the evidence and property section for the department. “After 64, we’re seeing huge seizures the come in. We’ll get sometimes 300 to 400 boxes of marijuana at one time on one seizure.”

Denver police are confiscating so much marijuana that Carney told CBS4 they are running out of space to store it. There are two storage rooms at the department’s headquarters downtown, but they are quickly filling up with processed pot, plants and other evidence.

As for why authorities are seizing more marijuana now than before it was legal, Carney said he can only speculate.

“Because it is now legal in certain quantities, people nowadays believe they can exceed those quantities and there’d be no prosecution, that it’s not criminal,” he said. “We used to see 15 to 20 plants at a time being seized at a small grow, now we’ll see it in the hundreds, even thousands at warehouses.” Read More > at CBS Denver

ACLU: Police use Twitter, Facebook data to track protesters – According to an ACLU blog post published on Tuesday, law enforcement officials implemented a far-reaching surveillance program to track protesters in both Ferguson, MO and Baltimore, MD during their recent uprisings and relied on special feeds of user data provided by three top social media companies: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Specifically, all three companies granted access to a developer tool called Geofeedia which allows users to see the geographic origin of social media posts and has been employed by more than 500 law enforcement organizations to track protesters in real time.

…All three companies have sought to restrict Geofeedia’s access to their data in recent weeks. Instagram and Facebook reportedly terminated access to their respective APIs on September 19th. Twitter renegotiated their contract with the subsidiary that granted Geofeedia access with additional terms to safeguard against surveillance and sent the analytics company a cease and desist letter on Monday before shutting down access altogether earlier today. Read More > at Engadget

Google and Facebook are destined to wage a decade-long war for the future – Back in April, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled his grand ten-year roadmap, showing the company’s trajectory from now through 2026.

It points the way to Facebook’s ideal future: A world where everybody’s connected to the internet, where we talk to artificially intelligent computers as if they were human, and — boldest of all — where virtual reality goggles are as common as our smartphones, allowing us to connect with people across the world as intimately as if they were in the same room.

Facebook moved the marker on this ambitious roadmap a little bit forward this week, with more details on how the social network will operate in its ideal virtual reality future. In a demo, Zuckerberg showed off “Social VR,” using a combination of the Oculus Rift headset and a 360-degree camera to mash together virtual reality and the real world like never before.

…Just this week, Google held its own big event. And while that presentation was ostensibly to introduce new hardware, it also gave us a glimpse of how Google is thinking about its own future — and the ways in which Facebook’s 10-year strategy overlap with Google’s.

Their core businesses couldn’t be more different — Facebook’s efforts to break into search haven’t yielded much result; Google’s attempts to become a social network are pretty much Silicon Valley punchlines at this point.

The most visible part of their fight: Google’s YouTube is the undisputed ruler for web video. But Facebook has been working hard at undermining YouTube’s supremacy by attracting more media brands and advertisers to its video offerings.

But the more interesting competition is in the futuristic and far-reaching technology being developed by each tech giant. Read More > at Business Insider

Why are NFL ratings down? The league’s greed has finally caught up to it – There’s been an endless amount of hand-wringing and finger pointing about the NFL’s 11% dip in TV ratings thus far this fall.

It’s Colin Kaepernick’s fault. No, it’s because of the presidential election. Wait, maybe it’s live streaming. Or the Olympics. Or the progressive sports media. Or the lack of brand-name quarterbacks. Or Deflategate. Or CTE. Or Ray Rice.

While some or all of these have obviously had an effect on viewership, no one wants to address the elephant in the room: The NFL’s on-field product just isn’t very good right now — and the root of the problem is the league’s never-ending greed.

No matter how big the NFL’s TV ratings and money haul were in recent years, it never seemed good enough for The Shield. Commissioner Roger Goodell openly stated in 2010 that his goal was to grow league revenue from $8.5 billion to $25 billion by the year 2027. That’s an average of almost $1 billion in additional revenue per year. As a result, the league and its owners have consistently squeezed every last dime out of its fans in the last decade at the expense of the game itself.

Let’s start with the league’s two biggest money grabs in recent years: Thursday Night Football and games in London.

Since it started in 2006, Thursday Night Football has been endlessly panned for the poor play and bad games it routinely churns out. Asking NFL players to play two games in the span of four days is absolutely ludicrous. Read More > at Awful Announcing

As Raiders look to Las Vegas, Coliseum debt hangs over East Bay – As Nevada lawmakers gather to vote on spending $750 million in hotel tax money on a Raiders stadium in Las Vegas, officials in the East Bay are trying to craft a competing deal to keep the team from leaving — but are wrestling with a different number.

It’s the estimated $95 million in public debt that Oakland and Alameda County taxpayers still owe for the Coliseum’s 1995 renovation.

Ideas for handling the debt range from transferring it to other city property — an accounting move that would still leave taxpayers on the hook — or including it as part of any new stadium deal.

Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, who sits on the Coliseum board, has proposed that the county pay off the entire debt — and allow Oakland to repay its half over time. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

Millennials aren’t big spenders or risk-takers, and that’s going to reshape the economy – They’re known for bouncing around jobs, delaying marriage and holing up in their parents’ basements.

Dubbed recently as the “children of the Great Recession” by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, millennials are the best educated and most diverse population of young people in U.S. history. They are also perhaps the most coddled, some would say spoiled.

As they emerge this year as the United States’ largest demographic group — some 75 million strong — millennials are taking up the mantle as the most impactful generation since the baby boomers.

…For starters, millennials are not big spenders, at least not in the traditional sense.

Millennials tend to prefer experiences over buying things and accumulating stuff. To them, an impressive selfie capturing a memorable moment is, in some sense, as enviable as a new car or fancy watch was to their parents

Instead of material wealth, millennials show off through their travels, hobbies and even meals, which get photographed and posted on Facebook, Instagram and other social media. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Believe it or not, the bees are doing just fine – You’ve probably heard the bad news by now that bees were recently added to the endangered species list for the first time. But if you’re part of the 60 percent of people who share stories without actually reading them, you might have missed an important detail: namely, that the newly endangered bees are a handful of relatively obscure species who live only in Hawaii.

The bees you’re more familiar with — the ones that buzz around your yard dipping into flowers, making honey, pollinating crops and generally keeping the world’s food supply from collapsing? Those bees are doing just fine, according to data released by the USDA this year.

In 2015, there were 2.66 million commercial honey-producing bee colonies in the United States. That’s down slightly from the 2.74 million colonies in 2014, which represented a two-decade high. The number of commercial bee colonies is still significantly higher than it was in 2006, when colony collapse disorder — the mass die-offs that began afflicting U.S. honeybee colonies — was first documented.

…Of course, the discussion above concerns only commercial bees that are managed by humans and businesses. Wild bees — whether they’re honeybees or one of our 4,000 other native bee species — face different difficulties. If those species suffer die-offs, there’s nobody around to breed new queens and help them recover. Wild bees are on their own.

Recent research has shown that the use of certain insecticides called neonicotinoids has been linked to declines in wild bee populations. But assessing the true magnitude of the effect is difficult, because it’s a lot harder to survey wild bee populations than domesticated ones. Read More > in The Washington Post

California approves unmanned self-driving car trials – Given the number of tech companies that call California home, it’s no surprise the state has been quick with forward-thinking legislation to support the development of self-driving vehicles. And almost four years to the day since driverless trials on public streets were first approved, a new bill has been signed off by Governor Jerry Brown that permits autonomous car tests without a human passenger overseeing proceedings.

Rather than applying throughout the Golden State, the bill is specific to a pilot project headed by the Contra Costa Transportation Authority. At San Ramon’s Bishop Ranch business park, EasyMile’s 12-seater shuttles will ferry workers around the site, which will include travelling on some public roads. The approval also covers GoMentum Station: A ghost town within the Concord Naval Weapons Station where Honda has been testing its driverless car technologies. Recently, Uber-owned Otto also signed up to test self-driving trucks on the site.

Google and Apple have also expressed interest in the naval base testbed, according to the transport authority. Apple’s autonomous plans are still the subject of much speculation, but in the immediate future, Google seems like a natural partner. Manual controls including a steering wheel and pedals are not required in test vehicles under the new bill (since there won’t be anyone on hand to use them), but for safety’s sake cars must not exceed 35MPH during trials. Read More > at Engadget

Experts said Arctic sea ice would melt entirely by September 2016 – they were wrong – Dire predictions that the Arctic would be devoid of sea ice by September this year have proven to be unfounded after latest satellite images showed there is far more now than in 2012.

Scientists such as Prof Peter Wadhams, of Cambridge University, and Prof Wieslaw Maslowski, of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, have regularly forecast the loss of ice by 2016, which has been widely reported by the BBC and other media outlets.

As late as this summer, he was still predicting an ice-free September.

Yet, when figures were released for the yearly minimum on September 10, they showed that there was still 1.6 million square miles of sea ice (4.14 square kilometres), which was 21 per cent more than the lowest point in 2012.

For the month of September overall, there was 31 per cent more ice than in 2012, figures released this week from the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) show. This amounts to an extra 421,000 (1.09 million square kilometres) of sea ice, making the month only the fifth lowest since records began.

Although a quick glance at NSIDC satellite data going back to 1981 shows an undeniable downward trend in sea ice over the past 35 years, scientists have accused Prof Wadhams and others of “crying wolf” and harming the message of climate change through “dramatic”, “incorrect” and “confusing” predictions. Read More > in The Telegraph


The Solar Energy Paradox: Why Solar Is Booming and Companies Are Going Out of Business
– There may not be a business with a higher potential than the solar industry has today. The sun provides enough energy to the earth every hour to power everything that consumes energy for an entire year, and if we can capture just a fraction of that potential, it would change the world. And that could upend a $4 trillion energy industry.

However, as the cost of solar falls and the number of solar installations grows, solar companies continue to struggle — and even go out of business. In just over a year, First Solar, SunPower, and SolarCity have seen their stocks plunge, and SunEdison has filed for the biggest U.S. bankruptcy of the year. How does this paradox of broad industry success and specific company failure make sense?

One thing that’s been amazing about watching the solar industry over the past decade is the number of manufacturers that have gone out of business. One major driver has been costs; they are falling so fast that by the time a plant is completed, the world has changed around a manufacturer (think Solyndra), and their cost structure might be obsolete.

Consider Canadian Solar, one of the world’s largest solar manufacturers. The company recently said its costs have fallen from $1.32 per watt in Q2 2011 to $0.39 per watt in Q2 2016 for internally produced solar panels. But even that may not be enough to make money. Last quarter, the company made just $40.4 million of net income on 1,290 MW of solar panels produced, or a margin of about $0.03 per watt. Since the end of the quarter, industry reports of panel prices falling $0.10 to $0.15 per watt to less than $0.40 per watt have emerged, which means Canadian Solar could be losing money by the end of 2016. One of the biggest, lowest-cost manufacturers is essentially selling product at cost. That’s where solar manufacturing is today. Read More > at The Motley Fool


How Back Pain Took Over the World
– The newest iteration of the Global Burden of Disease study, which tracks the prevalence of deaths and diseases worldwide, contains some good news: On average people are living about a decade longer than they were in 1980. But there’s a catch: Health hasn’t improved as fast as life expectancy overall, which means that for many, those long, final years are spent hobbled by illness and disability.

The nature of our old-age ailments has changed in recent years. The study, published this week in The Lancet and conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, uses a metric called “Disability Adjusted Life Years.” DALYs, as they’re abbreviated, combine the number of years of life a person loses if they die prematurely with the amount of time they spend living with a disability. Think of it as time you didn’t spend living your #bestlife—because you were sick or dead.

In rich countries, the number one cause of these DALYs is not surprising: ischemic heart disease, which is associated with well-known Western issues like high cholesterol and obesity. But the number two condition is a little strange: plain, old-fashioned, ever-present, low back and neck pain: Read More > in The Atlantic

You Asked: What High-Fat Foods Should I Be Eating? – By now you’ve probably gotten the message: dietary fat is not the enemy. When you reach for low-fat salad dressing or fat-free snack foods, you’re not doing your health or waistline any favors. “We’ve focused on fat reduction for 40 years, and it’s sent us in exactly the wrong direction in terms of obesity and diabetes,” says Dr. David Ludwig, a professor of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health.

So which high-fat foods should be packing your plate? Start with nuts and vegetable oils, says Dr. Lydia Bazzano, a professor of nutrition at Tulane University.

Bazzano has coauthored several studies that found ditching carbs—rather than fat—is a healthier way to control appetite, lose weight and improve risk factors for heart disease. She says there’s still not a ton of good research looking at the health impacts of specific fat-rich foods.

But thanks to the PREDIMED study, which examined the impact of a Mediterranean diet on heart disease risks, nuts like walnuts and almonds and vegetable oils like extra virgin olive oil and sunflower oil are now well-established health champs. The monounsaturated fats in these foods appear to lower levels of bad cholesterol, which may explain their health benefits, Bazzano says.

Add fish and seeds to your shopping list, says Fumiaki Imamura, a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge in the UK. Imamura’s research suggests the polyunsaturated fatty acids in these two food groups are protective against oxidative stress and unhealthy blood sugar adaptations, and therefore may lower your risk for diabetes—among other diseases. Read More > at Yahoo!

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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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