Sunday Reading – 10/30/16

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.

Auto-Braking Systems Are Being Confounded By Car Washes – While fully self-driving cars still remain rooted in the future, a growing number of vehicles are offering semi-autonomous features that will, for example, self-park a car, help keep the vehicle centered within highway lane markers, and perhaps most importantly, automatically apply the brakes if necessary to help prevent both high- and low-speed collisions.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, auto-braking systems can cut rear-end collisions by 40% and reduce the severity of crashes that do occur by 30% in terms of related bodily injury claims. Automakers and regulators agreed to make forward collision prevention systems standard in most light-duty cars and trucks by the 2022 model year.

Unfortunately, as recent events regarding Tesla’s so-called Autopilot system have shown, today’s semi-autonomous auto technology remains far from perfect. And now, a just-issued report has identified a surprising – and surprisingly common – situation in which autonomous braking systems can be confounded to the extent that the vehicle becomes disabled.

And that would be the humble car wash.

According to the car-shopping site, fastidious motorists driving 14 different vehicle brands are finding that their rides can be rendered virtually immobilized at many automated car washes unless certain auto-braking systems can be disabled. Read More > at Forbes

A Delta Tunnels Alternative: Embracing Flooding for Our Water Supply – When California officials got serious about building two giant tunnels to divert freshwater out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, it didn’t take critics long to propose alternatives.

One of the first was a grassroots scheme that, at first, seemed radical and counterintuitive: Let winter floods retake vast parts of the San Joaquin Valley – the very farmland that needs those Delta water diversions. The floods would recharge depleted groundwater that could then be used to irrigate the farms, preventing the need for Delta water exports.

…In recent years, other developments have focused fresh attention on California’s serious groundwater problems: The state’s ongoing drought, passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in 2014 and new scientific research into floodplain restoration and groundwater recharge.

Zuckerman’s proposal centers on reviving the historic Tulare Lake, located in the Southern San Joaquin Valley between Fresno and Bakersfield. Before California was settled, it was the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River, fed by snowmelt from numerous streams pouring out of the Southern Sierra Nevada.

He proposes to bring the lake back by strategically breaching levees and directing winter snowmelt back into the Tulare Basin.

The same process could be used further north in the San Joaquin Valley to recharge other aquifers, Zuckerman said. In this way, over time, the region could become self-reliant for its water needs. Read More > at KQED

Spate of drugged driving deaths alarms U.S. regulators – The percentage of traffic deaths in which at least one driver tested positive for drugs has nearly doubled over a decade, raising alarms as five states are set to vote on legalization of marijuana.

Amid a disquieting increase in overall U.S. traffic fatalities, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has tracked an upswing in the percentage of drivers testing positive for illegal drugs and prescription medications, according to federal data released to USA TODAY and interviews with leaders in the field.

The increase corresponds with a movement to legalize marijuana, troubling experts who readily acknowledge that the effects of pot use on drivers remain poorly understood. Recreational marijuana use is now legal in Colorado, Washington state, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia, even as it remains outlawed on a federal level. Five states — Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada — are set to vote on legalization.

It’s “very probable” that Colorado’s move to legalize recreational marijuana has caused an increase in fatal crashes, said Glenn Davis, the state’s highway safety manager. Read More > at USA Today

Carter suspends Pentagon’s demand of the return of cash bonuses to California soldiers – Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced Wednesday that he was ordering the Pentagon to suspend its efforts to recover decade-old reenlistment bonuses paid to thousands of California Army National Guard soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

About 2,000 soldiers were recently told they had to repay the cash bonuses that, in some cases, amounted to $15,000 or more.

Carter said there was a process in place to assist soldiers who sought relief of such obligations, and in this case, “hundreds” of Guard members have already sought and have been granted relief.

“But that process has simply moved too slowly and in some cases imposed unreasonable burdens on service members,” Carter said. “That is unacceptable.”

He did not mention any timeframe for the suspension, but he insisted that it would be in place until he was “satisfied that our process is working effectively.” Read More > in Fox News

Silicon Valley Decides It’s Just Too Hard to Build a Car – …He’s not kidding. Tech giants Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, once intent on disrupting, if not destroying, Detroit, have concluded for now that they don’t want to build cars. Sure, they still bank on supplying the autonomous software that will drive robot rides, but the concession that they’re not up to the complex task of mass production tilts the balance of power to traditional automakers.

Vehicle manufacturing is a massive undertaking. There is the metal bending and assembly, a highly evolved process in itself. Car companies also integrate millions of lines of code that control everything from the radio to the radar sensors that will soon allow hands-free driving. Detroit also has deep experience managing the long chain of suppliers that provide roughly 30,000 parts.

…Automakers, meanwhile, are pouring billions into developing their own self-driving systems. They’re already installing semi-autonomous features, such as automatic braking and technology to keep a car in its lane. And they’re working on building models that can withstand the punishing workload expected of robot taxis, which will likely amass 130,000 miles a year — 10 times today’s total — as they run 18 hours a day, 365 days a year. The robot rides will be replaced often and sold in high numbers, providing a big payoff for manufacturers that figure out the formula. Read More > at Bloomberg

Why Does Fall Foliage Turn So Red and Fiery? It Depends. – Leaves actually start out yellow. Chlorophyll, the chemical responsible for giving leaves their green appearance and converting light to energy during photosynthesis, just overpowers it in the spring and summer. But when temperature, daylight and weather events like rain or drought cause leaves to die in the fall, chlorophyll breaks down and reveals the yellow or orange helper chemicals known as carotenes or carotenoids that were there all along.

Red is another story, because it’s made on purpose. As some leaves die, they produce chemicals called anthocyanins (also found in the skin of grapes and apples) from built up sugars. These chemicals produce a red pigment that can combine with green pigments left from chlorophyll and display different shades of red.

How bright this red is depends on what species the leaf belongs to, its inherent genetics and the environment around it — including the forest, the tree, and individual leaves, said John Silander, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at The University of Connecticut. Read More > in The New York Times

STD rates hit 20-year high in California – California’s rate of sexually transmitted diseases is at a 20-year high.

The California Department of Public Health said the state ranks first for syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and congenital syphilis. And the rates are up for the second year in a row.

“Cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia are going up in California at a concerning rate,” Dr. Karen Smith, director of the California Department of Public Health, said Tuesday. “This is the second year in a row that we have seen increases in all three diseases.”

The report found an 11.6 percent increase in STDs from 2014, with a total of 249,224 reportable cases in California for 2015.

State health officials cite less condom use, people having sex with more partners and barriers to care and testing as reasons for the rising STD rates. Improved reporting of the diseases by public health agencies could also be a contributing factor, the state said. Read More > in the San Luis Obispo Tribune

DMV Computer Outage Raises Fear Of Election-Day Cyber Attacks – More than 100 DMV offices across the state were impacted by a massive computer outage that started Monday. All systems are expected to be back up and running by Wednesday morning, but it’s a reminder of how much we rely on technology and how susceptible these systems can be to problems.

A hardware failure is being blamed for the massive outage that turned away DMV customers the last two days.

A USC professor and cyber security expert says there’s no reason to think a hack was involved. However, come Election Day, it may be a different story. Government computer systems are vulnerable to cyber attacks, he says.

“I think there will certainly be some sort of cyber security issue in some location,” says Clifford Neuman, director of USC Center for Computer System Security. Read More > at CBS Los Angeles

The Public Librarians Who Serve as Human Google – Need an answer? Google it. Or ask Siri, or Alexa, or one of the other friendly digital assistants that the tech titans have invented to slake our curiosity. For most of us, our autonomic reflex in moments of knowledge-seeking is to query the godlike and omniscient World Wide Web. Where else would answers even live?

Libraries, bless their hearts. Around the U.S., a surprising number of these public workhorses still have “ask a librarian” hotlines and chat rooms, where curious patrons can call and write in with questions mundane, incisive, or profound. A new short film by Great Big Story highlights the New York Public Library’s pre-Google-Google service. It’s been in continuous operation since 1967 and still handles roughly 30,000 calls per year.

”People have been reaching out to librarians for as long as there have been libraries,” Rosa Caballero-Li, the manager of Ask-NYPL, says in the film. Even today, she explains, not everyone has access to an online search engine. Plus, “I honestly think some just want someone to talk to.”

The library has received its share of puzzling quandaries over the decades. Some, scribbled onto faded catalogue cards, have been archived for posterity: What is the color of an arctic fox’s eyes? Is there a full moon every night in Acapulco? What does it mean when you dream you’re being chased by an elephant? Staffers do their due diligence to respond quickly and comprehensively. Using the library’s vast resources at their fingertips, they can reply to most questions within a matter of minutes—especially since the vast majority of questions are about library services, as Caballero-Li told Quartz earlier this year. Read More > at City Lab

Not So Fast! Know the Side Effects of Marijuana Legalization before You Vote – In California, smoke is in the air, along with a warm glow of anticipation, as voters are asked to legalize weed statewide by voting “yes” on Prop 64, the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative.

From the “Golden Triangle” at the northernmost edge of the state, to the Mexican gateway at our state’s southern extreme and from the ocean to the deserts and the Sierras, weed is consumed by Californians daily. It’s illegal under Federal law, but legal for some under a state law that allows for the dispensing of “medical marijuana.”

If passed by the voters on November 8, Prop 64 will allow anyone age 21 and older “to possess one ounce of cannabis for recreational use, and to grow up to six plants for cultivation.” It’s an honor system; nobody can imagine these restrictions will be binding or really enforceable.

But what else do we need to know? What might we not be considering beyond just the headlines? Will unanswered questions about the marijuana ballot proposal be a “buzz kill” to the high life? Growers, dealers and consumers may rejoice, but there is a whole as yet unformed infrastructure that is still wide open for review.

What are we looking at? There are farm-workers and growers, the taxman, the bankers, the Feds, felons, cartels, vapers, quality control, producers and abusers…plus lots of weed. Figuring out how to tax, regulate and control marijuana will have to follow its legalization. Read More > at City Watch Los Angeles

Americans’ Respect for Police Surges – Three in four Americans (76%) say they have “a great deal” of respect for the police in their area, up 12 percentage points from last year.

In addition to the large majority of Americans expressing “a great deal” of respect for their local police, 17% say they have “some” respect while 7% say they have “hardly any.”

Gallup has asked this question nine times since 1965. The percentage who say they respect the police is significantly higher now than in any measurement taken since the 1990s and is just one point below the high of 77% recorded in 1967. Solid majorities of Americans have said they respect their local law enforcement in all polls conducted since 1965. Read More > at Gallup

Great Social Security News for Millions of Americans – The Social Security Administration published its annual list of changes for 2017, which included a small cost-of-living adjustment and an increase in the taxable maximum earnings. In addition, the SSA announced that the “earnings test” limits are increasing significantly, which could mean higher benefits for Social Security recipients who are still working.

The Social Security earnings test essentially says that Social Security recipients who still work and have not yet reached full retirement age can have their benefits reduced if they earn more than a certain amount. For Social Security beneficiaries who will attain full retirement age after 2017, the exempt amount of earnings is $16,920, up by 7.6%, from $15,720 in 2016. This translates to $1,410 per month, and any $2 in earnings above the threshold will result in a $1 benefit reduction.

For Social Security beneficiaries who will attain full retirement age during 2017, the exempt amount is $44,880 for the year, or $3,740 per month, up 7.2% from $41,880 for the year in 2016. Earnings above this amount result in a $1 reduction for every $3, and this only applies in the months before full retirement age will be reached.

After reaching full retirement age (66 years old for people born in 1954 or earlier), there is no earnings test. In other words, Social Security beneficiaries over full retirement age can collect their full Social Security benefit, regardless of how much they earn. Read More > at The Motley Fool

Secret Nazi military base discovered by Russian scientists in the Arctic – A secret Nazi military base in the Arctic has been discovered by Russian scientists.

The site – located on the island of Alexandra Land 1,000km from the North Pole 0150 was constructed in 1942, a year after Adolf Hitler invaded Russia.

It was codenamed “Schatzgraber” or “Treasure Hunter” by the Germans and was primarily used as a tactical weather station.

The base was abandoned when the scientists stationed there were poisoned by polar bear meat in 1944 and had to be rescued by a German U-boat.

It has been rediscovered 72 years later and more than 500 objects have been found, including a batch of well preserved documents, the Daily Mail reported. Read More > in the Independent

Would you accept denser, taller neighborhoods to fight climate change? – San Diegans face the first tough decision in trying to realize the city’s Climate Action Plan, which calls for hundreds of thousands of commuters to ditch their cars in favor of walking, biking or using public transit.

After much public debate, the City Council is set to vote Tuesday on so-called community plan updates for North Park and Golden Hill — the first of dozens of pivotal zoning plans to be updated since the city approved its climate document last year.

These neighborhood blueprints, which are often not revised for decades, cap building heights and limit the number of commercial and residential units that can be constructed on any given block.

Transit experts and city planners nationwide are nearly unanimous in their belief that dense, walkable neighborhoods — with homes located near job sites and basic amenities like grocery stores — are essential for cutting down on tailpipe emissions that harm the public’s health and heat up the globe. Read More > in The San Diego Union Tribune

Have more sex, eat garlic and don’t sleep too much: the new rules for heart health – Heart disease remains the UK’s biggest killer, but there is much to be optimistic about: deaths are plummeting as we get better at preventing, diagnosing and treating the problem. Heart attacks have fallen by 40 per cent since the introduction of the smoking ban in 2007, according to a major review published earlier this year.

Indeed, we’re learning more and more about how lifestyle can wreck – or protect – the health of the heart. Last week, American researchers reported that simply brushing your teeth thoroughly can dramatically reduce levels of inflammation in the body and help protect against heart attacks.

It’s never too early to start thinking about your heart and taking steps to care for it, says Johannes Hinrich von Borstel, prospective cardiologist and former paramedic, and author of a new book Heart: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Important Organ. After all, atherosclerosis – the build up of fatty deposits in the arteries that can lead to heart disease and stroke – starts at the age of 25.

Drawing on the latest research, and his own experience treating patients with a host of heart conditions, von Borstel reveals some of the surprising ways to keep your heart beating healthily, whatever your age – from having more sex to ditching the weekend lie-ins. Read More > at The Telegraph

Massive Internet Outage Could Be a Sign of Things to Come – On Friday morning, large swaths of the U.S. experienced a major Internet outage—and it was the kind of large-scale takedown of which security expert Bruce Schneier recently foretold.

The outage, which appears to have mainly affected the U.S. and predominantly the East coast, began at around 7:10 a.m. ET on Friday. Among the sites that suffered were Twitter, Reddit, Spotify, the New York Times, and even our own. (Update: A second attack hit Dyn at 11:52 a.m. ET. It is working to resolve the issue.)

It appears to have been caused by a large distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack leveled at the servers of the domain name system (DNS) host Dyn. A DDoS attack typically overwhelms a server with data requests in order to prevent normal users from having their own queries answered. The DNS is a large database that, among other things, converts a simple domain name into a more complex IP address from which data can be retrieved. Taking down a DNS server means that a user’s browser can’t use it to resolve which IP address to fetch the files of a Web page from.

DDoS attacks are nothing new. But Schneier has pointed out that they could soon become increasingly problematic. “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,” he explained in a blog post. “These attacks are significantly larger than the ones they’re used to seeing. They last longer. They’re more sophisticated.”

In fact, Schneier pointed out last month that a new wave of attacks also seems to be more investigative than previous DDoS assaults. Many of the attacks appear to be testing servers rather than taking them offline, by gradually increasing barrages of requests at one part of the server to see what it can withstand, then moving on to another, and another. Schneier warned that “someone is learning how to take down the Internet.” Read More > at MIT Technology Review

AT&T agrees in principle to buy Time Warner for $85B – AT&T Inc has reached an agreement in principle to buy Time Warner Inc for about $85 billion, sources said on Friday, paving the way for the biggest deal in the world this year that would give the telecom company control of cable TV channels HBO and CNN, film studio Warner Bros and other coveted media assets.

The deal, which has been agreed on most terms and could be announced as early as Sunday, would be one of the largest in recent years in the sector as telecommunications companies look to combine content and distribution to capture customers replacing traditional pay-TV packages with more streamlined offerings and online delivery.

AT&T, which sells wireless phone and broadband services, has already made moves to turn itself into a media powerhouse, buying satellite TV provider DirecTV last year for $48.5 billion.

…Time Warner is a major force in movies, TV and video games. Its assets include the HBO, CNN, TBS and TNT networks as well as the Warner Bros. film studio, producer of the “Batman” and “Harry Potter” film franchises. The company also owns a 10 percent stake in video streaming site Hulu. Read More > in Reuters


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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