Sunday Reading – 11/13/16

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.

Crayons for Grownups


Read More at Crayons

Do Write-In Votes Matter? – Write-in votes are a uniquely American tradition: nowhere else in the world can you cast a vote for a candidate not included on the ballot.

With two of the least popular candidates ever running for president, Americans may turn to write-in votes. According to CNN, Google searches for “write-in” votes have surged more than 2800% in the past weeks to levels not seen since 2004. Voters are more curious than ever about how to “write in Bernie Sanders” or “write in Paul Ryan” on Tuesday.

No write-in candidate has ever won the presidential race. So do write-in votes matter? We analyzed presidential election results data going back to 1992 to find out, and we discovered that write-in voting is increasingly relevant. Since 1992, the number of people casting write-in votes has consistently increased.

Write-in votes are on the rise, a trend that shows no signs of stopping in 2016.

It’s not Mickey Mouse or Santa Claus getting all these write-in votes. We took a look at the top five candidates with the most write-in votes by election year below. Read More > at Priceonomics

Forget your old alarm system. This drone will protect your house. – A new startup wants to turn drones into guardian angels for our homes.

Here’s how it works: The Sunflower Home Awareness System relies on the drone and a handful of in-ground smart lights to watch over your house. It detects motion, vibration and sound. By analyzing this data, the system can distinguish between a human, a car and animals. To do so, it uses artificial intelligence to identify the disturbance and determine if it’s potentially dangerous. For example, trusted visitors such as mail delivery persons will be recognized by how they approach the home and how long they stand at the front door.

When a person approaches and lingers outside the back door, Sunflower Labs will send a push notification to your smartphone and ask if you’d like to investigate.

If you say yes, the drone will lift off from its perch — on a balcony, deck or patio — and fly autonomously to where the suspicious person is located. The drone — 30 feet up — hovers near the visitor until you tell it to return to its nest. The app includes an option for a home owner to notify local police. Read More > at CNN Money

5 Big Tech Trends That Will Make This Election Look Tame – If you think this election is insane, wait until 2020.

I want you to imagine how, in four years’ time, technologies like AI, machine learning, sensors and networks will accelerate.

Political campaigns are about to get hyper-personalized thanks to advances in a few exponential technologies.

Imagine a candidate who now knows everything about you, who can reach you wherever you happen to be looking, and who can use info scraped from social media (and intuited by machine learning algorithms) to speak directly to you and your interests.

…Imagine candidate advertisements that are so personalized that they are scary in their accuracy and timeliness.

For example, imagine I’m walking down the street to my local coffee shop and a photorealistic avatar of the presidential candidate on the bus stop advertisement I pass turns to me and says:

“Hi Peter, I’m running for president. I know you have two five-year-old boys going to kindergarten at XYZ school. Do you know that my policy means that we’ll be cutting tuition in half for you? That means you’ll immediately save $10,000 if you vote for me…”

If you pause and listen, the candidate’s avatar may continue: “I also noticed that you care a lot about science, technology, and space exploration — I do too, and I’m planning on increasing NASA’s budget by 20% next year. Let’s go to Mars!” Read More > at Singularity Hub

Canada military probes mysterious Arctic pinging noise – The Canadian military has investigated a mysterious pinging sound coming from the sea floor in a remote region of the Arctic, officials have told the BBC.

The strange noise is reported by local people to have frightened animals away over the past few months.

A military aircraft conducted various multi-sensor searches in the area, officials said on Friday.

But the military says it is so far unable to explain the cause of the “acoustic anomalies”.

A spokesman in the department of national defence in Ottawa said the cause of the pinging noise – which locals say can even be heard through the hulls of boats – remains a mystery.

The sound, sometimes also described as a “hum” or a “beep”, has been heard throughout the summer in Fury and Hecla Strait, legislative assembly member Paul Quassa told CBC, about 120km (74 miles) north-west of the hamlet of Igloolik. Read More > from the BBC

Let It Burn: The Forest Service Wants to Stop Putting Out Some Fires – California’s fire season hasn’t turned out to be as bad as some feared this year. In fact, forest managers say that certain kinds of fires — the “good” fires — were sorely lacking.

Sierra Nevada forests are adapted to low-intensity fires that clear the underbrush and prevent trees from getting too dense. After a century of fire suppression, many forests are overgrown, which can make catastrophic fires worse.

So forest managers are piloting a new policy designed to shift a century-old mentality about fire in the West.

The idea is to let naturally-caused fires burn when they aren’t a threat to homes or people. But actually making those decisions on the ground isn’t easy in a crowded state like California. Read More > at KQED

The Science Behind “Earworms,” aka Songs That Get Stuck In Your Head – Don’t worry, there’s a reason why “Don’t Stop Believin’” gets stuck in your head for days every time you hear it. In fact, there are a couple of reasons. And they’re backed by science.

Songs that get trapped in your head for long periods of time, commonly called “earworms,” are the subject of a study by Durham University (in England) researcher Dr. Kelly Jakubowski, who recently published a paper on the subject in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Jakubowski and her team found that earworms have three distinct qualities that separate them from other songs: pace, melodic shape, and unique intervals.

Pacing, the team found, is crucial. Many commonly cited earworms have upbeat, danceable tempos, but are still slow enough to easily track. Most earworms follow the melodic preferences of Western pop music, which in turn follows many of the melodic contour patterns in nursery rhymes. “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” for instance, has a rising pitch in the first phrase that falls in the second, a common trait of earworms. (Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” was specifically called out by the study for this.) Read More > at Real Clear Life

UVA dean awarded $3M in Rolling Stone magazine case – Jurors awarded a University of Virginia administrator $3 million Monday for her portrayal in a now-discredited Rolling Stone magazine article about the school’s handling of a brutal gang rape a fraternity house.

The 10-member jury’s decision came after they concluded Friday that the magazine, its publisher and reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely were responsible for defamation, with actual malice, of former associate dean of students Nicole Eramo in the 2014 story “A Rape on Campus.”

Eramo sued the magazine for $7.5 million, claiming it cast her as a villain who sought to discourage the woman identified only as Jackie from reporting her alleged assault to police. A police investigation found no evidence to back up Jackie’s rape claims. Read More > from CBS News

How the Internet Is Loosening Our Grip on the Truth – …The root of the problem with online news is something that initially sounds great: We have a lot more media to choose from.

In the last 20 years, the internet has overrun your morning paper and evening newscast with a smorgasbord of information sources, from well-funded online magazines to muckraking fact-checkers to the three guys in your country club whose Facebook group claims proof that Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump are really the same person.

A wider variety of news sources was supposed to be the bulwark of a rational age — “the marketplace of ideas,” the boosters called it.

But that’s not how any of this works. Psychologists and other social scientists have repeatedly shown that when confronted with diverse information choices, people rarely act like rational, civic-minded automatons. Instead, we are roiled by preconceptions and biases, and we usually do what feels easiest — we gorge on information that confirms our ideas, and we shun what does not.

This dynamic becomes especially problematic in a news landscape of near-infinite choice. Whether navigating Facebook, Google or The New York Times’s smartphone app, you are given ultimate control — if you see something you don’t like, you can easily tap away to something more pleasing. Then we all share what we found with our like-minded social networks, creating closed-off, shoulder-patting circles online. Read More > in The New York Times

Printable Organs Will Put an End to Transplant Lists – A woman living on a dialysis machine is grown a new kidney using her own cells. A father struggling with age-related vision loss has his eyesight restored. A soldier suffers extensive burns and has his skin regenerated.

This is a glimpse of the holy grail of regenerative medicine. The ultimate goal of the field is to develop therapies that restore normal function to diseased tissues and organs. Advances in 3D bioprinting, the process of fabricating functional human tissue outside the body in a layer-by-layer fashion, have pushed the envelope on what is considered possible in the field.

Let’s be clear, growing replacement organs — especially solid organs like kidneys, hearts and lungs is an exceptionally challenging goal. There is a sea of technical challenges that must be overcome before these organs can be produced en masse.

And beyond those hurdles, there is no guarantee of rapid translation from scientific discovery to clinical therapy as regulatory bodies will painstakingly seek evidence that these new organs work reliably with limited risks to the patients. But these are all challenges worth tackling.

…Instead, cells will be taken from your body — stem cells that have the unique power of differentiating into any kind of cell. These cells will be sent to a lab where they are coaxed into becoming the different types of cells comprising a human liver. Next, a bioprinter assembles the cells onto a scaffold layer by layer to generate a new liver. The liver matures in an incubator mimicking the body until it is deemed ready for transplant.

The end result? You receive a fully-functional, structurally sound liver. The replacement organ contains all necessary systems to transfer oxygen and nutrients to keep liver cells alive and has the right composition of different liver cells in the right proportions. And critically, because its cells come from you, your immune system won’t reject it. Read More > at Singularity Hub

The Print Apocalypse and How to Survive It – For the last 15 years, the decline of print newspapers has been the sort of story that, ironically, many newspapers have trouble following. It is not breaking news, nor a violent explosion, but rather a decade-long structural shift without heroes or obvious villains. Between 2000 and 2015, print newspaper advertising revenue fell from about $60 billion to about $20 billion, wiping out the gains of the previous 50 years.

But lately, the collapse of newspapers is looking less like a steady erosion than an accelerating avalanche. This should scare both reporters and readers—all the while, pointing to a new business model for legacy newspapers that is, ironically, their first business model. The collapse of advertising is across the board, affecting just about every broadsheet and tabloid. Print ads are down 15 percent at Gannett, down 17 percent at McClatchy, and down 16 percent at Tronc. The Wall Street Journal is cutting staff and trimming sections, like Greater New York.

Where is all of this money going? To tiny plates of glass. Two earnings reports this week offered a microcosmic glimpse of the shift. On Wednesday morning, the New York Times announced that print ad revenue fell 19 percent for the quarter. Nine hours later, on Wednesday afternoon, Facebook announced that its digital advertising revenue rose 59 percent. There is no direct comparison between the Times, a newspaper that pays luxuriously for reporters and editors, and Facebook, an attention arbitrage network that induces content from unpaid maker-viewers. But it illustrates the larger story most dramatically told by venture capitalist Mary Meeker’s annual slideshow: Audiences are migrating from print bundles to mobile networks and aggregators. Read More > in The Atlantic

U.S. Government to Build 48 Electric Vehicle Highway Corridors – In a step forward for the electric car road trip, the Obama Administration announced plans to create 48 national electric-vehicle (EV) charging networks on nearly 25,000 miles of highways in 35 U.S. states.

The charging stations are required under the 2015 FAST Act. Car manufacturers like Nissan, General Motors, and BMW have agreed to work with public utilities in 28 of those states to fast-track their construction. The network plan is part of the $2.4 billion Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program that’s bundled inside the FAST Act. Read More > in Popular Mechanics

Reservoir expansion could store water for millions in Bay Area – Millions of Bay Area residents could get extra drought insurance against water shortages and quality problems from a proposed $800 million expansion of the Los Vaqueros Reservoir that may have up to 10 water suppliers as partners.

Ten water agencies serving San Jose, Fremont, Oakland, Concord, Richmond, Antioch, San Francisco and other communities have negotiated preliminary deals to contribute a combined $1 million for feasibility studies on expanding the reservoir south of Brentwood.

…Contra Costa Water on Wednesday hired consultants to prepare an environmental impact report on the expansion options and help prepare a state grant application due in June 2017.

Public meetings on the expansion report will be held next year before Contra Costa Water submits its grant applications. Read More > in The Mercury News

Here’s how your smartphone light messes with your body – There’s something incredibly powerful about the blue lights that the designers of our smartphone, tablet, and laptop screens have been able to create.

The lights in these screens glow so bright that we can see them even during a sunny day. At night, they’re bright enough that they have been compared to a ‘little window’ that daylight can peer through.

…That light has a similar effect to the sight of the morning sun, which causes the brain to stop producing melatonin, a hormone that gives your body ‘time to sleep’ cues.

By disrupting melatonin production, smartphone light can disrupt your sleep cycle like an artificially induced sort of jet lag. Read More > at Science Alert

Disney’s stock dips following ESPN’s big subscription loss – Disney stock traded down on Friday after Nielsen confirmed that the entertainment giant’s highly profitable ESPN operation lost 621,000 subscribers in October.

While ESPN in recent months has seen some decline in subscribers, the 621,000 figure, roughly 3.1 percent of the sports cable net’s total subs, was stunning — and Nielsen on Sunday pulled its report after Disney protested.

Nielsen undertook an “extensive” review of the data and on Friday confirmed the numbers as “accurate as originally released.” Read More > in the New York Post


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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