Sunday Reading – 03/05/17


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.

Just How Much Pee Is In That Pool? – You know that sharp odor of chlorine from the swimming pool you can recall from earliest childhood? It turns out it’s not just chlorine, but a potent brew of chemicals that form when chlorine meets sweat, body oils, and urine.

But up until now, just how much urine has been difficult to measure, says chemist Xing-Fang Li of the University of Alberta. Li and her colleagues report they can now tell roughly how much pee is in a pool by measuring the artificial sweeteners carried in most people’s urine. Certain sweeteners can be a good proxy for pee, she says, because they’re designed to “go right through you” and don’t break down readily in pool water.

The scientists calculated that one 220,000-gallon, commercial-size swimming pool contained almost 20 gallons of urine. In a residential pool (20-by-40-foot, five-feet deep), that would translate to about two gallons of pee. It’s only about one-hundredth of a percent, but any urine in a swimming pool can be a health concern for some people, not to mention that smell that never quite goes away. Read More > at NPR

The Federal Ban on Sports Betting Is Unfair, Unnecessary, and Unconstitutional – This month Americans are expected to bet something like $9 billion on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, almost all of it through illegal channels. That’s because federal law prohibits wagering on sporting events everywhere except Nevada, which was grandfathered by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. (PASPA also allows pre-existing sports lotteries in Delaware and Oregon, but those are limited to NFL games.) All told, Americans may bet as much as $400 billion a year on sports, and nearly all of those wagers are illegal, whether they happen in office pools or on websites run by offshore companies.

Although criminalizing such a common and generally innocuous activity strikes libertarians as self-evidently insane, the general public is not so sure. Last year a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll found that only 48 percent of Americans supported “changing the law to allow people to place bets on sports in all states.” (By comparsion, Gallup puts support for marijuana legalization at 60 percent.) Another 2016 poll, by Seton Hall University, phrased the question differently, asking whether “states should be free to decide whether to legalize betting on sporting events.” That policy garnered support from 68 percent of respondents. A third poll from last year, by the Mellman Group, combined the two questions and found that 22 percent of respondents thought “sports betting should be legal nationwide,” while 58 percent thought “each state should be able to decide whether or not sports betting should be legal within its borders.” In other words, 80 percent opposed the current federal policy of preventing states from legalizing sports betting.

One of the most common objections to legal sports betting, especially from the professional leagues and the NCAA, is that it will have a corrupting effect, encouraging bribery of players or officials to change outcomes or shave points. That concern, Titch and Minton argue, is misguided, since legal, transparent betting makes corruption easier to detect. They cite several cases, including the “Black Sox” scandal of 1919, where sudden shifts in betting odds revealed behind-the-scenes manipulation. “By criminalizing sports betting, PASPA actually increases the risks of match-fixing and corruption,” Titch and Minton write. “In Europe and much of the world where sports betting is legal, bookies are incentivized to share with authorities odd betting patterns that might signal corruption….By contrast, in the U.S., the law disincentivizes gamblers from alerting authorities to suspicious betting that might indicate match fixing, lest they open themselves up to investigation.” Read More > at Reason

Wind Energy Is Not the Answer – Urban voters may like the idea of using more wind and solar energy, but the push for large-scale renewables is creating land-use conflicts in rural regions from Maryland to California and Ontario to Loch Ness.

Since 2015, more than 120 government entities in about two dozen states have moved to reject or restrict the land-devouring, subsidy-fueled sprawl of the wind industry.

…Three years ago, the late David J.C. MacKay, then a professor at the University of Cambridge, calculated that wind energy requires about 700 times more land to produce the same amount of energy as a fracking site.

Rural residents are objecting to wind projects to protect their property values and viewsheds. They don’t want to live next door to industrial-scale wind farms. They don’t want to see the red-blinking lights atop the turbines, all night, every night for the rest of their lives. Nor do they want to be subjected to the audible and inaudible noise the turbines produce.

Even in California, which has mandated that 50 percent of the electricity sold in the state be produced from renewable energy sources by 2030, there is resistance to wind power. In 2015, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to ban wind turbines in LA’s unincorporated areas. At the hearing on the measure, then-Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said the skyscraper-sized turbines “create visual blight (and) contradict the county’s rural dark skies ordinance.”

…Just as problematic for the industry’s future: to increase wind-energy production to the levels needed to displace significant quantities of coal, oil and natural gas will require erecting more and taller turbines (new models reach to 700 feet). But the more turbines that get installed, and the taller they are, the more nearby residents are likely to object.

Wind energy simply requires too much territory. That means we can’t rely on it for major cuts in emissions. Indeed, the more wind energy encroaches on small towns and suburbs, the more resistance it will face. That resistance will come from homeowners like Park who told me, “We feel this renewable energy push is an attack on rural America.” Read More > at Manhattan-Institute

The Disrupters – Silicon Valley elites’ vision of the future – In just ten years, Facebook built a global empire that surpassed General Electric in market value—and did it with just 4 percent of the Old Economy giant’s workforce: 12,000, compared with 300,000. Whatsapp, a recent Facebook acquisition, managed an even more impressive wealth-to-labor ratio, with a $19 billion value and just 55 employees. Combined, both companies reach roughly one-sixth of humanity. Facebook’s entertainment colleague just to the south, Netflix, crushed Blockbuster’s mammoth national network of 9,000 stores and 60,000 employees with its more nimble workforce of just 3,700 employees. It’s easy to see why: for just $10 a month, Netflix consumers could enjoy an unlimited video library larger than any of Blockbuster’s retail shops, without ever having to find their car keys. Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010.

Blockbuster’s fate has been duplicated many times. The Silicon Valley economy has caused massive disruption of traditional business and business models—in the process, making a relatively small cadre of brilliant engineers staggeringly wealthy. Until now, these dislocations, while profound, have been reasonably manageable. But in the years ahead, a vast new range of technological innovation—from self-driving cars to robots—may make the disruptions we have seen so far look tame. In this coming world, driven by innovation and powered by individual brilliance, what role will “normal” employees and small-business owners have?

As far as the future of innovation and its impact on ordinary people, the most common answer I received in Silicon Valley was this: over the (very) long run, an increasingly greater share of economic wealth will be generated by a smaller slice of very talented or original people. Everyone else will increasingly subsist on some combination of part-time entrepreneurial “gig work” and government aid. The way the Valley elite see it, everyone can try to be an entrepreneur; some small percentage will achieve wild success and create enough wealth that others can live comfortably. Many tech leaders appear optimistic that this type of economy will provide the vast majority of people with unprecedented prosperity and leisure, though no one quite knows when. Read More > at City Journal

Bees Shouldn’t Become The Next ‘Fake News’ Victim – The line between deliberately manipulating a story or poorly reporting the facts is perilously thin.

Case in point is the New York Times’ coverage of food and farming issues, most recently what has come to be known in recent years as “beemageddon”— concerns about the health of one of nature’s most important pollinators, the bee.

Are bees facing extinction as many environmental advocacy groups and some scientists claim; and are neonicotinoid pesticides the key reason behind their health problems, as many activists, and the Times, suggest?

Covering food and modern farming has not been the Times strong point. Journalist and foodie Michael Pollan’s articles on the virtues of organic food and the dangers of ‘industrialized agriculture’ have been a Times’ staple since the early 2000s. In 2013, he bragged in a video interview with a fellow activist that he long has exploited the willingness of his editors to forego traditional vetting because they share his reflexive anti-industry perspective:

The media has really been on our side for the most part. I know this from writing for the New York Times…. [W]hen I wrote about food I never had to give equal time to the other side. I could say whatever I thought and offer my own conclusions. Say you should buy grass feed beef and organic is better, and these editors in New York didn’t realize there is anyone who disagrees with that point of view. So, I felt like I got a free ride for a long time.

It’s startling that a reputable journalist would boast about manipulating editors who shared a reflexively and uncritical anti-industry—and in this case, an anti-science—world view. Pollan went on to bemoan that because of pushback from the science community, he now finds it increasingly difficult to present only his biased side of the story:

There is something called the Food Dialogues presented in various places to talk about how food is produced and greater transparency. … So, I think they have kind of spooked the newspapers into realizing they need to give equal time on this issue and it is an issue with two sides. Read More > at from the American Council on Science and Health

Windows 10 fix will prevent updates from wrecking your day – Horror stories abound on the internet about forced Windows 10 updates screwing up presentations and other crucial work, so Microsoft is finally doing something about it. Rather than just installing updates whenever it wants, the next big Windows 10 release, the Creators Update, will let you “snooze” the update for three days or pick your own restart date.

Microsoft “heard that unexpected reboots are disruptive if they happen at the wrong time,” said Director of Program Management John Cable. That’s an incredible understatement, as inopportune Windows 10 updates have ruined so many business presentations, important work and even live weather broadcasts (above) that they’re a running meme. Customers have sued Microsoft (and won) over the problem, which may have prompted the company to finally do something about it.

With the Creators Update, Microsoft added an icon in the Windows Update Settings page that shows if your device is up-to-date. Once it arrives, you can schedule when to time it or simply snooze it for three days, as shown below. You can then snooze or reschedule it again if that still doesn’t work. Furthermore, you’ll have more choice for the “active hours” when it absolutely can’t do an update. Read More > at Engadget

Will California’s power grid be able to keep up with legal marijuana’s demand? – California energy regulators are warning marijuana farmers that the state’s power grid does not have the capacity to support the increased demand it expects from electricity-hungry growing operations now that weed is legal in the state.

The California Public Utilities Commission met this week in San Francisco with marijuana farmers and utilities, to figure out how the state will be able to provide the 1 to 2 percent spike in electricity demand it expect to see from pot farms. Local CBS affiliate KPIX reports that regulators were clear that they aren’t sure how they will be able to supply the energy needed.

Colorado, which legalized weed for recreational purposes in 2012, saw about a 2 percent increase in electrical demand from marijuana being grown indoors. But Hezekiah Allen, a Humboldt County pot grower and executive director of the California Growers Association, told KPIX that he expects many indoor operations to move outside now that marijuana is legal — and said that the industry is increasingly turning to solar and wind power. Read More > in the San Francisco Business Times

California Supreme Court: Officials’ Private Account Emails Are Public Records – The California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that government-related communications sent by government employees on private devices are subject to public disclosure laws. The ruling represents a landmark decision that could significantly impact government transparency efforts around the state and how public officials communicate.

“Here, we hold that when a city employee uses a personal account to communicate about the conduct of public business, the writings may be subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act,” the court said in its opinion.

The case being decided came out of San Jose. Suspecting backroom dealing on the part of city officials, community activist Ted Smith had sought all records pertaining to a now completed development project downtown. Smith only got part of what he asked for; the communications sent by personal text and email were withheld by the city on the basis that communications sent on private devices were not subject to the California Public Records Act. He won in court, but the city appealed. San Jose City Attorney Rick Doyle said the decision placed the privacy of government employees in jeopardy. In 2014, an appellate court ruled in the city’s favor and the case was appealed to the California Supreme Court. Read More > at California City News

7 Large Retailers Besides J.C. Penney Are Closing Waves of Stores – The Great Restructuring in retail continues.

In the wake of a disappointing holiday season, J.C. Penney (JCP) said recently that it will close 130 to 140 stores by the second quarter. The store closures represent 13% to 14% of the company’s current store base and less than 5% of annual sales. They have a negligible impact on net income. J.C. Penney said same-store sales at the locations were “significantly below” the remaining store base and operate at a much higher expense rate due to poor productivity.

…As TheStreet reported in January, Ellison said at a real estate conference the company would move to close more stores — after shuttering seven last year — following a lackluster holiday season. “We have certain locations that we readily admit we have to downsize,” Ellison said, adding, “There are some smaller market locations where we have to decide, does the mall or our store meet our brand standards?”

Here are several other retailers continuing to rightsize their store fleet amid the shift to digital shopping or other external pressures.

  • Struggling Sears is currently in the process of closing 150 under-performing Sears and Kmart stores to preserve cash.
  • Macy’s is closing 68 stores (as part of a plan to slash 100 more) by early spring in an effort to save money amid weak store traffic.
  • Foot Locker closed 51 stores during the fourth quarter the retailer said Friday. It plans to close 100 in 2017.
  • Kohl’s closed 16 stores in 2016.
  • CVS Health is in the process of closing 70 stores due to uncertainty around the  Affordable Care Act.
  • Office Depot closed 123 stores in 2016 and expects to shutter 75 more in 2017.
  • Abercrombie & Fitch closed 54 stores in 2016, mostly in the U.S. Read More > at The Street

Here’s what McDonald’s plans to do to win back 500 million lost customer visits – McDonald’s has a traffic problem and its executives know it. Now they have a plan they think will turn it around.

The company lost more than 500 million customer visits to close competitors since 2012, Chris Kempczinski, McDonald’s USA President told investors gathered in Chicago Wednesday.

To win them back, the company plans to make $1.7 billion of capital expenditures this year, as it continues some efforts already underway and takes some new steps.

…In the near term, McDonald’s focus is on four pillars: menu innovation, store renovations, digital ordering and delivery.

Kempczinski disclosed that McDonald’s test of its “Signature Sandwiches” — customizable and more upscale burgers and chicken sandwiches — will roll out later this year and investors can expect the company to step up its menu innovations in the U.S.

The chain’s stores will also be getting an update. McDonald’s is committed to becoming a “modern and progressive burger company,” and will be adding self-service ordering kiosks and table service to some of its stores. Read More > at CNBC

With Shale Oil Production Like This, Who Needs Trump? – The second coming of shale could be even more powerful than the first. OPEC seems to be getting caught unawares.

The current boom in U.S. oil production is even stronger now than the run from July 2011 to April 2015. And this is with oil prices at half their previous level and before President Donald Trump has done anything to meet his pledge to “lift the restrictions on American energy and allow this wealth to pour into our communities.” Output growth could accelerate if prices rise, or costs fall further.

This is not how it was meant to be. OPEC launched a strategy to protect market share in 2014 with a specific aim to knock out high-cost oil production such as shale. After the group succumbed to internal financial pressures and agreed in November to cut output by around 1.2 million barrels a day, Saudi oil minister Khalid Al-Falih said he didn’t expect a big supply response from American shale producers in 2017.

U.S. oil production is growing faster now than it did during the first shale boom.

It turns out the response was already well under way, and Al-Falih may not like the numbers. Data from the Department of Energy show U.S. oil production bottomed out in September. Since then oil companies have added an average of 125,000 barrels a day of production each month, taking output back above 9 million barrels a day for the first time since April. Read More > at Bloomberg

Out West, the snow is so deep that scientists don’t have any tools to measure it – One sure sign the Sierra Nevada is experiencing a historic winter is the snowpack is getting too deep for devices scientists use to measure it.

It’s a problem that cropped up Wednesday when researchers sought to confirm snow depth at a data site on Slide Mountain at Mount Rose Ski Tahoe near Reno.

“We’re not even close,” hydrologist Jeff Anderson said after jamming an aluminum tube more than 16 feet into the snowpack hoping to reach the ground below.

The snow-measuring snafu provided real life confirmation of what scientific instruments on the site already showed.

The Sierra Nevada is wrapping up a historic winter and that’s huge news for Nevada and California, states that have spent the past several years parched in drought.

“Who would have thought this two years ago when we were measuring the worst snowpack on record,” Anderson said.

The snowpack is 212 inches deep at the Slide Mountain SNOTEL site. Water content at the site was 74.6 inches, meaning there’s more than six feet of water in the 17-foot snowpack. It’s a record for March 1 at the site. Read More > at USA Today

People Confound Experts: Three Paradoxes Of Health And Human Behavior – People are funny. And they don’t necessarily respond in ways that academics and experts might predict, particularly when it comes to health issues. I’d like to discuss three recent counter-intuitive or paradoxical results in health policy. I don’t have a good explanation for these results — but neither do the experts. But these results do suggest that we should be cautious about predicting health outcomes, even when (or especially when) an expected outcome seems intuitively obvious.

The three paradoxical results are as follows:

1) If you have a serious heart problem, you might be better off not being treated by the top experts.

In 2014, Dr. Anupam Jena and colleagues studied what happened to heart patients if they needed emergency treatment during the weeks that top cardiologists were away at one of the two big national cardiology conferences vs. the other weeks of the year.

To their surprise, they found that survival rates were higher for high-risk patients who suffered from cardiac arrest or congestive heart failure during the times the top doctors were away. In general, the patients were being treated by more junior physicians than on the weeks that the top doctors were in town.

2) Increasing Medicaid insurance coverage doesn’t decrease utilization of emergency rooms by the previously uninsured.

In 2008, the state of Oregon expanded Medicaid coverage for low-income adults. But because they couldn’t afford to cover everyone who qualified, they took the unusual step of holding a randomized lottery to offer coverage to as many people as the budget allowed. In effect, the state of Oregon created an inadvertent “natural experiment” that would allow health policy researchers to track medical utilization and outcomes between identical groups of people who differed only in whether they had Medicaid or were uninsured.

One of the big surprises was that now-insured Medicaid patients continued to use the emergency rooms (ERs) as heavily as the uninsured patients.

This result is important because one argument for providing “universal” coverage is that giving patient insurance would allow them to see their own personal physicians for non-emergency care, rather than relying on the ER. Read More > at Forbes

Will Driverless Cars End Traditional Car Ownership? – …By 2035, the IHS estimates there will be 76 million cars on the road worldwide with some level of autonomy. Even now, semi-autonomous cars that can keep themselves in their lanes, automatically brake in emergency situations, and slow down to match the speed of the car in front of them can be purchased for as little as $20,000.

And as genuinely driverless cars get cheaper and become ubiquitous, you and I may opt out of monthly car payments and opt-in to a monthly mileage subscription service instead.

To understand how it’s possible that we could soon live in a world where most people don’t own cars, we need to look no further than what the automakers themselves are doing.

Elon Musk’s recently updated version of Tesla’s (NASDAQ:TSLA) master plan includes details on a new service: When the company’s vehicles become fully autonomous (by 2018 or 2019, according to Musk), Tesla owners will be able to allow their vehicles to drive themselves around and be rented out by other people.

And just in case think this mentality is unique to the innovative Tesla, consider what General Motors (NYSE:GM) is doing. The giant automaker launched a ride-sharing service last year called Maven, which allows some GM owners to rent out their vehicles when they’re not in use. The cars don’t drive themselves yet, but the company sees it as a first step toward a future where people are less inclined to own cars.

Not to be outdone, Ford (NYSE:F) has launched its own ride-sharing service, and is developing autonomous cars just like GM. Ford has made it clear that it intends to launch a “high-volume” driverless car paired with ride-hailing and ride-sharing services by 2021. The company is already testing 30 self-driving Fusion Hybrids in several states, and plans to triple the number of test vehicles this year. Read More > at The Motley Fool

Reza Aslan: Why I am a Muslim – …But I also know this: Religion and faith are not the same thing.

Faith is mysterious and ineffable. It is an emotional, not necessarily a rational, experience.

Religion is a fairly recent human invention. But faith, as I have elsewhere argued, is embedded in our very evolution as human beings.

And yet, in the end, faith is nothing more or less than a choice. You either believe there is something beyond the physical world (as I do), or you don’t. You either believe you are more than the sum of your material parts (as I do), or you don’t. You either believe in the existence of a soul (as I do), or you don’t.

No one can prove or disprove these things, not any more than anyone can prove or disprove love or fear or any other human emotion.

Religion, on the other hand, is the language we use to express faith. It is a language made up of symbols and metaphors that allows people to express to each other (and to themselves) what is, almost by definition, inexpressible.

After all, if there is a God, then that God is utterly beyond human comprehension. Read More > at CNN

Landlords Are Taking Over the U.S. Housing Market – As rising home prices, slow new home construction, and demographic shifts push homeownership rates to 50-year lows, the U.S. is increasingly a country of renters—and landlords.

Last year, 37 percent of homes sold were acquired by buyers who didn’t live in them, according to tax-assessment data compiled in a new report published by Attom Data Solutions and ClearCapital.com Inc.

That number may include second homes, or properties acquired by investors who seek to fix up old homes and resell them at a profit. But it’s also a strong indication that landlords are playing a larger role in the U.S. housing market. Read More > at Bloomberg

How does California rank in per-pupil spending? It all depends – As Californians struggle to determine what constitutes a sufficient level of education funding, one yardstick is what California spends compared with other states. So here’s a question: How does California rank in K-12 per-pupil spending nationally in the latest studies? a) 46th; b) 41st; c) 29th; d) 22nd.

The answer is all of them. Depending on how spending is calculated and how up-to-date the data are, the per-student amount differs by thousands of dollars, and the state’s ranking varies widely.

This FAQ explains the most frequently cited methodologies, their differences and the reasoning behind them. While useful, state spending comparisons won’t provide Californians the answer only they can answer: What would constitute adequate funding in the state with the world’s sixth-largest economy, and with the largest number of children living in poverty and highest percentage of English learners in the nation? Read More > at Ed Source

The Scary State of Volcano Monitoring in the United States – There are at least 169 active volcanoes in the United States, 55 of which are believed to pose a high or very high threat to people, according to a 2005 U.S. Geological Survey report.

About one-third of the active volcanoes in the U.S. have erupted—some of them repeatedly—within the past two centuries. Volcanoes aren’t just dangerous because of their fiery lava. In 1986, volcanic gas killed more than 1,700 people in Cameroon. And one of the latest theories about the epic eruption at Pompeii, in 79 A.D., is that many people died from head injuries they sustained when boulders rained down on them.

Hawaii’s Kilauea, Washington’s Mt. St. Helens, and Wyoming’s Yellowstone all have extensive monitoring. But many volcanoes in the Cascades have only a couple of far-field sensors, several geologists told me. The Pacific Northwest, which includes high-population areas in close proximity to active volcanoes, is of particular concern for public safety.

“Most people in the U.S. perceive volcanic eruptions as rare, and [believe] that we’d be able to get advance notice because of the advance in science and instrumentation,” said Estelle Chaussard, an assistant professor of geophysics and volcanology at the State University of New York at Buffalo. “However, the massive eruption of Mount St. Helens, in Washington, was only 37 years ago, and it took until the volcano became active again in 2004 to start a truly comprehensive monitoring. … This kind of assumption is therefore very dangerous, because most of our volcanoes are not as intensively monitored as we think they are or as they should be.”

Almost half of the active volcanoes in the country don’t have adequate seismometers—tools used to track the earthquakes that often occur during volcanic eruptions. And even at the sites that do have seismometers, many instruments—selected because they are cheaper and consume less power—are unable to take a complete record of the ground shaking around an eruption, meaning “the full amplitude of a seismogram may be ‘clipped’ during recording, rendering the data less useful for in-depth analyses,” according to a 2009 report by the U.S. Geological Survey. Read More > in The Atlantic

Wendy’s plans self-ordering kiosks at 1,000 locations – Wendy’s says it plans to install self-ordering kiosks at about 1,000 locations by the end of the year.

A typical location would have three kiosks, The Columbus Dispatch reported. Higher-volume restaurants will be given priority for the kiosks.

Wendy’s chief information officer, David Trimm, said the kiosks are intended to appeal to younger customers and reduce labor costs. Kiosks also allow customers of the fast food giant to circumvent long lines during peak dining hours while increasing kitchen production.

Trim estimates the company will see a return on its investment in less than two years. Read More > at Business Insider

Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to fly two private citizens around the moon by late next year – SpaceX said Monday it plans to fly two private citizens on a mission around the moon by late 2018 as part of a lunar journey that would last about a week and travel deeper into space than any human has ventured before.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk would not name the two individuals, who he said approached the company and would pay for the flight.

The announcement is yet another bold declaration by SpaceX, the leader of a host of other entrepreneurial commercial space ventures that have ended governments’ long-standing monopoly on space.

Musk is famous for laying out ambitious timelines and goals—he ultimately plans to colonize Mars, for example— that often get pushed back. SpaceX has never flown people before, and has had two of its rockets blow up in the last two years. Some think this mission, aboard the Falcon Heavy rocket, which has yet to fly, could be delayed as well. Read More > in The Washington Post

Is a new class of painkillers on the horizon? – Scientists are chasing a new lead on a class of drugs that may one day fight both pain and opioid addiction. It’s still early days, but researchers report that they’ve discovered a new small molecule that binds selectively to a long-targeted enzyme, halting its role in pain and addiction while not interfering with enzymes critical to healthy cell function. The newly discovered compound isn’t likely to become a medicine any time soon. But it could jumpstart the search for other binders that could do the job.

Pain and addiction have many biochemical roots, which makes it difficult to treat them without affecting other critical functions in cells. Today, the most potent painkillers are opioids, including heroin, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. In addition to interrupting pain, they inhibit enzymes known as adenylyl cyclases (ACs) that convert cells’ energy currency, ATP, into a molecule involved in intracellular chemical communication known as cyclic AMP (cAMP). Chronic opioid use can make cells increase the activity of ACs to compensate, causing cAMP levels to skyrocket. When opioid users try to stop using, their cAMP levels remain high, and drugs that reduce those levels—like buprenorphine—have unwanted side effects. Read More > at Science

If the White House comes after California pot, what will that mean? – For the first time, President Donald Trump’s administration publicly took a side in the marijuana debate, saying Thursday it would direct the U.S. Department of Justice to crack down on violators of federal pot laws in states where recreational pot is legal. California, which approved recreational pot use in November and already has clashed with Trump over immigration, would appear to be a prime target for this new enforcement.

On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said medical marijuana would not be targeted. But many medical marijuana companies are currently looking to expand into providing pot for recreational use, so making a firm differentiation could be difficult.

Whether Spicer’s statements materialize into actual boots on the ground remains to be seen. But what could happen in the central San Joaquin Valley if the feds moved against California cannabis?

Enhanced enforcement could lead to millions in lost revenue and serious jail time for marijuana business owners. Differentiating between medical and non-medical farms could be difficult, and cities that have embraced the cannabis industry may lose a significant revenue source. Read More > in The Fresno Bee

PG&E electricity bills will rise this week amid rate restructuring – PG&E on Monday unveiled a restructuring of how the utility charges people for electricity, a move that will impose a steep increase in electric bills for residential customers.

The higher electricity costs, which take effect March 1, mark the second time in two months that power bills have risen for PG&E customers. Monthly electricity bills last jumped on Jan. 1.

What’s more, the higher electricity bills come on top of a huge jump in monthly gas bills that took effect last summer. As of Aug. 1, monthly gas bills soared 12 percent.

At present, the monthly PG&E electricity bill for a typical residential customer is $99.13 a month.

But as of Wednesday, due to the new rates and changes in its billing tiers, the new average monthly bill will jump nearly $12 a month to $110.77, according to the company. Read More > in The Mercury News

Storm Runoff In California Gold Country Exposing New Motherlode? – Weeks of rainy weather across Northern California and the storm runoff through the hills of gold country have triggered a new gold rush.

“Miner Gary” Thomas said he always finds at least a little gold here on his property near Jamestown in Tuolumne County, but this year, there’s so much more runoff than normal and it’s shaking the gold from these hills.

Thomas said it could provide a “Eureka” moment for those inclined to come up here and look for it. “(The runoff) kind of ‘etch-a-sketches’ everything,” said Thomas. “Eveything I had dug up and now my dig spots are all gone.”

The known gold digs were washed out, trees uprooted, and landscape eroded. The runoffs have also removed gold out of the old abandoned mines and sent it down the river. Read More > at San Francisco CBS Local

Breaking News! California Electricity Prices are High – In case you missed it, a recent investigative piece in the LA Times unearthed the shocking fact that California retail electricity prices are high, about 50% higher than the national average. The article’s main focus is on the fact that California has a lot more installed nameplate generation capacity then has historically been the norm. There are several causes identified in the piece. Deregulation of the market in the late 1990’s is pointed to as a culprit. Somewhat inconsistently, the construction of regulated, rate-based plants also takes much of the blame. One factor that was barely mentioned, however, was California’s renewable electricity policy.

The story of how California’s electric system got to its current state is indeed a long and gory one going back at least to the 1980’s. The system still suffers from some of the after effects of the 2000 era crisis. The Long Term Procurement Process (LTPP) put in place in the wake of the crisis, and overseen by the CPUC, has been criticized from many sides.

However, since the power crisis of the early 2000’s settled down, the dominant policy driver in the electricity sector has unquestionably been a focus on developing renewable sources of electricity generation. As is well known (outside of the LA Times apparently), California has one of the country’s most aggressive renewable portfolio standards (RPS). The RPS requires each firm that sells electricity to end-users to procure an increasing fraction (33% by 2020, 50% by 2030) of the energy they sell from renewable sources. Read More > at The Energy Collective

Kohl’s, Macy’s Turn Landlords in Bid to Unlock Real Estate Value – Department store operators Kohl’s Corp and rival Macy’s Inc are betting on a potential money-spinner — carving out prime space within their sprawling stores and leasing them to other retailers.

The move underscores the pressing need for the two chains to better monetise their real estate assets at a time when fewer people are visiting malls and instead shopping online for everything from clothes to home decor items.

Kohl’s said on Thursday it would operate 500 of its nearly 1,150 stores with much lower square footage and would look to lease out the remaining space to other retailers.

Macy’s, whose flagship locations include Herald Square in Manhattan and Union Square in San Francisco, is also planning to carve out storefront space for high-end retailers and lease or sell that space, chief executive Terry Lundgren said on Tuesday.

The companies, whose stores are located in prime shopping districts, are hoping that leasing out store space to popular brands will not only generate a steady rental income but also attract more shoppers to its own stores. Read More > at Business of Fashion

San Francisco is fourth most congested city in the world, says study – Despite what some commuters will say, San Francisco does not in fact have the worst traffic in the world. But it’s a close call.

The Washington-based traffic data company INRIX surveyed 1,064 cities on five continents in 2016 and dubbed San Francisco’s congestion the fourth worst in the world. Only New York City, Moscow, and (of course) Los Angeles fared worse.

According to the INRIX report, the average San Francisco driver spent 82 hours stuck in traffic in 2016. Which, alas, is pretty much how it feels.

Note that this is almost twice as much as the overall U.S. average of 43 hours. Read More > at San Francisco Curbed

Peugeot finally returns to America in April… as a car-sharing service – Peugeot-Citroen parent PSA Group hasn’t officially operated in the US in more than two decades, so let’s just say its reentry to the States appears to be a fairly innocuous one. PSA said that it has partnered with France-based insurance company MAIF to invest about $16 million in car-sharing service TravelCar. The car-sharing service has operated in France since 2012 and will debut US operations when it starts working out of Los Angeles and San Francisco airports in April.

TravelCar is different from other car-sharing services such as ZipCar in that it rents out other people’s cars. It’s that detail that makes MAIF an interesting partner, as it provides insurance services in case those cars get munched. TravelCar offers free parking at airports to those willing to let their vehicles be rented out while they’re traveling. In turn, TravelCar says its car-rental rates are about half that of typical rental-car places. TravelCar operates in 10 European countries and says it has about 300,000 users.

PSA says the investment is the first step in a 10-year plan in what it calls its “progressive entry” into North America. No other details about that re-entry process have been revealed. The investment is a little less splashy than the recent news that has surfaced about PSA potentially acquiring General Motors’ European divisions Opel and Vauxhall. Read More > at Auto Blog

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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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