Sunday Reading – 09/16/18

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

Strange cloud formation puzzles Bay Area – An unusual cloud formation has Bay Area residents puzzled Friday afternoon.

Several viewers reached out to KRON4 to ask what it was.

The phenomenon was seen mainly on the Peninsula in cities like San Bruno, San Mateo, and Burlingame.

But residents in the East Bay also tell KRON4 they spotted it in the sky.

Photo by Leo Elvis Tabalno Pacaldo in San Bruno

The National Weather Service says the formation is known as a “fallstreak hole” or “hole punch cloud.” Read More > at KRON

Third-party threat? California political establishment doesn’t see it coming – State Democratic registration has flatlined, Republicans are sinking, and the share of California voters registering no party affiliation is at an all-time high. Pundits and politicians speak of the “swamp,” use “politics” as a term of abuse and inveigh against the hacks and the insiders who make up the political establishment.

And yet the odds are slim to nil that California voters will have an electorally viable third party to get behind anytime soon.

If the Sacramento political wisdom is to be believed, third-party hopefuls need not quit their day jobs.

Of the 45 insiders who responded to the survey, more than three-quarters said the chance of a real electoral alternative emerging is unlikely, with 28 saying very unlikely. Zero described the scenario as “very likely.”

“The Democratic and Republican parties agree on exactly one thing, and that is that nobody else should be in the game,” said Target Book publisher Darry Sragow. He noted, for example, that California requires twice as many valid voter signatures to qualify a new political party as it does to qualify an initiative statute.

…Among those clamoring for a third party to emerge here: the editorial board of The New York Times, which wrote this spring that, given the state’s top-two primary system allowing two candidates to advance to the general regardless of party affiliation, “if a third party has a chance anywhere in the United States, it’s in California.” Read More > at CALmatters

More critical water storage is finally coming to California. It took nearly 40 years. – California officials have been pushing for more natural water storage since the last large-scale facility was built in 1979. Now they’re finally going to get it, thanks to political pressure, President Donald Trump and some congressional creativity.

The House approved several provisions Thursday that help fund water storage projects. The Senate is expected to concur shortly, and Trump is expected to sign the legislation into law next week.

Republican Rep. Jeff Denham and Democrat Rep. Jim Costa have been pushing for additional water storage for the state for years in constantly-at-risk-of-drought California. Since 1979, California’s population has grown 70 percent.

Denham’s proposal allows local irrigation districts to apply for low-interest federal loans from the Environmental Protection Agency to build new reservoirs, below ground storage projects, recycling and desalination projects. Those are desperately needed in parts of California to capture rains and runoff from the mountains so water can be stored and used in drier seasons and in years of drought.

Theoretically, the irrigation districts could eventually easily repay low-interest loans through control of the new water sources, and having a larger supply of water would drive down demand and cost of fresh water throughout the state. Several water storage projects in the state have already been authorized by legislation and are awaiting funding. Read More > McClatchy DC

Hurricane Florence is not climate change or global warming. It’s just the weather. – Even before Hurricane Florence made landfall somewhere near the border of North and South Carolina, predicted damage from potentially catastrophic flooding from the storm was already being blamed on global warming.

…But like most claims regarding global warming, the real effect is small, probably temporary, and most likely due to natural weather patterns. Any changes in hurricanes over 70 years, even if real, can easily be part of natural cycles — or incomplete data. Coastal lake sediments along the Gulf of Mexico shoreline from 1,000 to 2,000 years ago suggest more frequent and intense hurricanes than occur today. Why? No one knows.

…Until 2017, the United States went 11 years without a major hurricane strike — something that is statistically very improbable. Nine years into that 11-year hurricane drought, a NASA scientist computed it as a 1-in-177-year event.

My point is that nature varies, and unusual things happen sometimes.

…But a major hurricane hits North Carolina on average once every 20 years or so. The last was Fran in 1996, which is 22 years ago. Coastal residents know they live under a yearly threat of hurricanes, and sometimes (though relatively rarely), one of those hurricanes will be very strong.

Well, aren’t we being told these storms are getting stronger on average? The answer is no. The 30 most costly hurricanes in U.S. history (according to federal data from January) show no increase in intensity over time. The monetary cost of damages has increased dramatically in recent decades, but that is due to increasing population, wealth and the amount of vulnerable infrastructure. It’s not due to stronger storms.

If humans have any influence on hurricanes at all, it probably won’t be evident for many decades to come. Natural variability is simply too large. This should not be surprising given that humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions have caused only a 1 percent change in the natural energy flows coursing through the climate system. Read More > in USA Today

VW Is Halting Production of Its Iconic Beetle – Herbie is going on hiatus.

Volkswagen AG is ending worldwide production of its iconic Beetle, the model once so popular in North America that it prompted the German automaker to build its first factory on the continent in the 1960s. The last one will roll off the line from the company’s factory in the state of Puebla, Mexico, in July 2019.

VW had been pulling the Beetle from select markets as part of a broader effort by the German giant to rein in its bloated product range, which spans more than 300 different vehicles and variants, including heavy trucks, motorbikes and passenger cars. Cutting back on product complexity is one of the key ways the company is trimming costs and getting leaner in the wake of its diesel emissions scandal. Read More > at Bloomberg

Bay Area Leads Nation In Retail Worker Shortage, Other Skill Shortages – The San Francisco Bay Area leads the nation with the largest shortage of those with retail sales skills, according to LinkedIn’s September workforce report.

Retail hiring is up slightly, growing 0.5% from a year ago in August, but demand for retail workers has surged across the country, LinkedIn reports. In some markets, such as Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Philadelphia, there is a surplus of workers with retail sales skills, but the Bay Area, New York City and Seattle continue to struggle this year to find enough qualified employees to fill those positions.

New York City changed dramatically in the first half of the year, going from a surplus of qualified retail workers in January to a shortage by July. The report posits that shift may be due to declines in retail rents in the city, creating an environment for new retail stores to open.

The Bay Area has shortages in workers skilled in more than just retail. The region also leads the nation in overall skill shortages, followed by New York City, Los Angeles and Boston. New York City is in an interesting position, because the city, while second on the list for largest skill shortages, is first on the list for largest skills surpluses — related to different types of jobs.

These skills are defined as those in the most demand from a region’s employers and those held by local workers. Read More > at Bisnow

The monopoly-busting case against Google, Amazon, Uber, and Facebook – Antitrust crusaders have built up serious momentum in Washington, but so far, it’s all been theory and talk. Groups like Open Markets have made a strong case that big companies (especially big tech companies) are distorting the market to drive out competitors. We need a new standard for monopolies, they argue, one that focuses less on consumer harm and more on the skewed incentives produced by a company the size of Facebook or Google.

Someday soon, those ideas will be put to the test, probably against one of a handful of companies. For anti-monopolists, it’s a chance to reshape tech into something more democratic and less destructive. It’s just a question of which company makes the best target.

To that end, here’s the case against four of the movement’s biggest targets, and what they might look like if they came out on the losing end. (Note: Apple was too much of a conventional retailer to make the list, but if you’re wondering what an antitrust lawsuit against Cupertino might look like, this is a pretty good place to start.)

Our best model for tech antitrust is the Department of Justice’s anti-bundling case against Microsoft in the ‘90s, which argued that Microsoft was using its control over the PC market to force out competing operating systems and browsers. If you’re looking for a contemporary equivalent, Google is probably the closest fit. On a good day, Google (or Alphabet, if you prefer) is the most valuable company in the world by market cap, with dozens of different products supported by an all-encompassing ad network. Google also has clear and committed enemies, with Microsoft, Oracle, Yelp, and even the Motion Picture Association of America calling for restrictions on the company’s power.

Some of those restrictions are already starting to take shape in Europe, as Google faces a $5 billion fine for alleged anti-competitive Android bundling and a separate $4 billion GDPR case that alleges stingy opt-out provisions. Last week, Sen. Orrin Hatch called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate anti-competitive effects from Google’s dominance in online ads and search, hinting that similar regulatory pressure may not be far off in the US.

But according to Open Markets’ Matthew Stoller, the best long-term remedy for Google’s dominance has more to do with Google’s acquisitions. “If you’re looking for a silver bullet, probably the best thing to do would be to block Google from being able to buy any companies,” says Stoller. “Suddenly, you have to compete with Google, you can’t just be bought out by Google.” Read More > in The Verge

County agency votes to disband Julian-Cuyamaca fire agency – Those in support of the last volunteer fire department in San Diego County suffered a setback Monday.

The Local Agency Formation Commission held a hearing on whether the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District should be dissolved with the agency voting to disband it.

LAFCO, which has countywide jurisdiction but is independent of county government, is responsible for overseeing changes to local governmental boundaries, including the formation, consolidation, merger and dissolution of special districts.

The county fire authority will now take control which has been the case with other volunteer fire departments in rural areas.

It was clear at the meeting Monday that this is a topic people feel passionate about; the room packed with people speaking out both for and against disbanding.

Those in favor of disbanding said the county could provide better resources considering they would have a crew stationed in Julian 24/7.

Over the past ten years, all other volunteer departments in the backcountry have been absorbed by the county. Read More > at CBS8

Kimco Realty Is Adding Housing To Bay Area Mall Sites – As the Bay Area struggles with a harrowing housing crisis, the current retail evolution may be able to provide some relief.

The concept of bringing housing to mall sites as owners re-examine older malls has taken hold. Kimco Realty is one mall owner turning its sights to pursue residential development of mall property, reflecting its interest in capitalizing on what is increasingly underutilized space.

Kimco has received approval to build 179 apartments at Daly City’s Westlake Shopping Center, and is proposing 303 apartments in a six-story mixed-use apartment building at the Fremont Hub, the San Francisco Business Times reports. Kimco owns both malls.

Malls are being repurposed in various ways to stay relevant in the changing retail environment. Some are being transitioned to office or coworking space, mixed-use developments with housing over retail or hotels. Read More > at Bisnow

E-cig makers have 60 days to show they aren’t targeting minors – The Food And Drug Administration may force several e-cigarette brands to stop selling flavored products if they can’t prove they can keep their products out of minors’ hands. The brands — Juul, Vuse, MarkTen, blu and Logic — have 60 days to convince the agency they have adequate plans to stop kids from vaping with their products. Those five collectively account for more than 97 percent of the e-cigarette market.

The FDA is also targeting retailers who have sold e-cigarettes to minors. It has issued more than 1,300 warning letters and fines to the likes of 7-Eleven outlets, Walgreens, Shell gas stations, and Circle K convenience stores.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has said that e-cigarettes, while still harmful, may be effective for adults who want to give up cigarette smoking, which kills almost half a million Americans each year. E-cigs deliver lower toxin levels than regular cigarettes, but users can inhale more of the addictive stimulant nicotine.

However, Gottlieb claims e-cigarette brands haven’t done enough to stop kids from using the products. The FDA claims that more than 2 million middle schoolers and high school students were regularly vaping last year, with underage use reaching “an epidemic proportion.” Read More > at Engadget

The Military Now Has Tooth Mics For Invisible, Hands-Free Radio Calls – Next time you pass someone on the street who appears to be talking to themselves, they may literally have voices inside their head…and be a highly trained soldier on a dangerous mission. The Pentagon has inked a roughly $10 million contract with a California company to provide secure communication gear that’s essentially invisible.

Dubbed the Molar Mic, it’s a small device that clips to your back teeth. The device is both microphone and “speaker,” allowing the wearer to transmit without any conspicuous external microphone and receive with no visible headset or earpiece. Incoming sound is transmitted through the wearer’s bone matter in the jaw and skull to the auditory nerves; outgoing sound is sent to a radio transmitter on the neck, and sent to another radio unit that can be concealed on the operator. From there, the signal can be sent anywhere.

“Essentially, what you are doing is receiving the same type of auditory information that you receive from your ear, except that you are using a new auditory pathway — through your tooth, through your cranial bones — to that auditory nerve. You can hear through your head as if you were hearing through your ear,” said Peter Hadrovic, CEO of Molar Mic creator Sonitus Technologies. He likened the experience to what happens when you eat a crunchy breakfast cereal — but instead of hearing that loud (delightfully marketable) chewing noise, you’re receiving important communications from your operations team.

Your ability to understand conversations transmitted through bone improves with practice. “Over the period of three weeks, your brain adapts and it enhances your ability to process the audio,” said Hadrovic. But even “out of the gate, you can understand it,” he said. Read More > at Defense One

Apple, Google, et al. Strike a Blow against the College Cartel – Earlier this month, the job-search site Glassdoor compiled a list of 15 major companies that no longer require applicants for certain posts to have a college degree. The list included an array of entry- and mid-level jobs —everything from barista to “Apple Genius” to “senior manager of finance” — at such corporate giants as Apple, Google, Bank of America, Penguin Random House, Home Depot, Costco, Whole Foods, and Starbucks. Glassdoor lauded these firms for opening new pathways to success and recognizing “that book smarts don’t necessarily equal strong work ethic, grit and talent.” CNBC and Axios provided similar, approving coverage.

This is a praiseworthy development, to be sure. But it should also raise an obvious question: Why were firms requiring college degrees for such jobs in the first place? Is there good reason to believe that having a B.A. in sociology or women’s studies makes one more qualified to be a stocker at Costco or shift supervisor at Starbucks?

No, there isn’t.

In fact, there’s clear evidence that over-credentialing is bad for workers and for businesses. A comprehensive 2017 study by researchers at Harvard Business School found that college graduates filling middle-skill positions cost more to employ, have higher turnover rates, tend to be less engaged, and are no more productive than high-school graduates doing the same job. The long-term consequences of degree inflation look to be even worse, as employers continue to pay a premium for a college-educated workforce even when filling positions that non-credentialed workers could just as easily do, leading ever more students to incur the costs of pursuing a degree. Read More > at National Review

U.S. job openings climb to record 6.9 million – Job openings rose from 6.82 million in June, the government said Tuesday.

About 5.68 million people were hired and 5.53 million lost their jobs in July. Such a high level of what economists call “churn” is common in the huge U.S. economy.

The share of people who left jobs on their own, known as the quits rate, rose a notch to a 2.7% among private-sector employees. The record is 2.9%, set in 2001.

The quits rate was 2.4% among all workers — also near a record high. The government began keeping track in 2000.

Workers who switch jobs usually get better pay than those who remain in their old ones. And more people switch when they are confident about the economy.

The U.S. economy is booming. Growth surged in the spring and has carried through summer. Unemployment is uber-low at 3.9%, layoffs are at a 50-year low and small-business owners say they are more optimistic about the economy than ever.

Some workers are taking advantage of the strong economy and tight labor market by switching jobs in search of better pay. As a result, companies are offering more attractive pay and benefits to lure new workers or to retain old ones. Read More > at Market Watch

Are Digital Devices Altering Our Brains? – Ten years ago technology writer Nicholas Carr published an article in the Atlantic entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” He strongly suspected the answer was “yes.” Himself less and less able to focus, remember things or absorb more than a few pages of text, he accused the Internet of radically changing people’s brains. And that is just one of the grievances leveled against the Internet and at the various devices we use to access it–including cell phones, tablets, game consoles and laptops. Often the complaints target video games that involve fighting or war, arguing that they cause players to become violent.

But digital devices also have fervent defenders—in particular the promoters of brain-training games, who claim that their offerings can help improve attention, memory and reflexes. Who, if anyone, is right?

The answer is less straightforward than you might think. Take Carr’s accusation. As evidence, he quoted findings of neuroscientists who showed that the brain is more plastic than previously understood. In other words, it has the ability to reprogram itself over time, which could account for the Internet’s effect on it. Yet in a 2010 opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, psychologists Christopher Chabris, then at Union College, and Daniel J. Simons of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign rebutted Carr’s view: “There is simply no experimental evidence to show that living with new technologies fundamentally changes brain organization in a way that affects one’s ability to focus,” they wrote. And the debate goes on. Read More > at Scientific America

USA Is Now The Largest Global Crude Oil Producer – Surpasses Russia and Saudi Arabia – In February, U.S. crude oil production exceeded that of Saudi Arabia for the first time in more than two decades. In June and August, the United States surpassed Russia in crude oil production for the first time since February 1999.

Although EIA does not publish crude oil production forecasts for Russia and Saudi Arabia in STEO, EIA expects that U.S. crude oil production will continue to exceed Russian and Saudi Arabian crude oil production for the remaining months of 2018 and through 2019.

U.S. crude oil production, particularly from light sweet crude oil grades, has rapidly increased since 2011. Much of the recent growth has occurred in areas such as the Permian region in eastern Texas and western New Mexico, the Federal Offshore Gulf of Mexico, and the Bakken region in North Dakota and Montana. Read More > at Climate Depot

A Generation Plans An Exodus From California – California is the great role model for America, particularly if you read the Eastern press. Yet few boosters have yet to confront the fact that the state is continuing to hemorrhage people at a higher rate, with particular losses among the family-formation age demographic critical to California’s future.

Since the recovery began in 2010, California’s net domestic out-migration, according to the American community survey, has almost tripled to 140,000 annually. Over that time, the state has lost half a million net migrants with the bulk of that coming from the Los Angeles-Orange County area.

In contrast, during the first years of the decade the Bay Area, particularly San Francisco, enjoyed a renaissance of in-migration, something not seen since before 2000. But that is changing. A recent Redfin report suggests that the Bay Area, the focal point of California’s boom, now leads the country in outbound home searches, which could suggest a further worsening of the trend.

One of the perennial debates about migration, particularly in California, is the nature of the outmigration. The state’s boosters, and the administration itself, like to talk as if California is simply giving itself an enema — expelling its waste — while making itself an irresistible beacon to the “best and brightest.”

The reality, however, is more complicated than that. An analysis of IRS data from 2015-16, the latest available, shows that while roughly half those leaving the state made under $50,000 annually, half made above that. Roughly one in four made over $100,000 and another quarter earned a middle-class paycheck between $50,000 and $100,000. We also lose among the wealthiest segment, the people best able to withstand California’s costs, but by much smaller percentages.

The key issue for California, however, lies with the exodus of people around child-bearing years. The largest group leaving the state — some 28 percent — is 35 to 44, the prime ages for families. Another third come from those 26 to 34 and 45 to 54, also often the age of parents.

…The old folks are not the ones most alienated. A survey by the UCLA Luskin School suggests that 18-to-29-year-olds are the least satisfied with life in Los Angeles while seniors were most positive. In the Bay Area, according to ULI, 74 percent of millennials are considering an exodus. It appears paying high prices to live permanently as renters in dense, small apartments — the lifestyle most promoted by planners, the media and the state — may not be as attractive as advertised.

California’s media and political elites like to bask in the mirror and praise their political correctness. They focus on passing laws about banning straws, the makeup of corporate boards, prohibiting advertising for unenlightened fundamentalist preaching or staging a non-stop, largely ineffective climate change passion play. Yet what our state really needs are leaders interested in addressing more basic issues such as middle-class jobs and affordable single-family housing. Read More > at New Geography

Small business optimism surges to highest level ever, topping previous record under Reagan – U.S. small business optimism surged to a record in August as the tax cuts and deregulation efforts of President Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress led to more sales, hiring and investment, according to a survey by the National Federation of Independent Business.

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index jumped to 108.8 last month, the highest level ever recorded in the survey’s 45-year history and above the previous record of 108 in 1983, set during the second year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. The August figure was up from a 107.9 reading in July.

The NFIB noted record readings for job creation plans and the amount of owners saying it was a good time to expand. Capital spending plans were the highest since 2007.

Small businesses have been a key beneficiary of Trump’s economic plans. The U.S. economy expanded by 4.2 percent in the second quarter, the fastest pace in nearly four years. Read More > at CNBC

Why the Future of Data Storage is (Still) Magnetic Tape – It should come as no surprise that recent advances in big-data analytics and artificial intelligence have created strong incentives for enterprises to amass information about every measurable aspect of their businesses. And financial regulations now require organizations to keep records for much longer periods than they had to in the past. So companies and institutions of all stripes are holding onto more and more.

Studies show [PDF] that the amount of data being recorded is increasing at 30 to 40 percent per year. At the same time, the capacity of modern hard drives, which are used to store most of this, is increasing at less than half that rate. Fortunately, much of this information doesn’t need to be accessed instantly. And for such things, magnetic tape is the perfect solution.

Seriously? Tape? The very idea may evoke images of reels rotating fitfully next to a bulky mainframe in an old movie like Desk Set or Dr. Strangelove. So, a quick reality check: Tape has never gone away!

Indeed, much of the world’s data is still kept on tape, …

The first commercial digital-tape storage system, IBM’s Model 726, could store about 1.1 megabytes on one reel of tape. Today, a modern tape cartridge can hold 15 terabytes. And a single robotic tape library can contain up to 278 petabytes of data. Storing that much data on compact discs would require more than 397 million of them, which if stacked would form a tower more than 476 kilometers high.

It’s true that tape doesn’t offer the fast access speeds of hard disks or semiconductor memories. Still, the medium’s advantages are many. To begin with, tape storage is more energy efficient: Once all the data has been recorded, a tape cartridge simply sits quietly in a slot in a robotic library and doesn’t consume any power at all. Tape is also exceedingly reliable, with error rates that are four to five orders of magnitude lower than those of hard drives. And tape is very secure, with built-in, on-the-fly encryption and additional security provided by the nature of the medium itself. After all, if a cartridge isn’t mounted in a drive, the data cannot be accessed or modified. This “air gap” is particularly attractive in light of the growing rate of data theft through cyberattacks. Read More > at Spectrum IEEE

California aims to drop fossil fuels for electricity by 2045 – California has set a goal of phasing out electricity produced by fossil fuels by 2045 under legislation signed Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown, who said the policy should serve as a model for other states and nations.

The renewable energy measure would require California’s utilities to generate 60 percent of their energy from wind, solar and other specific renewable sources by 2030. That’s 10 percent higher than the current mandate.

The goal would then be to use only carbon-free sources to generate electricity by 2045. It’s merely a goal, with no mandate or penalty for falling short. California’s renewable energy goal is not as ambitious as Hawaii, which has adopted a 100 percent renewable energy mandate.

Phasing out fossil fuels would be a massive change in the energy grid. Utilities rely on natural gas plants to meet demand when renewables fall short, particularly in the early evening when the sun sets and people turn on their air conditioners as they get home from work.

Utilities are already dealing with an abundance of solar energy during peak times, which must be offloaded to other states when there’s not enough demand locally for the power.

Brown advocates for a regional energy grid that would more easily allow Western states to share energy. An effort he pushed has died the past two years in the Legislature, with critics arguing California shouldn’t be part of a grid with states that rely on coal. But Brown on Monday said moving toward a regional grid is essential to achieving California’s new 100 percent clean energy goal without sending electric prices skyrocketing.

“Those who don’t want it are going to be foisting very high prices on California, and I think there will be resistance to that,” Brown said. “It may take one or two years, but we’re going to get there. It makes too much sense.”

He also pointed to the need for better battery technology to store energy.

Renewable energy experts have looked to batteries that can store solar energy generated in the afternoon as one solution, but the technology is not ready for wide-scale deployment. Another potential solution is pumped storage, in which water is pumped uphill in the afternoon using solar energy and then released through hydroelectric generators after the sun sets. Read More > from the Associated Press

Strong Economy, Demand Boost Average Apartment Rents to New High – U.S. multifamily rents in August maintained the year’s torrid pace, adding $2 to July’s record high. A survey of 127 markets by Yardi Matrix shows the $1,412 nationwide average for the month represented a 3% year-over-year increase, and was the seventh consecutive all-time high.

Multifamily rents have grown steadily throughout 2018, buoyed by the strong economy and continued healthy demand. The 25-basis-point increase in the occupancy rate of stabilized properties since January is “particularly impressive, considering that 2018 is on pace for a third straight year of some 300,000 new units,” the report notes, adding, “The multifamily market … shows no signs of being at the end of its cycle.”

August’s year-over-year rent growth leaders, Orlando; Las Vegas; California’s Inland Empire; Phoenix; and Tampa, have populated most of this year’s monthly rankings. Metros in the South and West occupied the nine top spots in August. Read More > at Connect

How Far Can Driverless Cars Take Us? – Driverless cars and trucks—or autonomous vehicles (AV)—offer a tantalizing promise of safer and unclogged roadways. In 2017, 37,150 people died in accidents on America’s roads, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, up sharply from 32,479 in 2011, and far worse per capita than anywhere else in the Western world. And the United States has ten of the 25 most congested cities globally, according to the Inrix transportation intelligence group. Cars that drive themselves could reduce crashes to a small fraction of today’s totals, while moving people about more efficiently, in larger groups and at faster speeds.

For now, though, these positive outcomes remain speculative. Even as companies start deploying driverless cars on America’s streets, no data exist yet on whether the vehicles are consistently safer than those with human drivers and, if so, under what circumstances. The safety of driverless cars will depend in part on policies adopted by federal, state, and local officials—just as speed limits help keep human drivers from inflicting carnage.

Autonomous vehicles pose a particular challenge for dense cities like New York, which have always had an uneasy relationship with the automobile. But if cities handle the introduction of this new technology right, the potential payoff won’t just be improved street safety; it will be an improved quality of life for everyone—by car, on foot, or on bikes.

…The industry and its regulators have quantified the AV capability of a vehicle with a six-level scale, designed by the Society of Automotive Engineers. A Level 0 car is an old-fashioned car, without automation. Level 1 means that a car allows technology to take over for specific well-defined functions, which aren’t critical to life and limb, such as parallel parking. In a Level 2 car, partial automation lets a human operator relinquish more important functions, like steering and braking, but the driver must monitor the environment. A Level 3 car has “conditional automation,” meaning that the driver doesn’t have to monitor the environment but must take over quickly if the car asks him to. A “high automation” Level 4 vehicle can do all driving tasks in “certain circumstances,” with no need for the driver to pay attention. Finally, a “full automation,” Level 5 car can do everything, anytime, anywhere.

Tesla’s Model S and Model 3 cars and X SUV offer partial Level 2 capability. The vehicles can do much of the work on many stretches of road, but with human drivers required to keep hands at the wheel. Cadillac’s “Super Cruise” feature, sold in the CT6 sedan model since last September, is the first commercially available vehicle that lets drivers take their feet off the pedals and hands off the wheel along stretches of divided highway; the car stays in its lane and maintains distance from other vehicles automatically. Cadillac says that it will implement the technology on all models, as well as other GM brands, starting in 2020. Beyond these leading companies, virtually every global auto firm is involved in autonomous development, often partnering with startups providing mapping software, radar hardware, and other support services.

…The need for humans to take over a car within milliseconds after they’ve sat disengaged from the road for a long period may be one of the biggest perils of intermediate AV technology. In all three crashes, the human operator was supposed to be paying attention. But in at least two cases—the Florida Tesla crash and the Arizona Uber crash—the driver stopped doing so, perhaps because the technology encourages complacency. (The Apple engineer’s death remains under investigation.)

There’s no point in prognosticating on when most Americans will be driving—or riding in—Level 4 or 5 cars; it will happen when it happens, if it does. The good news is that we don’t have to wait to make the leap from cars that operate at the whims of human drivers to cars that drive themselves fully before benefiting from tech-enabled safety advances. The most obvious gain: braking. Over the past decade, automakers have added collision warnings and automatic emergency-braking mechanisms to higher-end vehicles, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Highway Loss Data Institute, both insurance-funded nonprofits, have found that cars equipped with both technologies have reduced rear-end crashes by 50 percent; crashes with injuries dropped 56 percent. Read More > at City Journal

California Says Gangs Stole $1 Million by Credit Card Fraud – More than 30 purported street gang members have been charged with stealing more than $1 million in what authorities said Monday was an unusually sophisticated credit card fraud scheme.

Members and associates of the BullyBoys and the CoCo Boys street gangs based in the suburbs east of San Francisco defrauded hundreds of victims by breaking into dozens of medical and dental offices to steal credit card terminals and patient records, said state Attorney General Xavier Becerra and police chiefs from three cities.

The 32 alleged gang members used the stolen terminals to process credit card returns, downloading them to debit cards, according to the 240-count indictment.

Nearly 130 law enforcement officers fanned out last week to make 23 arrests, said Walnut Creek Police Chief Tom Chaplin. Another two were arrested over the weekend, while seven remain fugitives, said Deputy Attorney General Tawnya Austin, who heads the attorney general’s e-crimes unit.

Investigators recovered about 40 stolen credit card terminals, dozens of fraudulent receipts, laptop computers and files including Social Security numbers or bank information. Read More > from the Associated Press

Tip: Choose Steak Over Chicken – People automatically assume that eating chicken is healthier than eating beef. Here are the facts.

Most of the time, chicken is actually no better or worse for you than beef, and in some situations, beef is actually the healthier choice.

The Problem With Modern Chicken

It’s true that chicken used to always be a healthy choice, but that was before industrialized, mass-market chicken farms. While yesterday’s chickens used to dine on crickets, grasshoppers, weeds, grasses, and seeds, today’s chickens get fed the same unhealthy diet most Americans subsist on – corn, soy, and grains.

As a result, they’re (chickens and humans) teeming with angry, inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids while lacking in appreciable amounts of vitamins and minerals.

Oddly enough, most “healthy eaters” remove the skin of the chicken, which, ironically, is probably one of the least problematic areas of the chicken. On average, the skin on an average size breast only adds about 50 calories, but about 55% of the fat in the skin is monosaturated. You know, like olive oil.

The rest of the skin, about 2.5 to 3.0 grams, is indeed saturated, but there have been at least 17 scientific reviews on the link between saturated fat and heart disease and they’ve come up empty.

Given all of chicken’s nutritional problems, beef doesn’t have a particularly high bar to jump over in proving its nutritional mettle, but it has to contend against its bad rap amongst presumably healthy eaters.

The main beef against beef is again the issue of saturated fat, but as mentioned, there’s no proof saturated fat causes health problems in humans. (Of course, we haven’t exactly figured out how much sat fat is okay, so until we do it’s still best to practice moderation.)

Nutritionally, beef is pretty much on par with chicken, although red meat is a bit higher in B vitamins and iron. Of course, industrialized beef has the same inflammatory omega-6 and antibiotic problems that chicken has, so in those areas, it’s a wash between the two of them. Read More > at T Nation

A Scourge for California Drivers: Hours on a Sidewalk to Renew a License – They were lined up by the dozens clear down the street on a recent afternoon — hot and frustrated in the sun, trying to attend to the most routine (and unavoidable) encounters with local government: renewing a driver’s license.

Inside the Hollywood office of the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the wait was close to two hours. Folding chairs, all filled, were set up three-deep against three walls.

“There’s a six-week wait just to get an appointment,” said Alfred Kendrick, a fitness trainer from West Hollywood who, like many people here, showed up without one. “Come on. This is 2018. I can order a bowl from China in less time than it takes to get a driver’s license in California.”

Few states have embraced the idea of an expansive government as fervently as California, with its vast public university system, $100 billion high-speed rail project and even, the other day, the passage of legislation outlawing plastic straws. California’s leaders are on the forefront of global efforts to combat climate change and the Democratic challenge to President Trump.

But these days, to the embarrassment of Democrats who control the state government, California is fumbling one of its most basic tasks. Waiting times at motor vehicle offices have increased as much as 46 percent from a year ago, spotlighting a departmental bureaucracy marked by green computer screens and computers that still run on DOS. Read More > in The New York Times

Infectious Theory Of Alzheimer’s Disease Draws Fresh Interest – Dr. Leslie Norins is willing to hand over $1 million of his own money to anyone who can clarify something: Is Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia worldwide, caused by a germ?

By “germ” he means microbes like bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. In other words, Norins, a physician turned publisher, wants to know if Alzheimer’s is infectious.

It’s an idea that just a few years ago would’ve seemed to many an easy way to drain your research budget on bunk science. Money has poured into Alzheimer’s research for years, but until very recently not much of it went toward investigating infection in causing dementia. Read More > at NPR

During all the Russia hacking hype, China is rising in influence – We’ve spent a lot of time talking about Russian spying in the United States. And while a lot of the concern is really just evidence that some people have trouble dealing with a lost election, it’s not as if the Russians haven’t been spying on us since my grandparents’ day.

But with all the attention focused on Russia, maybe we need to pay a bit more attention to the spying — and related meddling — being done by the People’s Republic of China. Because China is a bigger threat in general, and seems to be doing a lot without engendering much of a response, or even much awareness.

In fact, it may be that the Chinese government is quite happy to see us focus on Russians, as a distraction from what it’s doing. I would be, if I were them.

It wasn’t the Russians, after all, but the Chinese who were fingered for a massive 2015 hack on Office of Personnel Management records that was so damaging some dubbed it a Cyber Pearl Harbor.

But that attack now seems almost forgotten, though its damage lives on. And it’s not as if China has stopped. But it goes beyond spying, to actual operations within the United States.

Just last week, Politico reported on extensive Chinese spying in Silicon Valley, noting that it’s not just traditional cloak-and-dagger stuff, but the Chinese government leveraging the family connections of Chinese immigrants. Read More > at USA Today

About Kevin

Councilmember - City of Oakley, Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit, Transplan, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority and RD 2137, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction
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