Sunday Reading – 02/17/19


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.

The Bold Science That Could Save You from Alzheimer’s Disease – In July 2000, as the World Alzheimer Congress convened in Washington, D. C., there was a moment-a “dawning sense that scientists could be on the verge of stemming the epidemic,” Time magazine put it-when a treatment for the disease seemed imminent. Science was pouring minds and dollars into solving this devastating problem that creates total neurological meltdown and can break apart and bankrupt families.

Spoiler alert: Nope. Almost two decades later, the heartbreaking and costly illness first identified by Alois Alzheimer in 1906 is more prevalent than ever. Nearly six million Americans currently find themselves somewhere on the grim march of Alzheimer’s progression, a number that’s projected to reach nearly 14 million by 2050. While Alzheimer’s often doesn’t show up in a tangible way until your 70s or later, the brain changes associated with it begin decades earlier. The surge of money that inspired that optimism has failed to produce a drug that brings anything more than a modest, temporary improvement in symptoms once they show up-if that.

The dearth of progress has some researchers rethinking everything they’ve been taught about what Alzheimer’s disease is and how it works. Although the ranks of these scientists are small, the idea uniting them is a big one: that Alzheimer’s is caused by germs. And not some exotic new germ but the same microscopic organisms that cause things like gum disease and cold sores. Most brains accumulate pathogens as they age-blood vessels become leakier, making the blood-brain barrier more porous. These scientists think some of the germs that infiltrate the brain may be the instigators of the changes that become Alzheimer’s.

If this so-called microbial protection hypothesis proves out-and supporting evidence has been piling up-it will point the way to a new and radical approach to stop the buildup of a protein called beta-amyloid. These proteins accumulate in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, making up telltale deposits called plaques that are associated with dementia. For 30 years, scientists thought beta-amyloid was a functionless rogue protein and tried to halt its accumulation by degrading it or blocking its production. The bug-hunting new guard thinks this old hypothesis is knocking on the wrong cellular doors. Maybe beta-amyloid isn’t the actual problem after all; maybe it’s a symptom of something else. Read More > at Yahoo! Lifestyle

Store Closures Coming in 2019, but Don’t Call It a Retail Apocalypse – The same can be said for the predictions of retail apocalypse you see everywhere. Stores are closing — and a new report from Coresight forecasts that number to grow year-over-year — but blaming those closures on the rise in digital sales ignores what’s actually happening (and some basic math).

Digital retailers have exposed how poorly many brick-and-mortar chains are run, forcing a number of them to close stores or even go bankrupt. That’s not happening because consumers have chosen digital over physical. Instead, shoppers have more choice and they can now more easily opt out of shopping at brick-and-mortar chains that do a bad job.

Retailers that have embraced the current market dynamics like Best Buy, Target, and Walmart have thrived. These chains acknowledged that digital rivals changed the game. Best Buy, which was at one time at risk of being driven out of business by Amazon, changed its business in numerous ways (none of which included significant store closures).

The electronics retailer made its stores into destinations by adding store-within-a-store shops for major brands and focusing on growing its service business. It also adjusted its prices because consumers might pay a little more for an HDMI cable to have it now, but they won’t pay two or three times what Amazon charges, even if that means waiting two days for it.

…Since 2017 e-commerce sales as a percentage of all retail sales have climbed from 9% to 10% in 2018 with a forecast of them growing to 11.1% in 2019 and 13.7% by 2021, according to a Statista chart. That growth does impact brick-and-mortar chains, but it’s also coming at a time when the National Retail Federation (NRF) reported that U.S. retail sales overall (including digital and brick-and-mortar) grew by 4.6% in 2018 and are expected to grow between 3.8%-4.4% this year.

That’s a lot of numbers to say that while digital sales are growing as a percentage of the whole, the whole is growing as well. Using the NRF projections, overall sales will grow from $3.48 trillion in 2018 to between $3.82 trillion and $3.84 trillion in 2019 (a 9.8% to 10.3% rise). Digital sales will go from $682.8 billion in 2018 to between $751.1 billion and $764.8 billion (a 10% to 12% rise). That means that brick-and-mortar sales will go from roughly $2.79 trillion in 2018 to about $3 trillion in 2019 (using the top of the NRF range), which is a 7.5% rise.

…It’s not a retail apocalypse. It’s a culling of weak, poorly run retailers which did not embrace the changing needs of consumers. Read More > at The Motley Fool

Bay Area Developers Bullish On Industrial, Mixed Outlook For Other Sectors – Bay Area developers haven’t changed their minds much from last year about how they expect the industry to perform in the coming months, with industrial continuing to lead the pack and continued concerns about retail.

Allen Matkins and UCLA Anderson Forecast release the California Commercial Real Estate Survey every six months looking at what those in the industry feel about the three years ahead in each sector. It weighs the sentiments of those on the supply side, such as commercial developers and development financiers.

Despite economic headwinds and concerns about an inevitable slowdown in the economy, the general outlook for commercial real estate hasn’t changed much from the beginning of 2018 among those surveyed, though there was significant variation in outlook when it came to the four sectors reviewed: industrial, multifamily, office and retail.

“We’re seeing a mixed bag in California with respect to commercial real estate,” UCLA Anderson Forecast Director Jerry Nickelsburg said in a statement. “Industrial markets will continue to do well. Office markets seemed to have topped out. Retail is still hurting. The housing markets remain tight in California, so multi-family will continue to do well over the next three years.” Read More > at Bisnow

Violent Video Games Don’t Make Players More Violent IRL – Video game violence does not lead to real life violence, finds a terrific new study in the journal Royal Society Open Science. The title lays it out plainly: “Violent video game engagement is not associated with adolescents’ aggressive behaviour.” Oxford University psychologist Andrew Przybylski and Cardiff University psychologist Netta Weinstein set out to test the findings of researchers who claim violent video games induce aggressive tendencies in players. Their “aim was to rigorously test the hypothesis that time spent playing violent video games is positively associated with adolescents’ everyday behavioural aggression.”

Their top-line finding is that their study “did not support the position that violent gaming relates to aggressive behaviour.”

This contradicts the consensus hammered out by an American Psychological Association task force on violent video games in 2017. That task force “found that violent video game exposure was associated with: an increased composite aggression score; increased aggressive behavior; increased aggressive cognitions; increased aggressive affect, increased desensitization, and decreased empathy; and increased physiological arousal.” The task force also “concluded that violent video game use is a risk factor for adverse outcomes, but found insufficient studies to examine any potential link between violent video game use and delinquency or criminal behavior.”

Przybylski and Weinstein set out to devise a particularly rigorous study by pre-registering their empirical approach so that they could avoid the persistent problems in psychological research of “p-hacking”; that is, running multiple tests on a dataset until the researcher finds a result that achieves statistical significance, and then “HARKing,” an acronym that stands for “hypothesizing after the results are known.” In Przybylski and Weinstein’s review of prior literature, the two researchers strongly argue that earlier research is beset with such problems. Read More > at Reason

Drunk Witnesses Remember a Surprising Amount – Police officers investigating a crime may hesitate to interview drunk witnesses. But waiting until they sober up may not be the best strategy; people remember more while they are still inebriated than they do a week later, a new study finds.

Malin Hildebrand Karlén, a senior psychology lecturer at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, and her colleagues recruited 136 people and gave half of them vodka mixed with orange juice. The others drank only juice. In 15 minutes women in the alcohol group consumed 0.75 gram of alcohol per kilogram of body weight, and men drank 0.8 gram (that is equivalent to 3.75 glasses of wine for a 70-kilogram woman or four glasses for a man of the same weight, Hildebrand Karlén says). All participants then watched a short film depicting a verbal and physical altercation between a man and a woman. The researchers next asked half the people in each group to freely recall what they remembered from the film. The remaining participants were sent home and interviewed a week later.

The investigators found that both the inebriated and sober people who were interviewed immediately demonstrated better recollection of the film events than their drunk or sober counterparts who were questioned later. The effect held even for people with blood alcohol concentrations of 0.08 or higher—the legal limit for driving in most of the U.S. (Intoxication levels varied because different people metabolize alcohol at different speeds.) The results suggest that intoxicated witnesses should be interviewed sooner rather than later, according to the study, which was published online last October in Psychology, Crime & Law. Read More > Scientific American

“Did you know the Earth is actually a kitten?

 

What to Do About the High Speed Rail “Hole in the Ground?” – Governor Gavin Newsom, in his State of the State speech, put the brakes on the high-speed rail project reducing its size and scope but did not abandon it completely. That is–alas– the wisest course, even though voters were sold a bill of goods originally on the cost, timing and efficiency of the project.

One California assembly member from the region, Vince Fong, called Newsom’s idea of completing the Merced to Bakersfield section of the high-speed rail a recasting of the project as a “bait-and-switch on all Californians and Central Valley residents.”

Hard to argue that promises were not kept, but something has to be done with an already started project. In that light, one thinks of former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown’s principle, “In the world of civic projects, the first budget is really just a down payment. If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved. The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big, there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in.”

While the entire bullet train project won’t be completed under Newsom’s order, the Willie Brown strategy still holds to some degree. The hole was dug and leaving it unfilled is not an answer even though I debated against the rail bond when it was on the ballot and have railed against it (pardon the pun) ever since. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

The ‘Miles Per Gallon’ Illusion – Consider the case of two car owners: One is looking to switch their SUV averaging 12 miles per gallon (MPG) to an SUV averaging 14. The other is looking to switch their compact car averaging 30 MPG to a newer model averaging 40. Both individuals drive 10,000 miles per year. Who of these two people would save the most gasoline and money?

Duke University Professors Richard P. Larrick and Jack B. Soll originally posed this scenario back in 2008 in an article published to the journal Science. To many people, the answer might seem obvious: the second individual would save the most, as they are boosting their MPG by 33% (vs. 16.7%) and will be able to travel 10 miles more per gallon (vs. just two). But this is completely wrong, and it just takes some quick math to figure out why.

Dividing 10,000 miles by 12 MPG, we find that the SUV owner currently uses 833 gallons of gasoline per year. Upgrading would reduce that number to 714 gallons, saving 119 gallons. Dividing 10,000 miles by 30 MPG, we learn that the compact car driver burns through 333 gallons per year. A more fuel efficient car would take that down to 250, saving only 83 gallons. For the SUV owner, a measly two miles per gallon makes a huge difference!

Larrick and Soll used this example to expose ‘miles per gallon’ as an “illusion” – a flawed measure of fuel efficiency. The duo also conducted three different surveys involving over 300 participants, each of which backed their hypothesis that MPG leads people people to underestimate the large fuel and cost savings of upgrading gas-guzzling cars. Read More > at Real Clear Science

‘Shocking’ cut to California’s troubled high-speed rail project solves some problems and creates others – Newsom’s plan takes some of the project’s risks off the table, but creates new ones.

The governor committed to completing the environmental reviews for the entire Anaheim-to-San Francisco route, citing the requirements of a grant agreement by the Federal Railroad Administration.

If the state does finalize those reviews, it would open the window to environmental lawsuits. So far, the rail authority has finalized only two environmental documents for the Central Valley and has faced about a dozen lawsuits that have dragged on for years. In Los Angeles, the state might see a litigation explosion. The environmental documents also specify an exact route for the rail line, meaning the land value for thousands of homeowners and businesses would be put under a cloud, even though the state would have no plan to build the system.

The other major risk the state faces is running out of money, even with the truncated project. The state can count on about $18 billion in funding from bonds, grants and greenhouse-gas fees.

The state’s 2018 business plan calls for building 119 miles of rail from Madera to Wasco for $10.6 billion, but Newsom said he wants the rail line to run from Merced to Bakersfield. The Bakersfield extension alone would add more than $2 billion and the Merced extension another $2 billion. Those two additions alone take the project to $15 billion.

The state also has committed to paying more than $700 million to electrify the Caltrain commuter line from San Jose to San Francisco, $500 million to modernize Los Angeles Union Station and other local grants for station planning and community development.

To start a bullet train service, the state would have to build a massive heavy maintenance facility in the Central Valley, buy electrically powered trains, pay for electrical transmission lines in some sections where the power is in short supply and construct train stations. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Dollar climbs higher as inflation flatlines – The U.S. dollar resumed a climb against many of its rivals early Wednesday after a brief period of jerky trading, as market participants digested reports surrounding Brexit, as well as updates from global central banks and myriad economic data, including a key inflation report in the U.S.

The popular ICE U.S. Dollar Index had been inching higher before a sudden and short-lived pop in the British pound briefly pushed the gauge lower. The index since recovered and was last up 0.3% at 96.981.

In economic data, January consumer price inflation flatlined on the back of lower fuel prices. Over the past 12 months, consumer prices slowed to 1.6% from 1.9% before.

For the Federal Reserve, which appears to have taken its foot of the gas in terms of further interest rates increases, this creates an environment almost too good to be true: “They don’t have to worry about deflation but are also perfectly fine to hold their monetary policy where it is,” said Minh Trang, senior FX trader at Silicon Valley Bank. Read More > at Market Watch

Are California’s unions dying? Membership falls to 14-year low – California’s labor movement didn’t have a swell 2018 and shrinking membership could be bad for your wealth, union fan or not.

Two blows hit organized labor last year. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states can’t force government workers to pay union dues, and overall membership statewide fell to a 14-year low.

Unions here and across the nation are dealing with an increasingly hostile environment for growth. Penny-pinching bosses fight hard against unionized workplaces. And workers, scarred from the Great Recession’s mass layoffs, seem more concerned about having any job vs. one with bargaining power.

I filled my trusty spreadsheet with new union data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and UnionStats.com and found that California remains organized labors’ top state with 2.4 million members in 2018. But that was the lowest count since the economic boom days of 2004.

Last year, union ranks statewide thinned by 86,000 — a drop of 3.4 percent. Organized labor in only 17 other states fared worse. This union dip in California came despite a 2.1 percent jump in all jobs statewide in 2018. Read More > in The Press-Enterprise

California Governor Forms ‘Strike Team’ to Advise on PG&E – A California’s team of advisers on PG&E Corp.’s bankruptcy has been given 60 days to map out a plan to ensure the lights stay on, wildfire victims get justice and ratepayers and employees are protected.

The Golden State has hired bankruptcy attorneys and financial specialists to help strategize, Governor Gavin Newsom said during his state of the state address Tuesday in Sacramento. Meanwhile, in bankruptcy court, the U.S. Trustee appointed the official committee to act on behalf of all unsecured creditors, including labor representatives and power providers.

PG&E’s bankruptcy puts in question the future of power and gas service to millions of people — about 40 percent of the most populous U.S. state. California’s biggest utility filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month, saying it faced an estimated $30 billion or more in liabilities from wildfires in 2017 and 2018.

The state’s other investor-owned utilities — Edison International’s Southern California Edison and Sempra Energy’s San Diego Gas & Electric — have been downgraded amid concerns about their exposure to potential fire claims.

At issue is a unique California legal doctrine, under which utilities can be found strictly liable for damages from wildfires that have been sparked by their equipment, even if they weren’t negligent. Utility operators can ask regulators for permission to recover those costs from customers although the process can be lengthy and uncertain. Read More > at Bloomberg

Americans continue their march to low-tax states – The United States Census Bureau released its annual state-by-state population estimates for 2018 in late December. It highlights migration trends across the states and sketches a picture of looming political changes that will take place after the complete census of 2020.

Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Arizona led the way this past year in overall population growth as a percentage of population.

Once again, Texas and Florida were the big winners in overall population gains, with the Lone Star State gaining more than 379,000 residents from 2017-18 and the Sunshine State posting a gain of more than 322,000.

The big net losers from the report were New York, which lost a total of 48,510 residents, and Illinois, which lost 45,116.

These state-by-state population numbers will alter the makeup of seats in the United States House of Representative during the once-a-decade reapportionment and redistricting process that will commence after the 2020 census. Read More > in The Hill

Amazon Officially Announced Itself As A Competitor To FedEx, UPS – Amazon is the figurehead for the supply chain revolution that has caused a boom in industrial real estate, and it is still growing its influence.

In its annual 10-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Amazon added transportation and logistics companies to its list of competition in 2018, CNBC reports. It is the first time Amazon has named shipping and logistics as a moneymaking element of its company.

For many of the products listed on its site, Amazon acts as a go-between for merchants of consumer goods and shipping companies that take those goods to consumers’ doors. Though its entries into the seller arena have grabbed headlines, it has increased the use of its own services in shipping and relied less exclusively on partners such as FedEx, UPS and the United States Postal Service, according to CNBC. Read More > at Bisnow

American Commuters Lose 97 Hours, $87 Billion to Traffic Congestion, Says New Report –  The land of the free manages to have some pretty congested freeways. That’s according to transportation analytics firm INRIX’s new 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard, which ranks metro areas by how much time auto commuters waste in rush hour traffic.

Topping the list are European and Latin American metros, with drivers in Bogota, Moscow, and London all losing over 200 hours a year to congestion. U.S. cities look better by comparison, but commuters here still manage to idle away an incredible amount of time behind the wheel.

INRIX’s scorecard finds Boston to be the most congested city in the country. Drivers there spend 164 hours (nearly a full week) in rush hour traffic each year. A close second is Washington, D.C., where commuters are losing 155 hours to gridlock.

Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle fill out the rest of the top six in INRIX’s rankings—which weigh time lost to congestion against a city’s population—with drivers in these metros wasting between 128 and 138 hours a year in traffic. On average, commuters are losing 97 hours a year because of congestion. Read More > at Reason

Apple and Google accused of helping ‘enforce gender apartheid’ by hosting Saudi government app that tracks women and stops them leaving the country – Apple and Google have been accused of helping to “enforce gender apartheid” in Saudi Arabia, by offering a sinister app that allows men to track women and stop them leaving the country.

Both Google Play and iTunes host Absher, a government web service that allows men to specify when and how women can cross Saudi borders, and to get close to real-time SMS updates when they travel.

Absher also has benign functions — like paying parking fines — but its travel features have been identified by activists and refugees as a major factor in the continued difficulty women have leaving Saudi Arabia.

Neither Apple nor Google responded to repeated requests for comment from INSIDER over several days before the publication of this article. Read More > at Business Insider

Abuse of Faith – She was 14, she said, when she was first molested by her pastor in Sanger, a tiny prairie town an hour north of Dallas. It was the first of many assaults that Vasquez said destroyed her teenage years and, at 18, left her pregnant by the Southern Baptist pastor, a married man more than a dozen years older.

In June 2008, she paid her way to Indianapolis, where she and others asked leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention and its 47,000 churches to track sexual predators and take action against congregations that harbored or concealed abusers. Vasquez, by then in her 40s, implored them to consider prevention policies like those adopted by faiths that include the Catholic Church.

In the decade since Vasquez’s appeal for help, more than 250 people who worked or volunteered in Southern Baptist churches have been charged with sex crimes, an investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News reveals.

It’s not just a recent problem: In all, since 1998, roughly 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct, the newspapers found. That includes those who were convicted, credibly accused and successfully sued, and those who confessed or resigned. More of them worked in Texas than in any other state.

They left behind more than 700 victims, many of them shunned by their churches, left to themselves to rebuild their lives. Some were urged to forgive their abusers or to get abortions. Read More > in the Houston Chronicle

Americans’ Confidence in Their Finances Keeps Growing – Americans’ optimism about their personal finances has climbed to levels not seen in more than 16 years, with 69% now saying they expect to be financially better off “at this time next year.”

The 69% saying they expect to be better off is only two percentage points below the all-time high of 71%, recorded in March 1998 at a time when the nation’s economic boom was producing strong economic growth combined with the lowest inflation and unemployment rates in decades.

Americans are typically less positive about how their finances have changed over the past year than about where they’re headed, and that remains the case. Fifty percent say they are better off today than they were a year ago. That 50% still represents a post-recession milestone — the first time since 2007 that at least half of the public has said they are financially better off than a year ago. Read More > at Gallup

Your Tax Refund Might Be Smaller Than Usual This Year. Here’s Why – Each year, millions of tax filers eagerly await money back from the IRS. The majority of filers, in fact, walk away with refunds during tax season, and in recent years, the average refund has been rather substantial.

But if you’re anticipating the usual windfall this year, you might want to adjust your expectations. So far, the average tax refund is coming in at $1,865, which represents an 8.4% drop from the $2,035 the IRS was dishing out to taxpayers the same time last year. Not only that, but the number of refunds issued declined by 24.3%. If you’re expecting money back from the IRS, know that the sum you receive might be lower than usual — and prepare accordingly.

The tax code went through a major overhaul that took effect in 2018, and one of the most significant changes that ensued was a lowering of almost all individual tax brackets. The goal in doing this was to give workers more of their hard-earned money, but to accommodate that change, the IRS issued new withholding tables for employers to follow. Those tables dictated how much tax companies were required to hold back from their employees’ earnings, and for the most part, workers saw their paychecks go up, even in situations in which there was no raise at play.

The result? The money that many Americans would normally receive in the form of a tax refund was instead paid to them during the year. So it stands to reason that refunds are lower this tax season than in previous years.

Not only that, but some filers who historically have received refunds might end up owing the IRS money for the 2018 tax year. This might come into play for those who got substantial pay increases or earned a lot of side income during the year (whether from extra work or investments) and didn’t pay estimated taxes on it.
Either way, know this: If your paychecks got a lot bigger last year, there’s a good chance your refund won’t be as substantial. Before you make plans to spend that money, take a stab at your taxes and see how much cash is actually coming your way. At the same time, recognize that getting a lower refund isn’t actually a bad thing — provided you prepare for it. Read More > at The Motley Fool

PG&E Could Shut Off Power For Millions To Prevent Wildfires – Pacific Gas & Electric could shut off power to more than 5 million customers when extreme weather conditions are ripe for wildfires to break out, the company said Wednesday. It’s an expansion of the company’s previous power shutoff program, which only let the company turn off power to about half a million customers.

Several power companies submitted their required “wildfire mitigation plans” to California regulators this week. But PG&E’s plan may be especially consequential, given that its power lines have been blamed for several Northern California fires over the past few years. The company filed for bankruptcy last month in the wake of billions of dollars in potential liability after two years of wildfires.

The company told the state’s public utilities commission that to address wildfire risk, “shutting off power will likely be necessary and may need to be performed more frequently due to the extreme weather events and dry vegetation conditions.” Read More > at NPR

Yellow vest riots spreading from France to Latvia – France has now experienced thirteen straight weeks of yellow vest protests in the streets, many turning into riots, where demonstrators have demanded President Emmanuel Macron abscond from office. It’s a clear signal of public opposition to the “reforms” Macron has been trying to enact as well as a broader rejection of globalist economic initiatives. But is the movement threatening to spill outside that nation’s borders? The AP reports that this weekend saw similar activity well to the northeast in Latvia, where demonstrators made direct references to the French troubles.

Earlier Saturday, activists in Latvia staged a picket in front of the French embassy in Riga, the capital of the small Baltic EU country, to support the yellow vest movement and urge Latvians to demand higher living standards.

The activists waved Latvia’s red-and-white flag, shouting slogans like “the French have woken up, while Latvians remain asleep.”

This has been brewing for a few weeks now. In mid-January, smaller protests called by the Latvian Russian Union (LKS) resulted in people showing up wearing yellow vests and mimicking some of the speeches given by protest leaders in Paris. Thus far, however, violence has not broken out and the demonstrations remain largely peaceful. Read More > at HotAir

Is the phone call a thing of the past? – It’s 7am. Sam’s voice assistant outlines his schedule while he gets ready for the day, answering his questions. He’s giving a presentation to an international team of co-workers in several different time zones, to discuss a new product.

On the way to the office space that his voice assistant booked in advance, he listens to relevant edited highlights of the previous conference call, compiled by an AI-based semantic analysis of the recording.

He presents his talk using an advanced conference and collaboration tool, which provides real-time translation for some of his colleagues. His public-speaking coach, listening in via the app, suggests he slows down for better emphasis.

After the presentation, he locates his taxi, using the ‘speak to the driver’ function of his cab app, which allows him to find where he is parked without revealing his phone number. The company’s fully networked karaoke party, which is taking place simultaneously across several different time zones, will have to wait.

The future is almost here

This vision of the future isn’t as distant as we may think. The need for remote communication is greater than ever and the technology we use is evolving at a rapid pace. Skype, WhatsApp Voice and even business-grade systems that incorporate messaging and conference functions are just the start.

The days of Person A calling Person B on a traditional phone, via a standard phone number – and just hoping Person B will answer – are limited. New call formats are becoming possible, including apps that announce both the caller’s name and why they are calling. Some have a whisper mode, where a three-way call is set up, but one person is excluded from a leg of the conversation. A sales director listening in might tell a rookie agent to close the deal – now! – without the customer hearing. A future whisperer might even be an AI, prompting humans to ask particular questions next, based on machine-learning models of behaviour and successful calls. Read More > at Regus

Support Grows for Bill That Would Legalize More Home Construction Across California – California’s latest effort to allow for more housing construction in the state’s urban areas is quickly gaining steam, suggesting that this year’s stab at reform might succeed where past attempts have failed.

A new poll from the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce found that 74 percent of people in San Francisco support a state bill that would override local controls to allow for the construction of apartment buildings near transit, the San Francisco Chronicle reported today.

The Chronicle says that the poll did not give an explicit name to this state bill, but it is obviously a reference to SB 50.

That bill, filed by state Sen. Scott Weiner (D–San Francisco), would give developers waivers to local zoning controls, allowing them to build apartment buildings up to 55 feet tall within a quarter mile of transit stops, or up to 45 feet tall within a half mile of transit stops. Weiner’s legislation would also override some local zoning controls in “job-rich areas,” defined in the bill as areas with high median income and good schools.

It’s very similar to a more ambitious bill Weiner introduced at the beginning of 2018, which was killed in committee after stiff opposition from construction unions, tenant advocates, and local governments.

This year, Weiner is gambling that the new SB 50, which is more modest in the kinds of development it would allow, and which makes several important concessions to powerful interest groups and will garner enough support to make it through the legislature. Read More > at Reason 

California, L.A. to Purge 1.5 Million Voter Registrations – California and Los Angeles County are about to go full Marie Kondo on their voter registration rolls. As part of a legal settlement reached Tuesday with activist group Judicial Watch, they’ve agreed to purge 1.5 million inactive voters from the rosters.

Judicial Watch sued the state and county in 2017 for failing to remove registrants who had not voted in the past two general elections, or the past two to five years, in violation of federal law. The group said California and L.A. County had failed to properly prune voter rolls for two decades. They also claim L.A. now has millions more voter registrations than citizens who are eligible to vote.

As part of the settlement, the 1.5 million registrants will have to be notified. The California Secretary of State’s website will also be updated to make clear to voters and counties the rules regarding intelligibility. Read More > at California County News

The exercise “recovery” industry is largely bogus – When health journalist Christie Aschwanden was traveling the world as a competitive ski racer in the 1990s and 2000s, recovery between training sessions basically meant doing nothing — taking a day to sleep in or lie around with a good book.

About a decade ago, she noticed something had changed: recovery became a thing athletes actively performed — with foam rollers, cryotherapy, or cupping — as part of their training routines. These recovery tools were heavily marketed to athletes, including amateur ones, as a means to boost performance and bust muscle aches.

In a new book, Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery, Aschwanden walks through all the biggest recovery fads of the past decade — and exposes the shoddy science backing most of them.

It’s an intelligent and entertaining tour of fitness research for anyone who exercises, with clear advice on what actually works to aid recovery. I won’t give away all the juicy details in the book, but I did ask Aschwanden to walk me through three of the most dubious recovery methods she uncovered. Here’s what she told me.

There’s a lot of fear about dehydration during exercise, and the need to replenish fluids with electrolyte-rich beverages. Big beverage companies (like Pepsi) peddle sports drinks (such as Gatorade) with the promise that they’ll replace the fluids we lose via sweat and help us “tackle recovery.” But Aschwanden finds there’s just no science to support those claims. Read More > at Vox

They’re big, furry and could destroy the Delta. California has a $2 million plan to kill them – California’s San Joaquin River Delta is in danger of being overrun by voracious beagle-sized rodents. The state has a plan to deal with them, but it’s going to take a lot of time and money.

Nutria, a large South American rodent, have become an invasive species in several states, including Louisiana, Maryland and Oregon. In March 2017, they were found in Merced County, alarming California wildlife officials because of the rodents’ potential to harm the water infrastructure that nourishes San Joaquin Valley farms and delivers water to thirsty cities.

Nutria can give birth to litters up to 12, and become pregnant again within 48 hours of doing so. They live in marshland and feed heavily on vegetation. Where they appear, ecological calamity follows, according to the state.

“Based on what is known about nutria and their current reproductive rate and distribution, without immediate action, nutria will rapidly expand their numbers and geographic presence and cause extensive damage to wetlands, riparian habitat, restoration projects, levees, water conveyance and flood-protection infrastructure, and agriculture,” according to a memo from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Read More > in The Sacramento Bee

Marijuana black market thrives despite first year of legal sales – When California voters passed Proposition 64 allowing recreational marijuana, they likely imagined a place like March and Ash.

Stepping into the licensed Mission Valley dispensary is reminiscent of a high-end beauty counter. Stylish yet approachable, the shop is staffed with friendly “budtenders” on hand to answer questions about vetted, tested product lines.

The sales, in turn, bolster city and state coffers through taxes.

Yet, a year after legalized sales, that’s not how much of the marijuana in California is being sold.

A black market for marijuana continues to thrive, with illicit storefronts and delivery services cashing in while defying orders to close and Mexican drug cartels not ready to completely abandon their foothold.

And it’s not just Californians who are the customers. Some of the state’s growers have continued to tap into a national demand for the potent, craft cannabis the region has become known for, exporting it illegally — often through the mail — to the East Coast for top dollar.

Part of the problem, industry analysts say, is only about 25 percent of cities and counties in California have allowed marijuana businesses to operate in their jurisdictions. Read More > in The San Diego Union-Tribune

At San Francisco International Airport, private contractors handle security screening. Is it the airport of the future? – During the partial government shutdown, screeners at two Silicon Valley airports, San Francisco and San Jose International, moved thousands of people through security checkpoints.

Operations at the airports, 35 miles apart, looked similar — uniformed officers reminding people to take off their shoes and put their laptops in plastic bins — but there was one major difference: Only the officers at the San Francisco airport were getting paid.

That’s because San Francisco International is one of nearly two dozen airports across the country that use private contractors instead of the Transportation Security Administration to conduct its security screening.

As the shutdown stretched from days into weeks, growing numbers of TSA workers stopped showing up. At one point, 10 percent of TSA officers failed to report for duty.

The result: scattered staffing shortages across the country and anxiety for travelers. Airports in Baltimore, Houston and Miami were forced to temporarily close checkpoints. TSA officials conceded that many officers weren’t coming into work because of the financial hardship of working without pay.

But in San Francisco?

“Operations were normal,” said Doug Yakel, an airport spokesman.

There has long been a debate over whether airport screening should be provided by the federal government or by private companies. And the recent government shutdown — and the potential for a repeat if lawmakers can’t reach a deal with President Trump by Friday — has some wondering whether anxiety over staffing may prompt more airports to consider switching to private contractors. Read More > in The Washington Post

Here’s Why the Super Bowl Half Time Show Bombed – We love to disagree. We thrive on it.

Yet we all came together over the weekend. Audiences were in virtual lockstep over Maroon 5’s Super Bowl Half Time performance.

Thumbs down, big time, to honor a certain movie critic duo.

The press excoriated the show, too. Reporters slammed it as flat, safe and underwhelming. Naturally, Twitter users proved far more critical.

But … why?

Why couldn’t Team NFL create a compelling half time performance? Maroon 5’s Adam Levine has an impressive voice with serious range. His front man charisma speaks for itself. Plus, his band boasts a string of catchy hits, enough material to power a short performance. Supporting players Travis Scott and Big Boi brought their own skills to the occasion.

This wasn’t an amateur act. So why did the finished product fall so dramatically flat?

…In our Social Justice age, those events in particular have been corrupted by people with agendas. Before Maroon 5 hit the stage the NFL donated a cool $500,000 to a social justice charity. That still wasn’t enough, with social justice critics and media members alike shaming them for taking the gig in the Kaepernick era.

Take a knee … or else, they cried.

Gladys Knight, a legendary black performer, faced a similar crush of questions for singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” It turns out Knight’s performance proved the night’s sole highlight, and it lasted less than three minutes long.

The fear of social justice lectures is likely why the NFL canceled the traditional pre-game press conference for the half time show performers.

The Super Bowl musicians didn’t have to merely hit their marks and put on a show. They had to walk a cultural tightrope for daring not to politicize an event with zero politics attached to it. Read More > at Hollywood in Toto

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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