Sunday Reading – 01/19/20


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.

Average normal body temperature isn’t 98.6 anymore. It’s lower – and dropping, research shows – For centuries, 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit was said to be the average, normal body temperature. It’s not.

More recently, researchers have known normal body temperature is actually lower than 98.6 and can vary by gender, size, age, time of day and other factors. But now there’s also new evidence that shows we’ve been cooling off since the 19th century when 98.6 was established as “normal.”

Research published last week in eLife, shows body temperature has not only dropped since German physician Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich’s study in 1851 established the average body temperature as 98.6 degrees, but it has also dropped since the 1970s. The findings indicate that Americans’ average, normal body temperature has dropped about 0.05 degrees Fahrenheit per decade, based on their birth year.

“People are stuck on the 98.6 number, but that number has always been wrong,” said Dr. Julie Parsonnet, one of the authors of the study and professor of medicine at Stanford University. “There’s never been a real number because people vary.”

But Parsonnet’s research indicates there are still unknowns when it comes to the continued decrease in body temperature. Read More > in the Portland Press Herald

Not-So-Fancy Feast: Your Cat Probably Would Eat Your Rotting Corpse – Cat enthusiasts often cite the warmth and companionship offered by their pet as reasons why they’re so enamored with them. Despite these and other positive attributes, cat lovers are often confronted with the spurious claim that, while their beloved furry pal might adore them when they’re alive, it won’t hesitate to devour their corpse if they should drop dead.

Though that’s often dismissed as negative cat propaganda spread by dog people, it turns out that it’s probably true. Fluffy might indeed feast on your flesh if you happened to expire.

A horrifying new case study published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences offers the fresh evidence. The paper, first reported by The Washington Post, documents how two cats reacted in the presence of a corpse at Colorado Mesa University’s Forensic Investigation Research Station, or body farm, where the deceased are used to further forensic science for criminal investigations.

The study’s authors did not orchestrate a meeting between cat and corpse. The finding happened by accident: Student and lead author Sara Garcia was scanning surveillance footage of the grounds when she noticed a pair of cats trespassing. The cats, she found, were interested in the flesh of two corpses; they gnawed on human tissue while it was still in the early stages of decomposition, stopping only when the bodies began leaching fluids. Read More > at Mental Floss

‘Donation after cardiac death’: New heart transplant method being tested for the first time in the U.S. – More than 250,000 people in the U.S. are currently at the end stages of heart failure, up to 15% of whom are in desperate need of a transplant. A new method of “reanimating” donor hearts from those who have died from cardiac failure is currently being tested in the U.S., and may soon ease that burden.

As part of the new procedure, known as “donation after cardiac death,” or DCD, transplants, organs are retrieved from those who have died because their heart stopped — either naturally or because physicians discontinued life support. That work is made possible by a machine that allows the heart to not only be perfused with warm blood after it has been removed from the donor, keeping the heart functional and “alive” enough to be transported and transplanted several hours after retrieval, but also allows surgeons to assess the heart’s functionality in a way that wasn’t previously possible.

Ten such heart transplants have already been performed among the three centers in the past month since the trial was initiated. Three other research centers — Vanderbilt, Stanford University, and Emory University — will soon be joining the trial, which is scheduled to run until 2021. In all, 15 sites across the U.S. will be involved.

“If done correctly, a DCD donor heart may outperform a brain dead donor heart [because] the effects of prolonged brain death on the heart is quite jarring,” said Dr. Mandeep Mehra, an advanced cardiovascular specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, who is not involved in the trial. “This is a necessary addition to our armamentarium for organ donor recovery.” Read More > at Stat

Change in Priorities for California Voters – The new Public Policy Institute of California poll shows a continuing trend in voters moving their top priority in state spending from K-12 education to health and human services. The homelessness issue is undoubtedly fueling that movement.

Looking at the current PPIC poll issued yesterday, there is little space between voters’ choosing the top two concerns for California government spending. PPIC asked likely voters which area of state government spending should be the top priority. Likely voters chose health and human services at 40%; K-12 public education 38%; higher education 12% and prisons and corrections 7%. All Adults polled broke dead even on health and human services and K-12 public education at 39% apiece.

…When asked which one issue the governor and legislators should work on in 2020, homelessness topped the list by more than two to one. Likely voters chose homelessness as the top priority at 23% over the second closest concern, housing costs, at 11%.

In another sign of changing priorities for likely voters, jobs and the economy, usually one or two on past lists of concerns, was fifth at 7%, although certainly within the margin of error of the two items before it: environment, pollution, global warming at 9%; immigration, illegal immigration at 8%.

Education funding was not in the top five. If the new attitudes hold, that could be a significant factor come election time. Read More > at Fox and Hounds

6 Vie To Become Next Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder – The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors will interview six applicants for appointment to the open county clerk-recorder/elections chief position, including one from their own board’s ranks and two high-ranking officials in the Clerk-Recorder’s office.

Those interviews, which will be public, are set for Jan. 21 in the supervisors’ chambers in the main County Administration Building at 651 Pine St. in downtown Martinez. Each interview will probably last 20 to 30 minutes, and will begin after the board’s Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration, likely in the early afternoon.

…”We know the trouble that campaign finances have caused,” said Suzan Requa, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Diablo Valley, which covers most of eastern and central Contra Costa.

Requa was referring specifically to the troubles of former Clerk-Recorder Joe Canciamilla, who resigned abruptly in late October, one year into his second elected four-year term that ends in 2022.

About a week later, Canciamilla reached a settlement with the state Fair Political Practices Commission on 30 counts of campaign finance violations including using $130,529 in campaign funds for personal expenses and for filing falsified records to cover it up.

…the supervisors on Tuesday choosing acting Clerk and Recorder Deborah Cooper of Danville and Scott Konopasek, county assistant registrar of voters, of Walnut Creek, to come in for interviews next week.

Also asked to come in for interviews are County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff of Pleasant Hill, former 16th District state Assemblywoman Catharine Baker representing parts of Contra Costa and Alameda County; political campaign consultant and former foundation CEO Mark Friedman of El Cerrito; and Kristin Connelly of Lafayette, president and CEO of the East Bay Leadership Council. Read More > in the Patch

Barry Bonds Is Running Out of Time to Make Hall of Fame – Due to concerns about his potential steroid usage, the holder of one of the most prestigious records in sports has yet to be elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

And for Barry Bonds, the clock is ticking.

Bonds, who set a single-season record with 73 home runs in 2001 and has an MLB-best 763 overall, only has three more cracks at getting voted into Cooperstown (counting this year).

On paper, Bonds is a unanimous inductee: .298 average, 9,847 AB, 2,227 runs, 2,935 hits, 601 doubles, 77 triples, 762 HR, 1,996 RBI, 514 SB, 2,558 BB, 1,539 K, 1.051 OPS, 2,986 games in 22 seasons with the Pirates (1986-92) and Giants (1993-2007).

But, the shadow cast by assumed steroid usage, even though he never failed a test, has kept Bonds out of the HOF thus far.

Will that change in 2020? Read More > at InsideHook

‘Living bricks’ that can reproduce could cut construction’s carbon footprint – A simple combination of sand, gelatin and bacteria has produced ‘living bricks’ that match the strength of cement-based mortar and could one day reduce the demand for the world’s carbon intensive, construction material of choice, cement. These living bricks can even reproduce – if a brick is cut in half then within a couple of days there are two more complete bricks.

The technique capitalises on the process of biomineralisation, whereby living organisms produce minerals that can harden or stiffen tissue. The inspiration came in part from the limitations of self-healing concrete, itself a biomineralisation success story. Read More > at Chemistry World  

California Lawmakers Want Audit of State’s Homelessness Spending – Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) and Senator Brian Jones (R-Santee) announced this week that they have requested a statewide audit of homelessness spending in California. The Joint Legislative Audit Committee will consider the request on February 26, 2020 (updated 1/16/2020).

“The Governor is approaching our homelessness crisis with the sense of urgency it requires, but it’s important that we do not measure success just by how many dollars we spend,” Assemblyman Kiley said. “Billions have been spent in recent years, yet people are not getting the help they need and the problem continues to grow. For the Governor’s proposed investments to make a difference, we need a much better understanding of what is and is not working in our use of existing resources.”

“Solving this dire crisis will definitely take aggressive funding, but simply throwing money at the problem is not a smart solution,” said Senator Brian Jones. “We need to ensure taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars are being spent wisely and used effectively. This audit is necessary and will show us what’s working – and what’s not working – so we can make informed decisions moving forward that will actually help us start making a dent in the problem.” Read More > at California Globe

Cities should act on homelessness or face lawsuits, Newsom task force says – Declaring that moral persuasion and economic incentives aren’t working to bring people in from the sidewalks, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s task force on homelessness called Monday for a “legally enforceable mandate” that would force municipalities and the state to house the growing number of homeless Californians.

The proposal, which came as Newsom kicked off a weeklong tour of the state aimed at drawing attention to the homelessness crisis, urged the Legislature to put a state constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would force California cities and counties to take steps to provide housing for the more than 150,000 Californians who lack it, or face legal action.

Such a measure would require a two-thirds vote of both legislative houses to be brought to voters. California law does not now penalize the state or local governments for failing to reduce their homeless populations, or to make housing sufficiently available to people without it.

The task force’s proposal would let a “designated public official” sue the government for not doing enough to offer emergency and permanent housing to the homeless. A judge could then intervene to force a city to approve an emergency shelter, for example, or redirect budget funds to homelessness services.

The proposal, however, so far lacks specifics on how taxpayers would pay for such a mandate. The letter released by the task force, which includes local elected officials from large and small cities, states that “more state resources will undoubtedly be required” but includes no estimate.  Read More > at CALmatters

Newsom’s big move on homelessness may be just in political time, new poll suggests – Gov. Gavin Newsom kicked off 2020 by pledging to plow an extra $1.4 billion into homeless services, proposing a state constitutional amendment to make it easier to sue cities who fail to provide shelter for their unhoused populations, and embarking on a statewide “homelessness tour” to visit shelters and other providers.

Homelessness, he said last week as he unveiled his proposed budget last week, is “the issue that defines our times.”

According to a poll released tonight, more Californians than ever agree.

Twenty percent of Californians surveyed by the Public Policy Institute of California cited homelessness as the most important issue for the governor and Legislature to work on this year. Read More > at CALmatters

California governor restarts giant water tunnel project – California’s governor has restarted a project to build a giant, underground tunnel that would pump billions of gallons of water from the San Joaquin Delta to the southern part of the state.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration on Wednesday issued a Notice of Preparation for the project, which is the first step in the state’s lengthy environmental review process.

Last year, Newsom halted a similar project that would have built two tunnels for the same purpose. The new project will have only one tunnel, and it will carry less water. State officials don’t know how much it will cost. Read More > from the Associated Press

SJ supervisors blast plans to move Delta tunnel project forward – Response to Wednesday’s action by the California Department of Water Resources to initiate an environmental impact report for a tunnel project in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta was not popular with the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors.

“The latest action by the State does absolutely nothing to address any of the goals it seeks to accomplish,” San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors Chair Kathy Miller said in a statement released by the county. “Any tunnel project — one tunnel or two — cannot ensure water deliveries, solve issues related to climate change, protect infrastructure from an earthquake or improve aquatic conditions in the Delta.

The supervisors noted that San Joaquin County is committed to achieving the co-equal goals outlined in the Delta Reform Act of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring and enhancing the Delta ecosystem. The county will continue to pursue a portfolio approach that does not include a tunnel, whether through negotiations, legislation or litigation. Read More > at Recordnet

The Complete Guide to Avoiding Online Scams – The basic rule for surviving internet scams is simple: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. A little common sense goes a long way to realizing that you aren’t going to suddenly win the Spanish National Lottery when you didn’t even know you had a ticket.

Never, ever click a link to your bank or financial institution from an email

Many security experts would argue that you should never click links in emails, period. Scammers can spoof messages to make them look like they come from sources you trust—yet the links lead to fake websites designed to collect your personal information or force you to download malware.

This advice is especially true when it comes to messages from your financial institutions. Legitimate banks, and services like Paypal, don’t just email people out of the blue asking them to verify their information or reset their passwords….

Don’t give out your passwords

This is obvious, but less tech-savvy people might cough up their passwords if a request appears legitimate. The hard-and-fast rule is that you should never give out any of your passwords, period. This is not something individuals or companies should ever ask for directly. If you get an email or a text message asking you to send over your password for any reason whatsoever, don’t do it. Easy as that.

Use strong passwords (and secret questions)

Plenty of people are still using stupid passwords like “password” and “123456.” Don’t be one of them. If your password is easily guessed (because it contains basic identifying information like your birthdate or your spouse’s name), it won’t even matter if you accidentally give it out. A hacker will crack it in no time.

You’ll want to read our guide on how to choose and remember a strong password and create different credentials for each and every online account you open. If you use the same password for everything, and that password gets leaked during a data breach, your entire online existence is up for grabs. We recommend using a password manager to keep track of your dozens or hundreds of unique logins. Read More > at Lifehacker

CVS To Renovate, Add HealthHUB Concept To 600 Stores In 2020 – The pharmacy giant plans to roll out its HealthHUB wellness and healthcare centers to 600 stores by the end of this year, CEO Larry Merlo told CNBC in a televised interview. Merlo told CNBC he believes the company can open HealthHUBs at a pace of 12 per week, with the goal of opening 1,500 such locations by the end of 2021.

CVS piloted HealthHUBs in Houston at three stores starting in the end of 2018, and expanded it last year to 50 locations across four markets, CNBC reports. The hubs take up about 20% of the front-of-house space for an average-sized CVS, and replace some non-health-related shelves such as greeting cards or toys.

HealthHUBs are staffed by healthcare professionals who can offer some diagnostic capabilities, testing and advice on managing chronic conditions. The staff is supplemented by digital kiosks for health and insurance questions. CVS’ capabilities to offer expanded health services are bolstered by its acquisition of health insurance giant Aetna for $70B that was finalized at the end of 2018. Read More > at Bisnow

Scientists created living robots out of stem cells – Scientists have created a new life form that’s something between a frog and a robot. Using stem cells scraped from frog embryos, researchers from the University of Vermont (UVM) and Tufts University assembled “xenobots.” The millimeter-wide blobs act like living, self-healing robots. They can walk, swim and work cooperatively. Refined, they could be used inside the human body to reprogram tumors, deliver drugs or scrape plaque out of arteries.

“These are novel living machines,” says Joshua Bongard, a computer scientist and robotics expert at UVM who co-led the new research. “They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism.”

To determine the best design for this new life form, researchers from UVM ran an evolutionary algorithm through a supercomputer. Then, the Tufts team assembled and tested the design using stem cells from the African frog species Xenopus laevis — the xenobot name comes from this frog, not the Greek prefix meaning other or stranger.

What the team created is a body form never seen in nature. The cells work together, allowing the robots to move on their own in watery environments. They even spontaneously cooperated to move around in circles, pushing pellets into a central location. Read More > at Engadget

Walmart Has Made a Genius Move to Beat Amazon – As you know, Amazon runs the world’s biggest online store, which makes more than half of all online sales in the US. What you may not know is that Amazon is holding its crown at a huge cost.

There’s one thing that made Amazon the best, and it’s exceptional shipping service.

If you’re a Prime member, you can get stuff from thousands of retailers the same day or next day at the latest. For FREE! If you order from your local Whole Foods, Amazon will deliver groceries to your doorstep within two hours.

Amazon falls over itself with ultra-fast shipping to siphon off customers from competitors. While it works wonders, it costs Amazon billions of dollars.

And the rise in shipping costs shows no signs of stopping. According to a QZ analysis, Amazon is expected to spend a record $11 billion on shipping this quarter. That’s more than it spent in an entire year just four years ago.

This is a growing problem for Amazon. According to The New York Times, the average Amazon order for one-day shipping is $8.32, which costs $10.59 for Amazon to fulfill. Because of shipping, Amazon’s megastore is losing money on most sales.

For a long time, no one dared to stand up to Amazon. But have you seen Walmart (WMT) lately?

The nation’s biggest grocery chain is charging headfirst into online retail. Since 2016, Walmart’s online sales are up 78%. And get this, Walmart’s online sales are now growing twice as fast as Amazon’s.

Walmart is already the world’s third-largest online store. And since last March, Walmart stock beat Amazon’s return by 30%

As America’s largest retailer, Walmart has a “footprint.” Walmart operates 150+ distribution centers across America. Each is over 1 million square feet!

It also runs 4,789 stores in 49 states, according to Statista. Walmart’s footprint is so big that 90% of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart store.

No online retailer could match Walmart’s logistics network. And Walmart has a master plan to use it in its battle with Amazon.

It turns out Walmart is using its physical stores as warehouses for online sales. Since stores are already turning a profit from grocery sales, maintaining extra warehouse space adds little to costs.

That means Walmart will soon have the biggest and most effective “shipping network” in America. By the end of the year, Walmart plans to deliver stuff from 1,600 stores. For comparison, Amazon has only 110 warehouses across the US.

Most important, Walmart will pull this off at relatively little cost. Read More > at Risk Hedge

Even when sober, frequent marijuana users are dangerous drivers, report finds – Even when sober, some heavy marijuana users are dangerous drivers, a new study suggests.

The bad driving appears to be isolated to those who started using pot before age 16, researchers reported Tuesday in Drug and Alcohol Dependence. The theory is that early marijuana use changes the brain, leaving people more impulsive and more apt to make rash decisions.

In the new study, which tested participants in a driving simulator, researchers from McLean Hospital in Boston found that sober cannabis users who started using the drug in their teens had more accidents, drove at higher speeds and cruised through more red lights compared to people who had never used marijuana. Read More > at NBC News

California’s new gig worker law is disrupting the music industry and threatening all performing arts – California has overreached in its effort to address the challenges in today’s tech platform gig-work economy.

The live music sector, the progenitor of the term “gig” work, is being swept up by this law. The irony would be comical if it were not such a serious problem.

To illustrate: In 2019, San Jose Jazz presented more than 1,000 musicians across 326 different performances. The vast majority were independent musicians and singers from California, the nation, and around the world.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines musicians under code, 27-2042 Musicians and Singers. This is distinct from the category for Fine Artists, 27-1013 Fine Artists Including Painters, Sculptors, and Illustrators.

For some big name acts, we contract with their corporate agent and pay the agency for the band’s performance. However, for most musicians, we work directly with the band leader to agree on a price and terms, providing them payment as independent contractors. They, in turn, pay their band members in accordance with IRS Schedule C filing rules.

Under AB 5, we will be required to inform all U.S.-based musicians that they must now become employees of San Jose Jazz, or incorporate themselves before they will be allowed to perform for us.

If band leaders choose to pursue incorporation, they will then need to take on the responsibility of payroll and HR administration for the rest of their band.

…Typical of such legislation, AB 5 comes with a hefty list of exempted categories that are a Who’s Who of the politically connected and well-funded: lawyers, doctors, accountants, brokers, builders, and others.

Actors, choreographers, dancers, directors, producers, and musicians are among numerous roles in the performing arts that exhibit a multitude of contract work arrangements. None of these are exempt from AB 5’s rules.

The cultural sector is full of various work arrangements, some as employee others as contractor, that have evolved over decades to accommodate artist’s unique crafts and artistic products and services. AB 5 runs roughshod over all of these arrangements. Read More > at CALmatters

For First Time in 26 Years, All U.S. Metros Enjoyed Income Gains – Americans in every U.S. metropolitan area experienced economic prosperity in 2018, according to a recent report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

For the first time in 26 years, no metro area saw per-capita incomes fall that year — the latest available data — and it was only the fourth time since 1970 that every U.S. urban region experienced prosperity. Read More > at Yahoo! Finance

More than 1,700 stores are closing in 2020 as the retail apocalypse drags on. Here’s the full list. – Retailers are expected to close thousands more stores this year, following record-high rates of closings last year.

More than 9,300 store closings were announced in 2019, smashing the previous record of roughly 8,000 store closures in 2017, according to an analysis by Business Insider.

The number of store closings this year could be even higher than previous records, according to estimates from the real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. The firm estimated last year that as many as 12,000 major chain stores could close in 2020.

Retailers have so far confirmed at least 1,700 stores slated for closure in 2020, according to a Business Insider analysis.

Here’s a list of the stores expected to close this year.

Pier 1 Imports: 450 stores; Gap Inc.: 230 stores; Walgreens: 200 stores; Chico’s: 200 stores; Destination Maternity: 183 stores; Forever 21: 178 stores; AC Moore: 145 stores; Olympia Sports: 76 stores; Sears: 51 stores; Kmart: 45 stores; Bed Bath & Beyond: 44 stores; Macy’s: 30 stores Read More > at Business Insider

Voters may have to rescue California’s pot industry – A state panel has warned the governor that California’s legal cannabis industry is in peril and it may take voter action to rescue the nascent market from further erosion.

High taxation, over-regulation, local bans, and the robust black market they fuel has made it extremely difficult for the legal industry to compete, the Cannabis Advisory Committee warned in its recent draft report. The document was issued before an increase in cannabis taxes went into effect Jan. 1.

The report noted that “as much as 80% of the cannabis market in California remains illicit.” The legal cannabis market now generates around $3.1 billion in sales, compared to $8.7 billion in sales on the black market. The state was expected to take in $1 billion in revenue for the fiscal year that ended in June but collected $288 million instead.

The 22-member panel thinks it may be time for voters to step in. One possibility, touted by South Lake Tahoe City Council Member and National Cannabis Industry Assn. board member Cody Bass, is a statewide ballot measure that would require cities where a majority of voters supported Prop 64 to allow cannabis dispensaries. Read More > at California City News

The gift of music – Fourth grader Valerie Romero is just like most nine-year-old girls in the area. She goes to St. Johns Middle School, plays with her friends, paints her nails, and she plays violin in music class. But, until recently, no one knew just how good of a violin player she really is. That was because Valerie was born a little differently and did not have the availability of both of her hands, which is necessary to play the instrument. But that all changed this month, thanks to local resident Nate Kellogg.

Kellogg’s children – Carter, Emily and Clara – came home from school one afternoon and told him about a special little girl with one arm who needed help holding her violin and bow at the same time. During class, she could only practice the fingering of the notes, but could not play along like everyone else could due to this limitation. Kellogg, an apprentice mechanic at the Tucson Electric Power plant, knew he had to find a way to help Valerie.

…As Valerie grows, the prosthetic will need to be updated, but for now, it’s working perfectly. She is quickly excelling in playing the violin now that she has the new prosthetic and she was ready to play alongside her fourth-grade counterparts for the Christmas concert Dec 16. With glitter in her hair and her new prosthetic arm on, she helped her class perform a Christmas classic, “Gloria (Angels We Have Heard on High).” On the last day of school before winter break, Dec. 20, she even played for the middle school assembly, impressing her fellow orchestra students with her skill. One middle school orchestra student remarked that she played “as good as a seventh grader!” Read More > at the White Mountain Independent

SUVs Not EVs: The Electric Car Boom Hits A Snag – Consumers are in love with sport utility vehicles (SUVs) for now, and getting them to switch over to smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles is becoming a much tougher sell. Sales data and market studies confirm these findings.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that there are now about 200 million SUVs around the world — up from about 35 million in 2010 and accounting for 60 percent of the increase in the global car fleet since 2010. While automakers have been building more fuel-efficient SUVs and pickup trucks in recent years, they’re still consuming a lot more gasoline than small cars, hybrids, and electric vehicles — and SUVs make up a much larger share of the market than these three vehicle segments.

Stable gasoline prices and improved performance and safety are the dominant factors driving the popularity of SUVs in new vehicle sales; and manufacturers have been promoting a certain stylishness and sportiness in crossover and large SUVs at major auto shows. Owners enjoy the benefits of transporting their family members while loading the vehicle with travel bags, groceries, household electronics, sporting equipment, bikes, and more.

Industry analysts expect plug-in hybrid, battery electric vehicle, and hybrid vehicle sales to soar at some point in the future. For now, consumers are happy with larger, traditional gasoline-engine vehicles for the power, performance, fuel pump price stability, and pervasive availability of fuel stations. Diesel-powered passenger vehicles have also been growing in popularity with US buyers in recent years, as manufacturers offer variations of their popular truck models with diesel engines. A number of SUV models now offer diesel engines as well, including the popular Jeep brand. Read More > at Oil Price

CES 2020: Toyota Is Building an Entire City Full of Autonomous Cars and Robots – At CES 2020, the president of Toyota Motor Corporation, Akio Toyoda, began his company’s official press conference by appearing to announce a flying car. And a giant robot.

Neither of those announcements turned out to be real (which we are very sad about), but he made up for that with what came next—his reveal of the company’s plans to build a brand new ‘prototype’ city.

Built on the site of an old Toyota plant at the base of Mt. Fuji, Woven City will be 175 acres of futuristic buildings and infrastructure designed to explore how humans and robots can thrive together. It’s all just concepts and renderings so far, with construction slated to start in 2021. And if Toyota can make this happen, it could be incredible.

“On this 175-acre site in Higashi-Fuji, Japan, we have decided to build a prototype town of the future, where people live, work, play, and participate in a living laboratory. Imagine a fully-controlled site that would allow researchers, engineers, and scientists the opportunity to freely test technology such as autonomy, mobility-as-a-service, robotics, smart home connected technology, AI, and more, in a real world environment. ”  Read More > IEEE Spectrum

Is closing the gender gap in tech even possible? Not likely, no matter how much money is spent – Many universities, organizations and “woke” corporations are increasingly committed to closing the gender gap in STEM and especially tech, and hundreds of millions, if not many billions of dollars have been spent on efforts to increase the female share of STEM degrees and jobs. For example, although they are illegal and violate Title IX’s prohibition of sex discrimination (and are therefore now being successfully challenged), hundreds of US universities spend millions of dollars every year offering single-sex, female-only STEM programs, summer camps, computer coding clubs, scholarships, awards, fellowships, initiatives, collectives, clubs, industry and networking events, and mentoring programs.

Then there are the nonprofit-organizations Girls Who CodeBlack Girls Code, and Latina Girls Code that have raised and spent millions of dollars “to support and increase the number of women in computer science by equipping young women with the necessary computing skills to pursue 21st-century opportunities…and close the gender employment difference in technology.” Girls Who Code lists nearly 200 corporate sponsors who have collectively provided tens of millions of dollars, with some corporations like AT&T, Lyft, Prudential, Uber, United Technologies and Walmart donating more than $1 million to the organization’s efforts to “close the gender gap in technology.”

And yet despite all of the money spent and all of the ongoing efforts devoted to the alleged “problem” of not enough women in STEM, perhaps closing the gender gap in technology might be an impossible mission. At least that is what the data are telling us. For example, the top chart above shows the female share of bachelor’s degrees in computer and information sciences from 1971 to 2017 based on data from the Department of Education. Women’s share of computer science degrees peaked at slightly above 37% in 1984 and has been on a gradual decline ever since and has been below 20% for more than a decade. Perhaps the massive efforts of universities and organizations like Girls Who Code stopped a further decline in the female share of computer science degrees and helped stabilize it at just below 20%. But to somehow “close the gender gap” and reach gender parity for tech degrees seems like a very, very expensive and futile fool’s errand that has no realistic chance of ever being achieved, no matter how much money “virtue signalling” and “woke” corporations direct to address the “problem.” Read More > at AEI

Homeless Californians Adapt to Camp Sweeps and ‘The Caltrans Shuffle’ – It’s 5 a.m., and the thermostat reads 44 degrees. Cars round the bend of an off-ramp of state Route 24 in northern Oakland, spraying bands of light across Norm Ciha and his neighbors. They wear headlamps so they can see in the dark as they gather their belongings: tents, clothes, cooking gear, carts piled with blankets, children’s shoes and, in one case, a set of golf clubs.

Every other week, the residents of this thin slice of state-owned land just off the freeway pack up their possessions and move to another empty lot nearby that they aren’t quite sure who owns. They do it in anticipation of the routine homeless sweeps ordered by the California Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the state’s highways and exit ramps.

The highway crews check that the area is clear of people and their belongings, throwing away any items that remain. Once the trucks leave, the residents move back in. Ciha and his neighbors call it “the Caltrans Shuffle.”

Their makeshift neighborhood of tarps and tents is built on one of thousands of public spaces across California where people have set up camp. The state’s homeless population has ballooned in recent years; in 2019, there were more than 150,000 homeless people in California, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and 72% of them did not have shelter. A range of health concerns has spread among homeless communities. A few years ago, hepatitis A, spread primarily through feces, infected more than 700 people in California, most of them homeless. Ancient diseases such as typhus have resurged. Homeless people are dying in record numbers on the streets of Los Angeles.

Communities up and down California, increasingly frustrated with the growing number of homeless people living on public property, have tasked police and sanitation workers with dismantling encampments that they say pollute public areas and pose serious risk of fire, violence and disease. The roustings and cleanups have become a daily occurrence around the state, involving an array of state and local agencies. Read More > from Kaiser Health News

Jeopardy! “Greatest of All Time” Ratings Are Comparable With NBA Finals – When you think of epic, storied competitions that attract millions of viewers across the nation, what comes to mind? If your first instinct was to name a sporting event, sure — but recent events suggest a new addition to that pantheon. A new report from Jimmy Traina at Sports Illustrated compared the ratings from Jeopardy! “Greatest of All Time” with a host of high-profile sporting events. Turns out there are a whole lot of people who’s like to see some of the game show’s best players face off against one another?

Alternately, and in the form of a question: What is “ratings dominance”?

Jeopardy ‘Greatest of All Time’ viewership numbers:
Tues: 14.4 million
Wed: 14.8 million
Thurs: 15.4 million

2019 comparisons:
NBA Finals Game 1: 13.5 million
MLB World Series Game 1: 12.2 million
NHL Stanley Cup Game 1: 5.5 millionhttp://bit.ly/2sgzOcK

Traina’s article also cites another impressive statistic: Greatest of All Time is also drawing more viewers than Monday Night Football. Read More > at InsideHook

‘California Dreamin’: Just how tough is it to buy a home here, anyway? – For the first time since 2010, more folks called it quits with California last year than moved here. The state’s population grew by a mere 0.35%, its lowest growth rate since 1900 (not a typo), according to new estimates from the state’s Department of Finance. The slow population growth means California is on track to lose its first congressional seat in history.

The sheen is off the Golden State, and that is a very big challenge for the world’s fifth-largest economy. Basically, it’s way too expensive, with astronomical housing prices driving out less-educated young people who otherwise would be starting families and becoming taxpayers, says demographer Dowell Myers of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. The number of young children in Los Angeles County – where we live – dropped 21% between 2000 and 2017.

The tepid population growth mirrors a national slow-growth trend. The U.S. Census Bureau attributes the trend to fewer births and more deaths. That’s true for California, too, along with slower immigration. But the biggest cause, according to the state, is more people packing up and moving to places like Texas, Arizona, Oregon, and Colorado.

According to Zillow, the median list price of a home in San Francisco was $1.35 million in November – the highest in the nation. Housing and high taxes are not the only factors driving people away. Take Victor Krummenacher, of the band Camper Van Beethoven. After 30 years in San Francisco, he cashed in his real estate and left in 2018. He now lives in his hometown of Riverside with his mom, touring and working as a graphic designer. He plans to move to Portland, Oregon, this summer.

Mr. Krummenacher says he left San Francisco because a long-term relationship failed, but so had the city’s quality of life. Artists used to be able to “throw it together” with part-time work and still focus on creativity, he says. With the tech boom, the city became “corporate” and unaffordable, clogged with traffic. Artists moved further out, or just plain out. Looking for a for-hire bass guitarist in a blues bar? Good luck. Read More > in The Christian Science Monitor  

Abandoned stores, empty homes: why San Francisco’s economic boom looks like a crisis – At the beginning of this decade, one beloved block in San Francisco had a taqueria, a flower shop and a bookstore. Sparky’s diner, a favorite final hangout for night owls, queer teens and the blackout drunk, was open round the clock.

Today, this block of Church Street just south of Market has the kind of abandoned storefronts that are usually a shorthand for declining mill towns, not centers of the tech future. But all those closed shops are emblematic of today’s San Francisco, where even in upscale areas, the city’s economic boom can look surprisingly like an economic crisis.

What this represents is a strange, second-wave gentrification, in which an influx of well-heeled residents means not Blue Bottle coffee shops and Kinfolk-inspired interior design stores, but emptiness.

The intersection of Church and Market streets is where many San Francisco neighborhoods come together – from the historic Castro to the nouveau gentry in Hayes Valley and the hipster vortex that is the Mission District. It’s not necessarily picturesque, but it’s long been quirky, lively, easily reached by public transit and popular with young creative types. In the last decade, splashy apartment complexes have shot up all over the area. The neighborhood must have gained hundreds, if not thousands, of new residents. But the businesses in the area have been dying off.

In 2017, about one in every eight storefronts here was empty, and more businesses seem to have vacated since then. The diner was first to go: in 2015 rent suddenly went up, the diner’s owner refused to pay, and Sparky’s was no more. Our usual ideas about gentrification suggest neighborhood standbys get replaced by fancy boutiques and brunch-centric eateries. Instead, after Sparky’s came … nothing. Elsewhere, too, long-term leases timed out, rents increased, and the old neighborhood hangouts disappeared. Aardvark Books, which stood on Church Street for nearly 40 years, until 2018, is now a hollow storefront. Read More > in The Guardian

Column: ‘Richard Jewell,’ Nicholas Sandmann and the media mob – While watching Clint Eastwood’s great new film “Richard Jewell,” about the heroic security guard of the Atlanta Olympics who saved lives only to be savaged by the media mob, I thought about another innocent.

Nicholas Sandmann, the kid from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky. He suffered the same kind of agony and humiliation.

Jewell and Sandmann were each publicly stripped of their honor through no fault of their own. Yes, “honor” is a terribly old-fashioned word, a bizarre medieval concept to some, but others can’t live without it.

Jewell was a security guard at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He spotted a bomb in Olympic Park and police began pushing people away. If it weren’t for Jewell, many would have died. But he was torn apart by the media mob in wild, speculative stories pinning him as the prime suspect in the bombing.

But Jewell wasn’t the bomber. The real bomber, Eric Rudolph, was eventually caught.

But I’d rather think about Nicholas Sandmann. You remember Sandmann?

CNN settled, but NBC is being sued too, as is The Washington Post and others. Let’s hope the dollar amounts, if any, are made public because, as we’re told, democracy dies in darkness.

A CNN analyst wanted him punched in the face. Other journalists and commentators at major news organizations, and comics, poseurs and wits, called him terrible names and allowed his reputation to be destroyed.

Leftist mobs in the Twittersphere, that oily sea of anonymous partisan hate, clicked on anything that poured more hate on Sandmann. And journalism, desperate for clicks, served him up.

But Sandmann wasn’t a hater. The haters were a group of angry Black Hebrew Israelites screaming horrible racist and homophobic taunts at the Covington kids and at Native Americans.

Sandmann wasn’t doing any of that. He was just a white kid in a MAGA cap, confronted by the old man with the drum, and he smiled, nervously.

And for that, he was flayed by the media.. All of it could have been avoided by the application of another terribly old-fashioned word: reporting. Read More > from the Chicago Tribune

About Kevin

Mayor - 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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