Sunday Reading – 11/06/2022


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.

Daylight saving time: Are we going to stop changing the clocks? – Last spring, the U.S. Senate approved a bill that would make daylight saving time permanent. But despite a surge of support to end the time changes, most of the nation will again turn its clocks back on Sunday.

Since its Senate passage in March, the Sunshine Protection Act has been stalled in the House, preventing action in 19 states that have taken steps toward abandoning the twice-yearly time change.

California was among the first of the states on the no-time-change bandwagon. Proposition 7 in 2018, which passed with 60% of the vote, supported allowing the Legislature to revise the time change schedule, including establishing permanent standard or permanent daylight saving time.

On the heels of the popular vote, Assemblyman Kansen Chu (D-San Jose) introduced a bill that “would set California’s standard time to year-round daylight saving time after the federal government authorizes the state to do so.” It also has been stalled.

At 2 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6, clocks will fall back an hour.  On Sunday, March 12, 2023, they’ll go forward an hour to start daylight saving time again.

If the Sunshine Protection Act were to pass the House and be signed into law, the March change would be the last one, as the bill specifies daylight saving time would be “the new, permanent standard time, effective November 5, 2023.”

In the United States, only Hawaii and most of Arizona do not adhere to the time change. Read More > in The Mercury News

Post Office Warns People Not to Use Its Mail Boxes – The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has warned people not to use its blue boxes on specific dates. It particularly warned about the chances of theft from these on Sundays and holidays. It raises the question of why USPS bothers to keep these boxes, which must be expensive to service at all.

The USPS’s warning suggested how people dodge the trouble. “If customers simply used retail service or inside wall drop slots to send their U.S. Mail, instead of depositing it to sit outside overnight or through the weekend, blue collection boxes would not be as enticing after business hours to mail thieves for identity theft and check-washing schemes.”

As a solution, people should go to their local post office or put mail in boxes after the last dispatch time. It is a complicated way to decide when to mail a letter. It is also inconvenient.

The USPS already spends and loses too much money. The blue box requires trucks to pick up mail from them two times a day. It is hard to imagine a system more expensive, particularly because USPS has over 30,000 offices. It also has over 600,000 full-time employees, many of whom deliver the mail. One reason there are so many is the inefficiency of delivering mail six days a week.

Although it might merely be a gesture, one to save money, USPS could junk the blue boxes. While the postal service warning targets holidays and Sundays, the problem exists throughout the week. Customers have to worry if checks or other valuable letters make it to their intended destinations. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St

Biolab Accidents Are Common and Rarely Disclosed – An Intercept investigation based on over 5,500 pages of NIH documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act has uncovered a litany of mishaps: malfunctioning equipment, spilled beakers, transgenic rodents running down the hall, a sedated macaque coming back to life and biting a researcher hard enough to lacerate their hand. Many of the incidents involved less dangerous pathogens that can be handled with basic safety equipment, and most did not lead to infection. But several accidents happened while scientists were handling deadly or debilitating viruses in highly secure labs, and a few, like the Chikungunya virus slip-up, did lead to illness.

“People have it in their minds that lab accidents are very, very rare, and if they happen, they happen only in the least well-run overseas labs,” said Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University and an advocate for better biosafety standards. “That simply isn’t true.”

The United States has a patchwork of regulations and guidelines covering lab biosafety. Safety training can vary widely from one institution to the next. Experiments involving certain pathogens and some research funded by the U.S. government is subject to oversight, but critics say that other areas are like the Wild West. Unless they work with the most dangerous pathogens, biolabs don’t have to register with the U.S. government. As a result, there is little visibility into the biosafety of experiments carried out by private companies or foundations. Read More > at The Intercept

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured an image of the sun ‘smiling’

NASA

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory caught the Sun “smiling.” Seen in ultraviolet light, these dark patches on the Sun are known as coronal holes and are regions where fast solar wind gushes out into space. Read More > at Engadget

Don’t Bet on Inflation Going Away Soon – More than a year after Americans were told that inflation would be “transitory,” several prominent economists now warn that persistently rising prices could be here to stay for a while.

“The history of developed countries since 1970 is very discouraging about the prospects of bringing down 8 percent inflation,” tweeted Larry Summers, the Barack Obama advisor who was one of several economists to correctly warn that the American Rescue Plan’s spending surge would trigger inflation. If anything, Summers wrote, the current belief that interest rate hikes from the Federal Reserve will curtail rising prices while slowing the economy might be overly optimistic.

Summers outlined his argument in more detail in an op-ed published Monday by The Washington Post. While the Fed has raised interest rates several times in recent months, Summers says it is “simply not plausible” to think that rates have risen high enough to bring inflation back down to the central bank’s target rate of 2 percent.

The argument against more aggressive action is that sharply rising interest rates could trigger a bad recession, but Summers thinks that worry misses the point. Unless inflation is controlled—even at the expense of a bad recession, as was required in the early 1980s to stop the inflationary spiral of the late 1970s—”workers will not see meaningful increases in their purchasing power.” Read More > at Reason

How tech is helping us talk to animals – The world around us is vibrating with sounds we cannot hear. Bats chitter and babble in ultrasound; elephants rumble infrasonic secrets to each other; coral reefs are aquatic clubs, hopping with the cracks and hisses and clicks of marine life.

For centuries, we didn’t even know those sounds existed. But as technology has advanced, so has our capacity to listen. Today, tools like drones, digital recorders, and artificial intelligence are helping us listen to the sounds of nature in unprecedented ways, transforming the world of scientific research and raising a tantalizing prospect: Someday soon, computers might allow us to talk to animals.

In some ways, that has already begun.

Automated listening posts have been set up in ecosystems around the planet, from rainforests to the depths of the ocean, and miniaturization has allowed scientists to stick microphones onto animals as small as honeybees.

All those devices create a ton of data, which would be impossible to go through manually. So researchers in the fields of bioacoustics (which studies sounds made by living organisms) and ecoacoustics (which studies the sounds made by entire ecosystems) are turning to artificial intelligence to sift through the piles of recordings, finding patterns that might help us understand what animals are saying to each other. There are now databases of whale songs and honeybee dances, among others, that Bakker writes could one day turn into “a zoological version of Google Translate.” Read More > at Vox

With States Hands-Off, Homeschooling Takes Off – South Dakota epitomizes the rapid growth of homeschooling in America.  Guided by the principle that parents, not the government, have the right to determine what and how their kids are taught, homeschooling families have overturned existing rules and batted down attempts over the last decade to impose new ones in many states, including South Dakota. 

What’s left in much of the United States today is essentially an honor system in which parents are expected to do a good job without much input or oversight. The rollback of regulations, coupled with the  ill effects of remote learning during the pandemic, have boosted the number of families opting out of public schools in favor of educating their kids at home.  

Reflecting a national trend, the number of children homeschooled in South Dakota rose more than 20% in both of the last two school years. 

For a growing number of parents, homeschooling is the answer to the institutional barriers to the education they believe in. Beyond requirements that homeschooling parents teach a few core subjects like math and English, they are free to pick the content.  Read More > at Real Clear Investigations

Oakland homeless audit: About half of people in one city program became unhoused again within a few years – Oakland officials urged Mayor Libby Schaaf’s administration Tuesday to do a better job tracking which homeless services are helping people, after a recent audit raised questions about the effectiveness of the city’s programs for the unhoused.

The comments come nearly two months after City Auditor Courtney Ruby released a 140-page audit that revealed that Oakland spent $69 million on homeless services providers over three years that had mixed results in placing unhoused residents into permanent housing. The audit also found that the city needs to do a better job of tracking whether people remain housed after receiving services.

The audit released in September is the second on the city’s homelessness response. Ruby released one in April 2021 that showed Oakland lacked an effective strategy in dealing with a growing number of unsheltered residents living on city streets, and failed to give policy directions and adequate funding to handle the crisis.

The audit examined the city’s community cabins, emergency shelters, transitional housing, RV safe parking sites and longer-term housing programs from 2018 to 2021. It also examined the pandemic’s impact on homeless services, noting that Oakland placed 300 people in emergency COVID housing programs. However, the pandemic also caused some disruptions as shelters had to decrease capacity, people lost jobs and some providers strugged to connect people to resources due to office closures.

Overall, the city’s interventions helped roughly 8,600 people from 2018 to 2021. Of that group, nearly 6,700 were in crisis response programs, which include cabins and RV safe parking sites, and nearly 1,990 were in longer-term housing programs.

The audit found that, for example, that community cabins served about 1,100 people from 2018 to 2021. Over those three years, a little less than 30% of people — on average — exited cabins to move to permanent housing. Over those three years, the share that became homeless again ranged from 42% to 58%. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

WiFi security flaw lets a drone track devices through walls – WiFi’s friendliness to other devices might pose a significant threat in the wrong circumstances. University of Waterloo researchers have discovered a security flaw in the networking standard that lets attackers track devices through walls. The technique identifies the location of a device within 3.3ft just by exploiting WiFi devices’ automatic contact responses (even on password-protected networks) and measuring the response times. You can identify all the connected hardware in a room, and even track people’s movements if they have a phone or smartwatch.

The scientists tested the exploit by modifying an off-the-shelf drone to create a flying scanning device, the Wi-Peep. The robotic aircraft sends several messages to each device as it flies around, establishing the positions of devices in each room. A thief using the drone could find vulnerable areas in a home or office by checking for the absence of security cameras and other signs that a room is monitored or occupied. It could also be used to follow a security guard, or even to help rival hotels spy on each other by gauging the number of rooms in use.

There have been attempts to exploit similar WiFi problems before, but the team says these typically require bulky and costly devices that would give away attempts. Wi-Peep only requires a small drone and about $15 US in equipment that includes two WiFi modules and a voltage regulator. An intruder could quickly scan a building without revealing their presence. Read More > at Engadget

The Lab Leak Deception – Journalists and scientists routinely dismissed the lab leak hypothesis as a crackpot theory and even as “racist,” up until the summer of 2021 when science journalist Nicholas Wade published an influential article, and a viral rant by Jon Stewart pushed it into the mainstream. Until that point, social media platforms had been removing or throttling posts that took it seriously. Anthony Fauci, who didn’t respond to our interview request, said it wasn’t worth even considering the possibility that COVID could have originated in a lab.

More recently, emails made public through the Freedom of Information Act have revealed that Fauci, National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Francis Collins, and other prominent public officials took the possibility of a lab origin far more seriously than they were letting on.

Kopp has assembled a comprehensive timeline that lays out substantial evidence that Fauci, Collins, and a number of influential scientists misled the public. Whether or not the lab leak theory is correct, it’s now clear that these public officials concealed their conflicts of interest with the Wuhan Institute of Virology and minimized their own roles in providing government funding for unsupervised gain-of-function research that may have led to the pandemic.

Among other things, Kopp’s research has revealed that virologist Kristian Andersen, who didn’t answer our interview request, wrote privately to Fauci that he and three other scientists thought that the virus that causes COVID-19 looked unnatural and “inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory.” Just four days later, after participating in a series of teleconferences with Fauci and Collins, Andersen called the lab leak theory “crackpot.”

Other emails revealed that Fauci knew that his agency was funding gain-of-function research with SARS-like coronaviruses in Wuhan by late January 2020, yet he publicly denied it before Congress 18 months later, claiming that the research didn’t meet the U.S. government’s technical definition of research that aims “to increase the ability of infectious agents to cause disease by enhancing its pathogenicity or by increasing its transmissibility.” Read More > at Reason

Beauty pageant has First Amendment right to exclude transgender contestants, court rules – A national beauty pageant that bars transgender women as contestants is exercising its constitutional right of free speech to express its “ideal vision of American womanhood,” says a divided federal appeals court.

Citing the Supreme Court’s 1995 decision allowing sponsors of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Boston to exclude a gay, lesbian and bisexual group, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Wednesday that Miss United States of America acted legally when it refused to allow Anita Noelle Green to compete in its 2019 pageant.

The event was held in Oregon, where Green, who had taken part in other beauty contests, had been crowned Miss Earth Elite USA Oregon in 2018. When she was rejected by Miss United States of America — which, unlike the better-known Miss USA and Miss America competitions, requires every participant to be “a natural-born female” — she sued under an Oregon law prohibiting any business that offers services to the public from discriminating based on gender identity.

But the appeals court said a beauty contest that sets standards for its contestants is expressing its views to the public and has the right to do so under the First Amendment. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

$9.3 billion: VTA says Santa Clara County taxpayers paid ‘their share’ for BART, asks Biden administration for billions more – After months of downplaying a ballooning federal estimate, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority is now acknowledging that its long-delayed project to bring BART trains running through San Jose could cost a staggering $9.3 billion.

But transit officials overseeing the construction of one of the country’s biggest transit extensions say they have a plan to fill a yawning gap between project costs and available funding. They are asking the Biden Administration for a historic federal grant totaling $4.6 billion, which they say will push BART to the finish line by 2034 — four years later than VTA’s current official timeline.

The funding request, outlined in a VTA letter to the Federal Transit Administration last month, would move the BART project into a funding program called New Starts, which would significantly increase Washington’s share of project costs. Currently, the FTA has agreed to fund up to $2.3 billion.

“We can almost double the federal investment in the project,” VTA General Manager Carolyn Gonot said in an interview this week. Santa Clara County residents have voted twice to tax themselves — first in 2000 and again in 2008 — to make the BART project a reality. Local voters have “have done their share,” Gonot added. South Bay taxpayers have agreed to pay about $2.8 billion through sales taxes and another $375 million in bridge tolls.

In total, the agency needs $9.3 billion to ensure the project is properly funded. The number is primarily based on an earlier FTA analysis that pinned the likely cost at $9.1 billion. Gonot said the agency adopted the FTA’s analysis and tacked on an extra $200 million due to rising interest rates. “We just marked it up,” she said. “I hate to say that — we’re trying to be as conservative as possible as we go out there.” Read More > in The Mercury News

What Happens If You Don’t Take Out a Splinter? – Not all splinters can be safely removed at home. Dr. Jefrey Biehler, chair of pediatrics at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, told Live Science that removing a deeply embedded splinter can cause bleeding. If splinter removal causes heavy bleeding, head to a health care center where they can help using sterile instruments. 

Splinters that are left in the body aren’t simply absorbed. Instead, the body is more likely to reject the splinter and try to push it out which can create inflammation (opens in new tab) and pockets of pus, Biehler added.

If the inflammatory response continues for several days or weeks, the area can sometimes develop a somewhat permanent bump or what’s called a “granuloma,” Jones added. This is kind of a protective bubble of immune system cells that surround the foreign object the body wasn’t able to oust.

Sometimes the body can naturally expel a splinter from the skin without causing an inflammatory response, Biehler said. Other times, the splinter may stay in the skin forever.

Biehler noted that one of his nurse friends has had an inch-long (2.54cm) thorn in her hand for the past 40 years. “You can feel it, she can move it … [but] it doesn’t cause her any pain,” he said. “She’s been fine for 40 years.” The splinter doesn’t carry as big of a risk of infection as when she first got it, because the skin closed on top of it, he added.

“It is a fine line between what needs to be seen [by a doctor], what needs to be removed and what can be left alone,” Biehler said. But in general, splinters you get around the house or those that come from plant materials, such as wood, “usually need to come out, because the body reacts to it.”

In any case, foreign bodies lodged in the skin — especially in children and the elderly, who may be more prone to infections — should be evaluated by a health care professional, he said. Read More > atv Real Clear Science

What happens to stolen catalytic converters? A look inside one $38 million California crime ring – Metal recyclers accused of orchestrating a multimillion-dollar, cross-country crime ring grew so successful trading catalytic converters that had been sawed from vehicles that they had a specialized phone app providing real-time prices for the stolen precious metals.

That startling detail — and others attesting to the increasing sophistication of metal thieves — was revealed in federal court documents recently filed in the prosecution of three Sacramento County residents charged with operating a Northern California-based crime operation from 2019 until last month.

The filings offered a rare and detailed glimpse inside the shadowy and lucrative world of illegal metal recycling. While the crisis of rampant catalytic converter theft is widely known, what happens after the devices are stolen has been more obscure, and prosecutions of metal recyclers suspected of trading illegal parts are uncommon.

Law enforcement agencies in California and across the country have struggled to halt the widespread thefts, which have surged since the beginning of the pandemic as global metal prices soar. The football-sized emissions-control parts, located near a car’s muffler, contain a cache of precious metals prized for their high resale value.

“To increase their customer base, encourage the theft of the highest-value converters and enable their affiliates to accurately price different catalytic converters, employees created and operated the DG Auto Pricing Application, which was an application for both Apple and Android platforms that provided real-time pricing information for catalytic converter thieves and their customers,” according to court documents.

The app, which charged subscription fees, allowed users to look up prices for a specific make and model of catalytic converter on any given date, prosecutors allege. Prices would fluctuate based on market rates for precious metals. Read More > in the San Francisco Chronicle

About Kevin

Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-UPI, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Trustee RD 2137, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction
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