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Posted by Richard Scheinin

With its dwindling home supply, the Bay Area real estate market experienced an increase in home sales during the spring. Hellbent buyers snapped up whatever was available, resulting in a year-over-year increase in units sold.

Even so, when viewed historically, sales were tepid — there’s just not enough housing on the market to generate a real surge.

And now the spring sales increase has reversed, according to the latest report from the California Association of Realtors.

It shows pending sales decreasing 0.6 percent across the region in June. Breaking it down by county, sales dipped 0.4 percent year-over-year in Santa Clara County and 10.4 percent in San Mateo County. San Francisco County bounced back from last month’s double-digit sales decline, however, and rose 22.2 percent.

To the north of the Bay Area, pending sales were down 6.5 percent in Sacramento. To the south, they fell 15.7 percent in Santa Cruz.

Statewide, pending home sales slipped for the sixth month in a row, down 0.9 percent. Region by region, however, the picture was a bit more complicated. Southern California sales were up 2.5 percent, and Central Valley sales rose 5.2 percent.

You can read the report here.

The overall tail-off in sales might just mark the end of the busy spring season for real estate. Stay tuned to see what develops in future months.

And in the short-term, stay tuned for our story on the upcoming report from CoreLogic, the real estate information service. Due to land later this week, it will break down median sales and prices for June in each of the nine counties across the Bay Area.

 

 

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Posted by Scott Herhold

The City of Sunnyvale has a new logo. I realize this news may not transform your life. It may not interrupt it for more than one or two seconds. But in the now-popular municipal search for “branding” — itself a dubious quest — the new logo offers an intriguing backstory.

First, a bit of history: For the last 46 years, Sunnyvale has had a cone-shaped logo that plays heavily on the “V” in Sunnyvale. It wasn’t terrible. But it was reminiscent of the 1970s, one of America’s worst eras for design. City officials said it spurred a “vast family” of different logos and sub-brands.

oldsunlogo
Sunnyvale’s old logo City of Sunnyvale

Hence the perceived need for something new. What the city has approved is an all-green logo that looks like the rays of the sun over a gently undulating landscape — a “sunny vale,” or valley. Get it? It doesn’t demand much effort.

Naturally, the people doing the re-branding have come up with words to explain all this. The upper part of the logo purportedly represents “innovation, opportunity, change and adaptability.”  The lower part is said to depict “order, safety, security, stability.”

You can safely ignore all this. It is the blather that branders have to produce.

Let’s get down to the real questions the logo of the county’s second-largest city raise for the huddled masses:

A) Is it meant to be cannabis-friendly? Let’s acknowledge straight up here that green has been seized as the preferred color by California’s marijuana growers. True, they don’t have a patent on it. But the green leaf dominates their branding.

Is that a problem for Sunnyvale’s new logo? I think not. In the first place, a fair number of Sunnyvale residents undoubtedly smoke pot.  And California recently legalized recreational marijuana. If Sunnyvale is cannabis-friendly, it won’t hurt the economy.

B) Does it depict a rear end? I have to admit I did not see this until someone pointed it out. For some people of a tawdry frame of mind, however, the gentle landscape looks like it could be a shapely rear end.

Only one of my friends claimed to see a human posterior when first viewing the logo. Some professed to see an open book. One imaginative viewer claimed it’s what a hula dancer sees when she looks down. But a rear end or butt cheeks? I give the city a pass on this issue.

C) Could it be the freeze-frame of a Pac-Man?  After a lot of consideration, I think the answer has to be yes. If you begin at the bottom, it looks like the Pac-man is eating the entire logo, chomping around the top.

I doubt that anyone on the branding team saw this. Nonetheless, they should go with it.  After all, Atari, which produced a home version of the Japanese arcade game, had headquarters in Sunnyvale. If the sun in Sunnyvale is really just the reflected glare of a computer screen, who are we to quibble?

D) How much did this cost?  Now we’re finally getting to the nitty-gritty. According to the city’s web site, the new logo and brand language cost $96,250, which was about 14 percent of the entire three-year cost of redesigning the city’s website. (For more, see goo.gl/TwdTZc).

Could it have been done more cheaply? Probably.  For starters, I would have left out the brand language and played up the Pac-Man. But in the end, I have seen more egregious municipal spending.

The old cone was outdated. The new one has simplicity on its side. Let’s just hope it lasts longer than 46 years.

 

[syndicated profile] sjmerc_local_feed

Posted by Mark Gomez

REDWOOD CITY — A Redwood City man was arrested Monday in connection with an early morning fatal hit-and-run crash that took the life of a male pedestrian, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The driver was arrested on unspecified charges and booked into San Mateo County jail, according to the CHP.

The male pedestrian, whose name and age was not released, was crossing Middlefield Road just south of Flynn Avenue at about 2:25 a.m. when he was hit by a vehicle and knocked to the ground, according to the CHP. The man was rushed to Stanford Hospital, where he was pronounced deceased.

A witness told the CHP the pedestrian was hit by a Ford Crown Victoria, which continued on Middlefield after hitting the man. Officers located the driver at his Redwood City residence and arrested him, according to the CHP.

The collision remains under investigation, and the CHP indicates it is not known if alcohol or drugs were factors in the crash. Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact Officer Yu at 650-369-6261.

13 Kitchens with Showstopping Sinks

Jul. 24th, 2017 02:00 pm
[syndicated profile] apartmenttherapymain_feed
(Image credit: Domino)

When's the last time you got excited about a sink? The sink, especially the kitchen sink, is an object generally known more for its function than its beauty. But these 13 sinks manage to get the job done, and look good doing it. In fact, I think you could say that they steal the show — a testament to the power of design to elevate even the humblest objects.

READ MORE »

Rest in peace, Microsoft Paint

Jul. 24th, 2017 05:44 pm
[syndicated profile] wash_post_switch_feed

Posted by Alex Schiffer

The Microsoft logo on the Microsoft Theater at the E3 2017 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles on June 13. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Fans of Microsoft's long-standing Paint program are suddenly feeling very blue.

The company recently announced that Microsoft Paint is on a list of features that are set to be “removed and deprecated” in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, set to be released this fall.

The 32-year-old graphic-editing program is officially marked as deprecated, meaning it will be in the fall update but is no longer being actively updated and could be phased out at some point. It's unclear when Microsoft will officially remove Paint from its software.

Paint was Microsoft's original Windows 1.0 program when the company launched in 1985 and had been a staple in its systems for years. Known for its simplicity, Paint allowed users to dream of being the digital Leonardo DiVinci by using their computer's mouse as the brush.

In October, Microsoft released Paint 3D, an updated version of the application that allowed users to share work in an online community. It removed its 3D Builder app for the fall update and encouraged users to use Paint 3D instead.

Outlook Express and Reader are two of the other noteworthy items Microsoft removed in the software update. The company's Mail app has essentially replaced Outlook Express for some time now and Reader will be integrated in with the Microsoft Edge Web browser, according to the company's statement.

Microsoft did not immediately respond for comment.

 

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Posted by Cyrus Farivar

Enlarge / Phazzer's Enforcer weapon retailed for around $600, compared with $900 for a comparable Taser weapon. (credit: Phazzer)

Axon, the company formerly known as Taser, said Monday that it has successfully defeated a Florida company in a patent lawsuit over its electrical stun gun design. For Axon, the victory is the third against knockoff rival firms in the last seven years.

Last Friday, a federal judge in Florida found that a company called "Phazzer" (yes, like "phaser") "engaged in a pattern of bad faith behavior" as the case has unfolded. Phazzer made a product strikingly similar to the Taser. And the case involving Axon was first filed in 2016, shortly after a Florida county sheriff decided to switch from Taser weapons to Phazzer (largely over cost reasons).

To further punish the company, US District Judge Paul Byron ruled in favor of Axon and hit Phazzer with a permanent injunction to make, sell, import, or distribute its own stun guns, likely marking a death knell for the Kissimmee, Florida-based company. For now, Phazzer's website is still up and makes no mention of the lawsuit.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Posted by Rowena Coetsee

DISCOVERY BAY — Barbara Cecchini’s asparagus fields tell the story of what can happen when bounty and scarcity collide.

At one time the Discovery Bay farmer and her husband cultivated about 1,200 acres of the vegetable and were among the biggest asparagus growers in the state.

But the amount of land they allotted for the crop has shrunk drastically over the past decade until Cecchini, the last asparagus farmer in Contra Costa County, has just 15 acres left.

“We needed bodies,” she said of the dwindling supply of workers available to hand pick the labor-intensive crop.

The harvesting machines that exist aren’t designed to accommodate the mounds in which asparagus traditionally are planted in California, and farm hands must revisit the fields daily looking for spears tall enough to harvest because they reach the optimum height at different times.

As the trend continued, Cecchini began digging up the perennials and replacing them with hay, wheat, safflower and other crops she could harvest mechanically.

Her experience illustrates the effects of a statewide farm labor shortage, one that Oakley grower Mark Dwelley says has been getting worse.

He relies on manual labor to harvest his vegetables, and last year he lost some beans because he couldn’t round up enough help to get them to market.

“Everyone is very, very nervous,” he said of farmers everywhere.

It’s a complex problem that Dwelley Farms and other local businesses are experiencing, one that they attribute to a variety of factors.

Growers already were facing smaller profit margins following the elimination of tariffs on produce imported from Mexico, but Cecchini says the real trouble began when the federal government began cracking down on illegal immigration in the 1990s.

Tens of thousands of Mexicans who once came to California to work now are being deported or can’t leave home.

“It’s not nearly as easy to get a work visa, so people that have had a temporary visa and have gone back to Mexico, it’s very difficult for them to get back legally,” said Glenn Stonebarger of G&S Farms.

He grows corn and beans as well as cherries, apples and pluots, all of them hand-harvested.

And Cecchini needed about 150 people in the fields cutting asparagus spears and 100 or so more in the packing sheds at the height of production, a level of manpower that eventually became impossible to find.

Growers aren’t likely to find help from the domestic labor force, either.

“Americans will not work in the fields,” said Al Courchesne of Brentwood’s Frog Hollow Farms.

But immigration policy isn’t the only explanation for the diminishing labor pool.

The workforce is aging as members of the younger generation are opting for higher-paying jobs in construction when the housing market is booming, Stonebarger said.

Those who once might have worked locally now are going to areas like Napa and Sonoma where vineyard owners pay more, Cecchini added.

Local growers also are competing for workers with their counterparts in the Central Valley, where there’s a shortage as well, said Janet Caprile, farm adviser for the University of California Cooperative Extension in Contra Costa County.

Seasonal farm workers who live in the Stockton and Modesto areas are less inclined to make the drive to East County when they can find work closer to home, she said.

Francisco Gomez works in the asparagus field at Cecchini & Cecchini Farms near Discovery Bay, Calif. on Thursday, May 18, 2017. The Cecchinis are the last asparagus farmers in Contra Costa County and over the past decade their crop has dwindled from about 1,000 acres to just 15. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)
Francisco Gomez works in the asparagus field at Cecchini & Cecchini Farms near Discovery Bay, Calif. on Thursday, May 18, 2017. The Cecchinis are the last asparagus farmers in Contra Costa County and over the past decade their crop has dwindled from about 1,000 acres to just 15. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group) 

Brentwood grower Tom Bloomfield pays his contract laborers $1 to $1.50 over the $10 hourly minimum wage required of small employers, an incentive intended to cover the additional time and expense they incur in traveling to his farms.

When crops are ready to harvest, there’s no time to waste — farmers need those extra sets of hands right then, said Bloomfield, who hires up to five dozen people to work the 300 or so acres of vineyards he cultivates.

Stonebarger can attest to the challenge of rounding up help: By the time cherry season began in East County this spring, crews already were picking orchards in the San Joaquin Valley.

“When there’s a full crop (in that area), there’s just not enough people to draw from,” he said, noting that workers are drawn to regions where the harvest is bountiful because they are paid according to how much fruit they pick.

In addition to the dozen full-time employees Stonebarger has, he needs about 120 to 140 seasonal workers from May through September to harvest not only cherries but green beans and sweet corn, his biggest crop.

Although operating some of his cherry orchards as a U-Pick business mitigates the problem, he doesn’t get enough customers to collect all the fruit so he still needs additional help to get it to market, Stonebarger said.

Mechanization also can make the difference between experiencing a labor crunch or not.

Bloomfield says he is largely unaffected by the shortage in part because he uses swathers, rakes and balers to harvest alfalfa and other machines to pick his grapes, although he still needs people to prune old wood on vines as well as thin leaves and shoots.

The challenges farmers are facing might not be their problem alone.

In keeping with the law of supply and demand, labor contractors are charging growers more these days for the crews they provide, Cecchini said.

Farmers, in turn, pass that added cost on to the consumer.

“The commodities here are going to get more expensive,” she said. “I can’t sell my asparagus for less than $4 a pound to the public and make any money.”

Shoppers who buy imported food when it’s in-season locally save money because it’s cheaper to produce, but other countries’ more lenient regulations governing practices such as pesticide use and cleanliness of irrigation water could pose health risks, Cecchini said.

“There’s nobody really checking them,” she said.

Five Books About Extreme Worlds

Jul. 24th, 2017 06:00 pm
[syndicated profile] tor_dot_com_feed

Posted by Michael Johnston

The essence of a great science fiction or fantasy novel is the world. There, I said it. Feel free to disagree. But I haven’t fallen in love with a novel without first falling deep into the author’s imaginary world. So naturally it was the most extreme worlds that became my favorites. And in the hands of the best authors those unique worlds produced not only memorable places and stories, but fertile ground for things like social and political commentary as well. There is something to be said for taking things to their limits. In each of these novels the author has taken ideas about our humdrum world and pushed them to the extreme (as if I hadn’t already overused that word). In doing this, in seeing these exaggerated versions of our world, we are allowed glimpses of possible futures or of alternate versions of the present or even the past.

 

The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard

To grasp the significance of J.G. Ballard’s novel it’s important to remember that it was written in 1962 because it sounds like a novel that was written in the last few years. In fact, more than one book has been written in the last few years with a similar premise. The Drowned World was the first book I read in what I’ll call the “scientific expedition into an unknown world” genre. A kind of global warming has devastated the world. The polar ice caps are melted, flooding the northern hemisphere, transforming the land into something that resembles the Triassic period (now that’s extreme). But what’s truly great about The Drowned World is the way in which this transformation shapes and affects the characters. Our protagonist literally finds himself regressing into an earlier state, feeling more primitive and impulsive, devolved like his world. It’s a perfect of example of the interplay of character and environment and a keen commentary on the fragility of our society.

 

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Here we encounter another world wrecked by flooding and eco-disasters, a world in which biological plagues wreak havoc on the population and strange, genetic experiments run wild (a population of feral Cheshire Cats). We are in the drowned world of 23rd century Thailand, a place that is powered (literally) by springs (check the title of the book). Food sources are controlled by vast global conglomerates (this one is just a fact of the modern world) and the last remaining seed bank is a treasure our protagonist will do anything to acquire. The Windup Girl might just be the future of agriculture or our present.

 

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

There is a point in the novel where the narrator, Genly Ai, wonders whether the peculiar nature of the people of Gethen—also known as Winter, the perpetually cold and snowy planet in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness—are a product of the extreme environment or some sort of genetic experiment long ago abandoned. We never discover the answer. Rather, Le Guin’s novel is a meditation on the nature of the Gethenites’ sexual identity. See, the people of Winter have no fixed sex. They shift from male to female in a cycle and choose partners to suit their current sex. Our narrator is an envoy, a man from another world trying to make first contact with Gethen. He is ultimately thrown out by one faction, embraced by another, betrayed, befriended, and saved. The novel concludes with one of the more memorable segments in science fiction, a month’s long journey across a glacier that leaves Genly (male) alone with Estraven (alternately male and female). The two are trapped, isolated as they move across the ice. In this private world we confront the notion of what it is to be a man or a woman and how we define our relationship between the two.

 

Dune by Frank Herbert

Arrakis, also called Dune, is a planet entirely devoid of surface water, a desert from top to bottom. And everyone who lives there—the native population, the freeman—is entirely focused on conservation and desert survival. The desert of Arrakis is merciless, but it’s also the only place in the universe where the spice, mélange, exists. Born of sandworms, the spice is a kind of catchall mystical, pseudo-scientific, quasi-religious super drug. Control of the spice equals control of the empire. And the spice is born out of this extreme environment, as are its spice-consuming, blue-within-blue-eyed population, the freeman. These folk are the true children of the desert. Their stillsuits turn every man or woman into a walking ecosystem, a self-sufficient, recycling machine in stylish brown leather. There are a hundred different reasons to praise Dune, but it was the severity of Herbert’s depiction of desert life that most struck me when I first read it.

 

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

Okay, I saved this one for last because Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris gets the prize for most extreme world. Solaris, the eponymous planet, contains only one living organism. The planet wasn’t populated by a billion life forms that rose out of the ocean, rather the planet-sized ocean became a single life form. As the novel opens we learn that scientist have already spent decades studying the ocean. Volumes have been written about it. Generations have studied Solaris, but the ocean remains a mystery. The people of earth are unable to communicate with Solaris and it’s not for want of trying. Even the planet wants to communicate with humanity. It creates grand structures and humanoid figures, using mimicry to attempt communication. It doesn’t work. Contact is never achieved. Solaris is about the limitations of our species. It’s about trying to understand something that is completely different from you. It’s a contemplation of what is alien and thus human as well.

 

Michael Johnston has always been an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy. He studied architecture and ancient history at Lehigh University and earned a master’s degree in architecture from Columbia University. Michael worked as an architect in New York City before switching to writing full time. He is the co-author of the YA Heart of Dread trilogy with his wife, Melissa de la Cruz. His new book, Soleri, is now available from Tor. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. You can find him online at his website and on Twitter @MJohnstonAuthor.

Happy Birthday!

Jul. 24th, 2017 07:12 pm
heliophile: (Default)
[personal profile] heliophile
Happy Birthday!!!!! to [livejournal.com profile] londonronnie ! I'm still not used to the DW way, I don't think, so not sure if this will post as intended - lets see :-)

Wishing you all the very best for your birthday!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And I hope the day and everything and everyone in it behaves as they jolly well should *g* (and brings you presents and cake)
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inkyeyeball:

The Woman from Italy will leave you in stitches.
Not laughter, though she’ll laugh.
A sound which is full of diabolical torment
And wicked behavior,
As she flays you before your friends and your neighbors.
You’ll yet be alive when she opens your chest,
The wet beat of your heart and the choke of your breath.
She coos, “Don’t fear! It’s as quick as can be.”
But in truth, there’s years left to this misery.

-The Woman from Italy

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Posted by Shep McAllister on Deals, shared by Shep McAllister to Lifehacker

Before long, it’ll be too cold to bother schlepping to the gym, but you can keep in shape at home with this cleverly designed PowerBlock dumbbell set. Each dumbbell adjusts from 2.5 to 50 pounds in 2.5 pound increments with just the flick of a selector pin. It’s like a complete weight rack that could almost fit into a…

Read more...

[syndicated profile] sjmerc_local_feed

Posted by Jasmine Leyva

An office building and a four-level parking structure are proposed at 1700 Dell Ave. in Campbell.

The city council got a look at the proposal from Dollinger Properties during a July 18 study session.

A 71,620-square-foot building occupies the site, which is located west of the Los Gatos Creek Trail and just north of Los Gatos town limits.

That building would be demolished if the project is approved.

“What we’re trying to do here is build a building for the 21st century, with all the modern amenities, and also building a building that’s energy efficient,” Dollinger Properties development project manager Derrick Larson told the council.

Larson said the current building is “outdated” and has been difficult to lease to businesses. He said Dollinger Properties has a prospective tenant that is looking put down roots in the Orchard City, but said he could not disclose more information just yet.

Larson told the council, “We’re about two weeks away from being able to go public with it. I do feel that this is a very important part of development.”

As proposed, the project is inconsistent with city standards, such as height and parking, for businesses in the controlled manufacturing zone. The area does not allow for buildings to surpass 45 feet in height. This project proposes a 75-foot building with an additional 14.5-foot screen to block out noise. The building would be one of the tallest in the city.

“For me, I’m not looking for a landmark building to enter the city,” said Mayor Liz Gibbons, echoing a few concerns expressed by residents regarding the height of the proposed building.

The area is zoned for controlled manufacturing, which allows furniture/cabinet shops, manufacturing, office, research and development and warehouse businesses, according to the staff report.

Dolinger could apply for a zoning map amendment to rezone the property to planned development to allow flexibility for the building height, floor area ratio and setbacks. In giving its feedback, a majority of the city council was willing to consider a zoning amendment for the parcel.

The half-dozen speakers at the study session insisted the project was too large for the area. Most opposed a zoning amendment.

“I just think that it’s totally premature to try and change all the rules to allow double the height and more than twice the (floor area ratio) and put something in that’s so huge,” resident Ellen Dorsa told the council.

According to the city, the project proposes 788 parking spaces, which would come up short by 88, according to current city standards. Larson said the prospective business could use shuttle buses to bring employees to and from work as well as encourage employees to use alternative transportation..

The council and residents were concerned about the parking shortage and skeptical about alternative transportation, such as shuttle buses.

“It won’t reduce traffic,” said resident Mitch Stermer. “They may try to do things to reduce traffic. I work in high tech and in high-tech businesses. The number of parking spots per business is insufficient.”

The planning commission will review the project’s preliminary application during an Aug. 8 study session. Dollinger Properties is planning to show the commission different architectural drawings depicting other options for developing the parcel.

When the formal application is submitted to the city, the project will undergo an environmental impact review for the planning commission before a final decision is made.

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Posted by Rowena Coetsee

DISCOVERY BAY — Barbara Cecchini’s asparagus fields tell the story of what can happen when bounty and scarcity collide.

At one time the Discovery Bay farmer and her husband cultivated about 1,200 acres of the vegetable and were among the biggest asparagus growers in the state.

But the amount of land they allotted for the crop has shrunk drastically over the past decade until Cecchini, the last asparagus farmer in Contra Costa County, has just 15 acres left.

“We needed bodies,” she said of the dwindling supply of workers available to hand pick the labor-intensive crop.

The harvesting machines that exist aren’t designed to accommodate the mounds in which asparagus traditionally are planted in California, and farm hands must revisit the fields daily looking for spears tall enough to harvest because they reach the optimum height at different times.

As the trend continued, Cecchini began digging up the perennials and replacing them with hay, wheat, safflower and other crops she could harvest mechanically.

Her experience illustrates the effects of a statewide farm labor shortage, one that Oakley grower Mark Dwelley says has been getting worse.

He relies on manual labor to harvest his vegetables, and last year he lost some beans because he couldn’t round up enough help to get them to market.

“Everyone is very, very nervous,” he said of farmers everywhere.

It’s a complex problem that Dwelley Farms and other local businesses are experiencing, one that they attribute to a variety of factors.

Growers already were facing smaller profit margins following the elimination of tariffs on produce imported from Mexico, but Cecchini says the real trouble began when the federal government began cracking down on illegal immigration in the 1990s.

Tens of thousands of Mexicans who once came to California to work now are being deported or can’t leave home.

“It’s not nearly as easy to get a work visa, so people that have had a temporary visa and have gone back to Mexico, it’s very difficult for them to get back legally,” said Glenn Stonebarger of G&S Farms.

He grows corn and beans as well as cherries, apples and pluots, all of them hand-harvested.

And Cecchini needed about 150 people in the fields cutting asparagus spears and 100 or so more in the packing sheds at the height of production, a level of manpower that eventually became impossible to find.

Growers aren’t likely to find help from the domestic labor force, either.

“Americans will not work in the fields,” said Al Courchesne of Brentwood’s Frog Hollow Farms.

But immigration policy isn’t the only explanation for the diminishing labor pool.

The workforce is aging as members of the younger generation are opting for higher-paying jobs in construction when the housing market is booming, Stonebarger said.

Those who once might have worked locally now are going to areas like Napa and Sonoma where vineyard owners pay more, Cecchini added.

Local growers also are competing for workers with their counterparts in the Central Valley, where there’s a shortage as well, said Janet Caprile, farm adviser for the University of California Cooperative Extension in Contra Costa County.

Seasonal farm workers who live in the Stockton and Modesto areas are less inclined to make the drive to East County when they can find work closer to home, she said.

Francisco Gomez works in the asparagus field at Cecchini & Cecchini Farms near Discovery Bay, Calif. on Thursday, May 18, 2017. The Cecchinis are the last asparagus farmers in Contra Costa County and over the past decade their crop has dwindled from about 1,000 acres to just 15. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)
Francisco Gomez works in the asparagus field at Cecchini & Cecchini Farms near Discovery Bay, Calif. on Thursday, May 18, 2017. The Cecchinis are the last asparagus farmers in Contra Costa County and over the past decade their crop has dwindled from about 1,000 acres to just 15. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group) 

Brentwood grower Tom Bloomfield pays his contract laborers $1 to $1.50 over the $10 hourly minimum wage required of small employers, an incentive intended to cover the additional time and expense they incur in traveling to his farms.

When crops are ready to harvest, there’s no time to waste — farmers need those extra sets of hands right then, said Bloomfield, who hires up to five dozen people to work the 300 or so acres of vineyards he cultivates.

Stonebarger can attest to the challenge of rounding up help: By the time cherry season began in East County this spring, crews already were picking orchards in the San Joaquin Valley.

“When there’s a full crop (in that area), there’s just not enough people to draw from,” he said, noting that workers are drawn to regions where the harvest is bountiful because they are paid according to how much fruit they pick.

In addition to the dozen full-time employees Stonebarger has, he needs about 120 to 140 seasonal workers from May through September to harvest not only cherries but green beans and sweet corn, his biggest crop.

Although operating some of his cherry orchards as a U-Pick business mitigates the problem, he doesn’t get enough customers to collect all the fruit so he still needs additional help to get it to market, Stonebarger said.

Mechanization also can make the difference between experiencing a labor crunch or not.

Bloomfield says he is largely unaffected by the shortage in part because he uses swathers, rakes and balers to harvest alfalfa and other machines to pick his grapes, although he still needs people to prune old wood on vines as well as thin leaves and shoots.

The challenges farmers are facing might not be their problem alone.

In keeping with the law of supply and demand, labor contractors are charging growers more these days for the crews they provide, Cecchini said.

Farmers, in turn, pass that added cost on to the consumer.

“The commodities here are going to get more expensive,” she said. “I can’t sell my asparagus for less than $4 a pound to the public and make any money.”

Shoppers who buy imported food when it’s in-season locally save money because it’s cheaper to produce, but other countries’ more lenient regulations governing practices such as pesticide use and cleanliness of irrigation water could pose health risks, Cecchini said.

“There’s nobody really checking them,” she said.

The problem with ‘morbid obesity’

Jul. 24th, 2017 05:53 pm
[syndicated profile] sjmerc_local_feed

Posted by Jen Gunter, Marin IJ correspondent

In her new memoir, “Hunger,” Roxane Gay writes about what it is like to live as a large woman in a world that is not only not accepting of differences in size but is often very cruel about it. Gay’s words are insightful and heartbreaking and raw, and spoke to me on many levels.

I have struggled most of my life with binge eating disorder, a curse cast differently than Gay’s, but it has controlled me in ways I am still understanding. So to read someone so honest in such a public way about her own path, experiences and body has given me strength to look more at my own longterm struggle with food and body image.

“Hunger” also touched me as a physician. In particular the way Gay writes about the term “morbid obesity” and how it feels to have the word morbid used to describe her body. How it feels to have that word entered into her medical record. I have not been able to stop thinking about that passage.

In medicine morbidity is used to describe serious negative consequences or complications. For example, if I describe the risks of a surgical procedure I will talk with my patient about the risk of mortality (dying) from the procedure and then I will discuss the potential morbidity, meaning complications such as infection, pain and blood loss. Morbidity is also used medically as an adjective to further describe obesity. Specifically, morbid obesity means 100 pounds over the ideal body weight, a BMI of 40 (a BMI of 19 to 24 is considered ideal health-wise), or a BMI of 35 in an individual who is also experiencing obesity-related health complications such as high blood pressure or diabetes. In this situation it is interchangeable with the term “severe obesity.”

Helpful qualifiers

It is true that it is helpful in medicine to have qualifiers, and so we often describe medical conditions as mild, moderate or severe. For example, with prematurity we use mild, moderate, very and extreme to describe how premature the delivery. This helps us group patients appropriately for study, can help with communication with patients and other providers, and it is useful for billing purposes as severe conditions obviously have more potential for complications and so it may take more time and resources to manage. However, apart from obesity it is unusual to classify a medical condition with the term morbid. We could say morbid diabetes or morbid anxiety or morbid rheumatoid arthritis but we don’t.

What is troubling about the term morbid is that it is not just interchangeable with severe. If you look up the word morbid in a medical dictionary you typically get the following (or a variation on the following) definitions:

. Pertaining to, affected with, or inducing disease; diseased.

. Unhealthy or unwholesome.

. Preoccupation with gloomy or unwholesome feelings or thoughts.

I thought about my children born at 26 weeks who fall in the category of extreme prematurity. I understand that extreme prematurity is associated with much morbidity, serious issues with the lungs, infection, gastrointestinal tract and brain for starters, but how might I feel if instead of extremely premature my children were described as morbidly premature? I don’t think I would like it.

Multiple impacts

In addition to the negative impact of essentially being described as unwholesome or gloomy, what is the impact on medical professionals of entering the term repeatedly in a computer? Could this affect the way doctors, nurses and everyone else in medicine think about our patients who have a BMI over 40? Are we being subtly, or perhaps not so subtly, influenced with each click on the word morbid? Gay alludes to this and now I can’t stop thinking about it. How could it not have an impact? It is the worst kind of subliminal messaging.

The term morbid doesn’t help us out medically when it comes to weight. As a doctor I know what a BMI of 16, 26, 36 and 46 all mean health-wise. I know which one is associated with osteoporosis and which is associated with diabetes. If I don’t then I don’t need an adjective – I need to go back to medical school. I can diagnose, discuss, manage and bill for endometriosis, diabetes and kidney disease just fine without using the term morbid, so why do I need it for obesity?

It is true that patients often ask if their condition is worrisome or serious, but if we can manage with mild, moderate and severe stages of disease (typically one through four) with essentially every other medical condition from prematurity to cancer, then I am quite confident we do not need any special word for obesity.

It’s time to erase the term morbid obesity from our medical lexicon and probably just do away with the term morbid in medicine altogether.

Dr. Jen Gunter is a Marin resident and an ob/gyn in San Francisco. Her column appears every fourth week.

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Posted by Patrick May

Three years after being declared brain dead following an ill-fated throat surgery at Children’s Hospital in Oakland and subsequently kept on life support, Jahi McMath continues to occupy a central role in the legal and philosophical debate over when a family should remove a loved one from life support.

In the latest twist to the drama, a well-known neurologist has reviewed videos of McMath and says they prove she’s still alive after all, even if her brain is not functioning as it should. McMath’s family quietly moved her from the Oakland hospital in 2014, insisting that the diagnosis of being brain dead did not necessarily mean the girl was actually deceased, and she’s remained connected to a ventilator in an undisclosed location in New Jersey ever since.

As the girl’s family continues its legal battle to have her declaration of death overturned as they proceed with a lawsuit, the new finding by Dr. Alan Shewmon, a professor emeritus of pediatrics and neurology at UCLA, could help bolster the McMath family’s case. Shewmon, who is a longtime critic of the standards used to determine when someone is brain dead, reached his decision after studying 49 videos of the girl recorded by her relatives from March 2014 to April 2016. In a court document filed June 29 in Alameda County Superior Court, Shewmon declares that the videos show McMath is actually alive and that her condition is even improving with time.

“The video recordings, as crude and unsystematic as they are,” he wrote, “represent the only way at present to decide whether Jahi is permanently comatose or in a minimally conscious state with intermittent responsiveness.”

The documents say that McMath seems to move her extremities when nudged by simple commands. And while the girl remains irrevocably and severely neurologically disabled after the surgery, Shewmon says she is not brain dead.

“Jahi’s subsequent course defied all predictions of what must happen to dead bodies maintained indefinitely on ventilators,” Shewmon said in his reported filed in the court case.  “Jahi McMath is a living, severely disabled young lady, who currently fulfills neither the standard diagnostic guidelines for brain death nor California’s statutory definition of death.”

Shewmon says that the videos were reviewed by forensic experts who found no evidence of post-recording alternations. Some of the girl’s movements in response to commands lasted as long as 10 seconds, he wrote, especially when her heartbeat was above 80. He notes that in some of the videos the girl responds accordingly when the mother asks her to move, say, her right arm and the “move it harder.” At one point, the mom asks her which is the ”bad finger,” or the ”f-you finger,” and the girl raises her middle finger.

“There is a very strong correspondence between between the body part requested,” he wrote, “and the next body part that moves. This cannot reasonably be explained by chance.”

McMath’s tragedy has become another in a series of dramatic and controversial cases here and abroad that illustrate the fierce bioethical debate raging around the very definition of death by the medical community and how family members choose to deal with such a finding. In McMath’s case, her parents considered the ventilator as life support, while her doctors viewed the measure to be a futile treatment of a deceased person.

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Posted by Beth Mole

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Xinhua News Agency)

Earlier this year, doctors reported the case of three women who went blind after having stem cells derived from their own fat injected directly into their eyeballs—a procedure for which they each paid $5,000. Piecing together how those women came to pay for such a treatment, the doctors noted that at least one of the patients was lured by a trial listing on ClinicalTrials.gov—a site run by the National Institutes of Health to register clinical trials. Though none of the women was ever enrolled in the trial—which never took place and has since been withdrawn—it was enough to make the treatment seem like part of legitimate, regulated clinical research.

But it wasn’t. And, according to a new analysis in the journal Regenerative Medicine, it’s not the only case of dubious and potentially harmful stem cell therapies lurking on the respected NIH site.

At least 18 ostensible trials listed on the site offer similar stem cell treatments that participants must pay to receive—unlike most trials, which compensate rather than charge participants for experimental treatments. These trials, sponsored by seven companies total, claim to be developing therapies for a wide range of conditions, like erectile dysfunction, type II diabetes, vision problems, Parkinson’s disease, premature ovarian failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, these trials are largely not backed by preliminary research. None of them has Food and Drug Administration approval—even though the agency has published a draft guidance that suggests these treatments are subject to FDA regulation. And some of the studies are only granted ethical approval by review boards with apparent conflicts of interest and histories of reprimands from medical boards and the FDA.

Read 31 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The problem with ‘morbid obesity’

Jul. 24th, 2017 05:53 pm
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Posted by Jen Gunter, Marin IJ correspondent

In her new memoir, “Hunger,” Roxane Gay writes about what it is like to live as a large woman in a world that is not only not accepting of differences in size but is often very cruel about it. Gay’s words are insightful and heartbreaking and raw, and spoke to me on many levels.

I have struggled most of my life with binge eating disorder, a curse cast differently than Gay’s, but it has controlled me in ways I am still understanding. So to read someone so honest in such a public way about her own path, experiences and body has given me strength to look more at my own longterm struggle with food and body image.

“Hunger” also touched me as a physician. In particular the way Gay writes about the term “morbid obesity” and how it feels to have the word morbid used to describe her body. How it feels to have that word entered into her medical record. I have not been able to stop thinking about that passage.

In medicine morbidity is used to describe serious negative consequences or complications. For example, if I describe the risks of a surgical procedure I will talk with my patient about the risk of mortality (dying) from the procedure and then I will discuss the potential morbidity, meaning complications such as infection, pain and blood loss. Morbidity is also used medically as an adjective to further describe obesity. Specifically, morbid obesity means 100 pounds over the ideal body weight, a BMI of 40 (a BMI of 19 to 24 is considered ideal health-wise), or a BMI of 35 in an individual who is also experiencing obesity-related health complications such as high blood pressure or diabetes. In this situation it is interchangeable with the term “severe obesity.”

Helpful qualifiers

It is true that it is helpful in medicine to have qualifiers, and so we often describe medical conditions as mild, moderate or severe. For example, with prematurity we use mild, moderate, very and extreme to describe how premature the delivery. This helps us group patients appropriately for study, can help with communication with patients and other providers, and it is useful for billing purposes as severe conditions obviously have more potential for complications and so it may take more time and resources to manage. However, apart from obesity it is unusual to classify a medical condition with the term morbid. We could say morbid diabetes or morbid anxiety or morbid rheumatoid arthritis but we don’t.

What is troubling about the term morbid is that it is not just interchangeable with severe. If you look up the word morbid in a medical dictionary you typically get the following (or a variation on the following) definitions:

. Pertaining to, affected with, or inducing disease; diseased.

. Unhealthy or unwholesome.

. Preoccupation with gloomy or unwholesome feelings or thoughts.

I thought about my children born at 26 weeks who fall in the category of extreme prematurity. I understand that extreme prematurity is associated with much morbidity, serious issues with the lungs, infection, gastrointestinal tract and brain for starters, but how might I feel if instead of extremely premature my children were described as morbidly premature? I don’t think I would like it.

Multiple impacts

In addition to the negative impact of essentially being described as unwholesome or gloomy, what is the impact on medical professionals of entering the term repeatedly in a computer? Could this affect the way doctors, nurses and everyone else in medicine think about our patients who have a BMI over 40? Are we being subtly, or perhaps not so subtly, influenced with each click on the word morbid? Gay alludes to this and now I can’t stop thinking about it. How could it not have an impact? It is the worst kind of subliminal messaging.

The term morbid doesn’t help us out medically when it comes to weight. As a doctor I know what a BMI of 16, 26, 36 and 46 all mean health-wise. I know which one is associated with osteoporosis and which is associated with diabetes. If I don’t then I don’t need an adjective – I need to go back to medical school. I can diagnose, discuss, manage and bill for endometriosis, diabetes and kidney disease just fine without using the term morbid, so why do I need it for obesity?

It is true that patients often ask if their condition is worrisome or serious, but if we can manage with mild, moderate and severe stages of disease (typically one through four) with essentially every other medical condition from prematurity to cancer, then I am quite confident we do not need any special word for obesity.

It’s time to erase the term morbid obesity from our medical lexicon and probably just do away with the term morbid in medicine altogether.

Dr. Jen Gunter is a Marin resident and an ob/gyn in San Francisco. Her column appears every fourth week.

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Posted by Anna Gorman, California Healthline

Michael Koumjian, a heart surgeon for nearly three decades, said he considered treating the sickest patients a badge of honor. The San Diego doctor was frequently called upon to operate on those who had multiple illnesses or who’d undergone CPR before arriving at the hospital.

Recently, however, Koumjian received some unwelcome recognition: He was identified in a public database of California heart surgeons as one of seven with a higher-than-average death rate for patients who underwent a common bypass procedure.

“If you are willing to give people a shot and their only chance is surgery, then you are going to have more deaths and be criticized,” said Koumjian, whose risk-adjusted death rate was 7.5 per 100 surgeries in 2014-15. “The surgeons that worry about their stats just don’t take those cases.”

Now, Koumjian said he is reconsidering taking such complicated cases because he can’t afford to continue being labeled a “bad surgeon.”

California is one of a handful of states – including New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey – that publicly reports surgeons’ names and risk-adjusted death rates on a procedure known as the “isolated coronary artery bypass graft.” The practice is controversial: Proponents argue transparency improves quality and informs consumers. Critics say it deters surgeons from accepting complex cases and can unfairly tarnish doctors’ records.

“This is a hotly debated issue,” said Ralph Brindis, a cardiologist and professor at UC-San Francisco who chairs the advisory panel for the state report. “But to me, the pros of public reporting outweigh the negatives. I think consumers deserve to have a right to that information.”

Prompted by a state law, the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development began issuing the reports in 2003 and produces them every two years. Outcomes from the bypass procedure had long been used as one of several measures of hospital quality. But that marked the first time physician names were attached – and the bypass is still the only procedure for which such physician-specific reports are released publicly in California.

California’s law was sponsored by consumer advocates, who argued that publicly listing the names of outlier surgeons in New York had appeared to bring about a significant drop in death rates from the bypass procedure. State officials say it has worked here as well: The rate declined from 2.91 to 1.97 deaths per 100 surgeries from 2003 to 2014.

“Providing the results back to the surgeons, facilities and the public overall results in higher quality performance for everybody,” said Holly Hoegh, manager of the clinical data unit at the state’s health planning and development office.

Since the state began issuing the reports, the number of surgeons with significantly higher death rates than the state average has ranged from six to 12, and none has made the list twice. The most recent report, released in May, is based on surgeries performed in 2013 and 2014.

In this year’s report, the seven surgeons with above-average death rates – out of 271 surgeons listed – include several veterans in the field. Among them were Daniel Pellegrini, chief of inpatient quality at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco and John M. Robertson, director of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. Most defended their records, arguing that some of the deaths shouldn’t have been counted or that the death rates didn’t represent the totality of their careers. (Kaiser Health News, which produces California Healthline, is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

“For the lion’s share of my career, my numbers were good and I’m very proud of them,” said Pellegrini. “I don’t think this is reflective of my work overall. I do think that’s reflective that I was willing to take on tough cases.”

During the two years covered in the report, Pellegrini performed 69 surgeries and four patients died. That brought his risk-adjusted rate to 11.48 deaths per 100, above the state average of 2.13 per 100 in that period.

Pellegrini said he supports public reporting, but he argues the calculations don’t fully take the varying complexity of the cases into account and that a couple of bad outcomes can skew the rates.

Robertson said in a written statement that he had three very “complex and challenging” cases involving patients who came to the hospital with “extraordinary complications and additional unrelated conditions.” They were among five deaths out of 71 patients during the reporting period, giving him an adjusted rate of 9.75 per 100 surgeries.

“While I appreciate independent oversight, it’s important for consumers to realize that two years of data do not illustrate overall results,” Robertson said. “Every single patient is different.”

The rates are calculated based on a nationally recognized method that includes deaths occurring during hospitalization, regardless of how long the stay, or anytime within 30 days after the surgery, regardless of the venue. All licensed hospitals must report the data to the state.

State officials said that providing surgeons’ names can help consumers make choices about who they want to operate on them, assuming it’s not an emergency.

“It is important for patients to be involved in their own health care, and we are trying to work more and more on getting this information in an easy-to-use format for the man on the street,” said Hoegh, of the state’s health planning and development office.

No minimum number of surgeries is needed to calculate a rate, but the results must be statistically significant and are risk-adjusted to account for varying levels of illness or frailty among patients, Hoegh said.

She acknowledged that “a risk model can never capture all the risk” and said her office is always trying to improve its approach.

Surgeons sometimes file appeals – arguing, for example, that the risk was improperly calculated or that the death was unrelated to the surgery. The appeals can result in adjustments to a rate, Hoegh said.

Despite the controversy it generates, the public reporting is supported by the California Society of Thoracic Surgeons, the professional association representing the surgeons. No one wants to be on the list, but “transparency is always a good thing,” said Junaid Khan, president of the society and director of cardiovascular surgery at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in the Bay Area.

“The purpose of the list is not to be punitive,” said Khan. “It’s not to embarrass anybody. It is to help improve quality.”

Khan added that he believes outcomes of other heart procedures, such as angioplasty, should also be publicly reported.

Consumers Union, which sponsored the bill that led to the cardiac surgeon reports, supports expanding doctor-specific reporting to include a variety of other procedures – for example, birth outcomes, which could be valuable for expectant parents as they look for a doctor.

“Consumers are really hungry for physician-specific information,” said Betsy Imholz, the advocacy group’s special projects director. And, she added, “care that people receive actually improves once the data is made public.”

But efforts to expand reporting by name are likely to hit opposition. Officials in Massachusetts, who had been reporting bypass outcomes for individual doctors, stopped doing it in 2013. Surgeons supported reporting to improve outcomes but were concerned about doctors being singled out for worse rates when they were just taking on difficult cases, said Daniel Engelman, president of the Massachusetts Society of Thoracic Surgeons.

“Cardiac surgeons said, ‘Enough is enough. We can’t risk being in the papers as outliers,'” Engelman said.

Engelman said the surgeons cited research from New York showing that public reporting may have led surgeons to turn away high-risk patients. Hoegh said research has not uncovered any such evidence in California.

In addition to Koumjian, Robertson and Pellegrini, the physicians in California with higher-than-average rates were Philip Faraci, Eli R. Capouya, Alexander R. Marmureanu, Yousef M. Odeh. Capouya declined to comment.

Faraci, 75, said his rate (8.34 per 100) was based on four deaths out of 33 surgeries, not enough to calculate death rates, he said. Faraci, who is semi-retired, said he wasn’t too worried about the rating, though. “I have been in practice for over 30 years and I have never been published as a below-average surgeon before,” he said.

Odeh, 45, performed 10 surgeries and had two deaths while at Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital in Whittier, resulting in a mortality rate of 26.17 per 100. “It was my first job out of residency, and I didn’t have much guidance,” Odeh said. “That’s a recipe for disaster.

Odeh said those two years don’t reflect his skills as a surgeon, adding that he has done hundreds of surgeries since then without incident.

Marmureanu, who operates at several Los Angeles-area hospitals, had a mortality rate of 18.04 based on three deaths among 22 cases. “I do the most complicated cases in town,” he said, adding that one of the patients died later after being hit by a car.

“Hospital patients don’t care” about the report. he said. “Nobody pays attention to this data other than journalists.”

This report was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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Posted by Mark Eades

Build-A-Bear Workshop, Chapel Hats and Ridemakerz will soon close in Downtown Disney at the Disneyland Resort.

The three neighboring shops are closing to make room for more dining facilities in the area, according to a Disneyland Resort spokesperson.

The shops are popular, and not being closed due to poor performance issues, officials said.

Chapel Hats, a shop in Downtown Disney, will be closing by the end of September. The shop opened in 2016 in the space formerly occupied by the Little MissMatched shop. The shop will be replace by additional dining facilities at the Disneyland Resort. (File photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Chapel Hats, a shop in Downtown Disney, will be closing by the end of September. The shop opened in 2016 in the space formerly occupied by the Little MissMatched shop. The shop will be replace by additional dining facilities at the Disneyland Resort. (File photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG) 

A Disney official said there currently is no space to relocate the shops, but if a situation arose showing where they could be put, it would be evaluated.

The shops are:

Build-A-Bear allows kids and parents to create their own Teddy Bear from nearly 30 options, plus add-ons such as clothing and more. After creating the Teddy Bear, it is stuffed in the facility and packaged up for taking home. There are many other Build-A-Bear stores located in the U.S. and other countries.

Chapel Hats has only been open for a little more than a year. It opened in the space formerly occupied by the Little Miss-Matched shop. It has 15 other shops including some at Walt Disney World.

Ridemakerz allows shoppers to fully customize and create their own toy car or truck, complete with battery-powered remote-controlled motor. There are two other Ridemakerz shops, one in Branson Missouri, and the other in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, according to the store’s website.

Ridemakerz, a shop that offers kids of all ages the chance to build their own remote controlled car, along with other racing themed merchandise at Downtown Disney, will be closing by the end of September to make room for additional dining facilities at the Disneyland Resort. (File photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Ridemakerz, a shop that offers kids of all ages the chance to build their own remote controlled car, along with other racing themed merchandise at Downtown Disney, will be closing by the end of September to make room for additional dining facilities at the Disneyland Resort. (File photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG) 
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Michael Phelps has raced against the world's fastest swimmers and come out on top – but how would he fare against the ocean's greatest predator?
The Olympic swimming legend ticked off his "bucket list" moment by going head to head with a great white shark in a long-hyped event to kick off the Discovery Channel's Shark Week. Dubbed the 'Great Gold vs Great White', the 100m race took place in shark-infested open water off the coast of South Africa. But while fans may have been hoping to witness the pair actually race head to head, the TV producers instead took the safe option and digitally superimposed a shark to race alongside him. Despite adapting his swim to that of his competitor, it wasn't quite enough to score a victory. Watch!




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Posted by Stubby the Rocket

Skybound Entertainment logo Skybound Books

Simon & Schuster’s Atria division is launching a new imprint: Skybound Books, a partnership between Atria and multi-platform entertainment company Skybound Entertainment, best known for the TV adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. Skybound Books will focus on science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories.

Skybound will publish four to six titles a year, including original fiction and nonfiction as well as projects based on existing Skybound Entertainment properties. The company, founded in 2010 by Kirkman and producer David Alpert, has developed projects in the television, comics, gaming, digital media, and virtual reality spheres.

Michael Braff, formerly at Del Rey, has joined the imprint as senior editor, reporting to Skybound Entertainment senior vice president and editor-in-chief Sean Mackiewicz. Atria’s VP and EIC Peter Borland and senior editor Jhanteigh Kupihea will serve as editorial liaisons. Judith Curr, president and publisher of Atria, described the partnership as “an opportunity to build a publishing home within Atria for writers with bold, new voices and creative visions.”

“We are on a relentless search to find different ways to tell the stories from some of the most creative minds out there,” said Kirkman, who serves as chairman of Skybound Entertainment, “and Skybound Books imprint is a very important component of that endeavor.”

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Posted by Alex Brown

Ray Electromatic, the robot hitman, is back in the latest entry in Adam Christopher’s pulpy murder mystery series, Killing Is My Business. It’s been a while now since Ada, his former secretary now boss who also happens to be a room-sized super computer, reprogrammed Ray from a run-of-the-mill metallic detective to a murderer for hire. Business is booming and the cash is piling up. Ray is eerily good at what he does.

Ada sends Ray on a cryptic stakeout, which leads to an even more cryptic hit and a series of increasingly convoluted and seemingly counterproductive cons, schemes, and shenanigans. The less Ada reveals, the more Ray suspects something’s up, and the deeper he’s pulled into the tangled web of the Italian mafia, Hollywood high rollers, and conspiracy coverups.

Killing Is My Business is the second full-length novel, and fourth entry in the series (there’s a short story prequel—available to read at Tor.com—and a novella between this and Made to Kill). Now’s an especially good time to at least check out the free prequel, since some of the overarching thematic elements there are mirrored in Killing Is My Business. You don’t absolutely have to have read any of the previous stories in order read the newest, although I highly recommend it. The whole kit and kaboodle is a ton of fun to read.

The story is set in a version of 1960s Los Angeles where robots were once all over the place but when the tide of public opinion turned against them, all but Ray were destroyed. Everyday Ada gives him a new case to work and a new person to off, and every night he comes back, takes out his 24-hour tape, and gets a fresh restart so that every morning he starts brand new with nothing but his template and Ada’s guidance to keep him company. Having a short term memory has its problems, though, and those problems are starting to compound.

Christopher channels more than just Raymond Chandler’s name. The Ray Electromatic Mysteries are alternate history mashed with mid-century B-movie science fiction and pulp fiction sensibilities, all tied together with a line of dark humor. With his fedora, overcoat, and shiny PI badge, Ray is a electronic Philip Marlowe. Christopher has a knack for atmospheric description and scintillating dialogue, and he’s rarely more fun than when he puts those skills to pulpy use. If Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett decided to take a crack at robot science fiction, they’d end up with something close to the Ray Electromatic Mysteries. Killing Is My Business is probably the least noir-ish of the robot noir series—it’s light on the hardboiled detective and heavy on conspiracies, secrets, and lies—but it’s no less entertaining.

Despite being a walking, talking computer, Ray is easy to get attached to. There’s just enough curiosity from his detective programming and remnants of his creator in him (his personality is based off a template copied from the dearly departed professor) to give him some spark. Raymondo may be a bunch of ones and zeroes, but he still has feelings and wants, albeit artificial ones. He’s a tin man with a heart. Ada is a lot more complex, but it’s hard to fault her when she’s simply doing what she was created to do—make money, that is—even when her prerogative gets people killed. If the series is headed where I think it’s headed, the confrontation between headstrong Ray and ruthless Ada will be striking.

As for the humans, they’re all pretty par for the course for a pulp detective novel. Mobsters, femme fatales, and hapless nobodies abound, but they all get just enough shading to be interesting on their own. The only thing this series lacks is diversity. Other than Ada, there’s only one woman, and the racial/ethnic diversity is equally as limited.

It’s hard to talk plot without getting into spoilers, but here’s the short and sweet. Ada takes a new case, one where Ray is hired to bump off an old Sicilian gangster but not before he’s befriended him and done some snooping around. Ray keeps getting new jobs to take out Hollywood elites, and they keep turning up dead before he can pull the trigger. The farther down the rabbit hole he goes, the more he uncovers, and the more men end up six feet under. No one is who they say they are, not even Ray. It’s a story full of twists and turns and backtracks and reveals, but it’s not really all that complicated, not when you get into it.

Alright, so there’s one more little thing I have to mention. In the 1946 film version of Chandler’s The Big Sleep, there’s this major plot hole where a chauffeur is killed and his car is dumped in the water, but we never learn who the killer is. When director Howard Hawkes asked Chandler about it, Chandler apparently replied “Damned if I know.” There’s a moment like that in Killing Is My Business where a character dies under suspicious circumstances but no one ever figures out whodunit. Intentional or not, I choose to believe it’s an homage to Chandler. Either way, it adds a little wrinkle to a larger mystery.

You need some weird, wonky fun on your bookshelf, and the Ray Electromatic Mysteries are just the thing. How can you say no to a Raymond Chandler-esque murder mystery books with a robot hitman protagonist? Just trust me on this.

Killing Is My Business is available from Tor Books.

Alex Brown is a teen librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

RIP, Microsoft Paint

Jul. 24th, 2017 05:30 pm
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Posted by Nick Douglas

MS Paint, the first app you used for editing images, will probably be killed off in future updates of Windows 10, replaced by the new app Paint 3D. Microsoft lists the 32-year-old app under “deprecated features” in Windows 10’s next autumn update, a little X marking the end of an era.

Read more...

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Posted by Anna Gorman, California Healthline

Michael Koumjian, a heart surgeon for nearly three decades, said he considered treating the sickest patients a badge of honor. The San Diego doctor was frequently called upon to operate on those who had multiple illnesses or who’d undergone CPR before arriving at the hospital.

Recently, however, Koumjian received some unwelcome recognition: He was identified in a public database of California heart surgeons as one of seven with a higher-than-average death rate for patients who underwent a common bypass procedure.

“If you are willing to give people a shot and their only chance is surgery, then you are going to have more deaths and be criticized,” said Koumjian, whose risk-adjusted death rate was 7.5 per 100 surgeries in 2014-15. “The surgeons that worry about their stats just don’t take those cases.”

Now, Koumjian said he is reconsidering taking such complicated cases because he can’t afford to continue being labeled a “bad surgeon.”

California is one of a handful of states – including New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey – that publicly reports surgeons’ names and risk-adjusted death rates on a procedure known as the “isolated coronary artery bypass graft.” The practice is controversial: Proponents argue transparency improves quality and informs consumers. Critics say it deters surgeons from accepting complex cases and can unfairly tarnish doctors’ records.

“This is a hotly debated issue,” said Ralph Brindis, a cardiologist and professor at UC-San Francisco who chairs the advisory panel for the state report. “But to me, the pros of public reporting outweigh the negatives. I think consumers deserve to have a right to that information.”

Prompted by a state law, the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development began issuing the reports in 2003 and produces them every two years. Outcomes from the bypass procedure had long been used as one of several measures of hospital quality. But that marked the first time physician names were attached – and the bypass is still the only procedure for which such physician-specific reports are released publicly in California.

California’s law was sponsored by consumer advocates, who argued that publicly listing the names of outlier surgeons in New York had appeared to bring about a significant drop in death rates from the bypass procedure. State officials say it has worked here as well: The rate declined from 2.91 to 1.97 deaths per 100 surgeries from 2003 to 2014.

“Providing the results back to the surgeons, facilities and the public overall results in higher quality performance for everybody,” said Holly Hoegh, manager of the clinical data unit at the state’s health planning and development office.

Since the state began issuing the reports, the number of surgeons with significantly higher death rates than the state average has ranged from six to 12, and none has made the list twice. The most recent report, released in May, is based on surgeries performed in 2013 and 2014.

In this year’s report, the seven surgeons with above-average death rates – out of 271 surgeons listed – include several veterans in the field. Among them were Daniel Pellegrini, chief of inpatient quality at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco and John M. Robertson, director of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. Most defended their records, arguing that some of the deaths shouldn’t have been counted or that the death rates didn’t represent the totality of their careers. (Kaiser Health News, which produces California Healthline, is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

“For the lion’s share of my career, my numbers were good and I’m very proud of them,” said Pellegrini. “I don’t think this is reflective of my work overall. I do think that’s reflective that I was willing to take on tough cases.”

During the two years covered in the report, Pellegrini performed 69 surgeries and four patients died. That brought his risk-adjusted rate to 11.48 deaths per 100, above the state average of 2.13 per 100 in that period.

Pellegrini said he supports public reporting, but he argues the calculations don’t fully take the varying complexity of the cases into account and that a couple of bad outcomes can skew the rates.

Robertson said in a written statement that he had three very “complex and challenging” cases involving patients who came to the hospital with “extraordinary complications and additional unrelated conditions.” They were among five deaths out of 71 patients during the reporting period, giving him an adjusted rate of 9.75 per 100 surgeries.

“While I appreciate independent oversight, it’s important for consumers to realize that two years of data do not illustrate overall results,” Robertson said. “Every single patient is different.”

The rates are calculated based on a nationally recognized method that includes deaths occurring during hospitalization, regardless of how long the stay, or anytime within 30 days after the surgery, regardless of the venue. All licensed hospitals must report the data to the state.

State officials said that providing surgeons’ names can help consumers make choices about who they want to operate on them, assuming it’s not an emergency.

“It is important for patients to be involved in their own health care, and we are trying to work more and more on getting this information in an easy-to-use format for the man on the street,” said Hoegh, of the state’s health planning and development office.

No minimum number of surgeries is needed to calculate a rate, but the results must be statistically significant and are risk-adjusted to account for varying levels of illness or frailty among patients, Hoegh said.

She acknowledged that “a risk model can never capture all the risk” and said her office is always trying to improve its approach.

Surgeons sometimes file appeals – arguing, for example, that the risk was improperly calculated or that the death was unrelated to the surgery. The appeals can result in adjustments to a rate, Hoegh said.

Despite the controversy it generates, the public reporting is supported by the California Society of Thoracic Surgeons, the professional association representing the surgeons. No one wants to be on the list, but “transparency is always a good thing,” said Junaid Khan, president of the society and director of cardiovascular surgery at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in the Bay Area.

“The purpose of the list is not to be punitive,” said Khan. “It’s not to embarrass anybody. It is to help improve quality.”

Khan added that he believes outcomes of other heart procedures, such as angioplasty, should also be publicly reported.

Consumers Union, which sponsored the bill that led to the cardiac surgeon reports, supports expanding doctor-specific reporting to include a variety of other procedures – for example, birth outcomes, which could be valuable for expectant parents as they look for a doctor.

“Consumers are really hungry for physician-specific information,” said Betsy Imholz, the advocacy group’s special projects director. And, she added, “care that people receive actually improves once the data is made public.”

But efforts to expand reporting by name are likely to hit opposition. Officials in Massachusetts, who had been reporting bypass outcomes for individual doctors, stopped doing it in 2013. Surgeons supported reporting to improve outcomes but were concerned about doctors being singled out for worse rates when they were just taking on difficult cases, said Daniel Engelman, president of the Massachusetts Society of Thoracic Surgeons.

“Cardiac surgeons said, ‘Enough is enough. We can’t risk being in the papers as outliers,'” Engelman said.

Engelman said the surgeons cited research from New York showing that public reporting may have led surgeons to turn away high-risk patients. Hoegh said research has not uncovered any such evidence in California.

In addition to Koumjian, Robertson and Pellegrini, the physicians in California with higher-than-average rates were Philip Faraci, Eli R. Capouya, Alexander R. Marmureanu, Yousef M. Odeh. Capouya declined to comment.

Faraci, 75, said his rate (8.34 per 100) was based on four deaths out of 33 surgeries, not enough to calculate death rates, he said. Faraci, who is semi-retired, said he wasn’t too worried about the rating, though. “I have been in practice for over 30 years and I have never been published as a below-average surgeon before,” he said.

Odeh, 45, performed 10 surgeries and had two deaths while at Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital in Whittier, resulting in a mortality rate of 26.17 per 100. “It was my first job out of residency, and I didn’t have much guidance,” Odeh said. “That’s a recipe for disaster.

Odeh said those two years don’t reflect his skills as a surgeon, adding that he has done hundreds of surgeries since then without incident.

Marmureanu, who operates at several Los Angeles-area hospitals, had a mortality rate of 18.04 based on three deaths among 22 cases. “I do the most complicated cases in town,” he said, adding that one of the patients died later after being hit by a car.

“Hospital patients don’t care” about the report. he said. “Nobody pays attention to this data other than journalists.”

This report was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

[syndicated profile] sjmerc_local_feed

Posted by Mary Orlin

When it comes to the best food and wine pairings in Livermore Valley, the people have spoken. Five wineries and restaurants took top honors at the annual Taste Our Terroir competition, kicking off a weekend celebration of wine, food and educational events across the winemaking region.

Winemakers at 20 wineries worked with a local restaurant or catering company chef over several months to create a culinary and vinous match made in heaven. Then, on July 20 at Livermore’s Casa Real Event Center, foodies and wine lovers sipped and savored their way through the tasty entries, ranging from chardonnay and shrimp and scallop ceviche to grenache matched with steamed beef short rib dumplings. They voted — via iPads — for their favorite white and red pairings.

Behind the scenes, three wine and food professionals — Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, food and wine writer Carolyn Jung and wine journalist Ian White — sampled all the offerings to come up with the judges’ choice awards. Votes were tallied on the spot, and the tasty results were announced to rousing cheers. Winners received a cutting board plaque, and, most importantly, bragging rights.

People’s Choice awards:

Best White Wine Pairing: Occasio Winery and Forno Vecchio

Wine: 2015 Chardonnay, Livermore Valley

Food: Seared scallops with candied bacon and cauliflower puree garnished with spicy citrus micro greens

Best Red Wine Pairing: Wood Family Vineyards and First Street Alehouse

Wine: 2014 El Loco Rojo Bordeaux-style blend

Food: Char siu taco with marinated pork wrapped in a tortilla and topped with honey sriracha aioli and cilantro

Judges’ Awards:

Best Classic Pairing: Nottingham Cellars and Sauced BBQ and Spirits

Wine: 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley

Food: Smoked brisket French dip layered with horseradish cream and chipotle blackberry sauce atop a baguette

Most Innovative Pairing: Longevity Wines and BackDoor Bistro

Wine: 2016 Vintner’s Select Pinot Grigio

Food: Seared pork belly with local stone fruit pico de gallo and green goddess sauce

Judges’ Best Pairing: Dante Robere Vineyards and Sabio on Main

Wine: 2014 Element 116 Bordeaux Blend

Food: Duck confit taco in a duck fat tortilla with plum and mint pico de gallo

For more information on Taste Our Terroir visit www.lvwine.org

[syndicated profile] csmonitor_main_feed

Many of the asylum seekers in Germany are university students looking to continue their studies. Various organizations are trying to help them navigate the country's particular challenges, including a big one: German.

[syndicated profile] csmonitor_main_feed

Young workers are becoming barbers, bookbinders, furniture-makers and jewelers. In the process, they are elevating what, historically, were lowly manual labor jobs into sought-after career paths with cultural cachet.

The bounty that heads off famine

Jul. 24th, 2017 05:32 pm
[syndicated profile] csmonitor_main_feed

East African countries battling hunger, the focus of a Monitor series this week, are learning that resilience lies in treating the poor as leaders, not victims, in defining their own solutions.

[syndicated profile] calculatedrisk_feed

Posted by Bill McBride

Earlier: NAR: "Existing-Home Sales Retreat 1.8 Percent in June"

Inventory is still very low and falling year-over-year (down 7.1% year-over-year in June). Inventory has declined year-over-year for 25 consecutive months, although the pace of decline has slowed over the two months.

I started the year expecting inventory would be increasing year-over-year by the end of 2017. That now seems unlikely, but still possible. In April, inventory was down 9.4% year-over-year, and in May, inventory was down 7.9% - and in June, down 7.1%. If that trend continues, inventory might be close to unchanged (or just down slightly) year-over-year by December.

Inventory is a key metric to watch.  More inventory would probably mean smaller price increases, and less inventory somewhat larger price increases.

The following graph shows existing home sales Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA).

Existing Home Sales NSAClick on graph for larger image.

Sales NSA in June (red column) were above  June2016. (NSA) - and the highest for June since 2006.

Note that sales NSA are now in the seasonally strong period (March through September).
[syndicated profile] arstechnica_ip_feed

Posted by Sean Gallagher

Enlarge / Robo-cranes load cargo onto the robo-boat Yara Birkeland in this rendering of the drone ship, under construction in Norway. (credit: Konsberg Gruppen)

SpaceX's drone landing ships have already proven that uncrewed vessels can handle some of the most dangerous jobs at sea. Now, two Norwegian companies are poised to put robo-boats into one of the most dull: hauling cargo down the fjord.

Two Norwegian companies are teaming together to construct a short-range, all-electric coastal container ship that will eventually operate autonomously—eliminating up to 40,000 diesel truck trips per year. The ship, the Yara Birkeland, will begin operations in 2018 with a crew, but it's expected to operate largely autonomously (and crewless) by 2020 (regulatory clearance permitting, of course).

The $25 million Birkeland—described by some shipping executives as the "Tesla of the Seas"— is being jointly developed by the fertilizer company Yara and the maritime and defense technology firm Kongsberg Gruppen. The ship will initially be crewed from an on-board control center within a cargo container. Eventually, the container will be moved ashore, and the ship will be remotely operated. It will navigate autonomously by utilizing GPS and avoid collisions using a combination of sensors.

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[syndicated profile] arstechnica_ip_feed

Posted by Cyrus Farivar

Enlarge / Kim Dotcom, founder of the Internet Party and founder of Megaupload Ltd., speaks during a 2014 news conference. (credit: Brendon O'Hagan/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

According to the New Zealand Herald, a New Zealand High Court judge revealed on Friday that the country’s signals intelligence agency, known as the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) illegally spied on Kim Dotcom for two months longer than previously admitted.

Then-Prime Minister John Key apologized to the Megaupload founder back in 2012 for the operation. Under the law at the time, permanent residents like Dotcom were not to be subjected to surveillance by the country’s foreign-looking agency. If the revelation is borne out, it would mean that GCSB continued to spy on Dotcom even after the agency was made aware that the surveillance was illegal. Prime Minister Bill English has not responded to media requests for comment.

Shortly after NZ media reported the court's judgement, Dotcom tweeted:

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[syndicated profile] arstechnica_ip_feed

Posted by Jon Brodkin

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Alex Wong)

Senate and House Democratic leaders today proposed new antitrust laws that could prevent many of the biggest mergers and break up monopolies in broadband and other industries.

"Right now our antitrust laws are designed to allow huge corporations to merge, padding the pockets of investors but sending costs skyrocketing for everything from cable bills and airline tickets to food and health care," US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wrote in a New York Times opinion piece. "We are going to fight to allow regulators to break up big companies if they’re hurting consumers and to make it harder for companies to merge if it reduces competition."

The "Better Deal" unveiled by Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was described in several documents that can be found in an Axios story. The plan for "cracking down on corporate monopolies" lists five industries that Democrats say are in particular need of change, specifically airlines, cable and telecom, the beer industry, food, and eyeglasses. The Democrats' plan for lowering the cost of prescription drugs is detailed in a separate document.

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Ask Us All Your Egg Questions

Jul. 24th, 2017 05:00 pm
[syndicated profile] lifehacker_feed

Posted by Claire Lower on Skillet, shared by Claire Lower to Lifehacker

Eggs are one of those foods that are easy enough to cook, but kind of hard to master. It’s the details that seem to trip people up. Scrambled eggs seem easy enough, but can you make them super fluffy? How about super custardy? Frying an egg should be a pretty straightforward task, but do you know how to get the edges…

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[syndicated profile] sjmerc_tv_feed

Posted by Daniel Mano

Stephen Curry clearly is enjoying his summer break.

The Warriors star made a cameo appearance on HBO’s Ballers, spent time trolling Klay Thompson for his failed 360-degree dunk attempt in China and joked with Jordan Spieth over the golfer’s celebration after winning the U.S. Open on Sunday.

Curry and his wife, Ayesha, showed up on Ballers talking with the show’s star, Dwayne Johnson. In a tweet teasing the episode, which aired Sunday, Curry mocked himself calling it his “acting” debut — with the quotation marks.

During the episode, Ayesha invited The Rock’s character to join them in the Bahamas — “Grab a girl,” she said — before Johnson relays that he is currently lady-less.

“Don’t play me, I saw you getting your game on at International Smoke,” Ayesha said, a reference to her restaurant that is scheduled to open in San Francisco this fall.

Curry doubled up by noting one of his brands when discussing a future meeting with Johnson’s character.

“We can even talk some business,” Steph said. “You know, my Slyce digital media company.”

Speaking of business, Curry is across the Pacific conducting a youth basketball camp. While there, he took the opportunity to mock Thompson over a failed dunk attempt in China last month.

During a presentation on court, Curry grabbed the ball and simulated a similar dunk attempt and fail.

“I had to, I had to do it,” Curry cracked after laughing about his own antics. “Hashtag China Klay.”

Curry topped off his weekend by poking fun at Spieth — whose final, victorious putt preceded his best Curry impression by celebrating exuberantly to a roaring crowd.

Curry’s advice? Cool it, Jordan.

Leave it to Curry to critique someone else’s celebration purely in jest.

[syndicated profile] apartmenttherapymain_feed

Whether you're looking for a piece to complete a space or want to offload a room full of furniture before a big move, resale sites can often be your best bet for scoring something original or reaching lots of buyers with your listings. E-marketplaces can be competitive for both sellers and shoppers, but the good news is there are more resources than ever for getting into the re-commerce game, and each has its own special twist to offer users.

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[syndicated profile] arstechnica_ip_feed

Posted by Kyle Orland

Enlarge / The error message that greeted thousands of Felmyst players after the server was shut down by a legal threat mere hours after launching Friday.

A highly anticipated private server intended to emulate the state of World of Warcraft during the decade-old "Burning Crusade" expansion was shut down by a legal demand delivered by Blizzard representation mere hours after the server launched on Friday.

The planned launch of the Felmyst server had been heavily anticipated in the "legacy server" subcommunity of WoW players who seek to emulate a "vanilla" version of the game as it existed before the current slate of expansions and updates changed how the MMO looks, plays, and feels. While other fan-run, "Burning Crusade"-era legacy servers exist, Felmyst had already earned a reputation before launch as one of the best and most complete efforts to capture that well-remembered era of the game in a playable way.

But with thousands of players reportedly logged on after that launch Friday afternoon, the Felmyst server was unceremoniously taken down after just five hours. The reason: a cease-and-desist letter from Mitchell Silberberg and Knupp LLP, representing Blizzard, asking for an immediate shutdown under numerous copyright laws. A copy of that letter can be seen in a message from Felmyst coder and creator Gummy52 (which now stands in place of the removed Felmyst webpage and forums) as well as a video Gummy52 posted this morning.

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[syndicated profile] sjmerc_tech_feed

Posted by Rex Crum

OAKLAND — Receiving a package in the mail remains a big thrill for many people, especially for kids.

And like many kids, my six- and eight-year-old daughters seem to have as much fun, if not more, with the box than with what comes inside of it. They will take a box and build cities, make pieces of art and turn sheets of cardboard into everything from animals to vehicles. Often, their creations eventually get knocked over, stepped on and destroyed, and then replaced by other works that come from their minds and hands.

The point is that creativity comes from unexpected places. And, since creativity can come from something as simple as a cardboard box, it makes sense to put something in that box that can also spark children’s imagination. For a parent, a monthly subscription that delivers such projects can be an easy way to get kids interested in science, technology or other subjects, and not just the box they came in.

The potential to encourage kids’ interest in such activities has led to a cottage industry: subscription-based delivery of projects that fall under the umbrella of STEM — an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Add an “A” for “arts” and then STEAM-based deliveries can come to your door on a monthly basis.

With kids at home on summer break from school, signing up for a monthly box of science can be an easy, economical way to keep one’s children interested in doing something other than just watching Netflix all day.

There are many STEM/STEAM-based subscription kits around. Here’s a look at three of the companies putting science-based activities in the mail.

Little Passports

Anyone who remembers the old “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?” TV series will have a sense of familiarity with Little Passports.

Little Passports Science Expedition Kit (Courtesy: Little Passports. Wehave permission to use online and across sister publications)
Little Passports Science Expedition Kit Little Passports

Like Carmen Sandiego, whom viewers were challenged to find in a new location every week, Little Passports’ kits center on two characters, Sam and Sophia, and the various adventures they go on every month. Co-founders Stella Ma and Amy Norman, who run Little Passports from Los Altos, began sending Sam and Sophia out on adventures around the world in 2009.

Since then, they have expanded Little Passports’ offerings to take the characters, and the children who receive the projects, on trips to learn about everything from U.S. states to scientific experiments involving solar power and 3-D imaging. There are also preschool-level kits for younger children.

“It’s unique because we pair the hands-on experiences with meeting a scientist in every country the children visit,” Ma said. “The scientist helps them solve a mystery question in each situation, and there is a theme to every adventure.”

Like many mail-delivery STEM kits, the prices of Little Passports kits are based on the type of kits, and the length of a subscription. For example, a 12-month subscription to the World Edition kit costs $155.40, or the equivalent of $12.95 a month. That same kit costs $13.95 a month for six months, or $14.95 if purchased on a monthly basis. Science Expedition kits start at the equivalent of $18.95 a month if bought for an entire year at once, and go up to $21.95 a month on a month-to-month payment plan.

KiwiCo

It would be easy enough to sell STEM kits one at a time, just like they were on the shelves at any hobby shop or retailer.

But, Sandra Lin, founder and chief executive of Oakland’s KiwiCo, said that a subscription model adds interest and excitement to the projects within the company’s boxes.

Hi, I am sending over the first of several photos for use in my PTech storyslated to run this Sunday, July 23. The slug is SJM-L-PTECH-0723. This is the first time I have sent photos to Media Server. Please let me know if they come over correctly. Caption: KiwiCo Tinker Crate Trebuchet kit (Courtesy: KiwiCo. We have permission to use this image to use online and across our sister publications.)
KiwiCo Tinker Crate Trebuchet Kit KiwiCo

“There’s the convenience factor,” Lin said. “We found out parents and kids liked the idea of having these experiences on a regular basis, having this range of fresh, new experiences that arrive on your doorstep. And in general, the subscription model is facilitated by the fact that people are placing a higher value on their time.”

KiwiCo, which just changed its name from Kiwi Crate, offers five different subscription box options, each of which is designed for a specific age range. Cricket Crate, for up to 2-year-olds; Koala Crate, ages 3-4; Kiwi Crate for ages 5-8; and Doodle Crate and Tinker Crate, aimed at ages 9-16. Most of KiwiCo’s subscriptions run from $16.95 a month if purchased a year at a time, to $19.95 for month-to-month shipments.

Lin said the idea for KiwiCo came from skills that she wanted to teach her children, who were 3 and 5 years old when she started KiwiCo.

“I wanted them to get exposure to hands-on activities, learn things along the way and think of themselves as makers,” Lin said. “We’ve also been fortunate where we’ve been able to develop projects that appeal to the family.”

StemBox

One of the biggest pushes in scientific studies of late has been to increase young girls’ interest in STEM subjects. For Kina McAllister, CEO and founder of Seattle-based StemBox, this meant creating kits that go beyond what she called “the feminine stereotype” of topics such as creating new types of perfume.

StemBox Rocket Kit (Courtesy: StemBox. We have permission to run thisonline and with sister publications.)
StemBox Rocket Kit StemBox

“I wanted something to feel authentic,” McAllister said. “I knew it would be good to expose girls to other types of science, give them every type of STEM topic and let them know STEM is not just a lab thing.”

McAllister said StemBox decides what to include in its kits by looking for experiments that have an “aha!” moment, such as extracting actual DNA from a strawberry, and building and launching rockets.

The inspiration for McAllister’s company came from her own experiences when she was younger and dealing with STEM kits that were marketed toward girls, she said.

“I thought of all the stuff that used to interest me in STEM,” McAllister said. “But it was frustrating. Often, kits would be missing parts, and the really involved kits were for boys. What’s most important is that we speak directly to girls, but our kits are very inclusive, too.”

StemBox’s kits have monthly themes, with July’s being astronomy. The company’s website also has video tutorials and information about women involved in STEM industries. Subscriptions range from $30 for a month-to-month plan to the equivalent of $25 a month for a year that is purchased at one time.

McAllister said her company is “small,” but it certainly got a boost when Melinda Gates listed StemBox as one of her three favorite holiday gifts in 2015.

Subscription STEM kits:

Little Passports: https://www.littlepassports.com/

KiwiCo: https://www.kiwico.com/

StemBox: https://www.mystembox.com/

[syndicated profile] lifehacker_feed

Posted by Heather Yamada-Hosley on Offspring, shared by Michelle Woo to Lifehacker

Getting time to yourself as a parent is harder than most people think. Even if you have a well-behaved kid, there’s always something they want to tell you, show you, or have you play with them. Here’s how to get some time for yourself.

Read more...

[syndicated profile] apartmenttherapymain_feed

Name: Thomas Dobrowolski and Ben Ezrick
Location: West Village, New York
Size: 400 square feet
Years lived in: 2 years, owned


When you only have 400 square feet to work with, every inch of your home has to be considered during a remodel. Not just for aesthetics, but for also for function. Which is precisely what Thomas and Ben did with their West Village home when they set about renovating the small space: There are sleek, smart, built-in storage solutions in every room of the apartment.

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[syndicated profile] arstechnica_ip_feed

Posted by Beth Mole

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Brenda Fitzgerald, the newly appointed director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will consider allowing Coca-Cola to once again help fund the agency’s anti-obesity campaigns, according to e-mailed comments reported by the New York Times over the weekend.

Though it would be a turnabout for the agency—which ditched Coke funding in 2013—Fitzgerald's position shouldn't be surprising, as she has a controversial history of accepting funding from Coca-Cola. As health commissioner of Georgia from 2011 to this year, she accepted $1 million from the soda giant to fund an exercise program aimed at cutting the state’s childhood obesity rate—one of the highest in the country.

The exercise-based campaign seemed to fit well with Coca-Cola’s interests. The company has long appeared interested in shifting anti-obesity efforts toward improving physical activity levels rather than focusing on the role of diet, particularly sugary beverages. That’s despite many studies, including those by the CDC, that have found that sugar-loaded drinks are a prominent factor in childhood obesity, as well as the development of associated health conditions such as Type II diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease. Nevertheless, in 2015, a Times investigation revealed that Coke had been secretly funding and orchestrating a network of academic nutrition researchers, which had a suspiciously keen focus on combating obesity with exercise while downplaying the role of sweetened beverages and excess calories.

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[syndicated profile] arstechnica_ip_feed

Posted by Peter Bright

Enlarge / Who needs Aurich's artistic talents, anyway? (credit: Peter Bright)

The venerable Windows Paint program, known to many by the name of its executable, mspaint.exe, has been marked as deprecated in the forthcoming Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, The Guardian reports.

Deprecation states formally that the feature is no longer actively developed, and it serves as a warning that Microsoft may remove the feature in a future release. Removal isn't guaranteed, however; there are parts of the Win32 API that have been deprecated for 20 years but still haven't been removed. It's possible that Paint will continue to ship with Windows in a kind of zombie state: not subject to any active maintenance but kept around indefinitely since it's self-contained and not a security risk.

Indeed, the end of the development of Paint is not going to surprise anyone who actually uses the thing; the last time it received any non-negligible improvements was in Windows 7, when its user interface was updated to use a ribbon control. Before that, it had an interface that had been largely untouched since Windows 3.1. As such, Microsoft's official deprecation is merely confirming something that was already obvious; it's not an indicator that anything has actually changed.

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[syndicated profile] arstechnica_ip_feed

Posted by Ron Amadeo

Enlarge / Samsung's chip manufacturing business goes way beyond Exynos. (credit: Samsung)

A report from Reuters says Samsung Electronics plans to "triple the market share" of its foundry business over the next five years. Samsung plans to "aggressively add new clients," with E.S. Jung, head of the Samsung foundry division, telling Reuters, "We want to become a strong No. 2 player in the market" behind TSMC.

In May, Samsung officially created a new business unit for its growing foundry operations. The business unit will fight TSMC and Intel for orders from Apple, Qualcomm, and other SoC vendors.

Despite the recent creation of the business unit, Samsung has been doing foundry work since 2005 and is a major player in the high-end SoC space. It exclusively manufactures the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, which goes into nearly every high-end Android phone. Samsung's foundry has also done business with Apple in the past, but for the A10 SoC, Apple went exclusively with TSMC.

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