Friday, November 15, 2013

Sunday Reading

The following links are just news items and opinions that pass my desk throughout the week. I don't necessarily support or advocate any of the items, they are just interesting reads.

GIVING A WIFE HER FRONT-YARD GRAVE, NO MATTER WHAT - James Davis figures that his first mistake was asking permission. If a man promises his wife he will bury her in the front yard, then he should just do so.

But ever since Mr. Davis granted his dying wife's wish by laying her to rest just off his front porch, he and the City of Stevenson have been at odds. From City Hall to the courts, the government of this little railroad town in southern Appalachia has tried to convince Mr. Davis that a person who lives in a town cannot just set up a cemetery anywhere he likes. On Oct. 11, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed a judge's decision saying as much.

Shortly before her death, Mr. Davis said, she expressed her wish to be buried in the yard of the house where they had spent three decades together. So he went to work, getting approval from the county's Health Department and pressing the City Council for a permit.

The Council told Mr. Davis that he had not completed the necessary paperwork, and after two meetings, it voted to deny his request, speaking about its potential impact on property values and about who would take care of it in perpetuity. (The tombstone has Mr. Davis's name beside his wife's, and he planned to end up in the yard as well.) Parker Edmiston, the city attorney, said he was concerned about setting a precedent.

"If you allow it for Mr. Davis, you allow it for Ms. Adams, Mr. Jones and everyone else," Mr. Edmiston said, adding that this was the most protracted litigation in the city since a case a few years ago involving something about pigs.

According to court filings, Mr. Davis declared to the City Council members that he would sue and take his case to the State Supreme Court if necessary. But instead, he just decided to ignore them.

"I just got a backhoe and went ahead," Mr. Davis said, later arguing that the lack of a specific burial ordinance meant that they had no right to stop him. He installed a vault, the funeral home put his wife in the coffin, and on a Saturday morning 10 days after the City Council vote, Mrs. Davis was laid to rest before a gathering of family members.

The city sued him a month later. Read More > at

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A BOXER IS BEATEN TO DEATH, AND HOW WE CAN STOP IT - After Jermichael Finley's recent spinal cord injury, a sportswriting friend of mine shook his head and referred to football as "America's sickness." As severe as it was, though, Finley's injury wasn't nearly the worst a professional athlete suffered last weekend. On Saturday night, 26-year-old junior featherweight Francisco "Franky" Leal was knocked out by Raul Hirales in the eighth round of a fight in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and never regained consciousness. He was pronounced dead three days later. If football is America's sickness, what then do we call boxing?

On November 13th, 1982, lightweight Duk Koo Kim challenged Ray Mancini, the reigning world lightweight champion, at Caesar Palace in Las Vegas. In the 14th round, Mancini was declared the winner by technical knockout. Moments later, Kim lost consciousness and was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was found to have severe brain swelling and a subdural hematoma. Kim was rushed to the operating room to remove the blood inside his skull, but died four days later.

Kim's death shook the boxing world. The World Boxing Council conferred with medical advisors, determined that most severe injuries came in rounds 13 through 15, and decided to reduce the number of rounds in championship fights down to 12. (The International Boxing Federation and the World Boxing Organization eventually followed their lead.) Clearly this change was a move in the right direction. Was it enough?

Generally, it's easy to see why football and boxing get lumped together as high-risk sports, but it's important to understand that boxing is much worse. The reason often has to do with the angle of impact rather than the force behind it.

Some say the NFL will cease to exist as we know it once a player dies on the field, but boxers are dying in the ring. What are we actually going to do about it? The Wikipedia page of deaths due to injuries sustained in boxing is a sobering reminder of the dangers of the sport, and it doesn't begin to approach the actual number of boxing-related deaths. How many more need to be added to the list before we do away with this ridiculous sport? Football may be America's sickness; boxing is one of our tragedies. Read More > at

WHY THE GOVERNMENT NEVER GETS TECH RIGHT - MILLIONS of Americans negotiating America's health care system know all too well what the waiting room of a doctor's office looks like. Now, thanks to, they know what a "virtual waiting room" looks like, too. Nearly 20 million Americans, in fact, have visited the Web site since it opened three weeks ago, but only about 500,000 managed to complete applications for insurance coverage. And an even smaller subset of those applicants actually obtained coverage.

For the first time in history, a president has had to stand in the Rose Garden to apologize for a broken Web site. But is only the latest episode in a string of information technology debacles by the federal government. Indeed, according to the research firm the Standish Group, 94 percent of large federal information technology projects over the past 10 years were unsuccessful -- more than half were delayed, over budget, or didn't meet user expectations, and 41.4 percent failed completely.

So why is it that the technology available to Mr. Obama as president doesn't compare to the technology he used to win an election? Much of the problem has to do with the way the government buys things. The government has to follow a code called the Federal Acquisition Regulation, which is more than 1,800 pages of legalese that all but ensure that the companies that win government contracts, like the ones put out to build, are those that can navigate the regulations best, but not necessarily do the best job. That's evidenced by yesterday's Congressional testimony by the largest of the vendors, CGI Federal, which blamed everyone but itself when asked to explain the botched rollout of the new Web site. Read More > in

ATLANTIC HURRICANE SEASON QUIETEST IN 45 YEARS, EXPERTS SAY - The 2013 Atlantic hurricane season looks set to go down as a big washout, marking the first time in 45 years that the strongest storm to form was just a minor Category 1 hurricane.

There could still be a late surprise in the June 1-November 30 season, since the cyclone that mushroomed into Superstorm Sandy was just revving up at this time last year.

But so far, at least, it has been one of the weakest seasons since modern record-keeping began about half a century ago, U.S. weather experts say. Apart from Tropical Storm Andrea, which soaked Florida after moving ashore in the Panhandle in June, none of this year's cyclones has made a U.S. landfall.

That meant relief for tens of millions of people in U.S. hurricane danger zones. But 2013 has been a bust for long-range forecasters who had predicted a stronger-than-usual burst of activity in the tropical Atlantic. Read More > at

THE BATTLE FOR POWER ON THE INTERNET - We're in the middle of an epic battle for power in cyberspace. On one side are the traditional, organized, institutional powers such as governments and large multinational corporations. On the other are the distributed and nimble: grassroots movements, dissident groups, hackers, and criminals. Initially, the Internet empowered the second side. It gave them a place to coordinate and communicate efficiently, and made them seem unbeatable. But now, the more traditional institutional powers are winning, and winning big. How these two side fare in the long term, and the fate of the rest of us who don't fall into either group, is an open question--and one vitally important to the future of the Internet.

In the Internet's early days, there was a lot of talk about its "natural laws"--how it would upend traditional power blocks, empower the masses, and spread freedom throughout the world. The international nature of the Internet bypassed circumvented national laws. Anonymity was easy. Censorship was impossible. Police were clueless about cybercrime. And bigger changes seemed inevitable. Digital cash would undermine national sovereignty. Citizen journalism would topple traditional media, corporate PR, and political parties. Easy digital copying would destroy the traditional movie and music industries. Web marketing would allow even the smallest companies to compete against corporate giants. It really would be a new world order.

This was a utopian vision, but some of it did come to pass.

On the corporate side, power is consolidating, a result of two current trends in computing. First, the rise of cloud computing means that we no longer have control of our data. Our e-mail, photos, calendars, address books, messages, and documents are on servers belonging to Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and so on. And second, we are increasingly accessing our data using devices that we have much less control over: iPhones, iPads, Android phones, Kindles, ChromeBooks, and so on.

Government power is also increasing on the Internet. There is more government surveillance than ever before. There is more government censorship than ever before. There is more government propaganda, and an increasing number of governments are controlling what their users can and cannot do on the Internet. Read More > in

SAFEWAY MAY BE TARGET OF BUYOUT BID - Just weeks after Safeway deflected a takeover from one investor, the national grocery chain is being pursued by a group of investment firms that want to buy all or part of the company, according to media reports.

Reuters reported late Tuesday that New York-based Cerberus Capital Management is leading a group of private equity firms in a plan to take over Safeway, which operates more than 1,400 stores across the country. The news service also said that Safeway officials were in talks with financial adviser Goldman Sachs.

The reported buyout plan could not be confirmed Wednesday. Goldman Sachs could not be reached for comment and a spokesman from Cerberus Capital declined to comment.


spokeswomen Teena Massingill said the Pleasanton-based company "would not comment on rumors."

"If we have an announcement about our operations, everyone will know at the same time, just like with every other operation," she said.

But analysts said a buyout makes sense. "We would not dismiss the media reports given potential upside fromsynergies" between Safeway and Cerberus, Karen Short, an analyst with Deutsche Bank, wrote in a research note.

Safeway stock is widely considered undervalued by investors, and the company is flush with proceeds from the sale of its Canadian operations in a $5.6 billion deal with that country's second-largest grocery chain, Empire, and anticipating a large chunk of cash after it sells its Midwest stores. Read More > in the

OFFICIALS: STATE NOT PROVIDING LOCAL JURISDICTIONS WITH ENOUGH MONEY FOR REALIGNMENT - California is not providing counties enough funding to incarcerate and rehabilitate offenders it has sent to local jails and probation offices in the last two years, criminal justice advocates and officials said Wednesday.

Under a 2011 state law known as realignment, lower-level offenders are being sentenced to county jail instead of state prison. County probation departments, rather than state parole agents, are charged with watching offenders after they have been released from prison.

Much of the more than $1 billion in annual state funding for the law has gone toward jail costs. Still, many county jails have been forced to release inmates because officials say they lack enough space to meet the increased demands from the 2011 law. Counties also lack funding to provide enough rehabilitation, officials said Wednesday at the Sacramento Press Club. Read More > in

WE CHOSE THIS PROFESSION - A NASCAR driver understands that anything can happen during a race; his car could flip at 200 miles per hour. A boxer knows when he goes in the ring what's happening to his body. Just like them, we understand this is a dangerous game with consequences not just in the short term, but for the rest of our lives. All of us NFL players, from wide receivers to defensive backs, chose this profession. Concussions are going to happen to cornerbacks who go low and lead with their shoulders, wide receivers who duck into contact, safeties who tackle high and linemen who run into somebody on every single play. Sometimes players get knocked out and their concussions make news, but more often it's a scenario like mine, where the player walks away from a hit and plays woozy or blind. Sometimes I can tell when a guy is concussed during a game--he can't remember things or he keeps asking the same questions over and over--but I'm not going to take his health into my hands and tell anybody, because playing with injuries is a risk that guys are willing to take. The players before us took that risk too, but they still sued the league because they felt like they were lied to about the long-term risks. Today, we're fully educating guys on the risks and we're still playing. We have not hidden from the facts.

That's why a lot of guys get frustrated with these fines and penalties, especially for the defenseless receiver rule. Nobody who chooses to play this sport should be described as defenseless. There's nothing we can do about it, unless you want us to just wait until these guys catch the ball and then let them come down and we tackle them. That's not going to happen. Now you have receivers going up to catch passes and players are hitting them with shoulder pads and guys like Chancellor and Meriweather are still getting fined. Those used to be highlight hits. Now that there's so much public ire, the NFL is trying to punish guys and say, Hey look, we care. It's not hurting anybody but the players by making the game more dangerous. Defensive players are used to playing fast, but now they're being forced to play with indecision, and indecision gets you hurt in this game.

And that's not to say most of us chose football for money. I played at 5 years old because it was fun. You meet all of your friends, you learn about teamwork, camaraderie, discipline, following directions, how to time manage and how to rely on other people. Do I think about the consequences 30 years down the line? No more than I think about the food I'm enjoying today, which could be revealed in 30 years to cause cancer or a heart murmur or something else unpredictable. Those are the things you cant plan for, and the kind of optimism I have right now is the only way to live. And the next time I get hit in the head and I can't see straight, if I can, I'll get back up and pretend like nothing happened. Maybe I'll even get another pick in the process.

If you don't like it, stop watching. Read More > at

HOW CEREAL TRANSFORMED AMERICAN CULTURE - During the early 19th century, most Americans subsisted on a diet of pork, whiskey, and coffee. It was hell on the bowels, and to many Christian fundamentalists, hell on the soul, too. They believed that constipation was God's punishment for eating meat. The diet was also blamed for fueling lust and laziness. To rid America of these vices, religious zealots spearheaded the country's first vegetarian movement. In 1863, one member of this group, Dr. James Jackson, invented Granula, America's first ready-to-eat, grain-based breakfast product. Better known as cereal, Jackson's rock-hard breakfast bricks offered consumers a sin-free meat alternative that aimed to clear both conscience and bowels.

While Jackson's innovation didn't appeal to the masses, it did catch the attention of Dr. John Kellogg. A renowned surgeon and health guru, Kellogg had famously transformed the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan into one of America's hottest retreats. Socialites from the Rockefellers to the Roosevelts flocked to "The San"to receive Kellogg's unorthodox treatments. But shock-therapy sessions and machine-powered enemas weren't the only items on the agenda. Kellogg also stressed such newfangled ideas as exercise and proper nutrition. It wasn't long before he started serving bran biscuits similar to those of Dr. Jackson--only now with the Kellogg name on them. To avoid a lawsuit, he changed the name of the cereal by one letter, dubbing it "Granola."

By 1889, The San was selling 2 tons of granola a week, despite the fact that it was barely edible. The success inspired Dr. Kellogg and his brother, W.K., to produce more-palatable fare. After six years of experimentation, a kitchen mishap by W.K. yielded the breakfast staple known as cereal flakes.

In many ways, the cereal flake is the perfect consumer product. It's easy to produce, easy to sell, and surprisingly lucrative. To this day, cereal comes with an eye-popping profit margin of 50 percent. These merits became clear to Charles Post, a failed suspender salesman who moved to Battle Creek in 1895. Post began selling knock-off versions of Kellogg's products with a twist of his own--advertising. At the time, advertising was associated with snake-oil salesmen and con artists. But Post, who had a background in sales, didn't mind drizzling a little snake oil on his product. He published pamphlets with titles such as "The Road To Wellville"and claimed his cereal, Grape-Nuts, could cure appendicitis, improve one's IQ, and even "make red blood redder."By 1903, he was clearing $1 million a year.

Across town, Dr. Kellogg refused to sully The San's reputation with heathen advertising, and his profits suffered as a result. W.K., however, had no such qualms and set out to emulate Post. In his first national campaign, he told women to "Wink at your grocer, and see what you get."(Answer: a free box of Kellogg's Corn Flakes.) Within a year, he'd sold 1 million cases of cereal. With the leading cereal makers embracing such unabashed hucksterism, it was clear that cereal's connection to its fundamentalist roots had come to an end. Read More > a

HOW YOUR BAD DIET MAY WEIGH ON YOUR JOB REVIEW - Your company already knows whether you've been taking your meds, getting your teeth cleaned and going for regular medical checkups. Now some employers or their insurance companies are tracking what staffers eat, where they shop and how much weight they're putting on -- and taking action to keep them in line.

The goal, say employers, is to lower health-care and insurance costs while also helping workers. Last month, 1,600 employees at four U.S. workplaces, including the City of Houston, strapped on armbands that track their exercise habits, calories burned and vital signs, part of a diabetes-prevention program run by insurer Cigna . Some diabetic ATin September, AT&T also started selling to employers blood-pressure cuffs and other devices to track wearers 24/7.

But companies have also started scrutinizing employees' other behavior more discreetly. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina recently began buying spending data on more than 3 million people in its employer group plans. If someone, say, purchases plus-size clothing, the health plan could flag him for potential obesity--and then call or send mailings offering weight-loss solutions. Read More > at

MUCH BREAST MILK BOUGHT ONLINE IS CONTAMINATED, ANALYSIS SHOWS - Desperate for breast milk, some new mothers who can't nurse their babies are turning to online sources, typically strangers with ample supplies. But a new study finds that human milk bought and sold on the Internet may be contaminated--and dangerous.

Nearly 75 percent of breast milk bought through the site was tainted with high levels of disease-causing bacteria, including germs found in human waste.

But what the researchers found was worrisome: more colonies of Gram-negative bacteria including coliform, staphylococcus and streptococcus bacteria in the milk purchased online, and, in about 20 percent of samples, cytomegalovirus, or CMV, which can cause serious illness in premature or sick babies. The contamination was associated with poor milk collection, storage or shipping practices, the analysis showed. Read More > at

THE NFL'S MOST-DISLIKED PLAYERS - Poor Michael Vick. His annoying hamstring injury has him on the Philadelphia Eagles bench, confined to watching Nick Foles run the offense. And now we find out that the dark cloud that began hovering over him years ago - the one that followed a prison term for his part in a dog-fighting ring - has barely budged.

It's been more than four years since Vick was released from federal prison, where he served 19 months for bankrolling the dog-fighting operation. He's performed well and avoided trouble ever since. Yet he is still stuck at or near the top of our various annual lists of disliked athletes. Once again, he tops our list of Most-Disliked NFL Players, according to the latest surveys from E-Poll Market Research, a California-based firm whose E-Score measures public opinion of thousands of celebrities based on likeability, awareness, confidence and many other attributes. Pollsters have told us on a few occasions that while Vick scores well with hardcore NFL fans, casual fans still identify him mostly with the legal woes of a few years ago.

The list is based on an E-Score survey of 1,100 people age 13 and up. We counted only currently active NFL players whose awareness registered a minimum of 10% with the public. According to the numbers, 53% of respondents expressed dislike for Vick. He may not be sweating it too much, though. Vick has rolled up quite a few endorsements during his comeback, including a return engagement with Nike. Yes - at least football fans are OK with him.

Coming in a few points behind Vick: San Diego Chargers linebacker Manti Te'o, who scores a 48% dislike rating thanks to last year's bizarre "fake girlfriend" episode toward the end of his college career at Notre Dame. With a foot injury limiting his playing time as an NFL rookie, Te'o simply hasn't had the chance to turn attention away from the old drama. Read More > in

AN ARMY OF ROBOT BARISTAS COULD MEAN THE END OF STARBUCKS AS WE KNOW IT - Starbucks' 95,000 baristas have a competitor. It doesn't need sleep. It's precise in a way that a human could never be. It requires no training. It can't quit. It has memorized every one of its customers' orders. There's never a line for its perfectly turned-out drinks.

It doesn't require health insurance.

Don't think of it as the enemy of baristas, insists Kevin Nater, CEO of the company that has produced this technological marvel. Think of it as an instrument people can use to create their ideal coffee experience. Think of it as a cure for "out-of-home coffee drinkers"--Nater's phrase--sick of an "inconsistent experience."

Think of it as the future. Think of it as empowerment. Your coffee, your way, flawlessly, every time, no judgments. Four pumps of sugar-free vanilla syrup in a 16 oz. half-caff soy latte? Here it is, delivered to you precisely when your smartphone app said it would arrive, hot and fresh and indistinguishable from the last one you ordered. Read More > at

TO CATCH UP, WALMART MOVES TO AMAZON TURF - The country's largest retailer, which for years didn't blink at would-be competitors, is now under such a threat from Amazon that it is frantically playing catch-up by learning the technology business, including starting @WalmartLabs, its dot-com headquarters.

The two retail behemoths, one the king of the physical store and the other the conqueror of the online world, are battling over e-commerce -- competing for the most talented engineers, trying to gain the upper hand in the new frontier of same-day delivery and warring over online pricing.

They want to control not just Internet shopping but all shopping. Even as Walmart pours money into technology, Amazon is building a physical presence across the nation, adding warehouses and pickup locations. Both companies' moves indicate that they believe the future of commerce is not just stores and not just online but a combination of the two.

For the first time in decades, Walmart, which drove company after company out of business, has a competitor it sounds a little scared of. Read More > in

SCANDALS SIMMER IN SAN BERNARDINO - Amid bankruptcy, rising crime, mounting legal threats from political heavyweights, and now two separate scandals involving city councilmembers, the City of San Bernardino just can't seem to catch a break.

Last Thursday, councilman and mayoral candidate Chas Kelley pleaded guilty to perjury in a set of charges related to campaign statements. Kelley was charged with spending campaign revenues on non-campaign expenses and then lying about it in official documents.

In an unrelated case, City Councilman Robert Jenkins was also charged Thursday with 18 felony and 12 misdemeanor counts of stalking and identity theft related to his ex-boyfriend and another man.

Jenkins placed fraudulent personal ads seeking sexual partners on Craigslist. The ads contained personal information and photos of both the ex-boyfriend and another unnamed man. According to a district attorney's affidavit in support of an arrest warrant (obtained by the Press-Enterprise), the ads "resulted in the victims being barraged with sexually graphic messages, and numerous individuals appearing at their residence seeking group sex."

Investigators tracked Jenkins through IP addresses traced back to computers at both his work and his parent's house in Lone Pine. Jenkins' email and phone numbers were also used to post the ads. Read More > at

CONTRA COSTA SHERIFF SEEKING STATE FUNDS FOR JAIL EXPANSION - Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston is seeking an $80 million state grant which would allow for the expansion and upgrade of the West County Detention Facility.

The sheriff is seeking the allotment of SB 1022 funds, set aside by the state for jail construction and expansion in the wake of prison realignment. If awarded, a new wing would be added to the facility, allowing for additional space and re-entry services.

A plan to add 240 additional jail cells is still being debated. While the Sheriff's Department is pushing for the cell expansion, some, including Supervisor John Gioia, remain skeptical of the plan.

"The idea behind it is good, but the devil's in the details," Gioia said. "My impression is that we need far fewer jail cells. We should be moving towards alternatives to incarceration."

Sheriff's Department officials insist that the plan would not lead to an increase in the number of inmates housed by the county, but would allow for the transfer of some of the more serious criminals from the Martinez Jail, where few educational and religious programs are currently offered. Read More > at

WHAT'S HOLDING BACK GOOGLE'S IPHONE-KILLER? - Google is in the smartphone business, obviously. But are they in it to win it, or just f**king around?

Sometimes I wonder.

Google is obviously a visionary company with incredible technology and the capacity to build some of the greatest stuff out there.

In fact, Google already has created all the elements of a monster, iPhone-killing super-phone. Yet some invisible, internal company flaw seems to be stopping the company from putting all those elements into an actual phone.

The iPhone-killing elements are scattered all over different phones that Google sells, and some of the elements aren't in the phones at all.

As a result, Google's fans are faced with an artificial choice between this feature or that feature -- or just giving up and buying either a non-Google Android phone or an iPhone for a more compelling mobile experience. Read More > at

ARIZONA UTILITY TRIES STORING SOLAR ENERGY FOR USE IN THE DARK -When it snowed in Flagstaff, Ariz., recently, thousands of people woke up and turned up their electric heating, and Arizona Public Service saw electricity demand reach a morning peak. To meet the demand, the company used the previous afternoon's sunshine.

In a closely watched new solar project called Solana, the energy is gathered in a three-square-mile patch of desert bulldozed flat near Gila Bend, about 50 miles southwest of Phoenix. A sprawling network of parabolic mirrors focuses the sun's energy on black-painted pipes, which carry the heat to huge tanks of molten salt. When the sun has set, the plant can draw heat back out of the molten salt to continue making steam and electricity.

The emerging technology is one way that the utility industry is trying to make electricity from the sun available even when it is not shining, overcoming one of the major shortcomings of solar power. Read More > in

WORK BEGINS ON CALIF. BULLET TRAIN, LOCALS ANGRY - Trucks loaded with tomatoes, milk and almonds clog the two main highways that bisect California's farm heartland, carrying goods to millions along the Pacific Coast and beyond. This dusty stretch of land is the starting point for one of the nation's most expensive public infrastructure projects: a $68 billion high-speed rail system that would span the state, linking the people of America's salad bowl to more jobs, opportunity and buyers.

Five years ago, California voters overwhelmingly approved the idea of bringing a bullet train to the nation's most populous state. It would be America's first high-speed rail system, sold to the public as a way to improve access to good-paying jobs, cut pollution from smog-filled roadways and reduce time wasted sitting in traffic while providing an alternative to high fuel prices.

Now, engineering work has finally begun on the first 30-mile segment of track here in Fresno, a city of a half-million people with high unemployment and a withering downtown core littered with abandoned factories and shuttered stores.

Rail is meant to help this place, with construction jobs now and improved access to economic opportunity once the job is complete. But the region that could benefit most from the project is also where opposition to it has grown most fierce.

"I just wish it would go away, this high-speed rail. I just wish it would go away," says Gary Lanfranco, whose restaurant in downtown Fresno is slated to be demolished to make way for rerouted traffic. Read More > at

STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING AND FLY OVER THIS AMAZING CRATER RIM ON MARS - We've seen a lot of awesome pictures from robotic probes on Mars over the years. And yet the sheer awesomeness of this screenshot from a high-definition simulated movie of Mojave Crater blew us away.

While not a direct image, the shot was recreated with spectacular precision using data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. MRO is loaded with one of the best cameras in the solar system, the HiRISE camera, which can see features on the Martian surface as small as a meter. HiRISE will shoot the same area from slightly different angles to produce stereo pairs that can be viewed in 3-D and used to make incredible terrain models. If you've got a pair of funky 3-D glasses handy, you can explore a more than 3,000 features on Mars.

This particular shot comes from a 2009 flyover movie called "Soaring Over Mars" that takes you through canyons and craters, which you can see below. The image shows the amazing mountainous rim of Mojave crater, a 50-kilometer-wide impact scar that has recorded the watery history of Mars. Alluvial fans on Mojave result from heavy downpours at some point in the past, looking remarkably similar to features in the Mojave desert in California, hence the crater's name. Read More > at

WHERE ARE THE BOOMERS HEADED? NOT BACK TO THE CITY. - Perhaps no urban legend has played as long and loudly as the notion that "empty nesters" are abandoning their dull lives in the suburbs for the excitement of inner city living. This meme has been most recently celebrated in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

Both stories, citing research by the real estate brokerage Redfin, maintained that over the last decade a net 1 million boomers (born born between 1945 and 1964) have moved into the city core from the surrounding area. "Aging boomers," the Post gushed, now "opt for the city life." It's enough to warm the cockles of a downtown real-estate speculator's heart, and perhaps nudge some subsidies from city officials anxious to secure their downtown dreams.

But there's a problem here: a look at Census data shows the story is based on flawed analysis, something that the Journal subsequently acknowledged. Indeed, our number-crunching shows that rather than flocking into cities, there were roughly a million fewer boomers in 2010 within a five-mile radius of the centers of the nation's 51 largest metro areas compared to a decade earlier.

If boomers change residences, they tend to move further from the core, and particularly to less dense places outside metropolitan areas. Looking at the 51 metropolitan areas with more than a million residents, areas within five miles of the center lost 17% of their boomers over the past decade, while the balance of the metropolitan areas, predominately suburbs, only lost 2%. In contrast places outside the 51 metro areas actually gained boomers. Read More > in
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