Google Takes on Uber With New Ride-Share Service – By JACK NICAS, Greg Bensinger Aug. 30, 2016 3:10 p.m. ET


Alphabet’s carpooling program in San Francisco offers rides at cheaper rates

 Google’s ride-sharing service uses the Waze app to connect with fellow commuters.ENLARGE

Google’s ride-sharing service uses the Waze app to connect with fellow commuters.Photo: Linda Davidson/The Washington Post/Getty Images

By

Jack Nicas

Aug. 30, 2016 3:10 p.m. ET

Google is moving onto Uber Technologies Inc.’s turf with a ride-sharing service to help San Francisco commuters join carpools, a person familiar with the matter said, jumping into a booming but fiercely competitive market.

Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., began a pilot program around its California headquarters in May that enables several thousand area workers at specific firms to use the Waze app to connect with fellow commuters. It plans to open the program to all San Francisco-area Waze users this fall, the person said. Waze, which Google acquired in 2013, offers real-time driving directions based on information from other drivers.

Unlike Uber and its crosstown San Francisco rival Lyft Inc., which each largely operate as on-demand taxi businesses, Waze wants to connect riders with drivers who are already headed in the same direction. The company has said it aims to make fares low enough to discourage drivers from operating as taxi drivers. Waze’s current pilot program charges riders at most 54 cents a mile—less than most Uber and Lyft rides—and, for now, Google doesn’t take a fee.

The company says it doesn’t believe Waze drivers’ income is taxable because it considers payments through its service effectively as money for gas.

Google’s push into ride-sharing could portend a clash with Uber, a seven-year-old private firm valued at roughly $68 billion that largely invented the concept of summoning a car with a smartphone app.

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George Soros Is Trying to Buy America a Less Racist Justice System – By Eric Levitz August 30, 2016 6:36 p.m


Soros. Photo: ChinaFotoPress/VCG via Getty Images

Soros. Photo: ChinaFotoPress/VCG via Getty Images

George Soros is trying to buy elections — for district attorneys who support criminal-justice reform. Politico reports that the billionaire financier and right-wing bogeyman has channeled more than $3 million into seven local district-attorney races over the past 12 months, a sum that exceeds “the total spent on the 2016 presidential campaign by all but a handful of rival super-donors.”

Soros has channeled that loot to would-be district attorneys in Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Texas, with the aim of electing prosecutors who will prioritize the reduction of racial disparities in sentencing, and the expansion of alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders.

Most of Soros’s fellow civic-minded oligarchs have concentrated their donations on high-profile national campaigns. Which is a sound enough strategy for winning invitations to parties and access to legislators. But in terms of maximizing one’s chance of immediately impacting policy, it’s hard to imagine a better investment than the one Soros is making.

As good-government liberals have long bemoaned, big-money donors have a much easier time influencing elections on the local level, where cash and media attention are scarce commodities. Soros has proven no exception. Since he began bankrolling a network of state-level super-pacs in 2015, he has already elected reform-minded DAs in Mississippi, Louisiana, Illinois, and New Mexico.

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Debunking Microenergy – By Ted Nordhaus, Shaiyra Devi, and Alex Trembath


The Future Lies With Ubanization

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at Aug 31, 2016 12.30 1

For over two centuries, rising energy consumption powered by coal, oil, natural gas, hydroelectric power, and nuclear energy—combined with modern agriculture, cities, and governance—has fueled a virtuous cycle of socioeconomic development. It has enabled people in many parts of the world to live longer, healthier, and more prosperous lives. Along with these material gains have come liberalizing social values, the ability to pursue more meaningful work, and environmental progress.

Yet roughly two billion people have still not made the transition to modern fuels and energy systems. These populations remain trapped in what we call “the wood economy.” Living in the wood economy means relying on wood, dung, and other basic bioenergy. In this economy, life choices are extremely limited, labor is menial and backbreaking, and poverty is endemic. There is little ability to produce wealth beyond what is necessary to grow enough food to meet minimal nutritional needs.

Although there is broad global agreement that everyone should have access to modern energy, there is no similar clarity about how best to achieve that outcome, how to mitigate climate change and other environmental harm associated with energy development, or even what actually constitutes energy access. Too often, initiatives to address energy poverty have fetishized very low levels of household electricity consumption—a light bulb and cell phone charger, perhaps a fan and a small television—without attending to the broader context that makes higher levels of energy consumption and modern living standards possible. As a result, contemporary efforts to expand access to modern energy have overwhelmingly focused upon the provision of small-scale, off-grid, and decentralized energy technologies that, while checking the box marked energy access, are incapable of serving the variety of energy end uses that are necessary to eliminate energy poverty.

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The Hidden Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race – By MARGOT LEE SHETTERLY


A segregated unit of mathematicians born of desperation during World War II became the secret to NASA’s success.

Photograph: Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughn in the Hidden Figures film

Photograph: Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughn in the Hidden Figures film

The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Hidden Figures, a movie version of which will be released in January 2017 starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, and Kirsten Dunst.

It was on a trip to the post office during the spring of 1943 that Dorothy Vaughan spied the notice for the laundry job at Camp Pickett. But the word on another bulletin also caught her eye: mathematics. A federal agency in Hampton, Virginia, sought women to fill a number of mathematical jobs having to do with airplanes. The bulletin, the handiwork of Melvin Butler and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ personnel department, was most certainly meant for the eyes of the white, well-to-do students at the all-female State Teachers College there in Farmville. The laboratory had sent application forms, civil-service examination notices, and booklets describing the NACA’s work to the school’s job-placement offices, asking faculty and staff to spread the word about the open positions among potential candidates.

“This organization is considering a plan to visit certain women’s colleges in this area and interview senior students majoring in mathematics,” the laboratory wrote. “It is expected that outstanding students will be offered positions in this laboratory.” Dorothy’s house on South Main sat down the street from the college campus. Every morning as she walked the two blocks to her job at Moton High School, a U-shaped building perched on a triangular block at the south end of town, she saw the State Teachers College coeds with their books, disappearing into classrooms in their leafy sanctuary of a campus. Dorothy walked to school on the other side of the street, toeing the invisible line that separated them.

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Astronomers Don’t Think That So-Called SETI Signal Is Aliens—and Neither Should You – SARAH SCOLES. 08.30.16. 3:33 PM


This weekend, a group of astronomers made many, many headlines after giving a presentation about “a strong signal in the direction of HD164595.” HD164595 is a Sun-like star 94 light-years away, and with the RATAN-600 radio telescope in Zelenchukskaya, Russia, pointed in its direction, the astronomers picked up a blast of radio waves about 4.5 times stronger than background static. Maybe aliens? they suggested. We should investigate.

Their presentation began circulating among astronomers in slide-deck form. Paul Gilster at the website Centauri Dreams wrote about it as “an interesting SETI candidate”—meaning perhaps it came from an extraterrestrial civilization. That set off the media storm.

But I have to tell you something: Astronomers don’t know much about that “SETI candidate” signal beyond that it’s made of radio waves. And while human beings should absolutely spend some time figuring out what this signal is, they have almost no reason to conclude it came from non-human beings. Here’s why:

They don’t actually know it’s coming from that star.

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Democrats Hope Marijuana Will Help Elect Hillary Clinton – WILL GREENBERGAUG. 29, 2016 6:00 AM


But experts say it might be a pipe dream.

MmeEmil/iStock

With Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both viewed unfavorably by the majority of Americans, Democrats are hoping that if the top of the ballot doesn’t excite voters this November, maybe the bottom will. Marijuana liberalization and minimum-wage hikes will get a vote in a handful of swing states for the presidential candidates. But there’s reason to think these issues might not galvanize voters the way they once did.

In previous presidential elections, down-ballot races have helped turn out voters in key states. In 2004, proposed same-sex marriage bans helped President George W. Bush secure reelection. President Barack Obama appears to have gotten a boost in Colorado in 2012 as residents there voted to legalize marijuana.

Marijuana is on the ballot in nine states this year—five voting on legalization and four voting on medical marijuana—and Democrats hope the measures will be a draw for liberal voters. The conventional wisdom, says Josh Altic of the nonpartisan political reference site Ballotpedia, is that marijuana measures attract a lot of young voters who support legalization but wouldn’t otherwise vote, and that these voters overwhelmingly support Democrats.

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Encryption: FBI building fresh case for access to electronic devices – Wednesday 31 August 2016 00.03 EDT


James Comey, the agency’s director, says it is gathering information in preparation for ‘adult conversation’ on balancing privacy with need to fight crime

The FBI sparked a dispute with Apple by calling for backdoor access to the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooter.

The FBI sparked a dispute with Apple by calling for backdoor access to the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooter. | Photograph: UPI / Barcroft Media

Widespread encryption built into smartphones was “making more and more of the room that we are charged to investigate dark”, Comey said at a cybersecurity symposium.

The FBI sought a court order to force Apple to help it hack into an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino, California shooters, a demand Apple said would dramatically weaken security of its products.

The FBI ultimately got into the phone with the help of a third party, concluding the court case but leaving unresolved the underpinning legal questions.

Comey made clear on Tuesday that he expected dialogue to continue.

“The conversation we’ve been trying to have about this has dipped below public consciousness now, and that’s fine,” Comey said at a symposium organised by Symantec, a technology company. “Because what we want to do is collect information this year so that next year we can have an adult conversation in this country.”

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