Thursday, January 22, 2015

High-speed electric car chargers to link San Diego, SF, Portland

Despite their rising popularity, most electric cars aren’t considered road-trip material.
Their limited battery range means that long-distance travel must be carefully planned, with charging stations along the route mapped out in advance. Wing it, and risk running out of juice in the middle of nowhere. And most charging stations aren’t all that fast, meaning long trips contain lots of downtime.
Now BMW, Volkswagen and an electric vehicle charging company based in the Bay Area want to change that.
The two German automakers have teamed with ChargePoint of Campbell to install networks of high-speed chargers along two interstate corridors. One will link San Diego with Portland, Ore. The other will stretch from Washington, D.C. to Boston.
Both networks should be up and running by the end of the year. The three companies announced the project — which they will jointly fund — at the 2015 Washington Auto Show on Thursday.
The chargers will be quick — capable of restoring 80 percent of the charge in a BMW i3 or Volkswagen e-Golf in 30 minutes or less. They will be spaced no more than 50 miles apart, to ensure that drivers don’t get stranded on the roadside.
The companies are following a path already blazed by Tesla Motors, which is building a nationwide network of its own high-speed supercharger stations along heavily traveled interstate highways, with 353 stations opened so far. But Tesla’s proprietary superchargers only work with the company’s Model S sedan, whose owners use the superchargers for free. They simply aren’t compatible with other electrics. Hence the need for another network.
“All car companies and charging companies came to the same conclusion a long time ago, that this is a critical piece for the adoption of electric cars,” said Pasquale Romano, ChargePoint’s CEO.
ChargePoint already operates 20,000 charging stations across North America, but the system so far includes just 110 DC fast chargers. The new charging corridors will add another 100. ChargePoint and its partners declined Thursday to say how much the project will cost, other than calling it “a very significant investment.”
Particularly on the West Coast, the corridors will connect cities that have emerged as EV hotspots. California alone accounts for roughly 40 percent of all electric cars sold nationwide, with more than 100,000 already on the road.
The stations within each corridor will contain several types of chargers, since not all electric cars can use the same recharging equipment.
Each station will include as many as two fast chargers. Some of those will operate at 50 kW, and will be capable of restoring 80 percent of the battery charge for an i3 or an e-Golf in as little as 20 minutes. Others will operate at 24 kW, taking about 10 minutes longer to recharge to the same level. All stations will also feature level 2 chargers, which are substantially slower but can be used by all electric cars, according to ChargePoint.
For the automakers, access to speedy charging between cities is essential to convincing drivers that electric vehicles aren’t just commuter cars.
“They’re buying more than a car — they’re buying a lifestyle,” said Stuart Gardner, product manager with Volkswagen of America. “This DC fast-charging network is one of the pieces to that holistic approach. It’s a key building block.” By David R. Baker (

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What Are MOOCs Good For?

Online courses may not be changing colleges as their boosters claimed they would, but they can prove valuable in surprising ways. 
A few years ago, the most enthusiastic advocates of MOOCs believed that these “massive open online courses” stood poised to overturn the century-old model of higher education. Their interactive technology promised to deliver top-tier teaching from institutions like Harvard, Stanford, and MIT, not just to a few hundred students in a lecture hall on ivy-draped campuses, but free via the Internet to thousands or even millions around the world. At long last, there appeared to be a solution to the problem of “scaling up” higher education: if it were delivered more efficiently, the relentless cost increases might finally be rolled back. Some wondered whether MOOCs would merely transform the existing system or blow it up entirely. Computer scientist Sebastian Thrun, cofounder of the MOOC provider Udacity, predicted that in 50 years, 10 institutions would be responsible for delivering higher education.
Then came the backlash. A high-­profile experiment to use MOOCs at San Jose State University foundered. Faculty there and at other institutions rushing to incorporate MOOCs began pushing back, rejecting the notion that online courses could replace the nuanced work of professors in classrooms. The tiny completion rates for most MOOCs drew increasing attention. Thrun himself became disillusioned, and he lowered Udacity’s ambitions from educating the masses to providing corporate training.
But all the while, a great age of experimentation has been developing. Although some on-campus trials have gone nowhere, others have shown modest success (including a later iteration at San Jose State). In 2013, Georgia Tech announced a first-of-its-kind all-MOOC master’s program in computer science that, at $6,600, would cost just a fraction as much as its on-campus counterpart. About 1,400 students have enrolled. It’s not clear how well such programs can be replicated in other fields, or whether the job market will reward graduates with this particular Georgia Tech degree. But the program offers evidence that MOOCs can expand access and reduce costs in some corners of higher education.
Meanwhile, options for online courses continue to multiply, especially for curious people who aren’t necessarily seeking a credential. For-profit Coursera and edX, the nonprofit consortium led by Harvard and MIT, are up to nearly 13 million users and more than 1,200 courses between them. Khan Academy, which began as a series of YouTube videos, is making online instruction a more widely used tool in classrooms around the world. By Justin Pope (

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

California readies for 900 new laws

SACRAMENTO — New Year’s Day will usher in hundreds of new laws in California, including a landmark law that allows undocumented individuals to receive a driver’s license.
In all, California will add 930 new laws, most of which will go into effect Thursday. Some of the most talked-about laws won’t take effect until July, such as a statewide ban on plastic bags, required sick leave for employees and a requirement that new smartphones come with antitheft technology.
Here’s a look at some of the new laws:
Driver’s licenses: More than a million driver’s license applications from people living in the U.S. without documentation are expected under a law that passed in 2013, but goes into effect Jan. 1.
The Department of Motor Vehicles opened four driver’s license processing centers, including one in San Jose, extended its hours and hired additional staff to brace for the onslaught of applications under AB60, which allows undocumented people to drive legally in California.
Officials anticipate processing approximately 1.4 million driver’s license applications under AB60 during the next three years. First-time applicants can make an appointment at The DMV is closed New Year’s Day, but will be open Friday.
“Selfie” protections: Revenge will come at a price for those who post private naked photos or videos of someone without his or her consent. The new law extends privacy protections to all individuals who take nude “selfies” intended to be private. A law passed last year to offer “revenge porn” protections did not include selfies. Anyone who violates the new law by disseminating a protected image could be charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor.
In July, a second “revenge porn” law will allow a person whose naked image was shared online without his or her consent to file a civil suit for monetary damages against the perpetrator under a pseudonym in court.
Care homes: State-licensed assisted-living homes could be subjected to substantially increased fines for major violations under a new law that arose out of several instances of failures at care facilities in the state, including last year’s botched closure of Valley Springs Manor in Castro Valley, where residents were left behind when the state shut it down.
The previous maximum fine of $150 levied for serious incidents including death will be raised to a maximum of $10,000 in cases of physical abuse and $15,000 for violations that lead to a death. Facility operators can appeal the fines.
Another law would ban residential care facilities for the elderly from accepting new residents if they have not corrected serious health and safety violations or have failed to pay a state-issued fine.
Sexual assault: Colleges and universities in California will be required to adopt policies against sexual assault that radically rewrite what constitutes consent as a condition of receiving state financial aid.
Under the new law, the standard for consent to sexual activity in campus judicial hearings shifts from whether a person said “no” to whether both partners said “yes.” The law only applies to the burden of proof used during campus disciplinary hearings, not criminal proceedings.
Birth to death: Birth certificates will receive a makeover in California to accommodate same-sex couples. Instead of being able to select only mother or father when identifying a parent, birth certificates will include “parent” as an option.
How death certificates are filled out for transgender people also will be updated. Under a new law, coroners will be required to list the gender consistent with how the person lived, instead of solely relying on the person’s anatomy.
The bill was inspired by Christopher Lee, co-founder of the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival, who committed suicide in 2012. Lee’s friends were dismayed to learn his death certificate listed him by his anatomical gender, female.
Education: All public high schools will be required to submit grade point averages electronically for each graduating senior to the California Student Aid Commission to increase the number of students who receive Cal Grant award offers for higher education. Students or schools failing to send GPA information is among the more common reasons students don’t receive Cal Grants.
Groundwater: California will begin the long process of regulating groundwater for the first time in the state’s history under three new laws that require local agencies to create sustainable groundwater management plans to ensure priority basins are sustainable by 2040.
Mug shots: It will be illegal in California for websites to profit from posting arrest mug shots by charging embarrassed people to have them removed. Under the new law, commercial websites could face a $1,000 civil penalty for each violation in what lawmakers called a “mug shot racket.”
Many of the people whose mug shots have been posted by websites were never convicted of a crime.
School pesticides: Parents will have the right to know what pesticides are used at K-12 schools and many licensed child care centers. Pesticides can be used on school campuses to get rid of cockroaches, vermin and weeds, but the new law will make chemical pesticides a last resort and increase disclosures of what is used.
Sex abuse: Childhood sex abuse victims will have more time to press charges against their abusers under a law that goes into effect Jan. 1. Victims of childhood sexual abuse previously had until they turned 28 years of age to press charges, but the new law extends the age limit to 40.
'Audrie’s Law’: Teens will face increased penalties and receive fewer privacy protections if convicted of sex acts on someone who is passed out from drugs or alcohol or incapable of giving consent due to a disability. Known as “Audrie’s Law,” the tougher penalties were sought after a Saratoga teen named Audrie Pott committed suicide days after she was sexually assaulted while unconscious. The teens convicted in the attack were given light sentences between 30 days and 45 days in juvenile detention.
Prison transition: State prison inmates will be given current California Identification cards upon release in hopes of helping them apply for jobs and housing or access health care and social services.
Plastic bags: Later this year, California will begin phasing out single-use plastic bags. The statewide ban goes into effect July 1 in grocery stores and pharmacies and a year later in convenience stores and liquor stores. The state became the first in the nation to ban single-use plastic bags, although many cities and counties in California already have bans in place.
Paid sick leave: Millions of Californians will begin earning paid sick leave under a law that takes effect in July. Largely affecting retail, fast food and other service-industry jobs that don’t offer sick leave benefits to full-time or part-time employees, the law will allow workers to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.
California became the second in the nation to require the benefit, after Connecticut.
Kill switches: Smartphones manufactured after July 1 and sold in California must come pre-equipped with antitheft technology that allows the owner to temporarily or permanently render the phone inoperable if stolen or lost. Consumers would be prompted to enable the kill switch as the default setting during the initial setup of a new smartphone. Consumers can opt out if they choose. By Melody Gutierrez (

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