Oops! Here comes smart parking spots. Technology helping to balance the parking ticket budget!

Place “smart” in front of a noun and you immediately have something that somehow sounds improved.

In its current state, however, “smart parking” is in some ways little different from regular parking. The term refers to a beguiling technology, now being tested in several cities, that uses sensors to determine whether a particular spot on the street or in a parking garage is occupied or vacant. When a car has overstayed its allotted time, the technology can also send the information to a parking enforcement officer with ticket book in hand.

The sensors’ data can also be used to adjust parking prices, using higher rates to create more turnover on the busiest blocks and lower prices to draw drivers to blocks with underused spaces…

If you’re changing prices every other day, how will drivers know where to look?

Cities are marketing the programs as experiments in using demand-based pricing to reduce traffic congestion — the kind caused by circling drivers desperately seeking parking spots — and to make more spaces available at any specific time. Drivers are encouraged to use mobile apps to check parking availability and pricing, though coverage is not universal. Parker, for example, from Streetline, gives detailed information about on-street parking for Los Angeles, but not for San Francisco.

SFpark is using “smart pricing” to achieve a target of having one parking space available most of the time in the areas it covers, says Jay Primus, the SFpark program manager. SFpark, he says, “de-emphasizes inconvenient time limits and instead uses smart pricing” to achieve those targets. The same spot, for example, may have different parking rates for different times of day. That intraday pricing is adjusted at multimonth intervals, but theoretically, it could be altered on the fly, depending on availability at any given hour.

All of which requires at least a smartphone or a motor vehicle newer than 99% of what’s on the road.

As for parking enforcement, San Francisco and Los Angeles have begun to use the sensor technology to dispatch officers to cars that have stayed past their limits. That’s far more efficient that having officers roam streets in search of random meter violations.

And that’s how this will all be paid for.

Christianity and Secularism at a crossroads in America

This week millions of “Chreasters” — Americans who attend church only on Christmas and Easter — will crowd into pews to sing carols and renew their vague relationship with the Christian God. This year, there may be fewer Chreasters than ever. A growing number of “nones” live in our midst: those who say they have no religious affiliation at all. An October Pew Research Center poll revealed that they now account for 20 percent of the population, up from 16 percent in 2008.

Avoiding church does not excuse Americans from marking the birth of Jesus, however. Most of us have no choice but to stay home from work or school — and if you complain about this glaring exception to the separation between church and state, you must be a scrooge with no heart for tradition. Christmas has been a federal holiday for 142 years.

Yet Christianity’s preferential place in our culture and civil law came under fire this year, and not simply because more Americans reject institutional religion. The Obama administration subtly worked to expand the scope of protected civil rights to include access to legal marriage and birth control. Catholic bishops and evangelical activists declared that Washington was running roughshod over religious liberty and abandoning the country’s founding values, while their opponents accused them of imposing one set of religious prejudices on an increasingly pluralistic population. The Christian consensus that long governed our public square is disintegrating. American secularism is at a crossroads.

The narrative on the right is this: Once upon a time, Americans honored the Lord, and he commissioned their nation to welcome all faiths while commanding them to uphold Christian values. But in recent decades, the Supreme Court ruled against prayer in public schools, and legalized abortion, while politicians declared “war on Christmas” and kowtowed to the “homosexual lobby.” Conservative activists insist that they protest these developments not to defend special privileges for Christianity, but to respect the founders’ desire for universal religious liberty — rooted, they say, in the Christian tradition…

How accurate is this story of decline into godlessness? Is America, supposedly God’s last bastion in the Western world, rejecting faith and endangering religious liberty?

Continue reading

Wau al Namus

Wau al Namus
Click to enlarge

Volcanic crater of Wau al Namus, (Wau means hole, so Wau al Namus is “hole of mosquitoes”).This massive (and apparently dormant) volcano can be easily be seen in satellite views of Southern Libya, as a large black smear in the wind-scoured sands of the Sahara. The inner crater is bordered by a chain of small salt lakes. Outside the outer rim of the crater are small black dunes of windblown volcanic residue.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Cider, the apple of brewers’ eyes – or wallets, anyway

original sin

Cider, or hard cider as Americans call it, promises growth in developed markets at a time when consumers are drinking less beer but are willing to pay more for premium products, such as independent “craft beer”, flavored lagers or indeed cider.

It tends to draw drinkers away from wine rather than eating into beer sales, attracts more women than does beer and commands a higher profit margin.

In volume terms, cider is only about 1 percent of the beer market, but prices are much higher. The United States accounts for about a fifth of global beer sales of $500 billion a year, so each percentage point increase there for cider could add well over $1 billion to the total revenue of cider makers such as world number one Heineken and number two C&C.

While increasing wealth makes emerging markets a bright spot for brewers, beer consumption in Europe and North America has been in decline for years and is expected to keep falling.

“Mass-produced beers have suffered due to the surge of craft beers in the United States … Big brewers feel the threat. Cider could be the escape hatch,” said Spiros Malandrakis, senior drinks analyst at market research group Euromonitor…

There’s a chunk of biz news in the middle here. Which might interest me during the week; but, I just really like good, craft-level cider.

New flavors have also helped expand cider’s appeal beyond middle-aged men to younger men and women and have made it an all-season beverage, not just a summer drink.

Social media have helped the spread, with women posting far more messages related to cider than beer. References to final exams, partying and dance festivals demonstrate its appeal to younger drinkers.

In Britain, the sector grew 24 percent in volume terms from 2006 to 2011, according to market research group Mintel, though it stalled somewhat in 2010 and 2011. Over the same period, beer sales have fallen 23 percent.

Cider makes up 15 percent of the long drinks market in Britain…

While Britain represents almost half of the 1.8 billion liters drunk globally last year, the United States is almost virgin territory. Americans drank just 59 million liters last year, 15 times less than Britons in a country with five times more people. Cider made up 0.3 percent of beer market volume.

However, that small base is growing fast, with ciders branding themselves as a healthier alternative – made from apples and free from gluten – and appealing to the sweeter palates of young people there…

In Britain, where cider need contain no more than 25 percent apple juice, shop sales of fruit-flavored ciders have grown by 80 percent in the past year, with additions of ginger, honey, rhubarb, cloudberries, red berries or lime.

France, where only drinks made exclusively from apples can be called cider, is the only major market in which cider sales are forecast to fall in the 2011-2016 period, according to Euromonitor, which sees an overall 8 percent decline there…

scrumpy_L

Most of the article will appeal to investors – I think. There’s a lot to read and research if you’re interested.

Poisonally, I grew up getting absolutely wasted on crude, almost lethal hard cider from a local bootlegger in Connecticut. It was terrible crap and I thought it was going to kill me a couple of times.

Years later, my closest friend introduced me to the real deal in Normandy – and since then I’ve experienced some craft finds in Scotland, below in the land of the Sassenach and here in the States, Not widely available. But, consistent, with the tiny sparkle I prefer. It seems closer to pairing with the European country cooking my wife and I prefer.