– September 2, 2014

Phone makers look to emerging markets for growth 

(AP) — Here's the rub for companies: A good part of the key markets they serve already own smartphones and use them to connect various Internet services. How do you grow from there?

Services from Facebook to Firefox are looking to emerging markets for the next few billion people. They are not only targeting the obvious high-population countries such as India and China, but also see potential in Latin America, Africa and just about everywhere beyond the U.S., Canada, western Europe and a few Asian nations.

One message has been clear this week at the Mobile World Congress wireless show in Barcelona, Spain: Even as the affluent crave the latest iPhones or Android phones, most of the world can't afford the hundreds of dollars they cost.

So there's been a push to get mobile devices cheap enough to reach emerging markets without sacrificing so much performance that first-time smartphone owners will give up on the Internet and forgo a second smartphone down the road.

It's a delicate balance.

When Motorola Mobility introduced the low-cost Moto G smartphone last fall, the company emphasized how it was bringing the features of high-end smartphones to a device that starts at just $179. Even then, it had to sacrifice camera resolution and connectivity to the faster 4G LTE cellular networks. And $179 is still expensive for many.

At the Barcelona show this week, Nokia Corp. unveiled the Nokia X series, starting at 89 euros ($122).
"In the growth market ... a couple of bucks make a huge difference," said Timo Toikkanen, Nokia's executive vice president for mobile phones.

Still too expensive? Try some of the $50 to $70 smartphones based on Firefox OS, a system adapted from the popular Firefox Web browser. Mozilla, the organization behind Firefox, announced a partnership with Chinese chipmaker Spreadtrum Communications Inc. to create a blueprint for any phone maker to make $25 smartphones.

Microsoft Corp., meanwhile, said it was relaxing hardware requirements to keep phone costs down. For instance, phones no longer need physical camera and control buttons. Those can now be done through software instead.

It is also working with Qualcomm Inc. on blueprints for any phone maker to quickly design a Windows phone. While global brands such as Apple and Samsung reign in industrialized countries, smaller, regional manufacturers thrive in emerging markets because of lower distribution costs and better tailoring to local needs.
Internet services also see opportunities in finding the next few billions in emerging markets.

In fact, getting the smartphone and the connectivity is just the beginning, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during Monday's keynote. More important, he said, is giving people a reason to connect: basic financial services, access to health care information and educational materials. He sees Facebook as the "on ramp" to all those services.

In many ways, emerging markets provide unmatched opportunities.

Apple has insisted on making premium smartphones. Even last fall's iPhone 5c was just $100 cheaper, at $549, than the more-advanced iPhone 5s. That's way beyond the reach of many people in poorer countries.

"They are focusing on the premium segment," Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing told The Associated Press. "Their market has become mature, saturated. So now, if you want to further grow, you must focus on those emerging markets, particular those poor people."

He said Lenovo releases 40 or 50 smartphones a year to meet the diversity of needs in those markets.

Making cheap phones available will help companies expand in developed countries, too. Even in the U.S., not everyone wants or can afford a high-end smartphone, Sony Mobile President Kunimasa Suzuki said in an interview.

But emerging markets also pose challenges unfamiliar in the industrialized world.

The easy one to solve is to support two SIM cards in the same phone. Pricing and plans vary so much in emerging markets that it's common for people to use different carriers for different circumstances. The Moto G, the Nokia X and Sony's new Xperia M2 phone support that, and Microsoft will enable that in Windows Phone this spring.

More challenging is dealing with expensive data connections, something Zuckerberg posed as a bigger barrier than smartphone affordability.

Chris Weasler, whose role at Facebook is to improve access to Internet services around the world, said he has met many smartphone owners who forgo data services and use the devices instead as mobile computers and cameras.

Local wireless carriers will need to better educate their customers on the value of connectivity, he said, while app developers need to tweak their services to work on slower, less reliable networks. He said Facebook learned that when a team went to Africa and couldn't use Facebook's Android app because it pulled too much data.

Firefox phones have FM radio tuners built in so owners won't waste data connection on streaming services, while another emerging system, Ubuntu, tries to make sure it has apps that work well offline.

To address the lack of credit cards in emerging markets, Nokia replaced Android's card-based app store with one that permits billing directly to mobile operators.

Ultimately, companies need to figure out what to sacrifice to bring costs down. Forget high-resolution video or a giant screen, such as the 5.1-inch display on the Samsung Galaxy S5 that was announced Monday. Not only are those features expensive, they require faster processors and longer battery life, adding to expenses.

Cellular connectivity through 4G is also something often dropped, as many emerging markets are lucky just to have the slower 3G.

But what's good enough? Leo Li, CEO of Spreadtrum, said phones using his company's blueprints work as good as Apple's iPhone 4. But that's a 4-year-old phone. Nonetheless, he said performance is better than the basic phones that first-timers are upgrading from.

By upgrading, people can truly access the Web and aren't limited to the few services that phone makers already included.

"To spend a little more for a true Web experience is pretty good, even if the resolution isn't as good as the iPhone," said Jay Sullivan, Mozilla's chief operating officer. "People want to be connected. They want to be online and have access to all the information and all the things we do, like maps, as they explore new places."
AP Technology Writer Barbara Ortutay in New York contributed to this story..

Should restaurants allow dogs on outdoor patios?


gordonwebstergordonwebster Gordon Webster - Publisher
gordonwebstergordonwebster Gabriel Dillard - Managing Editor

Latest Local News

Written on 09/02/2014, 2:02 pm by ben
One of the Central Valley’s best kept secrets will finally be shared when a new show premiering on ValleyPBS brings viewers into local restaurants for a...
Written on 09/02/2014, 1:56 pm by Hannah Esqueda
Dog-owners can look forward to spending even more quality time with their favorite pets as a new California law passed this month has opened the door for pet dogs in outdoor dining areas. The law does not take effect until next year but local restaurant groups are already planning ahead. Bill Kuebler, manager with the Tower District Marketing Committee, said he thinks the bill will be beneficial for restaurants in the area. “It’s hard sometimes because people will bring their dogs and want to get a bite to eat and relax. This will definitely help and be nice once it goes into effect,” he said. The law does not require restaurant owners to make accommodations for dogs but does lay down clear guidelines for those who do. “I think the state looked at the counties throughout California which already had a law specific to the issue and tried to make a general one so it was uniform,” said Stephanie Kahl with the Fresno County Department of Health. Fresno County does not currently have any laws in place specific to dogs in outdoor dining areas, she said. The county enforces state laws however, and will adapt to the new law when it goes into effect. “It’s nice now to have something spelled out,” Kahl said. Under the new law, dogs would not be allowed near any food preparation and would need to enter the outdoor dining area through a separate outdoor entrance rather than through the main restaurant. Dogs will also need to be on a leash or in a carrier and can not sit on the furniture. Any messes made by the dogs would need to be immediately cleaned up.Kuebler said that many of the restaurants in the Tower District already have patio dining spaces that meet the law’s requirements. Vini Vidi Vici, Irene’s Cafe, Sequoia Brewing Company and the Landmark all have outdoor dining with separate entrances from the main restaurant, he said.The new bill comes at an interesting time for Fresno restaurants as the city recently relaxed the regulations for outdoor dining permits. The change came in March and was hailed as a restaurant-friendly move by City Hall. Restaurant owners can now acquire outdoor dining permits over-the-counter and avoid paying thousands of dollars obtaining special approval. At the time, many city leaders and restaurant owners said they hoped relaxing the laws for outdoor dining spaces would help encourage business growth in areas like downtown Fresno. The change was made the same night the city council voted to reopen the Fulton Mall to traffic. While the state law lays out specific rules restaurant owners must follow when allowing dogs in patio areas, some concerns still remain.Dave Fansler of the Fansler Restaurant Group, which owns several north Fresno restaurants, said he is concerned about potential legal issues. “The one thing the law does not get into is the liability factor,” he said. If someone is bitten by a dog while at one of his restaurants, he would be held liable, he said. While several of his restaurants have patio-dining areas, Fansler said he does not plan on allowing dogs in anytime soon.“I have two dogs, but I don’t want to eat with them,” he said. “That’s not really something that we want to get into. I’m already responsible for people, I don’t really want to be responsible for dogs too.”Fansler said he thinks the law is better suited for smaller restaurants with a slower business pace.“I can see it working well for coffeehouses but I don’t see it being real appropriate in a real dining setting where they are serving food,” he said. Craig Scharton, who named his business after his pet dog Peeve disagreed. While the law is a step in the right direction, Scharton said he would like to see it go even further. “It’s a huge trend that’s really taken hold on the coast where we vacation but not here where we live,” Scharton said. “The cool cities are all allowing dogs on the inside too.”Never a species to be ignored, cats are also getting in on the action. Scharton said he has heard of several places in California and Oregon where cats are not only allowed inside the restaurant, but actually live there. While eating dinner surrounded by furry critters may sound appealing to some animal-lovers, indoor dining with pets is unlikely to happen in Fresno anytime soon, Scharton said. Instead, he thinks the push for change will have to come from pet-owners and the general public. He said pet-friendly businesses would have to take the first steps towards welcoming four-legged friends — a feat well suited for the Tower District, which holds the Whitie’s Pets Pooch Parade every fall. Last year, more than 1,500 people attended the parade, dressing up dogs in costumes and marching down Olive Avenue, Kuebler said.“It’s a testament to how popular dogs are in the neighborhood,” he said. While the new doggy dining law will not have taken place by the time this year’s event is hosted in October, Kuebler said it will still be nice to know pets will eventually be welcomed. Hannah Esqueda  |  Reporter can be reached at:490-3461 or e-mail
Written on 09/02/2014, 1:46 pm by gabrieldillard
An event that jams months and even years worth of entrepreneurial development into one weekend is coming to Fresno for the first time next weekend.Startup Weekend Fresno runs Sept. 5-7 at the University Business Center at Fresno State. The events, which give teams of aspiring entrepreneurs with technical and/or business backgrounds 54 hours to flesh out an actual idea for a startup, are held all over the globe. Connor Alstrom, a student assistant at the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Fresno State, is one of the event’s organizers. He said the event is geared toward people who have an initial interest in starting their own business.“The appeal is for those people to get a taste for what startups are and what they do,” Alstrom said.The event kicks off on Sept. 5 with dinner, networking and guest speakers. After that, participants will each get a minute to pitch their own business idea. The ten best ideas are determined through a vote, then teams are formed around each of the best ideas for further development, including a business model, coding, design and market validation.Eric Ligouri, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Fresno State, is also a Startup Weekend Fresno organizer. He said events like this enable potential startups to connect with the right people and resources. With the popular 59 Days of Code event in Fresno wrapping up its four-year run this year, there’s a need for events that highlight technical and entrepreneurship skills in the region.“This allows us to cast a wide net to see what’s going on,” Ligouri said.Tickets for participating in the event range in price from $64.99 to $79.99 with discounts for early registrants and students. Tickets to the 6 p.m. showcase on Sept. 7 cost $19.99. For more information and tickets, visit there are small prizes including tablets and other goods, Startup Weekend isn’t so much about the money, Ligouri said.“It’s about feeding a pipeline of ideas into existing infrastructure,” Ligouri said.When it comes to starting your own business, Michael Minassian can attest to the benefits of plugging into existing infrastructure to develop a venture. Minassian, a 2013 graduate of Fresno State’s entrepreneurship program, cites the guidance of a mentor gained through the program as a major motivator in his electronic cigarette venture.Minassian runs a business called No-Town Vapors, which is a mobile shop that sells electronic cigarette products to customers. He is also a partner in 3 Dollar Vape Club, an electronic cigarette product business that works off of a monthly subscription model.Minassian, 32, works four 10-hour shifts a week at the Internal Revenue Service while running his ventures. His advice for potential entrepreneurs is to develop a support system and operate without regrets.“For the past two years I have done more than anyone else can in my situation,” Minassian said. “I don’t want to regret anything I haven’t done. I give it all I got.” Gabriel Dillard  |  Editor can be reached at:490-3467 or e-mail
Written on 09/02/2014, 1:45 pm by MATTHEW CRAFT, AP Business Writer
(AP) — Concerns over weaker global economic growth appeared to outweigh a pair of strong reports on the U.S. economy Tuesday, nudging stocks to a tiny loss. Crude oil prices sank 3 percent, pulling down stocks of oil producers. Small-companies, which have fewer ties to the world economy, made gains. Meanwhile, the dollar reached a one-year high against the euro as short-term interest rates edged up. "It's the picture of U.S. strength against the backdrop of global weakness," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank in Chicago. The S&P 500 index slipped 1.09 point, less than 0.1 percent, to 2,002.28. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 30.89 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,067.56. Market gauges that give greater weight to smaller companies fared better. The Nasdaq rose 17.92 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,598.19. Two reports out Tuesday offered encouraging signs of U.S. economic growth. The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group, said its gauge of manufacturing reached 59 in August, the highest level since March 2011, buoyed by new orders for goods and increased production. Separately, the Commerce Department said that construction spending surged 1.8 percent in July, the biggest increase in more than 2 years. "It's clear we have a very solid economic expansion, but the stock market isn't buzzing much at all," said Anastasia Amoroso, Global Market Strategist at J.P. Morgan Funds. The explanation, she said, is that signs of solid growth raise the odds that the Federal Reserve will move to lift short-term interest rates. Rate increases typically slow stock markets down. "We're moving closer and closer to higher rates," Amoroso said, "so strong economic momentum could actually put a damper on the market." A handful of key events and economic reports out later in the week could make for volatile trading. The European Central Bank meets Thursday, and the U.S. employment report for August comes out Friday. Stronger hiring by U.S. businesses and rising corporate profits have helped push the S&P 500 index up 8 percent this year. Ablin said a stock market drop caused by the Fed hiking rates wouldn't exactly be a bad thing. Waiting too long could make the pain much worse. "I would rather take a spoonful of medicine today than a tourniquet later." Major markets across Europe were mixed. Germany's DAX inched up 0.3 percent, and both the CAC-40 in France and Britain's FTSE 100 ended flat. The euro continued its summer slide, hitting $1.313 against the U.S. currency. Recent economic reports have shown the eurozone's economy slowing to a crawl, and that has weighed on the euro. The price of oil slumped, pulling down shares of oil and gas companies. Benchmark U.S. crude dropped $3.08 to close at $92.88 a barrel, its lowest price since January. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell $2.45 to end at $100.34. That was Brent's lowest closing price since May of 2013. News that Norwegian Cruise Line agreed to buy Prestige Cruises International for $3 billion sent Norwegian Cruise Line's stock up 11 percent. Analysts said the deal should help Norwegian compete with its larger rivals: Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises. Norwegian Cruise Line jumped $3.68 to $36.99. Exelixis lost more than half its value following news that the drug developer's potential treatment for prostate cancer fell short in late-stage research. The company's stock plunged $2.29, or 55 percent, to $1.85. U.S. government bond prices dropped, lifting long-term interest rates. The yield on the 10-year note rose to 2.41 percent, up from 2.35 percent late Friday. In metals trading, gold fell $22.40, or 1.7 percent, to $1,265 an ounce. Silver slipped 34 cents, also 1.7 percent, to $19.152 an ounce. Copper was flat at $3.155 a pound.
Written on 09/02/2014, 1:44 pm by ben
For the last year, Clovis auto dealership Eckhaus Fleet has been a lone force helping police departments up and down the Valley fight crime and bad air with electric motorcycles.The dealership, located at the corner of Gettysburg and Clovis avenues, is known as the place where rental car companies or public agencies turn to when beefing up their fleets. Now, Eckhaus Fleet is beginning to carve out a niche as one of only a handful of dealerships in California and the only one in the San Joaquin Valley selling the latest products from Zero Motorcycles, the nation’s top electric motorcycle manufacturer based in Santa Cruz.Tim Yopp of Eckhaus Fleet said the dealership has delivered anywhere from 30 to 40 of the motorcycles to police departments throughout Central California, while another 70 are on order.The Ceres Police Department has three on hand, for example, and two each are already in use in Dinuba, Tulare, Parlier and Ripon, while campus police are riding one around at UC Merced.Hanford has two on the way and Stockton and Clovis are both waiting on five, the latter of which will be delivered during the “Rock the Mall” event this evening at the Sierra Vista Mall. Yopp said Clovis has plans to feature the bikes at its annual rodeo, while Fresno State is also working out the finances for three or four to be used by campus police at football games and other events.Besides the obvious cost savings on gas and maintenance to fuel systems, the units have been popular among law enforcement agencies for a number of reasons.For one thing, Yopp said, the best-selling dual sport models can go 120 miles on a charge from any standard 110-volt outlet, hitting speeds of up to 98 mph without the need for shifting.“Electric motors have incredible torque so you can go between 30 to 80 miles per hour pretty quickly without noticing,” Yopp said.Yopp added that the bikes run cool compared to their gasoline counterparts, allowing officers to leave them running in the highest temperatures while waiting to nab lawbreakers. But perhaps the most tempting incentive has to do with size and stealth. At around 260 pounds, the Zero motorcycles have around half the weight of a standard police bike and make even less noise.For the Tulare Police Department, which got its pair of Zero motorcycles around six months ago, the additions have enabled motor officers to easily navigate the pedestrian cluttered Santa Fe Trail and also patrol annual events like the California Farm Equipment Show at the International Agri-Center and the Tulare County Fair.“Because of the design of the bike and other things, we utilize it for policing areas that are not accessible by regular street motorcycles,” said Administrative Sergeant Darron Altermatt. “They’re quiet and they’re cost effective.”At a cost of $18,000 to $22,000 for the newest models and accessories, the Zero motorcycles can usually be reimbursed with the Public Benefits Grant Program.Launched last year by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, the program offers public agencies in the eight-county Valley air basin up to $20,000 per vehicle or $100,000 per year to purchase new, alternative-fueled vehicles that run off electricity or natural gas.“It’s helping clean the air in the Valley and we certainly need that,” Yopp said.Two weeks ago, Eckhaus Fleet featured the Zero Motorcycles at the annual Rumble to the Peak that had hundreds of bikers making the trek from the Selma Auto Mall to China Peak ski resort near Huntington Lake.From that, Yopp said the company generated a lot of interest from folks eyeing the Zero models as a second vehicle, similar to what police officers have been saying for months.“We’re in the process of opening a retail store in Clovis because a lot of police offers are coming to us saying ‘I’d like to get one for my wife or buy one,’” Yopp said. Ben Keller  |  Reporter can be reached at:490-3465 or e-mail
Written on 09/02/2014, 1:35 pm by Business Journal staff
Coalinga State Hospital and Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga will now get a portion of their power from two new solar system built by SunEdison. SunEdison and its affiliate TerraForm Power, announced the completion of the systems last week that together will provide enough electricity to power around 800 homes each year. One, a 2.6 megawatt system for the Coalinga State Hospital, lies adjacent to another 1.6 megawatt system for the Pleasant Valley State Prison, both located off of W. Jayne Avenue east of Coalinga. With the completion of the two projects, all five of the systems in TerraForm Power's California Public Institutions portfolio are now fully operational. Energy savings will be realized over 20 years through a power purchase agreement with a subsidiary of TerraForm Power. Coalinga State Hospital is expected to get 24 percent of its electricity from its solar system during the first year. Operation and maintenance will be performed by the SunEdison Renewable Operation Center. Coalinga State Prison, managed by the Department of State Hospitals, was built in 2005 to care for mentally ill inmates from Pleasant Valley State Prison, one of 36 correctional facilities operated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The prison is one of 12 state correctional facilities using solar electricity.
Written on 09/02/2014, 1:32 pm by LINDSEY TANNER, AP Medical Writer
(AP) — Removing both breasts to treat cancer affecting only one side doesn't boost survival chances for most women, compared with surgery that removes just the tumor, a large study suggests. The results raise concerns about riskier, potentially unnecessary operations that increasing numbers of women are choosing. The study involved nearly 200,000 California women treated for cancer in one breast and followed for several years afterward. Ten-year survival rates were nearly identical — roughly 82 percent — for women who had lumpectomies to remove the tumor plus radiation, and for those who had double mastectomies. Women who had a single mastectomy, removal of just the cancerous breast, fared slightly worse. The results confirm what many doctors have suspected, said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. "There's no guarantee that by having the second breast removed that you will do better," said Lichtenfeld, who had no role in the research. In the study, just over half the women had lumpectomy treatment. But the number who had double mastectomies increased substantially to 12 percent between 1998 and 2011. The trend was most notable in women younger than 40, climbing from just 4 percent to 33 percent. Other research suggests that removing both breasts to treat one-sided cancer may improve survival chances for the relatively small number of women who have genetic breast cancer or strong family histories of the disease, said study co-author Scarlett Gomez, a research scientist with the Cancer Prevention Institute of California. But most breast cancer patients have neither of those risks. The medical community is paying increasing attention to overtreatment and excessive costs, and the study results raise questions about reasons for rising use of an expensive, potentially risky treatment "of dubious effectiveness," the researchers said. Patients' preferences and fear that cancer will return play a role, but that fear "usually exceeds estimated risk," the study said. Reasons why survival was slightly worse for woman who had just one breast removed are uncertain, although this treatment is more common among Hispanic and black women and those with lower incomes and public insurance than among wealthy whites. The study was published Tuesday in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association. A journal editorial notes that the study echoes previous research and adds to a debate about the rising prevalence of double mastectomies. The results may raise questions about whether surgeons, for financial reasons, are driving the trend, but that is unlikely, Dr. Lisa Newman, a surgery professor and director of the University of Michigan's Breast Care Center said in the editorial. "A greater concern than financial incentives may be a surgeon's preference based on his/her own experience, regardless of the data," she wrote. Patients should be given time to absorb a cancer diagnosis, and educated about treatment options, risks and benefits, before being pressed into decisions about irreversible surgery, Newman said. Amy Curran Baker, an author from suburban New York City who chose a double mastectomy after her 2008 diagnosis, said her doctor presented her with options including lumpectomy. But he ultimately recommended the more invasive treatment because she had family members with breast cancer, and Baker said she doesn't regret her choice. "I don't think we can discount the importance of 'peace of mind' in a patient's decision-making process," said Baker, who wrote a book about mastectomy recovery. "We all work to heal ourselves psychologically in different ways and for some women this may be one of them." Her cancer returned two years ago, in scar tissue from the operation on the breast where the disease first appeared, but Baker said she is doing well after chemotherapy and radiation. The study authors examined data from the California Cancer Registry, part of a national cancer surveillance program. The data lacked information on how many women had genetic breast cancer or strong family histories of the disease. ___Online:JAMA: sbothBreast cancer:
Written on 09/02/2014, 12:52 pm by ELLEN KNICKMEYER, Associated Press
(AP) — California regulatory judges issued a $1.4 billion penalty on Tuesday against the state's largest utility for a 2010 gas pipeline explosion that engulfed a suburban San Francisco neighborhood in fire, killing eight people and prompting national alerts about aging pipelines. The California Public Utilities Commission said the figure reached by two administrative law judges against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. would be the largest safety related penalty it had ever imposed. PG&E can appeal the fine. An email to a company representative for comment was not immediately returned. But PG&E said in a statement it fully accepts that a penalty is appropriate. "We have respectfully asked that the commission ensure that the penalty is reasonable and proportionate and takes into consideration the company's investments and actions to promote safety," PG&E said. The commission previously ordered PG&E to pay $635 million for pipeline modernization in the wake of the Sept. 9, 2010, blast in the suburban San Francisco community of San Bruno. It destroyed more than three dozen homes and was California's deadliest utility disaster in decades. The $1.4 billion penalty includes a $950 million fine that PG&E must pay into the state's general fund, $400 million for pipeline improvements, and about $50 million to enhance pipeline safety. PG&E cannot recover any of the money from customers, including the earlier $635 million penalty. The administrative law judges found that PG&E committed nearly 3,800 violations of state and federal laws, rules, standards or regulations in the operation of its gas transmission system. The blast occurred when a 30-inch natural-gas transmission line installed in 1956 ruptured. At the time, survivors described the heat of the blast burning the back of their necks like a blowtorch as they ran away. San Bruno city officials were just beginning to study Tuesday's decision, but it appeared the penalty fell short of what was needed to ensure PG&E upgraded pipeline safety as much as necessary, city manager Connie Jackson said. "Based on what we're seeing, it does not appear that this penalty amount goes far enough," Jackson said. A 2011 investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the rupture occurred in a weak weld in a pipeline that PG&E records had shown as being smooth and unwelded. PG&E neglected to shut off natural gas feeding the fire until 95 minutes after the blast, the federal investigators said. The 2011 probe found PG&E's safety management of its pipelines overall deficient and ineffective. At the same time, the federal board also faulted what it called the ineffectiveness of California's Public Utilities Commission in regulating the power utility, whose service area covers all but the southern one-third of California. This year, federal prosecutors separately indicted PG&E on 27 counts alleging the utility violated pipeline safety requirements. Another federal count alleges PG&E lied to the National Transportation Safety Board in that agency's investigation of the San Bruno blast. PG&E faces additional fines of more than $1 billion if convicted of the federal charges, which are separate from the financial penalties that the California state administrative judges weighed. PG&E pleaded not guilty to the federal counts earlier in August.___AP writer Garance Burke contributed to this report.
Written on 09/02/2014, 12:47 pm by Hannah Esqueda
Total conversion to electronic health records has been slow for hospitals and medical practices across the country, but California-based Meditab Software is seeking to make the transition as painless as possible. In July, the company held an open house at its Fresno office and announced the release of a new version of its flagship service — Intelligent Medical Software (IMS) version 14.0. The software is certified for stage two of the federal Meaningful Use program, allowing clients the opportunity to qualify for valuable government subsidies. The software is designed to act as a customizable full-office suite for clients, Jonathon Hogan, Meditab U.S. Support Software Analyst Lead, said. “Whether you’re a large practice with lots of doctors or have a small staff with just one doctor and a few nurses, it can handle the workload,” he said.Clients who use the software can store patient’s electronic health records in either a local or cloud-based server and easily make immediate referrals, appointments and prescriptions. For example, a patient’s whose doctor uses the Meditab software would be able to see their prescription whenever they log in to their end of the care portal, Hogan said.“This way it doesn’t matter if the patient loses the physical paper prescription,” he said. They can still go to the pharmacy and have their records show the prescription was made. While Meditab’s software is designed for health care professionals, making life easier for patients is also a goal of the program. The software allows patients to easily access their own health records and communicate directly with their doctors, a key part of the requirements for stage two of the government’s Meaningful Use program. Launched in 2009, the Meaningful Use program is designed to help offset hospital and physician costs when making the switch to electronic health records (EHR) by authorizing the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services to provide incentive payments to eligible professionals. At the time, many institutions had been slow to adopt the digital format because of the upfront costs. According to a 2011 study in Health Affairs, the average first-year investment in EHR for a five-person practice cost $162,000 and an additional $85,000 in maintenance fees. Many hospitals and physicians have already benefited from the $30 billion set aside for Meaningful Use subsidies. But, a report released this month by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said that while most participants had an easy time in stage one of the program, many are now struggling to meet requirements for stage two. Specifically, many physicians still only have a basic EHR system and struggle to get patients to interact with their own health records. This is where EHR software companies like Meditab step in. The latest version of its software is designed to meet stage two requirements, including opportunities for patients to access and use their own EHR.“[The software] acts as a portal between the patient and their health care provider,” Hogan said. “They have access to everything they need.”In fact, patients interact with the Meditab EHR system every time they visit their doctor. To check in, they use a keychain tag with a barcode similar to those already used in rewards programs for grocery stores and pharmacies. Patients simply scan the barcode and the computer pulls up their chart.“If there are any forms they need to fill out those will print automatically at the front,” Hogan said. Meditab has more than 2,500 clients nationwide, 50 of which are located in the Central Valley, Hogan said. Many of the company's clients have already upgraded to the latest version of software, including several local ones.Dr. Tushar Patel already upgraded to the new version and said he is impressed with how the software meets the needs of both physician and patient.Patel is a pediatrician at Children’s Medical Centers in Fresno. The practice has two other doctors and twenty-eight employees in total.“Each and every employee uses the [Meditab] services,” he said. “It’s very user friendly software.”After using other EHR services in the past Patel said he was unhappy with their user interface and switched to Meditab while still paying for an old contract with another company. “It was well worth the conversion,” Patel said. “I feel like I have the Rolls Royce of [EHR] services.”Since the company’s support center is located in Fresno, Patel said he also has more personal interaction with the company.  The Fresno office handles support for all U.S. clients, but can only offer in-person assistance to local customers, Hogan said. At the open house event in July, local health professionals were encouraged to stop by and meet the support staff and demo the company’s software, he said. “They could put their hands on it and demo it,” he said. “Developers were also here to help answer whatever questions they might have. It’s kind of nice to have that face-to-face as opposed to over the phone or online.”Clients were also shown the company’s new mobile app for doctors, IMS Go. The program gives doctor’s “access on the fly” and they can easily pull up a patients chart and information even when they are away from the office. “You always have your phone with you, but you don’t always have your laptop,” Hogan said. Having the health records be so accessible is one of the qualities Patel appreciates most about Meditab’s software.“We don’t have to walk to the back and pull [the patient’s] file out,” he said. “Since the chart is virtual everything is right there at your fingertips.”This helps cut down on patient wait time. Transcription errors have also decreased since his office went digital, and overall Patel said the move has made his patient’s lives easier and safer. “Giving them that opportunity to look into their own files empowers them,” he said.
Written on 09/02/2014, 12:46 pm by ANNE D'INNOCENZIO, AP Retail Writer
(AP) — Home Depot may be the latest retailer to suffer a credit card data breach. The Atlanta-based home improvement retailer told The Associated Press Tuesday that it's looking into "unusual activity" and that it's working with both banks and law enforcement. "Protecting our customers' information is something we take extremely seriously, and we are aggressively gathering facts at this point while working to protect customers," said Paula Drake, a spokeswoman at Home Depot, declining to elaborate. She noted that if the retailer confirms that a breach occurred, it will notify customers immediately. Shares of Home Depot Inc. fell 2 percent to $90.91 in late trading. Many retailers have had security walls broken in recent months, including Target, grocery store chain Supervalu, P.F. Chang's and the thrift store operations of Goodwill. The rash of breaches has pushed retailers, banks and card companies to increase security by speeding the adoption of microchips into U.S. credit and debit cards. The possible data breach at Home Depot was first reported by Brian Krebs of Krebs on Security, a website that focuses on cybersecurity. Krebs said multiple banks reported "evidence that Home Depot stores may be the source of a massive new batch of stolen credit and debit cards." The Krebs report says that the responsible party may be the same group of Russian and Ukrainian hackers suspected in last year's massive breach at Target Corp. Target, based in Minneapolis, has been overhauling its security department and systems and is accelerating its $100 million plan to roll out chip-based credit card technology in all of its nearly 1,800 stores. In its massive data breach, 40 million credit and debit card accounts were compromised and hackers stole personal information from as many as 70 million customers. The breach hurt profits, sales and its reputation with shoppers. At Supervalu, the data breach may have impacted as many as 200 of its grocery and liquor stores and potentially affected retail chains recently sold by the company in two dozen states. The breach occurred between June 22 and July 17, according to Supervalu. Restaurant operator P.F. Chang's confirmed in June that data from credit and debit cards used at its restaurants was stolen.

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