National News

It's not a happy new year for employees of Alibaba

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-02-17 01:30
$300 a day

That's how much one West Coast customs broker says her customers are being charged for containers stuck at ports along the California coast, as reported by the WSJ. As the ongoing contract dispute between port workers and employers continues, businesses both large and small are beginning to feel the pinch.

10 countries

That's how many countries in which Sony will sell its augmented reality smart glasses. As reported by the BBC, sales for the glasses will begin next month, with a single pair costing $840. However, some industry insiders are not optimistic—Google faced difficulty in normalizing the technology, and Sony's design is even larger and more obtrusive.

$4 billion

That's how much the quilting industry pulls in annually. And lately, a growing number of crafters are willing to pay to learn new skills. Online craft tutorial site Craftsy, for example, brought in $43 million in 2014. The company is hoping to capitalize on millennial interest in the Do-It-Yourself industry.

$25 billion

That's how much Alibaba pulled in its IPO in September. Yet its revenue results in the third quarter fell below estimates. As reported by Quartz, disappointing earnings are why CEO Jack Ma says he will not be giving out the customary red envelopes for Chinese New Year to employees.

10 days

That's how many days are left before Athens' credit line expires—Talks between Greece and the euro zone broke down Monday night. As reported by Reuters, failure to reach a deal could result in Greece becoming the first country to leave the euro zone. 

You Might Want To Take Another Pass At Your Passwords

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-16 23:33

They have become so complicated that, in some cases, passwords have undermined their own security intent. But experts say there is still value in keeping your digital door locked with a good password.

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So An American Comic Walks Into A Chinese Bar ...

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-16 23:31

American comics are taking the stage in China's small but growing stand-up comedy circuit. Their bi-cultural, and often bilingual, shows are a new form of cultural exchange.

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Judge Temporarily Blocks Obama's Executive Action On Immigration

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-16 20:36

A federal judge temporarily blocked President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration Monday, giving a coalition of 26 states time to pursue a lawsuit that aims to permanently stop the orders.

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Train Derailment In West Virginia Sends Oil Tanker Into River

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-16 16:49

One person was being treated for potential inhalation issues, but no other injuries were reported, according to CSX, the train company.

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Lesley Gore, Famous For Her Song 'It's My Party,' Has Died

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-16 15:35

Gore was most known for her anthem of teen angst, but her career had multiple hits, as well as an Oscar nomination.

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Why you have the emoji choices you do

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-02-16 14:11

Emoji users sent a lot of ❤s over the Valentine's Day weekend. Maybe a kissy face or cat heart eyes face too.

But, what about when the message you want to send is a little less kissy, and more obscure? Have you ever wondered why you have the emoji choices you do?

Journalist Hannah Rosefield from Vice's Motherboard wrote about the politics of emoji diversity  and where the future of the miniature illustrations is headed:

When Lego designed its stocky, squared-off human figures in the 1970s, it chose for the skin colour a bright, primary yellow. The yellow was recognisably human, yet artificial enough not to be identified with any particular race. You can see the same principle at work in the first 58 emoji on the Apple emoji keyboard: eight rows of yellow circles, raceless and genderless, each with a different expression.

After that, there’s a boy in a Chinese cap and a man in a turban. From then on, every human emoji is white. White couples hold hands, kiss, and nestle a white child between them; white girls in pink tops cut their hair and paint their nails. White hands clap and wave.

Not for much longer. Earlier this month the Unicode Consortium, the company that enables emoji to appear across different devices, released a draft report that includes a proposal for diversifying their emoji provision. While most emoji fans have been celebrating the news, others have reservations. Bernie Hogan, a research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, recognises that current provisions are inadequate but fears that diversification will lead to a new set of problems. “When emoji become personally representative, they become politicised,” he told me.


A visit to LA-based shoe company Zuzii

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-02-16 13:50

Zuzii is a family-owned footwear manufacturing business that operates in Downtown Los Angeles. Ryan Campbell started the company six years ago with her sister Alex and mother Nikki. 

The three Campbells work 16-hour days and make up to fifty pairs of shoes per day in their 4,000 square-foot studio. Zuzii makes shoes for women and children by hand, and they plan on launching a men’s collection this Summer.

Marketplace visits Zuzii Shoes from Marketplace on Vimeo.

The Campbells have created a three-station system: Ryan cuts Italian leather into the five pieces that create a shoe, Alex adds the shoe eyelets and size numbers, and Nikki sews and glues the shoes together. 

All of the shoes are handmade to order, yet Zuzii keeps their prices relatively low.

“We feel like it’s a very fair price point for goods that are made in the U.S. We structured our manufacturing in a way that we could offer that,” says Ryan Campbell. “We don’t use sales reps and traditional advertising – that’s something we decided to abandon. We rely on Instagram and Facebook and our customers and their experience with the product and word of mouth to get the brand out there.”

The ladies are proud of their business and are glad they are able to manufacture their goods in the U.S. – while being debt free.

“We’ve grown slowly but it’s allowed us to make really stable decisions,” Ryan says. “As a U.S. manufacturer, there were a lot of uncertainties. Would it work? Would it be accepted? Would it continue to grow? So we didn’t want to bury ourselves in debt and have it not work out.”

Egypt finds alternative to U.S.- made warplanes

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-02-16 13:45

In 2013, angered at the Egyptian government's slow transition to democracy, the U.S. suspended some military aid to Egypt. By purchasing French-made jets, Cairo may be sending Washington a message: We have other suppliers.

"Military aid," though, is a tricky term. In this case, it means that Washington gives Egypt a grant of more than $1 billion a year to buy American-made tanks, jets, and armored personnel carriers. If aid is suspended, American military industries take the hit. Thus, the economic implications of a U.S.-Egypt fallout may be as worrying to some as the geopolitical implications. 

Amy Hawthorne, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, thinks Egypt's purchase is mostly about French economics. The defense sector is an important part of France's struggling economy. Egypt's $5.9 billion purchase could offer France an important boost. Hawthorne says the terms of the deal suggest that if Egypt should default on the loan for the weapons, the French government will cover the cost. 

Hackers steal up to $1 billion from banks

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-02-16 13:45

As first reported by the New York Times, an international group of hackers has allegedly stolen as much as $1 billion from banks around the world, one of the largest bank heists ever.

The hackers used elaborate phishing schemes to impersonate bank employees, delivering malware through attachments which then lay dormant for months gathering key information. Thus far no banks have acknowledged the theft.

At the White House Summit on Cybersecurity last week, President Obama called for a new law requiring public disclosure  in cases of compromised personal or financial data.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated how much hackers were able to take from the banks. It's unclear exactly how much the thieves made off with, but the cybersecurity company reporting the breach said they could have taken up to $1 billion.

Cyber hackers steal more than $1 billion from banks

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-02-16 13:45

As first reported by the New York Times, an international group of hackers has allegedly stolen more than a $1 billion from banks around the world, one of the largest bank heists ever.

The hackers used elaborate phishing schemes to impersonate bank employees, delivering malware through attachments which then lay dormant for months gathering key information. Thus far no banks have acknowledged the theft.

At the White House Summit on Cybersecurity last week, President Obama called for a new law requiring public disclosure  in cases of compromised personal or financial data.

Proposed drone rules allow limited access for some businesses

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-02-16 13:44

The Federal Aviation Administration has released long-awaited proposed rules to regulate commercial drone use. The rules would allow anyone over 17 to take a test to get permission to fly a commercial drone without needing a pilot's license, a key concern of the drone industry.

Commercial drones would have to fly below 500 feet, only during daylight, and always be visible to their operators.

Those restrictions have the industry searching for ways to convince federal regulators that drones can be operated safely with more autonomy, even as some sectors are celebrating what they hope will be new legal applications of drones.

"You could make sure your crops are healthy, if you're a farmer," says Ryan Calo of the University of Washington, who specializes in robotics law, "cover a breaking news event ... you could film a movie."

Tim McClain, who runs a drone research program at Brigham Young University is also looking forward to the new rules.

"Under the current rules, it's just very difficult for us to test, we have to go to restricted airspace, military installations," which can be financially costly, says McClain. He adds that the type of research the current regulations restrict are the very ones that could make commercial drones more safe in the future, with less human oversight.

But the FAA's requirements that commercial drones not fly over populated areas and always be visible to their operators have some in the industry frustrated. Amazon put out a statement saying the new rules would limit its ability to bring to market a planned drone delivery program called "Prime Air."

"The FAA's proposed rules ... could take one or two years to be adopted and, based on the proposal, even then those rules wouldn't allow Prime Air to operate in the United States," Paul Misener, vice president of global public policy at Amazon, said in a written statement.

"We are committed to realizing our vision for Prime Air and are prepared to deploy where we have the regulatory support we need," Misener says. 

An Amazon spokesperson, in an email to Marketplace, said that last statement was key, pointing out that the FAA's proposed rules are U.S. rules.

Australia, Japan and parts of Europe are either already allowing more autonomous commercial drone operations or are considering such moves, says Adam Thierer, who researches technology policy at George Mason University.

Meanwhile, the FAA is taking a better safe than sorry approach, "which is completely understandable, since the FAA is under a mandate to keep the nation's airspace safe for aircraft operation," Thierer says. 

After all, commercial drones could weigh as much as 55 pounds and fly as fast as 100 miles per hour.

Chinese companies look to invest in American real estate

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-02-16 13:24

There’s a big shift happening in the world of international trade. 

For years, China shipped manufactured goods to the rest of the world, which eagerly bought iPods and Barbie dolls. Now, Chinese companies are sitting on big cash reserves, and they’re looking to invest that money in real estate in big world cities like New York. 

Take the Oosten, for example. It’s a $250 million condominium building now under construction on the Brooklyn waterfront and covers a whole city block. The name Oosten means “east” in Dutch, but the builder, Xinyuan, is Chinese. When it’s done, the building will include a lap pool, a daycare center, and landscaped roof decks. From the fourth floor, there are killer views of the Manhattan skyline. 

It will be close to a year before the Oosten is finished, but people are already buying apartments. Many of them, like Wenzhou Xie, are Chinese, living in China. Xie is a mining executive in Hong Kong. 

Xie recently took time out from a business trip to ink the deal. He told me the idea of purchasing property that is literally on the other side of the globe may seem farfetched to Americans, but among high earning Chinese, foreign property is considered to be one part of a balanced portfolio.

“So this is like a small piece of diversification for us, right?” Xie said.

To be clear, Xie has no plans to live in this apartment. He expects to collect a $3,000 rent check every month.

“I think that’s gonna be able to most likely cover my mortgage. After the initial downpayment there shouldn’t be any cash outlay from me,” he says.

And in a few years, when he wants to sell, he’s confident he’ll make a tidy profit.

China-watchers say these may just be the first drops in a heavy rain of Chinese money that’s beginning to fall on big world cities like New York. In a speech last November, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, said China’s outbound investment would top $1.25 trillion over the next decades.

For years, China had strict capital controls, meaning it was difficult to get legal clearance to move money out of the country. But in 2013 and 2014, Beijing loosened those rules. Very quickly, Chinese capital has started to flood into big world cities.

“So that means that there’s this whole new group of competitors and potential purchasers for real estate around the globe,” says Joel Rothstein, a partner at the international law firm Paul Hastings.

Last October, Hilton Hotels agreed to sell the Waldorf-Astoria for almost $2 billion, to a company with no history in New York, China’s Anbang Insurance.

Across the river, in Brooklyn, The Oosten is thought to be the first major construction project by a Chinese company without a local partner. It’s unlikely to be the last. Xinyuan says it’s actively scouting new opportunities to develop property in America.

The meaning behind your favorite number

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-02-16 13:21

When we talk about numbers on Marketplace, we’re usually talking about their numerical value. But what about their cultural meaning?

That’s the subject of Barnaby Rogerson’s collection, “Rogerson's Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers -- from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World"

Here are a few examples from Rogerson:

Thirteen: Often known as an unlucky number – something Rogerson says is true around the world. But it’s also the number of states who rebelled against Britain in the 1770s. Coincidentally, it’s also the number of states recognized by the Confederacy as those rebelling against the Union in the 1860s.

Three: “My father-in-law is a banker who’s been watching the markets all his life ... and he always told me that three percent was the magical area of growth … and his job as a banker was to find out how people were getting more than three percent and how long they could sustain it before they were found out.”

Zero: Rogerson’s least favorite number. “You can’t list zeros … you can’t even list nothing-nesses.” Fun fact: The concept of zero or nothingness didn't get to the British Isles until the 16th century.

Forty-two: Rogerson’s favorite number. Many cultures assign special meaning to the number 42. But it’s also the answer to the Universe, according to Douglas Adams, author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

With Quakes Spiking, Oil Industry Is Under The Microscope In Oklahoma

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-16 12:51

Oil is big business in Oklahoma, and the industry has been a boon for many cities here. But there are concerns that techniques used for extracting oil are behind a surge in temblors in the state.

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Why nobody buys movie tickets online

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2015-02-16 12:16

Even before the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” opened last weekend, it was already a box-office leader for online movie ticket vendor Fandango. However, even for highly-anticipated movies, most tickets are still sold the old-fashioned way, at the box office. 

Price seems like an obvious barrier to wider adoption. Unlike buying a book from Amazon, buying a movie ticket online means the customer pays an extra surcharge.

An executive from a major theater chain disputes that customers prefer to avoid fees.

"Nothing in our testing or our research suggests that it is a barrier," says Brent Cooke, vice president for guest relations at AMC Theatres. Financial analysts disagree.

"You're only going to pay that surcharge if you're not going to get in otherwise," says Sucharita Mulparu, an analyst with Forrester Research. "Otherwise, why bother?"

While some movies with a lot of buzz do sell out, the typical movie-theater experience is more casual.

"People will walk up to a box office and say, ‘What do you want to see?'" says Rebecca Lieb, an analyst with Altimeter Group.

Lieb points out another barrier to selling more tickets online: Lots of movie goers are teenagers. "And they don't have credit cards," she says. 

Eventually, the industry will do what it takes to move all sales online, predicts Michael Pachter, an analyst with Forrester Research.

The customer data, he says, is too valuable to pass up.

"Do you think if we called up Disney, they could tell me whether you’ve seen Iron Man 1, 2 or 3 in the theater?" he says. "They have no idea."

If ticket sales were digital, they would have that information.

"That would give them the opportunity to sell you Iron Man on DVD, or sell you Iron Man merchandise for Halloween, or whatever," he says. "I think that's a bigger opportunity than just getting the ticket sale."

Hygiene, Honeypots, Espionage: 3 Approaches To Defying Hackers

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-16 12:12

The hack of insurer Anthem is one in a string of costly cyberattacks worldwide. In Silicon Valley and beyond, startups are taking very different approaches to helping companies outsmart the attackers.

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Just 55 Miles From ISIS Control, American Expats Carry On Life As Usual

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-16 12:00

The city of Erbil is not far from the front lines of a war, but for Americans living in this part of northern Iraq, the conflict may feel a world away.

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Hackers Pull Off Massive Cyber Bank Heist, Stealing As Much As $1B

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-16 12:00

Audie Cornish speaks with reporter Mike Riley, who covers cybersecurity for Bloomberg Businessweek, about how hackers have infiltrated over 100 banks worldwide over the past two years.

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Egypt Urges The World To Back Its Retaliation To ISIS Killings

NPR News - Mon, 2015-02-16 12:00

Egypt is conducting airstrikes on positions held by the self-declared Islamic State in Libya, in response to a video apparently showing the militants' beheading of Egyptians on the Libyan coast.

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