National News

Apple Responds To BBC On Conditions At Asian iPhone Suppliers

NPR News - Fri, 2014-12-19 11:23

Jeff Williams, the tech giant's vice president for operations, told British-based employees that Apple has done more than any other company to ensure fair and safe working conditions.

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In Context: Algorithms in business

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-19 11:21

This week's show on algorithms beings with a story about rain.

In New York City, when it rains, something interesting happens. The commuters who are prepared pop open their umbrellas. The others, who are damp and cold, see an instant market appear in front of them.

You may have seen this happen where you live. It starts to rain, people need umbrellas, and BOOM, vendors react.

And New York shop owner Randy Thomas makes the decision to move them to the front of his store. This is a pretty straightforward market phenomenon - you increase supply to meet demand.

But it also includes the element of timing. That's when it becomes a little more sophisticated. As simple as it seems, the umbrella market is driven by an algorithm of sorts, calculated in real time. A series of decisions based on changing variables.

And some vendors ... Randy says he's not one of them .. Will even use a moment like this ... To jack up the prices.

Decisions about supply, demand, external variables, timing, and price. All made by a human. In one small store.

But that decision tree ... That's basically what a company like Amazon or Orbitz, does ... Just on a huge scale. Mountains of data, thousands of servers.

And that model helps determine what you buy, for how much, and when. Algorithms can feel like the secret sauce for online commerce ... But they were once used primarily by massive corporations.

Guru Harihan, who used to work at Amazon, now runs a company that makes algorithms accessible to lots of businesses. It's called Boomerang Commerce, and he spoke with Lizzie O'Leary to explain how it helps his clients sell products, increase their profits and compete.

Cuba to expand its internet access

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-19 11:18

In Cuba internet access is heavily restricted to only a few people on the island. What most people see online is very much government controlled. This of course is very different to what American's have access to on a daily basis. But that my soon change, now that President Obama and Cuba are on the path to normalizing relations. This new policy will help Cuban's have more access to the internet. Nancy Scola, a reporter covering Tech Policy for The Washington Post joins Lizzie O'Leary to talk about Cuba's connectivity.

TTYL: Retailers hope to connect over online chat

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-19 11:05

If you’ve been online looking for presents over the holiday season, you might have noticed more and more chat boxes popping up, asking if you need some help. 

Online customer service reps do everything from track down an out-of-stock pair of earnings, to reroute a package, to help pick the perfect red lipstick. Retailers are hoping the reps can help reach customers ... anywhere and everywhere. 

Marketplace’s Adriene Hill spent a day in the Nordstrom customer service center in Seattle, Washington, to find out who, exactly, is writing back. The center estimates its reps talk to about 15,000 customers in one day. And though most people still prefer a phone call to talk to customer service, about 20 percent of customers use online chat.

Click play above to hear this story

Notable customer service stories from 2014:

Wall Street Journal: Lowe’s Introduces Robotic Shopping Assistants

Slate: Listen as a Desperate Comcast Rep Refuses to Cancel a Customer’s Service

Business Insider: Why Richard Branson Once Prank-Called His Own Company Demanding to Speak To Richard Branson

 

 

 

 

Michael Phelps Pleads Guilty To DUI

NPR News - Fri, 2014-12-19 11:02

The Olympic gold medal winner gets no jail time for second conviction for drunk driving. He'll be able to train for Rio with his 18-month supervised probation.

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Concept for federal college-ratings system is unveiled

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-19 11:00

The Obama Administration unveiled what it’s calling a draft “framework” for its long-awaited college ratings system. Colleges have been bracing for details for more than a year now for what could amount to a sort of Consumer Reports for higher education.

The goal is to rate colleges on things like how affordable they are, how well they serve low-income students and how their graduates fare in the job market.

“I think this is a supremely challenging task,” says Molly Broad, president of the American Council on Education.

Part of the challenge, Broad says, is that the department doesn’t have all the data it needs to judge how colleges are really doing. Official graduation rates, for example, don’t count students who switch colleges or go part-time, though the Department is working on a new measure to include those students.

The numbers also don’t take students’ intentions into account, says Nancy Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York. Not all students want to finish “on time.”

“Some are intentionally on the six-year plan,” Zimpher says. “They want three majors, they want study abroad, they really want internships and co-op experiences, and it’s hard to push that into four years.”

That’s why today we have a framework, not a plan. Officials are asking for feedback by mid-February on which data to use and how to fairly compare some 4,000 colleges with different missions and different students.

Ted Mitchell, U.S. Undersecretary of Education, says, “We’re not going to be perfect in version 1.0, but we do hope that we’ll be able to build on it in successive years.” 

That means working out the kinks by 2018, when schools that are rated “low-performing” could face financial penalties.

These 6 charts show our love affair with cars could be over

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-19 11:00

Just when you thought the guzzlers and Hummers were gone for good, gas prices fell again. The numbers show we’re tilting toward bigger cars and away from fuel-sippers. But not driving more.

(Edmunds.com)

In 2007, Americans collectively drove enough to circle the planet 120,000 times. Our total vehicle miles driven tallied 3 trillion miles.

We haven’t hit that number since. Many think North American society, and perhaps advanced economies in general, have passed an inflection point. Call it Peak Car, or Peak Driving.

“What we’ve seen over the past decade has been a decline in per capita driving,” says Tony Dutzik of the Frontier Group, a self-described public-interest think tank based in Boston. Society has moved past a postwar era of more car and more driving, he says.

Vehicle miles traveled.

(State Smart Transportation Initiative)

“We were suburbanizing, women were entering the workforce,” Dutzik says. “Cars went from being a luxury to being a near necessity in most of the country. And all of those changes were leading people to drive more.”

All that has largely played out. Cheaper gasoline will spur some increased demand, but Dutzik argues it will be outweighed by longer-term structural factors. Insurance is soaring, fewer young adults are applying for driver licenses, they drive less, owning a car costs too much and alternatives exist. 

Millenials drive less, walk & bike more

(Frontier Group)

There’s even evidence some would rather be online than on the road.

I'd rather be online

(Frontier Group)

And one more thing: Most of us are moving back to cities, where it can be easier to get around without a car.

“So popularity of cities and the more livable nature of them in terms of crime and other factors, too, have led to folks being able to lead a car-light lifestyle, which was really hard before,” says Eric Sundquist at the University of Wisconsin’s State Smart Transportation Initiative.

Many economists suggest it’s not just driving, but that overall U.S. oil demand has peaked, forever. Which brings up a familiar, haunting question: Is it really different this time?

“Whenever I hear ‘We’re absolutely never going to see these gas prices again, we’re never going to see these annual sales again, we’re never going to see more miles per person being driven again,’ I always say ‘Yeah, uh-huh,’”  says Kelley Blue Book analyst Karl Brauer.

Brauer says you never know what a prolonged stretch of cheap oil and economic boom can bring. As it turns out, more than one set of prognosticators has projected out three scenarios: driving goes back up, or sideways, or down. It's a nice guarantee they'll be right.

Where do we go from here?

(Frontier Group)

(International Transport Forum)

America's love affair with cars, driving may be over

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-19 11:00

Just when you thought the guzzlers and Hummers were gone for good, gas prices fell again. The numbers show we’re tilting toward bigger cars and away from fuel-sippers. But not driving more.

(Edmunds.com)

In 2007, Americans collectively drove enough to circle the planet 120,000 times. Our total vehicle miles driven tallied 3 trillion miles.

We haven’t hit that number since. Many think North American society, and perhaps advanced economies in general, have passed an inflection point. Call it Peak Car, or Peak Driving.

“What we’ve seen over the past decade has been a decline in per capita driving,” says Tony Dutzik of the Frontier Group, a self-described public-interest think tank based in Boston. Society has moved past a postwar era of more car and more driving, he says.

Vehicle miles traveled.

(State Smart Transportation Initiative)

“We were suburbanizing, women were entering the workforce,” Dutzik says. “Cars went from being a luxury to being a near necessity in most of the country. And all of those changes were leading people to drive more.”

All that has largely played out. Cheaper gasoline will spur some increased demand, but Dutzik argues it will be outweighed by longer-term structural factors. Insurance is soaring, fewer young adults are applying for driver licenses, they drive less, owning a car costs too much and alternatives exist. 

Millenials drive less, walk & bike more

(Frontier Group)

There’s even evidence some would rather be online than on the road.

I'd rather be online

(Frontier Group)

And one more thing: Most of us are moving back to cities, where it can be easier to get around without a car.

“So popularity of cities and the more livable nature of them in terms of crime and other factors, too, have led to folks being able to lead a car-light lifestyle, which was really hard before,” says Eric Sundquist at the University of Wisconsin’s State Smart Transportation Initiative.

Many economists suggest it’s not just driving, but that overall U.S. oil demand has peaked, forever. Which brings up a familiar, haunting question: Is it really different this time?

“Whenever I hear ‘We’re absolutely never going to see these gas prices again, we’re never going to see these annual sales again, we’re never going to see more miles per person being driven again,’ I always say ‘Yeah, uh-huh,’”  says Kelley Blue Book analyst Karl Brauer.

Brauer says you never know what a prolonged stretch of cheap oil and economic boom can bring. As it turns out, more than one set of prognosticators has projected out three scenarios: driving goes back up, or sideways, or down. It's a nice guarantee they'll be right.

Where do we go from here?

(Frontier Group)

(International Transport Forum)

These 6 charts show we may have hit peak driving

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-19 11:00

Just when you thought the guzzlers and Hummers were gone for good, gas prices fell again. Already, numbers show we’re tilting toward bigger cars and away from fuel-sippers. But not driving more.

(Edmunds.com)

In 2007, Americans collectively drove enough to circle the planet 120,000 times. Our total vehicle miles driven tallied 3 trillion miles.

We haven’t hit that number since. Many think North American society, and perhaps advanced economies in general, have passed an inflection point. Call it Peak Car, or Peak Driving.

“What we’ve seen over the past decade has been a decline in per capita driving,” says Tony Dutzik of the Frontier Group, a self-described public-interest think tank based in Boston. Society has moved past a postwar era of more car and more driving, he says.

Vehicle miles traveled.

(State Smart Transportation Initiative)

“We were suburbanizing, women were entering the workforce,” Dutzik says. “Cars went from being a luxury to being a near necessity in most of the country. And all of those changes were leading people to drive more.”

All that has largely played out. Cheaper gasoline will spur some increased demand, but Dutzik argues it will be outweighed by longer-term structural factors. Insurance is soaring, fewer young adults are applying for driver licenses, they drive less, owning a car costs too much and alternatives exist. 

Millenials drive less, walk & bike more

(Frontier Group)

There’s even evidence some would rather be online than on the road.

I'd rather be online

(Frontier Group)

And one more thing: Most of us are moving back to cities, where it can be easier to get around without a car.

“So popularity of cities and the more livable nature of them in terms of crime and other factors, too, have led to folks being able to lead a car-light lifestyle, which was really hard before,” says Eric Sundquist at the University of Wisconsin’s State Smart Transportation Initiative.

Many economists suggest it’s not just driving, but that overall U.S. oil demand has peaked, forever. Which brings up a familiar, haunting question: Is it really different this time?

“Whenever I hear ‘We’re absolutely never going to see these gas prices again, we’re never going to see these annual sales again, we’re never going to see more miles per person being driven again,’ I always say ‘Yeah, uh-huh,’”  says Kelley Blue Book analyst Karl Brauer.

Brauer says you never know what a prolonged stretch of cheap oil and economic boom can bring. As it turns out, more than one set of prognosticators has projected out three scenarios: driving goes back up, or sideways, or down. It's a nice guarantee they'll be right.

Where do we go from here?

(Frontier Group)

(International Transport Forum)

What's a proportional response to a cyberattack?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-19 11:00

The conventional wisdom says that there isn't much left that the U.S. can do to punish North Korea for its alleged cyber attack on Sony Pictures.

A cyber attack doesn't immediately seem like a matter of national security. It's not like an attack on the banking system or on a defense contractor. 

But it's the principle of the thing. Companies are already self-censoring, like Paramount canceling rereleases of its 2004 film "Team America." Michael Auslin, a scholar in residence at the American Enterprise Institute, says "many companies that would not want to self censor, or not want to cave in to these types of threats are nonetheless looking at their cyber vulnerabilities and having to make to be quite honest a cost-benefit analysis."

But there are some national security concerns, according to Stephen Bosworth, a fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center.

"The problem, of course, is if they can do it with this case, there's every reason to fear they can do it in an area that would be much more sensitivity," Bosworth says.

North Korea doesn't have much of an economy to sanction, but Sung Yoon Lee, professor of Korean Studies at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, says there are some things America can do. The U.S. could place North Korea on the State Department's sponsor of terrorism list, or blacklist North Koreans responsible for censorship or Human Rights Abuses. There's also the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act, which could result in boycotts of North Korea's trading partners.

That bill passed the house in July of this year but wasn't taken up by the Senate.

'The Interview' posters are on eBay ... for hundreds

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-19 11:00

Sure, Sony canceled 'The Interview," but this is capitalism, people.

While you can't buy a ticket to see the movie, you can buy advertising posters for the movie on eBay ... for hundreds of dollars.

One seller is trying to turn a tidy profit on a 5-by-8 foot vinyl poster, listing it for $1,000. That's with three zeroes. Last we looked, there were no bids (shocking) but a seller can dream.

Pride And Prejudice: For Latinos, Tamales Can Taste Of Both

NPR News - Fri, 2014-12-19 10:30

Tamales are a Christmas Eve tradition throughout Latin America, but there are hundreds of different versions. Whose is best? That's a question likely to elicit a fiercely partisan response.

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Instagram Is Now Valued At $35 Billion By Citigroup Analyst

NPR News - Fri, 2014-12-19 10:22

Less than three years ago, Facebook purchased Instagram for $1 billion. The photo-sharing service recently said it has more than 300 million users.

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At Last, I Meet My Microbes

NPR News - Fri, 2014-12-19 10:00

At 31, a woman had the bacteria in her gut catalogued as part of scientific project that aims to characterize the creatures that live inside us and affect our health. Here's what she found out.

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PODCAST: All eyes (still) on the Fed

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-19 09:52

The Federal Reserve seems to be in no rush to raise interest rates, and they're watching oil just as much as the rest of us. Also, how do we frame the cyberattack on Sony? Is it the theft of information, like the attacks Home Depot and Target saw earlier this year, or is it a national security threat? As the FBI points to North Korea, we look at how hackers interpret the goings-on at Sony. Finally, there's no way Russia's oil-dependent economy could have predicted the dropping price of oil, but the country has built in some reserves to tide it over. We take look at that idea.

Shop at your favorite federal agency's gift shop

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-19 09:43

You don't have to go to Nordstrom, Target or Macy's to get your holiday shopping done this season. If you live in or near Washington D.C. there's a whole other retail world out there for you to explore: the world of federal agency gift shops. The FBI, CIA, and all the rest have their very own outlets. And they're definitely not your ordinary souvenir shops.

"The FBI had a pair of glow in the dark boxers that were really popular for a while," says Emily Wax-Thibodeaux from the Washington Post. "But they stopped making them, probably not for political reasons, but because of production."

But don’t worry, your tax dollars are not paying for this.

"Proceeds often go to employee associations, gyms, or for outings, morale boosters or they go to charities," says Wax-Thibodeaux.

How to parent in the digital age

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-19 09:34

Lizzie O'Leary spoke with famed voice over actor Bill Ratner about his new book "Parenting for the Digital Age."

If you grew up watching "GI Joe" cartoons Ratner voiced "Flint." For years, his voice on television helped market and sell toys to kids. He then created a program called TV Cartoon Scandals--Media Awareness for Children. This brought media awareness to kids in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In "Parenting for the Digital Age" Ratner shares his own story of controlling media in his house. When his young daughter was glued to the television he decided to take action. He rewired his entertainment system and created a kill switch. This allowed him to turn off the television when he saw fit. Ratner also bans cells phones in his home at certain hours of the day.

When interviewing parents for the book Ratner came across two major concerns. The first issue was time, do kids have enough time to veg out and do other things? The second issue was who are these people creating the programming for children? They are strangers and have no idea what their values are.

Live: Obama's Year-End News Conference

NPR News - Fri, 2014-12-19 09:31

The president is expected to discuss issues ranging from normalization of relations with Cuba to the fight against the self-described Islamic State and his views on the Senate's "torture report."

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Quiz: Hiding that standardized test behind a cute acronym

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-19 08:44
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Algorithms: the language of love?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-19 08:35

On Marketplace Weekend this week, we looked at algorithms in business, tech, and all areas of our life.

The internet's most intimate algorithms may be found in online dating sites and apps. Sites like OkCupid, Match, eHarmony, Hinge, and Tindr all use different algorithms -- with varying degrees of complications -- to pair users. Match pairs matches by gauging how interested users are in similar people. OkCupid users weight questions that they consider to be most important to them in order to find others that they have a lot in common with. A elaborate series of set questions on eHarmony pairs couples. On Tindr, things are simple...just a picture, and an answer from potential daters: yes, or no? 

Online dating has become much more common and widely accepted in recent years. Attitudes are shifting, and something that was once a secret for many people has become a social activity -- it's not unheard of now to see someone using a dating app in public, at a bar, with friends, to find someone nearby that they may want to go out with. 

Christian Rudder, one of the founders of OkCupid and the author of Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking) joined Marketplace Weekend to explain the algorithms on his site, what happens when you tell an algorithm a lie, and how dating algorithms mimic pain old un-technical dating. 

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