National News

Flights of fancy: There's big money in drones

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-29 01:30
12 percent

How much Royal Dutch Shell reported its earnings rose in the fourth quarter, as reported by the New York Times. But as oil prices continue to plunge, some have questioned if big oil companies would pull back on exploration projects planned in the next year or so — a suspicion confirmed by chief executive Ben van Beurden, who said the company would defer some projects and cancel others. 

$9

How much ad revenue Facebook made per user in the U.S. and Canada last quarter, the Wall Street Journal reported. Revenue is up 49 percent, thanks to the company's incredible growth in mobile advertising. More than a third of users now experience Facebook solely on mobile. But it's not all good news for investors: Facebook's expenses have grown 87 percent, cutting deeply into profits.

260 workers

How many workers hipster-chic company Shinola — maker of thousand-dollar watches and leather goods — employs in Detroit. The company moved to the city in 2013 as part of a bet that "Made in Detroit" would sell better than "Made in America." So far, so good, says Shinola CEO Steve Bock. And now that Detroit's bankruptcy is settled, other businesses are seeing the Motor City as a bargain.

$16.6 million

How much eBay made selling drones over the past 10 months, Forbes reported. Sales spiked over the holidays, with the retailer moving an average of 7,600 recreational drones per week between Thanksgiving and Christmas, five times the average sales over the summer.

$80

The most start-up Plowz and Mowz will charge to clear a driveway this winter. The company expected to process 2,000 plowing jobs in Boston following this week's blizzard. Bloomberg profiled so-called "Uber for snowplows" companies, which are capitalizing on the nor'easter and trying to modernize the lucrative private plowing business.

487 bytes

The size of the world's smallest chess computer program. As reported by the BBC, the program takes up about as much space as a couple imageless tweets.

You get a drone! You get a drone! Everyone gets drones!

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-29 01:30
12 percent

That's how much Royal Dutch Shell reported its earnings rose in the fourth quarter, as reported by the New York Times. But as oil prices continue to plunge, some have questioned if big oil companies would pull back on exploration projects planned in the next year or so — a suspicion confirmed by chief executive Ben van Beurden, who said the company would defer some projects and cancel others. 

$9

That's how much ad revenue Facebook made per user in the U.S. and Canada last quarter, the Wall Street Journal reported. Revenue is up 49 percent, thanks to the company's incredible growth in mobile advertising. These days more than a third of users experience Facebook solely on mobile. But it's not all good news for investors: Facebook's expenses have grown 87 percent, cutting deeply into profits.

260 workers

That's how many workers hipster-chic company Shinola—maker of thousand-dollar watches and leather goods—employs in Detroit. The company moved to the city in 2013 as part of a bet that "Made in Detroit" would sell better than "Made in America." So far, so good, says Shinola CEO Steve Bock. And now that Detroit's bankruptcy is settled, other businesses are seeing the Motor City as a bargain.

$16.6 million

That's how much eBay made selling drones in the past ten months, Forbes reported. Sales spiked over the holidays, with the retailer moving an average of 7,600 recreational drones per week between Thanksgiving and Christmas, five times average sales over the summer.

$80

The most start-up Plowz and Mowz will charge to clear a driveway this winter. The company expected to process 2,000 plowing jobs in Boston following this week's blizzard. Bloomberg profiled so-called "Uber for snowplows" companies, which are capitalizing on the nor'easter and trying to modernize the lucrative private plowing business.

487 bytes

That's the size of the world's smallest chess computer program. As reported by the BBC, the program takes up about as much space as a couple image-less tweets.

Big Oil's first cut: exploration

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-29 01:30

Shell reports earnings on Thursday, the first of the Big Oil financial snapshots. And like the other companies, a big question is how plunging oil prices will affect exploration.

Projects a year or two off are the ones companies are likely to dial back in response to low oil prices. Dominic Haywood, an analyst at Energy Aspects in London, says that could mean postponing or canceling pricier oil discovery projects, like the Arctic, which holds 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil, according to Shell. Drilling there is also controversial, says Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis for Oil Price Information Service.

“One of the casualties of the lower price environment will be some of those projects that are in places that are gonna be provoking some sort of public outrage,” he says. Kloza also says until prices go up, Big Oil will probably stick to what’s safer and cheaper.

And So We Meet, Again: Why The Workday Is So Filled With Meetings

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 00:14

Office workers are spending more and more time in meetings and preparing for meetings. Experts say it's often a waste of time, and managers — as well as a "meeting culture" — are to blame.

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For Long-Haul Drivers, Cheap Gas Means A Sweeter Commute

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 00:13

The plunge in gas prices is expected to save the average household about $750 this year. For rural families and others who drive a lot, the savings will likely be even greater.

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Insurance Choices Dwindle In Rural California As Blue Shield Pulls Back

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-29 00:12

When Blue Shield Of California stopped selling individual health policies in many zip codes in 2014, even insurance agents were surprised. Blue Shield says it dropped out to keep premiums low.

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ISIS Hostage Said To Announce New Deadline For Prisoner's Release

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-28 17:04

A Japanese hostage held by the violent extremist group ISIS has reportedly been forced to record a message setting a Thursday deadline for Jordan to release an Iraqi prisoner.

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The Next Air Force One Will Be A Boeing 747-8

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-28 15:42

The Air Force says the decision came down to the American-made 747-8 or the Airbus A380, which is manufactured in France. But even with that pick, the 747 program might not last much longer.

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Rare Fox Takes A Walk In The Park, And Yosemite Staff Cheer

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-28 15:28

It's been nearly 100 years since a sighting of a Sierra Nevada red fox was documented in Yosemite National Park, according to park staff.

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AG Nominee Lynch Says She Differs From Obama On Marijuana

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-28 14:47

The moment contrasted with other exchanges between Lynch and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, such as when she defended Obama's right to take executive action on immigration rules.

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Coffee Horror: Parody Pokes At Environmental Absurdity Of K-Cups

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-28 14:21

The market for single-serving coffee pods is dominated by Keurig's K-Cups. But they aren't recyclable, and critics say that's making a monster of an environmental mess. Meet the K-Cup Godzilla.

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Beefed-Up Border Security Proposal Unsettles Texas Business Leaders

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-28 14:11

A bill proposing tighter security on the Southern border has provoked a backlash from some South Texas leaders. They say the measures may hurt trade with Mexico, the state's largest trading partner.

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McDonald's CEO Don Thompson Steps Down

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-28 14:10

He is being replaced by company executive Steve Easterbrook. Today's announcement comes just days after the world's largest fast-food chain warned of weak results in the first half of 2015.

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'Maker Space' Allows Kids To Innovate, Learn In The Hospital

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-28 14:00

At a children's hospital in Nashville, Tenn., a mobile maker space allows patients to share materials and tools to build new things, while also teaching them about math and science.

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Back From The Dead: A Cat Returns Home 5 Days After His Burial

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-28 13:55

Bart returned home with a broken jaw, open wounds on his face and a ruptured eye. He is being treated by the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, Fla., and will return to his owner after he has recovered.

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Amid Fighting In Donetsk, On Edge And Seeking Safety Underground

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-28 13:48

The eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk has been under siege and subject to artillery and rocket attacks for months — residents are living in stressful conditions and the separatist militia are jumpy.

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A move to simplify the FAFSA

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-01-28 13:42

A huge chart outside of Terri Williams’ office at Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy tracks where all 90 seniors at the Baltimore high school are in the college application process. “Have they gone on any college tours, how many applications have they done, have they completed their FAFSA?” says Williams, a college access specialist with the CollegeBound Foundation.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is used by the federal government, states and colleges to figure out who gets aid, and how much. Most of Williams’ students don’t have a shot at affording college without help, so she sends out letters and text messages – even intercepts students on their way to the bathroom – to make sure they complete the form on time.

The FAFSA goes live each year on Jan.1 and is due March 1 in most states. “I don’t care where they are,” she says. “I’m going to stop you so we can get it taken care of.”

Taking care of it means answering up to 108 questions. Questions like: Have you had a drug conviction? How much do your parents make? Is either a “dislocated worker?”

For many students, just tracking down some of that information can be a challenge. “They feel like ‘This is too much, I can't do it, and I’m not going to get anything anyway,’” Williams says. In reality, most of her students would be eligible for the maximum Pell grant, which is $5,730 this year. Because more than 1 million high school seniors don't bother to fill out the FAFSA each year, they fail to claim millions of dollars in financial aid.

The government is trying to make things easier. The Obama Administration proposed eliminating 27 questions. A bipartisan bill in Congress would replace the FAFSA with a postcard asking just two questions about household size and income. For most families, those two questions tell the government everything it needs to know, says Carrie Warick of the National College Access Network. “Most of those additional questions are really targeted at families with much more complicated financial situations,” Warick says, like wealthier families with assets and investments.

 The FAFSA does have some defenders. The vast majority of students now fill it out online, says Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. “Skip logic” technology lets them bypass questions that don’t apply. “The average student today can complete the entire FAFSA, start to finish, in 20 minutes,” Draeger says.

But that doesn’t count the time it may take to dig up and sort through tax files and bank records. Draeger is all for getting rid of questions that don’t have anything to do with a student’s financial need, like the one about drug convictions.

Still, Draeger says, colleges rank students according to their relative need when they distribute their own grants and scholarships, and they need a lot of details to do that fairly. “If we make the application too simple, that ultimately means that more colleges will introduce their own applications,” Draeger says. “The net result for students is nothing. Nothing’s changed.”

There is one change pretty much everyone agrees on: The current FAFSA asks for data from the most recent tax year, but if you’re applying for aid right now, that would be 2014. Most people haven’t filed their taxes yet. 

If families could use their returns from one year earlier, they could import their tax information directly from the IRS, says Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access and Success. They could also apply for aid earlier. “If you can file the FAFSA more easily and earlier, you’re much more likely to benefit from all the available aid that can help you pay for college and get to graduation,” she says.

In many states, grant money is handed out on a first-come, first-served basis — until it’s gone. A recent report from Edvisors, a publisher of student aid information, says students who file their FAFSA in the first three months of the year get more than twice as much grant aid, on average, as those who wait longer.

A move to simplify the dreaded FAFSA

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-01-28 13:42

A huge chart outside of Terri Williams’ office at Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy tracks where all 90 seniors at the Baltimore high school are in the college application process. “Have they gone on any college tours, how many applications have they done, have they completed their FAFSA?” says Williams, a college access specialist with the CollegeBound Foundation.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is used by the federal government, states and colleges to figure out who gets aid, and how much. Most of Williams’ students don’t have a shot at affording college without help, so she sends out letters and text messages – even intercepts students on their way to the bathroom – to make sure they complete the form on time.

The FAFSA goes live each year on Jan.1 and is due March 1 in most states. “I don’t care where they are,” she says. “I’m going to stop you so we can get it taken care of.”

Taking care of it means answering up to 108 questions. Questions like: Have you had a drug conviction? How much do your parents make? Is either a “dislocated worker?”

For many students, just tracking down some of that information can be a challenge. “They feel like ‘This is too much, I can't do it, and I’m not going to get anything anyway,’” Williams says. In reality, most of her students would be eligible for the maximum Pell grant, which is $5,730 this year. Because more than 1 million high school seniors don't bother to fill out the FAFSA each year, they fail to claim millions of dollars in financial aid.

The government is trying to make things easier. The Obama Administration proposed eliminating 27 questions. A bipartisan bill in Congress would replace the FAFSA with a postcard asking just two questions about household size and income. For most families, those two questions tell the government everything it needs to know, says Carrie Warick of the National College Access Network. “Most of those additional questions are really targeted at families with much more complicated financial situations,” Warick says, like wealthier families with assets and investments.

 The FAFSA does have some defenders. The vast majority of students now fill it out online, says Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. “Skip logic” technology lets them bypass questions that don’t apply. “The average student today can complete the entire FAFSA, start to finish, in 20 minutes,” Draeger says.

But that doesn’t count the time it may take to dig up and sort through tax files and bank records. Draeger is all for getting rid of questions that don’t have anything to do with a student’s financial need, like the one about drug convictions.

Still, Draeger says, colleges rank students according to their relative need when they distribute their own grants and scholarships, and they need a lot of details to do that fairly. “If we make the application too simple, that ultimately means that more colleges will introduce their own applications,” Draeger says. “The net result for students is nothing. Nothing’s changed.”

There is one change pretty much everyone agrees on: The current FAFSA asks for data from the most recent tax year, but if you’re applying for aid right now, that would be 2014. Most people haven’t filed their taxes yet. 

If families could use their returns from one year earlier, they could import their tax information directly from the IRS, says Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access and Success. They could also apply for aid earlier. “If you can file the FAFSA more easily and earlier, you’re much more likely to benefit from all the available aid that can help you pay for college and get to graduation,” she says.

In many states, grant money is handed out on a first-come, first-served basis — until it’s gone. A recent report from Edvisors, a publisher of student aid information, says students who file their FAFSA in the first three months of the year get more than twice as much grant aid, on average, as those who wait longer.

Taylor Swift, trademark diva

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-01-28 13:32

Taylor Swift is the very model of a shrewd entrepreneur.

She has secured trademarks for a whole mess of lyrics from her most recent zillion-selling album, "1989," including "Party Like It's 1989," "This Sick Beat," and "Nice to Meet You. Where You Been?"

She owns them for "public appearances," "clothing" and "ornaments" among other goods and services, according to the trademark.

As the website Vox points out, singers make an increasing slice of their income not from actual singing, but from all of the related stuff. 

 

Florida Health Officials Hope To Test GMO Mosquitoes This Spring

NPR News - Wed, 2015-01-28 13:28

The British firm that developed the strain of mosquito says it has already tested the insect in tropical countries, and found it can reduce populations of disease-carrying mosquitoes by 90 percent.

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