National / International News

Your Wallet: Cheap travel for the holidays

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-12-19 11:41

We're talking about algorithms. Some of the algorithms that affect our lives the most are the ones airlines use to determine flight prices and the best days for ticket sales.

We asked you- how do you make it work for you financially, and how do you work the system? 

Lizzie O'Leary spoke to Patrick Surry, chief data scientist at hopper.com, to find out when to fly and when to buy on a budget.

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.

England right to remove Cook - Agnew

BBC - Fri, 2014-12-19 11:13
Removing Alastair Cook as England ODI captain is right and he may eventually see it as a blessing, writes Jonathan Agnew.

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.

What next for Fifa and Sepp Blatter?

BBC - Fri, 2014-12-19 10:55
With a report into World Cup corruption to - eventually - be released, president Sepp Blatter says Fifa's crisis is over. Is he right?

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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NHS to start era of DNA-medicine

BBC - Fri, 2014-12-19 10:27
The NHS will set up 11 centres to unlock the secrets of DNA and usher in a new era of medicine.

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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VIDEO: Dalglish describes scenes of mayhem

BBC - Fri, 2014-12-19 10:12
The former Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish has given evidence at the inquests into the Hillsborough disaster.

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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Turkey issues warrant for Gulen

BBC - Fri, 2014-12-19 09:57
Turkey issues an arrest warrant for influential US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of organising an anti-government movement.

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