National / International News
You may have heard a series called 'You Hate My Job' on our weekday sister show, Marketplace. Here's our first in our series: You LOVE My Job.
Working at NASA sounds like a pretty awesome job.
Getting paid to maybe go check this place out for a week:
Or hang out here:NASA
Or take a picture like this:NASA
What's it like to actually work there? Well ... every once in a while ... it's like this:
Adam Berry/Getty Images
Yeah ... a powerpoint presentation.
Bobak Ferdowsi works at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, CA. You might know him as NASA mohawk guy:
He's an engineer who worked on the Mars Curiousity Rover, and is launching a new mission to Jupiter's moon Europa.
But every job, even our fantasy ones, involves getting up, and going to work.
Three federal judges heard arguments Friday over whether a Texas law that would, in effect, shutter 11 health clinics that perform abortions puts an undue burden on women.
Normally around 10 in the morning, I'm writing a news memo or interviewing an expert on something like how our ethics change in accordance to our energy levels over the course of the day. But this morning I'm entirely focused on vacuuming up crumbs between couch pillows, and also, where to store squeaky dog toys (found behind the couch). That's because people are coming over, and soon. And these aren’t typical guests – they’re co-workers, and, bonus(!) perfect strangers who are planning to work, hopefully productively, from my dining room table for the day.
Together we’ll be beta-testing a new start up called SpareChair, a website that lets you rent out space in your home – like Airbnb, but for workers. And just minutes after I empty the dustpan and take down the trash, 32-year-old Brooklyn residents Jerry Emeka and Nate Graves, respectively a producer/ comedian and a web developer, arrive.
Like Airbnb, SpareChair lets homeowners or renters like me set their own rental rates, and the site takes a cut.
“I don’t think it’s that strange," Emeka says of the concept of paying to rent a chair in someone's private home. "It’s 2014 – we’re already dating online, we’re sharing our homes for strangers to live in. And we pay a lot of money to live in our homes. Why can’t we work at home?”
Why not indeed? Well, my apartment, for one, is in Brooklyn, on a traffic circle, and while I've become accustomed to the soundscape – which contains more than the occasional blaring of a taxi horn – I wasn't sure how co-workers would feel about the noise, especially if they were paying. SpareChair lets those offering space list amenities and preferences (such as "WiFi," "children present," or "children welcome") and users get to review them. But because Emeka and Graves were going to be my first co-workers, they didn't have any reviews to go on.
Luckily, neither said he minded.
"Even though I can see you cringing," Graves said. "I mean, compared to a coffee shop, this is steps above that in terms of noise."
Additionally, as a developer who works part time for MeetUp.com, Graves says he welcomes the chance to network and meet new people, so he regularly uses a co-working space. He says SpareChair would be about the same cost, and money changing hands can be a big plus of co-working.
“Cost reduction. It’s the economics," says Ed Glickman, executive director of the Center for Real Estate Finance Research at the NYU Stern School of Business. He says co-workers tend to be young and live in expensive cities like New York or Seattle. For the renter out of home desk-space, co-working can literally pay off.
“All of the sudden not only do you have company, you have somebody who might give you connections but you also have a way to help you pay your rent,” he says.
And not just for the month. Glickman says co-working can lead to the birth of companies. People sharing space know what the others are up to, and sometimes join forces by pitching projects together. But, he notes, using a co-working space is altogether different than renting desk space in a private home.
“You’re taking a residential setting and all of a sudden you’re making it a workplace," he says. "You’re becoming a landlord.”
Which–if you're a renter–your own, real landlord, the one you signed a lease with, might not like. So Glickman says before renting desk, couch or other space out to people who are not on the lease or deed, you may want to check your insurance policy.
And, of course, there's always the ultimate, higher power employees need to get clearance from before taking on new projects: the boss. Before you consider working from home at all, make sure your manager fully supports the idea, and isn't just giving it lip service, says Douglas McCabe, a professor of management at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business. While some workers love telecommuting, management can still be skeptical.
“Are individuals working from home goofing off? Are they really working eight hours a day? Are they watching television when they should be on the computer? It's a very interesting social, psychological phenomenon," he says, "that some people view this issue very well, and others view it very poorly."
There are pros and cons to working from home, McCabe says. In the plus column: no commute, and getting away from co-workers who want to talk about last night's Nets game, while you’re, um, busy. McCabe does note that a particular kind of worker can be even more productive at home. But he says, most of us will miss the camaraderie of the office and can feel disengaged from employers, something he experienced first-hand while recuperating at home after having a medical procedure.
“I thought that this was going to be party - staying at home for three months, catching up on books that I've not read for a number of years," he said. "And I realized after about six weeks, boy, I miss the workplace, I want to go every day to be with my colleagues.”
Ben Waber, CEO of Sociometric Solutions, a company that uses wearable technology to understand how people’s interactions at work relate to job performance and satisfaction, says there's simply no substitute for the office.
“Your default should be – you need to be with the people you work with,” he says. “The whole reason we work in companies is because together we can do something that we couldn’t do by ourselves.”
Waber says it of course depends on the kind of work that you do. But for most of us, working solo is only okay sometimes. His company tracked a group of computer programmers to see how they worked best – together or apart.
“People assume, 'well you know what, a programmer, they’re just a person who sits in the corner, drinking Mountain Dew anyway,'" he said. "'They’re not going to talk to anyone anyway. It’s not a social job.'”
But when programmers don’t communicate, he says, their code takes a lot longer to write. And when workers don’t work in the same place, they communicate less. For big companies that can mean losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars. But he says working together is not just about de-bugging Java. It's also about something more simple: face time with other human beings.
“Because that’s what gets lost," he says. "You still have the meetings about 'we have some big project coming up,' and you’ll get on a Skype call for that. But it's not the same as 'you’re at the coffee machine and you’re talking to a coworker about a movie you saw last night,' and you’re building that deeper connection with them. That’s what you can’t do when you’re remote."
But you can co-work, which Waber says is better than working alone. And toward the end of the afternoon I check in with Graves to see how he withstood my noisy living room. Did he get all his work done?
"It was good," he says. "I got as much done as I needed to."
And so did I.
Felix Salmon from Fusion and Leigh Gallagher from Fortune Magazine talked with Kai Ryssdal about the week that was: Does the looming Alibaba IPO spell trouble or fortune? Is the Apple Watch worth all the hubub? Is the era of small cell phones at an end?
Listen to their conversation in the audio player above.
Here's a quiz for you: Who do you suppose drinks more coffee? Police officers or journalists?
The easy answer is cops. It's also wrong.
A study over in the UK has journalists edging out police officers and interestingly teachers at just over four cups a day.
Mentioned nowhere in this British survey?
A&E is dropping the show "Longmire," even though it’s the second-most popular show on a cable network. This begs the question: why? It’s too old. Or more specifically, the median age of the show's viewers is 60, and advertisers aren’t interested in them.
It’s an age-old notion in advertising, that youth consumers are more valuable than older ones. There’s lots of reasons why advertisers think that, but one of them is, well, they’re young and they like to try — and buy — new things. Unlike old people, right?
Erin Read of the marketing firm Creating Results says that’s not true.
"There are a few myths when we talk about older people," Read says. "Older adults are stuck in their ways. They’re not going to try new brands. So why should I even bother advertising to them, right? Well, my grandmother would say, ‘Pshaw!'"
Reed says those stereotypes might have been true 50 years ago, but boomers are breaking them and shaking up their lives in ways that previous generations didn't.
“They’re moving houses, their kids are leaving home, divorce,” she says. And all those changes are opportunities to try new brands and experiences.
People are also living longer, and they're more active. Cassie Mogilner, a marketing professor at Wharton, says that's affecting their consumer behavior.
“Among older people who feel like they have a lot of time left, they’re actually behaving very much young people,” Mogilner says. “They’re looking for excitement as opposed to calming things.”
And like young people they’re willing to buy new products and experiences that bring that excitement. There is one big difference between young and old, says marketing consultant Kurt Medina.
“50-plus-ers account for something like 75 percent of all disposable income in the United States,” he says.
By side-stepping TV shows like "Longmire," Medina says, advertisers are missing the money pot.
How advertisers target younger versus older audiences
Chevrolet has taken on older target audiences in its ads, which feature a somewhat different tone than their commercials aimed at young consumers:
Darden Restaurants helped put “casual dining” on the map with family-friendly chains like Olive Garden and, until the company sold it this summer, Red Lobster. But the weak economy and competition from “fast casual” chains like Chipotle have taken some of the zip out of the company. Now, an activist hedge fund that’s fighting for control of Darden’s board has offered nearly 300 pages worth of suggestions for reviving the brands — right down to the way they boil water.
For a taste of Starboard Value’s suggested fix for Darden Restaurants, check out slide number 164: Add salt. The hedge fund says Olive Garden stopped salting its pasta water to get a longer warranty on its pots, calling the decision "appalling."
"It’s very important, because otherwise if you don’t salt the water, the pasta that you cook in it won’t have any flavor in it," says Italian cookbook author and teacher Giuliano Hazan, who says he is not, personally, familiar with Olive Garden’s cooking.
Starboard Value has other problems with the food. Another slide complains that authentic Italian dishes like Tortellini Fizzano have been replaced by the likes of “fried lasagna bites.” The legendary “endless” breadsticks have lost their taste, the investors complain. And, they’re flowing a little too freely.
“Bread, of course, is cheap if you look at it individually,” says Ron Ruggless, Southwest Bureau Chief for Nation’s Restaurant News. Multiplied by the Olive Garden’s 840 locations, he says, “that’s a lot of dough.”
A slide from the Starboard mega-presentation showing locations of Olive Gardens across the United States.Starboard
Starboard has some meatier suggestions, like spinning off real estate into a separate company and expanding internationally. In a statement, Darden’s president Gene Lee says the company remains “open-minded” to new ideas, and that many of the strategies “are already being implemented across our company and are showing results.”
Shareholders will vote next month on who will control the board. Analysts say casual dining — once the “darling” of the restaurant business—has lost favor with customers who are choosing less expensive “fast casual” restaurants like Panera and Chipotle.
Another slide from the Starboard presentation for Darden, showing the average Yelp ratings for Olive Gardens across the United States.Starboard
“Regardless of who wins the battle, those problems don’t go away,” says Robert Derrington, restaurant analyst with Wunderlich Securities. “There’s essentially too many restaurant choices for consumers, and when they’re tight with their spending, if they want to dine out, they’ll spend where they can afford to dine.”
According to market research firm NPD Group, visits to casual dining restaurants have dropped by more than half a billion annually in the last five years, “which doesn’t seem like a lot,” says analyst Bonnie Riggs, “but it’s quite a few lost visits.”
Seven suggestions from Starboard's presentation
Cut down breadsticks
For the last ten years, Olive Garden servers have been told to practice the ritual of placing one breadstick per guest, plus an extra one for the table. If you've been to an Olive Garden recently, you know that's not the case. Starboard says waiters currently hand out breadsticks in excess, causing an enormous amount of waste. They think with fewer breadsticks on the table, waste will decrease and customers will have more room for appetizers and desserts.
To protect their pots, Olive Garden has stopped adding salt to the water it uses to cook pasta. This has significantly "deteriorated" the quality of Olive Garden's pasta which Starboard feels "results in a mushy, unappealing product that is well below competitors' quality despite similar cost."
Stop dressing the salad
The amount of waste produced from Olive Garden’s famous endless salad also concerns Starboard. They think “salads should be lightly dressed, potentially with a bottle of dressing placed on the side.”
Use cheaper containers
Darden uses containers that Starboard believes are the “Cadillacs” of the industry. To-go bags are made with high-end material. Takeout containers have their own luxurious factor by being microwavable and dishwasher safe. From a business standpoint, Starboard believes they should downgrade to at least a “Chevrolet Hatchback” of containers.
Reduce menu options
Starboard thinks the Olive Garden and Red Lobster menus have too many items on them, making the process of selecting a dish too complex. The complexity, in turn, has led to higher costs and inefficiencies.
An app…or some technology that appeals to millennials
Darden’s brands need to adapt with the times in order to grow, argues Starboard. They suggest adding an app for their brands to appeal to younger customers. In their words: “Olive Garden is the 800-pound gorilla of Italian casual dining, but is a dinosaur when it comes to using technology in branding and marketing.”
A richer alcohol selection
Starboard also thinks a change in the restaurants' wine selection is necessary. They believe Darden should pull wine from Italy, Napa and Washington, to name a few, because after all, “wine is an integral part of the authentic Italian family dining experience.”
In his prime-time speech Wednesday night, President Obama outlined how he plans to attack the terrorist group ISIS militarily. But he said less about economic sanctions against ISIS. So the question remains: can the U.S. punish ISIS economically?
Cash gushes into ISIS from lots of places: international donors, extortion from people in places it controls and black market oil sales. ISIS gets the oil from fields it captured in Iraq and Syria. So, one way to attack their finances would be to just go after that territory.
"[In Iraq] a number of oilfields were actually recaptured by the Iraqi army or Kurdish forces," says Robin Mills with Manaar Energy in Dubai, "and that obviously is the most direct way of preventing ISIS obtaining oil and selling oil."
Otherwise, your chances of closing the ISIS oil spigot are pretty limited. After it's pumped, Mills says the oil is trucked over the mountains to Turkey, where it melts away into a vast black oil market. But what about finding ISIS's rich donors, and hitting them with penalties and sanctions? Turns out, the ISIS benefactors are very hard to find.
"I think it's much more unclear who these people are, how they operate, where any assets they have might be," says Adam Slater, a senior economist at Oxford Economics.
Here's the other thing: ISIS is frugal. It doesn't need much money to function.
"They're not buying equipment, they're seizing equipment," says Ben Connable, an international policy analyst at the Rand Corporation. "They're not hiring people at high salaries. They're purposefully hiring people at relatively low salaries."
So even if the U.S. did have clear, effective ways of cutting off the money, Connable says ISIS could still survive for a long time.
In June, Danny Ferry said veteran forward Luon Deng "has a little African in him ... he's like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back."
Of all the variables in the U.S. battle against the Islamic State, public opinion in America may be one of the hardest to predict.
Men have expressed confusion about how to behave out in the dating world now that gender roles have shifted significantly. Do you open the door, pay for the date, pull out the chair?