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The first electric cars weren't 'manly' enough

Tue, 2014-10-07 11:59

Today's energy world continues to be dominated by fossil fuels in cars, in planes and in power plants. One reason is that crude oil used as a transportation fuel packs an awful lot of energy in a tiny package. It's a concept known as "energy density," and it helps us understand why crude became king over time.

In the last four centuries, humans have gone through several so-called "energy transitions." Each step up has involved a superior product in terms of energy density – in other words, concentrated energy in smaller and smaller packages.

Let's start in 16th and 17th century Holland. The Dutch burned something called peat, which is moss, very dead moss. Peat played a big role in human development, says historian John McNeill of Georgetown University.

"They burned it in energy-intensive industries," he said. "Beer brewing. Glass making. Sugar refining."

Peat, though, doesn't burn as long or as hot as what came later: Coal.

In the late 18th and 19th centuries, coal-powered steam engines took ships and trains farther. Coal also brought new industrial possibilities, like turning iron ore into steel.

"Coal has an energy density [worth] a couple of multiples of wood, charcoal, peat," McNeil said." You can't, for example, do metallurgical work with a peat flame. You can't get it hot enough. Coal, you can.

Then, oil was found. Once again, the new fuel offered a higher energy payload for its size and weight. Ever since, oil-based gasoline and jet fuel have dominated much of our energy lives.

Because of carbon pollution, of course, some car drivers instead are driving on electric batteries, which by energy density, are an inferior product. But history shows technology doesn't always equal destiny.

Let's go to 1900. The Old Car Festival at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan is America's longest-running antique car show.

There are plenty of gas-powered cars from that era. There's also a 1902 car that runs on steam... 

 

..and an electric car from 1903...

Yes, electric cars go back that far, and they are so quiet you can't hear them over the noise of the festival.

So why did electric vehicles lose out a century ago? It's probably not for the reasons you'd think.

Curator Matt Anderson of the Ford Museum says electrics weren't manly enough for the times.

"Electrics were thought to be the ideal 'women's car,' if you will," he said. "You don't have to crank it, so it doesn't require as much physical strength to get it running and operating. They're much cleaner than a gasoline automobile, they don't emit the kind of fumes or exhaust we associate with those cars."

Which sounds great. Except consumers back then didn't want that. They wanted a messy adventure machine.

"It made noise, it broke down," David Kirsch, an automotive historian at the University of Maryland, said of the gas-powered car.

"It was relatively easy to fix," he said. "So a man could take his girlfriend out into the woods and do what they will. And if he were very lucky the vehicle might break in a way that he could fix it."

Masculinity, displayed.

Kirsch's point is that culture becomes an important wild-card in technology history. It was back then, and could be going forward in ways we can't predict.

Today, with car sharing, Uber, Zipcar-ing and more automated driving, the nature of travel is slowly changing. Like a century ago, new people are placing new bets on rival fuels. And energy density may not necessarily be the deciding factor this time, either.

Why you may not know if your data has been hacked

Tue, 2014-10-07 11:52

The latest data breach was a big one. Hackers got into JPMorgan’s computer network, and the bank says that has put 76 million households and 7 million small businesses at risk. 

Because it is a public company, JPMorgan is required by law to tell federal regulators about anything that could affect its share price, and that is what it did. JPMorgan notified the Securities and Exchange Commission last Thursday. But other companies don’t have to notify the government when their servers get hit.

When it comes to data breaches, the U.S. has a confusing patchwork of laws. It may surprise you there is no overarching federal law.

“From the very beginning of digital technologies and the Internet, the federal government took the view of 'keep its hands off,'” says Fred H. Cate, who heads the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University.

So, the states stepped in. California was the first to pass a data breach notification law. It has been on the books there since 2003. Forty-six states followed, along with Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, and each one has a different law with different requirements.

“I think that everyone assumed that once you got a bunch of conflicting state laws, congress would step in and provide some clarity by providing a single federal law,” says Cate.

That hasn’t happened. Proposals have been held up in Congress, and an executive order President Barack Obama signed last year is voluntary.

Tina Ayiotis, who teaches law at The George Washington University, says after a string of high-profile attacks at Home Depot, Target and JPMorgan, we are starting to suffer from “breach fatigue.”

“At this point, the pain is not enough to really make it so that it becomes a priority,” she says.

What could change that, says David W. Opderbeck, a professor at Seton Hall University School of Law, is a cyber-attack on infrastructure, “like a power grid or a water supply, or the markets shut down for a few days.”

“When that kind of thing happens, then maybe we’ll see some action,” he says.

Until then, the action continues to be at the state level, keeping lawyers, consultants and compliance officers busy, and consumers confused.

'Twin Peaks' is just the latest cult TV comeback

Tue, 2014-10-07 11:20

Not to be outdone by Netflix's latest volley in the Screen Wars, Showtime gave its own surprise announcement Monday. The network will air new episodes of "Twin Peaks" in 2016, a full 25 years after ABC pulled the plug.

The move is unusual in some ways — typically only war horses like "Dallas" come back back after that long of a break — but it's far from the first cult hit to get a second chance on a new network. In fact, with the rise of premium channels and streaming services, it has become a low-risk way attract an audience — albeit with mixed success. Here are four more recent revivals and how they did.

Arrested Development

Probably the highest-profile resurrection on this list, if only because the fourth season of "Arrested Development" become the "Detox" of groundbreaking sitcoms. Before Fox canceled the show, its characters dropped references to HBO, Showtime and a potential movie. The rumors churned for seven years before Netflix released 15 new episodes all at once in 2013.

The new "Arrested Development" played with the binge-able format by focusing on one or two characters per episode and slowly revealing the plot as their storylines intersected. Some critics loved this puzzle box style of storytelling, but others were lukewarm, even calling the season a "noble failure." But that hasn't stopped even more speculation about a fifth season.

Friday Night Lights

After successfully adapting the nonfiction book "Friday Night Lights" into a movie, Peter Berg developed a TV version that would let him explore more ideas left out of the movie. But after a successful first season and a panned, shark-jumping second, the show was on the chopping block at NBC.

DirecTV swooped in, offering to help bankroll more episodes, which would air first on satellite, then later on broadcast. NBC agreed, and the show bounced back for three more critically-acclaimed seasons. DirecTV also brought back the Glenn Close legal drama "Damages," but only "Friday Night Lights" has gone down as an all-time classic.

The Killing

Against all odds, "The Killing" was actually brought back from cancellation twice. After huge success with "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad," AMC tried adapting the Danish series "Forbrydelsen" in 2011. The dreary crime drama started strong but lost viewers quickly, limping into a second season before being canceled.

After renegotiating contracts, AMC resurrected the show for a third season last summer before canceling it again. Netflix picked "The Killing" back up for an abbreviated final season in August, but most critics weren't interested by then. The streaming service did something similar with Cartoon Network's "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" this spring, giving the show a send-off after Lucasfilm's sale ended the series abruptly.

'Twin Peaks' is just the latest cult classic to come back to life

Tue, 2014-10-07 11:20

Not to be outdone by Netflix's latest volley in the Screen Wars, Showtime gave its own surprise announcement Monday. The network will air new episodes of "Twin Peaks" in 2016, a full 25 years after ABC pulled the plug.

The move is unusual in some ways — typically only war horses like "Dallas" come back back after that long of a break — but it's far from the first cult hit to get a second chance on a new network. In fact, with the rise of premium channels and streaming services, it has become a low-risk way attract an audience — albeit with mixed success. Here are four more recent revivals and how they did.

Arrested Development

Probably the highest-profile resurrection on this list, if only because the fourth season of "Arrested Development" become the "Detox" of groundbreaking sitcoms. Before Fox canceled the show, its characters dropped references to HBO, Showtime and a potential movie. The rumors churned for seven years before Netflix released 15 new episodes all at once in 2013.

The new "Arrested Development" played with the binge-able format by focusing on one or two characters per episode and slowly revealing the plot as their storylines intersected. Some critics loved this puzzle box style of storytelling, but others were lukewarm, even calling the season a "noble failure." But that hasn't stopped even more speculation about a fifth season.

Friday Night Lights

After successfully adapting the nonfiction book "Friday Night Lights" into a movie, Peter Berg developed a TV version that would let him explore more ideas left out of the movie. But after a successful first season and a panned, shark-jumping second, the show was on the chopping block at NBC.

DirecTV swooped in, offering to help bankroll more episodes, which would air first on satellite, then later on broadcast. NBC agreed, and the show bounced back for three more critically-acclaimed seasons. DirecTV also brought back the Glenn Close legal drama "Damages," but only "Friday Night Lights" has gone down as an all-time classic.

The Killing

Against all odds, "The Killing" was actually brought back from cancellation twice. After huge success with "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad," AMC tried adapting the Danish series "Forbrydelsen" in 2011. The dreary crime drama started strong but lost viewers quickly, limping into a second season before being canceled.

After renegotiating contracts, AMC resurrected the show for a third season last summer before canceling it again. Netflix picked "The Killing" back up for an abbreviated final season in August, but most critics weren't interested by then. The streaming service did something similar with Cartoon Network's "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" this spring, giving the show a send-off after Lucasfilm's sale ended the series abruptly.

Why education tech needs to get student privacy right

Tue, 2014-10-07 11:14

Like everything else these days, education runs on data. Our kids data.

Every digital move they make in school, on homework websites, and apps can be tracked. And it's not always clear where that information is going or how companies are using it.

Parents want better protections; the multi-billion dollar education technology industry wants to keep growing.

So today some big name ed-tech providers announced a voluntary privacy pledge.  It says ed tech companies won't sell a kid's data. They won't use it to target specific ads to specific kids.

"We are aware that policy makers and education leaders and parents are looking at this issue," said  Mark Schneiderman with the Software & Information Industry Association, "this is the industry effort to show that industry is aware of those questions."

At least part of the industry.

Microsoft, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Amplify and several other companies have signed the pledge. Notably absent on the list are classroom giants like Google, Apple and Pearson.  
"Thankfully for Houghton Mifflin, we’ve been 100% in alignment with the pledge and all the different parts inside the pledge document," said Bill Bowman, Vice President of Information Security for the education company.

Same story for Amplify—and the rest of the pledges.  They’re already doing all these things.

So what’s the point?

"You can look at this glass half full,  or glass half empty," said Joni Lupovitz, Vice President of Policy for the advocacy group Common Sense Media.

She says its good for an industry to adopt a list of best practices. It might pressure ed-tech companies that aren’t protecting student data to do more.

There's also the glass half empty bit. "A lot of this they will be required to do under California law," said Lupovitz "And, it's a private pledge, it doesn’t have the same teeth or enforcement."

Lupovitz the industry needs the trust of parents and teachers.

It’s the only way to keep the booming industry booming and bring the real promise of tech to the classroom.

 

"Twin Peaks" returns to a TV landscape it helped create

Tue, 2014-10-07 11:14

It’s been almost 25 years since Americans first saw the opening credits to "Twin Peaks," David Lynch’s strange and violent TV series set in a small town in a Pacific Northwest forest. It debuted on ABC in 1990 and captured a staggering audience. More than 34 million viewers tuned in to watch Special Agent Dale Cooper search for Laura Palmer's killer.

Now Showtime has announced it will produce a third season of "Twin Peaks" in 2016. Creators David Lynch and Mark Frost will pick up the story 25 years later.

After "Twin Peaks" ended, Lynch followed it up with the feature film "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me." The opening credits appear in front of TV static until  someone smashes the screen with an ax.

“Some people took that as David Lynch saying, 'I’m never going back to TV,'” says Greil Marcus, a critic who wrote about "Twin Peaks."

Back in 1991, Lynch worked in a television industry wildly different than it is today.

“People would look you right in the eye and say, 'I don’t watch television.' And that was supposed to be shorthand for 'I’m too smart to watch television,'” says Los Angeles Times critic Mary McNamara.  

"Twin Peaks" helped change that. Lynch was a highly regarded filmmaker, and the huge audience he attracted watched TV in a new way.

“When 'Twin Peaks' originally aired, it created — in a lot of respects — the concept of watching a television show closely and analyzing it for clues,” says Indiewire TV editor Liz Shannon Miller.

The show found a new audience in young people on Netflix, making a revival more attractive to studios. And "Twin Peaks" had planted a seed.

“A show like 'True Detective' would obviously never exist without David Lynch moving into television,” Marcus says.

Because it's airing on Showtime, Lynch is free from many of the constraints he faced in the '90s.  Showtime says it’s giving Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost carte blanche. That seed that Lynch planted has grown into a Lynchian forest of new TV shows with dark themes and mysteries that aren't always revealed.  Now Lynch will return to the forest.

 

Why you always see the same ad while binge-watching TV

Tue, 2014-10-07 09:59

I recently curled up with some back episodes of "Scandal," ABC’s rather addictive show about crisis manager Olivia Pope, who often works for and is generally in love with the president of the United States. 

Toward the end of season three, there was some high drama with the first family, right before a big live interview  – when we paused for a commercial break.

An instrumental version of Billy Joel’s “My Life” played and this took over the screen:

At first, I barely noticed Larry or the blue-eyed woman in ads for the prescription eye drops Restasis, but both ads and a handful of others kept rotating through every commercial break across nearly four straight episodes.

“That’s a very common experience these days,” says Jim Nail, an analyst with Forrester Research. “That when you’re watching TV programs that are streamed either from the network streaming app or some other service, that you see the same ads over and over and over again.” 

Nail says part of the problem is that the services and advertisers haven’t caught up with the way viewers binge-watch shows online – seeing Larry a few times in one episode isn’t a big deal, but, as I found out, string a few shows together and his presence can become irritating. 

Nail says a bigger reason for the repetition is that there’s still a shortage of online advertisers. That's because ratings and demographic data about digital audiences doesn’t yet mirror the kind of data available for television audiences.

“There aren’t enough advertisers comfortable buying [online] to follow the model of broadcast television, which is 17 minutes of commercials an hour, which means 34 advertisers, give or take,” says Nail.

In contrast, an online show might only have a handful of advertisers, which keeps Larry and his online peers busy.

The growth in online video content also means lots of work for Larry, says Larry Chiagouris, a marketing professor at the Lubin School of Business at Pace University.

"You've got this volume of video that's just extraordinary," says Chiagouris.

Digital video advertising dollars are also climbing — 20 percent in 2013 — but "the amount of video that's available to be sponsored is probably five times that." 

While there’s tons of content available online these days, Anna Bager, with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, notes that the amount advertisers actually want to buy is still relatively small.

In other words: Larry has standards. He probably doesn’t want to be next to someone’s shaky homemade YouTube videos.

“The inventory is scarce so advertisers tend to want to buy all of the inventory,” she says. This can include sponsorships, where ad spots might be sold to one or a limited number of advertisers.

However, Bager and Chiagouris agree there’s another reason for at least some of the repetition. Advertisers want to make sure their message gets through to distracted viewers who might be checking email, clicking around the internet or generally trying to avoid ads.

“Advertising is usually annoying, I think we kind of know that,” says Bager. “We may be incredibly annoyed with Progressive because their ad keeps showing up and it’s kind of an annoying ad in general, but when we want to buy insurance, we know that Progressive is an insurance company.”

Similarly, viewers might remember Larry and decide to open an account with Merrill Edge if they’re in the market for a similar product in the future.

Of course, they could also retain negative feelings toward Larry and decide to go with one of his competitors instead.

"I think generally advertisers instinctively believe that over-exposure to the same ad, the same night, with the same hour -- things like that -- run the risk that people are just going to feel completely bombarded and their attitudes will turn negative," says Forrester's Nail.

What you need to know about the AIG trial

Tue, 2014-10-07 08:39

There's a star witness in a big trial today.

You've heard of him: Timothy Geithner. The case: AIG shareholders, including former CEO Maurice R. Greenberg, are suing the Feds, saying they feel cheated by the terms of the bailout in 2008.

Didn't Henry Paulson testify yesterday?
Yup. Then-Treasury Secretary Paulson testified. He said the AIG bailout deal was "punitive." AIG made risky bets, he said, and its shareholders deserved to be punished for them. The key was to send a message to Wall Street: "Just so you know, we are not the Santa Claus of easy bailouts. If you come and ask for one, the terms will be harsh." Okay, that's a made-up quote.

So why does this testimony matter?
Because Paulson was not the key player in regards to details of the AIG bailout. Geithner, then-head of the NY Fed, was. He's the big witness this morning, says Columbia law professor John Coffee, and the guy Greenberg's lawyer (one David Boies) really wants to grill.

Oh yeah, the bailout.
Recall: in the fog of the banking crisis, the Feds realized AIG was in big money trouble. Why? AIG was the insurance company for banks that bought risky subprime loans. If those loans defaulted, AIG was on the hook. (five-dollar word: credit default swaps).

What's the AIG shareholder beef?
The Feds were overly mean, they say, and they punished us too harshly. Or, in legal-speak, they took control of AIG without "just compensation" - a Constitutional no-no.
The details:

  •  In return for $192 billion in loans, we got hit with a 14 percent interest rate. Beltway loan sharks.
  •  The feds took an 80% stock share in the company.
  •  We got these harsh terms, but the banks got paid back 100 cents on the dollar for their risky investments. How come only we sat in the barber chair for the haircut?

What do AIG shareholder want?

Led by former CEO Greenberg, they are suing for $40 billion in compensation.

What's the counter-argument against AIG?
We needed to punish you, because you took bad risks. But we needed to save the banks because the financial system was on life support. That's the job of the Federal Reserve.

What role did Geithner play?
He ran the NY Fed, which engineered the details of the whole bailout.

Geithner argues – in his recent book, "Stress Test" – that the government had no choice. If they hadn't bailed out AIG, it would be ruined the economy. His NY Fed has also been accused of hiding the terms of the 100% payments to the banks that bought AIG default insurance.

How could Geithner's testimony impact?

“If the evidence that comes out in the case shows that there was a big misfire at the fed, then congress may react and change the way that the Fed does business,” says Georgetown finance professor Jim Angel.

Public reaction to the government's bailouts of large financial institution during the financial crisis was so negative says Angel, that when congress passed Dodd-Frank it reduced the fed’s ability act. New restrictions, he says, could be key in a future crisis.

Why do we care, again?

In litigation, there's this thing called discovery where each side has to "open its kimono" to the other.  Lawsuits are all about getting to the bottom of things. And observers are hoping that this lawsuit could get to the bottom of the financial crisis. Angel says “There’ve been a lot of studies of the financial crisis, but do we really know what happened?”

His answer: not really. He hopes this lawsuit could reveal facts that we don’t know, we don’t know about how the crisis and the bailout of AIG occurred, as well as a potential answer to the “Watergate question” -  what the Fed knew and when it knew it.

That sounds pretty exciting, but John Coffee, director of Columbia Law School’s Center on Corporate Governance, isn’t so sure he agrees with Angel.

“I don’t think you’re going to learn dramatically new information," he says. "You may hear snippets, emails anecdotes that support both sides." 

There are two opposing points of view on how the government handled AIG’s bailout, notes Coffee.

“One side said it was done to prevent financial contagion and panic. The other side says it was done to achieve a backdoor bailout of large banks you wouldn’t dare to fund directly and publicly,” he says. 

Coffee’s opinion: the court won’t decide to oversee or restrain financial regulators. Those new regulations, he says, already exist – thanks to Dodd-Frank. But Georgetown’s Angel takes a different view.

The numbers for October 7, 2014

Tue, 2014-10-07 08:13

The International Monetary fund is dialing back its predictions of global economic growth for 2015, revising its projection to 3.8 percent, down from 4 percent a few months ago. In its World Economic Outlook report, released Tuesday, the IMF blamed sluggish growth in part on the Eurozone, which it warns has a much higher probability of re-entering recession than it did earlier this year.

Tempering expectations further, the Wall Street Journal notes that the IMF's predictions are often "overly optimistic."

Here are some other numbers we're watching Tuesday:

300 lumens per watt

LEDs are able to give off far more light for the amount of energy they use — compare that figure to 70 lm/W for fluorescents and 16 lm/W for incandescent bulbs. That efficiency won the blue LEDs inventors the Nobel Prize in physics Tuesday, CNET reported. It's a break from past years, which awarded much larger and abstract discoveries like universal expansion and the Higgs boson.

77

The number of travelers stopped by stepped-up exit screenings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in countries most affected by Ebola. President Barack Obama said Monday the U.S. will reexamine its practices here and abroad, the Washington Post reported, as several Republican lawmakers push for travel bans.

1984

The IBM Model M keyboard has been around 30 years, and for many tech writers, IT professionals, programmers and even the guy who created "Minecraft," it's still the standard to which all other keyboards are measured. The Verge has an extensive piece exploring the Model M's history and enduring popularity.

Inflation to a twenty-something

Tue, 2014-10-07 07:00

As Marketplace celebrates its 25th birthday this year, we are looking at the surprising, sometimes delightful and sometimes destructive ways that prices have changed during that quarter century.

And like many of the twenty-something variety, we decided to mark the occasion by taking a selfie...of our spending. Enter the Consumer Expenditure Survey.

Rather than looking at costs and pricing, the CE looks at how much consumers spent, on average, on any given item or service that year. It's compiled from two sources: the Interview Survey, and the Diary Survey. The former checks in with consumers on quarterly basis, monitoring larger expenditures (like rent and costs related to vehicles), while the latter asks people to keep a spending diary over a shorter period of time to catch smaller, day-to-day purchases.

Together, they create a picture of the spending habits of consumers during a given year. Among other things, the CE is used to revise the Consumer Price Index by looking at goods and their "relative importance." And as we've explored elsewhere, putting together that "basket of goods" that determines inflation is a tricky process that some feel hasn't been handled well in the past.

Regardless, looking at CEs from two years provides interesting comparisons of how much and where we spend our money.

So now that Marketplace is in its twenties, how does our spending compare to a twenty-something from 1989?

Adjusted for inflation (think 2013 dollars), here's how much income consumers 25 to 34 years of age made versus how much they spent on rent, food, alcohol, clothing, and shoes in 1989 and 2013.

It's worth noting that the CE gets incredibly specific. For example, this same age group spent $174 on "cereals and cereal products" in 2013, whereas their 1989 counterparts spent $233 in the same category. Amounts spent on health insurance are also available ($601 in 1989, $1,334 in 2013), which will be an especially interesting comparison to revisit when the CE for 2014 is released, as the Affordable Care Act will have been in effect for this demographic.

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PODCAST: LinkedIn goes to college

Tue, 2014-10-07 03:00

First up, we could hear a lot more about manipulation in the foreign currency markets as the year wears on. The U.S. Justice Department is reportedly preparing a new pile of charges against some of the biggest Wall Street firms and, significantly, individuals who work at the firms. One focus: possible collusion in the buying and selling of dollars, euros, pounds sterling, and beyond. We talk with Ben Protess who co-wrote the scoop for for the New York Times Deal Book section. And Linkedin is the social media network targeted at our professional lives. Now, Linkedin is entering the already-crowded "college rankings" field with an interesting algorithm: LinkedIn ran the numbers on its over 310 million members to see where they went to college and what they're doing now. Plus, in the U.S., it's fair to say that there's a long tradition of corporations embracing what originally was a religious observance: Christmas. In India, the calendar is packed with a kaleidoscope of religious festivals, many involving elaborate processions and decorations, which business are often pleased to underwrite. But some in India say corporate sponsorship of these events may be going too far.

Being human in the age of automation

Tue, 2014-10-07 02:00

In Nicholas Carr’s new book, "The Glass Cage – Automation and Us," he describes an academic study in which researchers discover a key difference between how we feel at work versus at home. At work, people can’t wait to clock out, whereas at home, they dread returning to work.

But surprisingly, the study also found that by many metrics, people are actually happier on the job. And in a world where the main goal of technology seems to be to reduce the work we do, Carr thinks maybe we should take a different tack:

“I think most of us, if we really thought about it, know that it’s really when we’re being challenged and when we’re really immersed in a task or a job…that’s when we feel like we are experiencing life in some better, more fulfilling way.”

In the book, Carr offers one example of how the video game, Red Dead Redemption, helped him realize that games can be a good model for software designed to engage and challenge us in an activity. Carr argues that if we are simply more mindful of how technology influences our experience of life, we can make better decisions about the things we buy, even if it’s as small as a video game.

Click the media player above to hear Nicholas Carr in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

In a robust labor market, more people say 'I Quit.'

Tue, 2014-10-07 02:00

Update: The JOLTS numbers are in. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

"There were 4.8 million job openings on the last business day of August, up from 4.6 million in July... The hires rate (3.3 percent) was down and the separations rate (3.2 percent) was essentially unchanged in August. Within separations, the quits rate (1.8 percent) was unchanged and the layoffs and discharges rate (1.1 percent) was little changed.

See you again next month, quits rate.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics issues its Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey—also known as JOLTS—for August on Tuesday. Back in July, the report showed 4.67 million job openings, and economists expect a healthy increase to 4.71 million job openings in August. That would be consistent with labor-market improvements reported in September’s employment report, with 248,000 jobs added to the economy, and the unemployment rate falling to 5.9 percent.

However, one data point in the JOLTS report has been consistently underperforming the rest of the labor market: the quits rate. This indicates how many people are leaving their jobs voluntarily—because they got a better offer, or think they can look around for a while without becoming long-term unemployed (People can also be classified as ‘voluntary quits’ if they leave a job to go back to school, to care for a family member, or to leave the workforce; retirement and disability are not counted as 'voluntary quits'). A higher quits rate is seen as a sign of job-market churn and flexibility for both employers and employees.

Since the recession, the quits rate has remained stubbornly low. In July, there were 2.5 million quits; the level of quits consistently topped 3 million in the years before the recession.

The quits and layoffs and discharges numbers starting from January, 2004.

Bureau of Labor Statistics

John Challenger, at outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas, thinks the quits rate will eventually catch up to other improvements in the labor market. But right now, he thinks many workers are still recession-scarred. “Even if I might get paid more money,” he said, characterizing the mindset of a typical worker, “safety is still of high value. Better to hold onto the job I have than to take something new.”

Elise Gould, a labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute, said workers don’t think they have much bargaining power with employers. So many are reluctant to risk quitting and looking for a new job. “The fact that we’ve seen sluggish wage growth, workers see that," she said. "They know they can’t bid up their wages because there are so many people waiting on line—on the unemployment rolls or out of the labor force.”

Gould said even as jobs become slowly more plentiful, workers fear that they’ll face stiff competition if they jump ship and go job-hunting right now.

Inside the work of Ebola 'Disease Detectives'

Tue, 2014-10-07 02:00

Public health officials continue to track the well being of about 50 patients in Dallas who may have been exposed to the Ebola virus. As of Tuesday morning, there was no sign any of them was infected.

The labor-intensive surveillance operation is being run by local health officials and a pair of epidemiologists for the CDC. The two are officers in the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service.

With the Ebola outbreak growing, these so-called "disease detectives" are taking on an increasingly important role.

Let’s be honest, there’s something a little nuts about being in the Epidemic Intelligence Service—a job where you could get plopped into a communicable disease hotspot with little warning.

“What’s the type of person who wants to walk into an Ebola outbreak instead of walk away from it,” says Jennifer Hunter.

Hunter is one of the two EIS officers in Dallas who is keeping tabs on the several dozen people who came into contact with the Ebola patient, Thomas Duncan.

“I think there is nothing more you can do to help be part of something as large as this is and as important,” she says.

EIS alum Tracy Creek describes most EIS folks as “passionate, geeky, problem solvers” dedicated to public service. Every year, the CDC hires 70 to 80 people to spend two years tackling everything from smoking cessation to H1N1 outbreaks.

Creek says the EIS logo sums up their work: “It’s a sole of a shoe with a hole worn in it; you’re supposed to be the feet on the ground of our public health infrastructure,” she says.

Yep, a logo that could of been dreamed up by Dashiell Hammett.

Certainly EIS officers in Dallas earned their disease detective badge this past week as they tracked down doctors and nurses; lab techs and custodial staff; anyone who may have handled the patient’s fluids. But that’s just one part of the job.

EIS officers must solve problems and be a kind of fixer; a challenge in some corners of West Africa.  

“We are not fully meeting demand and it’s a very challenging situation,” says Peter Kilmarx, who for nearly the past month has been running CDC’s operations in Sierra Leone.

One problem Kilmarx’s got is lining up enough burial teams to pick up the highly infectious bodies. Handle them wrong and the disease spreads.

“There’ve been deaths among burial team drivers and staff. At times when there is a call about a cadaver in the community, we’re not able to have a quick response,” he says.

In some sense, the solution is straight forward. Kilmarx needs more money—for protective gear, staff, ambulances. But with the number of people dying nearly doubling every month, Kilmarx says resources are stretched. 

“We’re barely keeping up with what we’ve got, and thinking ahead to twice as many 30 days from now is daunting,” he says.

In the past, when Kilmarx needed three laptops, or three motorcycles, he just tapped the non-profit CDC Foundation—which cuts checks quicker than the agency.

The speed of this epidemic means there’s more going out the Foundation’s door than is coming in. And now, Kilmarx has another problem to solve.

LinkedIn gives college ratings a big data twist

Tue, 2014-10-07 02:00

LinkedIn is entering the crowded field of college rankings and giving it a big data twist. 

When you join LinkedIn, you tell the site where you went to school, your field and where you work. The job site ran the numbers on its more than 313 million members to see where they went to college and what they’re doing now, says spokesperson LinkedIn Crystal Braswell.

They used it to “narrow down the list of top schools that are really launching their students into successful, desirable jobs,” Braswell says.

LinkedIn defined “desirable jobs” by crunching the numbers to find companies that are good at both attracting and retaining employees.

Mark Schneider of the American Institutes for Research says the list is limited.

“Right now, only the top 25 schools in any of the fields is displayed,” he says.

And so it’s mostly the usual colleges that top the lists. Still, Schneider favors this data-driven approach, especially in the current economy.

“I think the 2008 financial crises scared the life out of everybody,” Schneider says. “You go to college and now you’re not even guaranteed good employment.”

And with college tuition rising, Schneider says students are increasingly interested in what their college degree will get them in the job market.

Win two tickets to see Marketplace live in New York!

Mon, 2014-10-06 15:55

How to enter:

1) Follow @Marketplace on Twitter.

2) Spot a Marketplace Road Show bus ad and tweet your photo of it to @Marketplace with the hashtag #numberslove.

3) That’s it! Check your direct messages on Monday, October 13, 2014, to see if you are a winner. 

Marketplace NYC Road Show Twitter Giveaway Official Rules

NO CONTRIBUTION OR PURCHASE IS NECESSARY - MAKING A CONTRIBUTION WILL NOT INCREASE YOUR CHANCES OF WINNING THIS GIVEAWAY

HOW TO ENTER THE ABOVE GIVEAWAY: No contribution or purchase is necessary to enter the Marketplace NYC Road Show Twitter Giveaway (the "Giveaway"). To enter, a) become a follower of @Marketplace on if you aren't already, then b) tweet @Marketplace a photo of one of the city bus ads promoting the Marketplace Roadshow with the hashtag #numberslove BETWEEN between 5:00 p.m. ET October 6, 2014 and 11:59 p.m. ET October 12, 2014 (the "Entry Period").

ELIGIBILITY: To be considered an entry in this Giveaway (hereinafter individually as "Entry" and collectively as "Entries"), the Entry tweet must include both @Marketplace tweet to account, and include #numberslove, the official hashtag for the Giveaway in the tweet. The Entry must comply with APM's User Submission Terms of Use. The Entry must not contain material that is unlawful, in violation of or contrary to the laws or regulations in any state where Entry is created. There is no limit to the number of times a follower may tweet a response; however, only one (1) tweet per person will count as an eligible Entry in the Giveaway.

Open only to legal residents of any one of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia who are 18 years of age or older at time of entry. THIS GIVEAWAY IS INTENDED FOR PLAY IN THE UNITED STATES ONLY. DO NOT ENTER THIS GIVEAWAY UNLESS YOU ARE LOCATED IN THE UNITED STATES AT THE TIME OF ENTRY. The following persons are not eligible: Persons who on or after February 1, 2014, were or are employees of Sponsor or its related organizations, including American Public Media, their immediate family, or persons living in the same household. Void where prohibited by law.

PRIZE: One (1) winner will each receive one (1) pair of passes (two admissions) to see Marketplace 25th Anniversary National Tour: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Numbers Hosted by Kai Ryssdal on October 16, 2014. Prize retail value is $60.00.

Winners are responsible for any costs associated with using the prize, including but not limited to transportation. Prize is nontransferable, is not good for cash, and cannot be exchanged for other merchandise. Winners will receive delivery of the prize as arranged by APM. Passes must be used in compliance with venue's policies. APM is not responsible for any event cancellations or changes. Every eligible Entry will be included in the drawing. On October 13, 2014,  one (1) winner will be randomly drawn from all eligible Entries. Winner will be notified by Twitter direct message on or about 4:00 p.m. CT October 13, 2014. Winner will be required to respond to the Twitter direct message from Sponsor with a reply e-mail within 24 hours of direct message send as a Winner. If a Winner (i) does not respond to the Twitter direct message as described above, (ii) is found to be ineligible, or (iii) the prize notification or prize is returned as undeliverable, then that unawarded prize will go to the first available back up thereof until the prize is awarded. The rules detailing giveaway eligibility and method of selecting winners are on file at American Public Media. The chances of winning are dependent upon the number of eligible entries.

INTERNET AND USE OF TECHNOLOGY: If for any reason this Giveaway is not capable of running as planned due to an infection by a computer virus, bugs, tampering, unauthorized intervention, fraud, technical failures, or any other causes beyond the control of the Sponsor which corrupt or affect the administration, security, fairness, integrity, or proper conduct of this Giveaway, the Sponsor reserves the right at its sole discretion, to disqualify any individual who tampers with the Entry process. The Sponsor assumes no responsibility for any error, omission, interruption, deletion, defect, delay in operation or transmission, communications line failure, theft or destruction or unauthorized access to, or alteration of, Entries. The Sponsor is not responsible for any problems or technical malfunctions of any telephone network or telephone lines, computer online systems, servers, or providers, computer equipment, software, failure of any email or Entry to be received by the Sponsor due to technical problems, human error or traffic congestion on the Internet or at the Website, or any combination thereof, including any injury or damage to participant's or any other person's computer relating to or resulting from participating in this Giveaway or downloading any materials in this Giveaway. SPONSOR IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR INCOMPATIBILITY OF ENTRANT'S HARDWARE, SOFTWARE OR BROWSER TECHNOLOGY WITH SPONSOR'S HARDWARE, SOFTWARE OR BROWSER TECHNOLOGY. CAUTION: ANY ATTEMPT TO DELIBERATELY DAMAGE ANY WEB SITE OR UNDERMINE THE LEGITIMATE OPERATION OF THE GIVEAWAY IS A VIOLATION OF CRIMINAL AND CIVIL LAWS AND SHOULD SUCH AN ATTEMPT BE MADE, THE SPONSOR RESERVES THE RIGHT TO SEEK DAMAGES OR OTHERREMEDIES FROM ANY SUCH PERSON(S) RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ATTEMPT TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW. In the event of a dispute as to the identity or eligibility of a Winner based on an email address or Twitter account, the winning Entry will be declared made by the "Authorized Account Holder" of the email address or Twitter account at time of Entry. "Authorized Account Holder" is defined as the natural person 18 years of age or older who is assigned to an email address by an Internet access provider, online service provider, or other organization (e.g., business, education institution, etc.) that is responsible for assigning email addresses for the domain associated with the submitted email address. Sponsor may ask any Entrant or potential Winner to provide Sponsor with proof that such party is the authorized account holder of the email account associated with the Entry.

Sponsor is not responsible for computer system, phone line, technical, hardware, software or program failures of any kind, lost or unavailable network connections, incomplete, garbled or delayed computer transmission or network connections that are human or technical in nature. Use of automated devices is not valid for Entry. Sponsor is not responsible for incorrect or inaccurate Entry information, whether caused by Internet users or by any of the equipment or programming associated with or utilized in this Giveaway or by any technical or human error which may occur in the processing of the Entries in this Giveaway. Incomplete, unreadable, inaccurate, unintelligible or late Entries or Entries which otherwise do not comply with these Official Rules will be disqualified. All Entries, upon submission, become the sole property of the Sponsor and will not be acknowledged or returned and the Sponsor has the right to dispose of the Entries at Sponsor's discretion. Sponsor reserves the right to, in its sole discretion, cancel, modify or suspend the online portion of this Giveaway (or the entire Giveaway) should any computer virus, bugs or other technical difficulty or other causes beyond the control of the Sponsor corrupt the administration, security or proper play of the Giveaway, at which time, the selection of the Winners will be determined in a random drawing from among all eligible Entries received at the time of Giveaway termination.

GENERAL: By participating in this Giveaway, participants agree to be bound by the Official Rules and that American Public Media and related organizations, their agents and employees have no liability whatsoever for any injuries, losses, or damages of any kind which result from use of the prize, or by participation in the giveaway. American Public Media or its related organizations may use winner's name and likeness for advertising, fundraising, promotional or publicity purposes without further compensation. Expenses as a result of winning this prize are the responsibility of the winner. By submitting an Entry, each Entrant consents to receive from the Sponsor a reply Twitter message and, if applicable, a Twitter direct message, email, and/or phone call notifying such Entrant that he/she is a potential Winner.

RESTRICTIONS: By participating in this Giveaway, a participant agrees to be bound by these Official Rules, and by all decisions of the giveaway sponsor.

SPONSOR: American Public Media, 480 Cedar Street, St. Paul, MN 55101, 651-290-1500

Americans don't know who runs the Federal Reserve

Mon, 2014-10-06 13:35

A news quiz for you from the Pew Research Center:

Of the following four people, which one runs the Federal Reserve?

The answer choices were:

a) Janet Yellen... correctly picked by 24 percent of people.

b) John Roberts... 5 percent.

c) Sonia Sotomayor... 6 percent.

d) And this one, the troubling part: Alan Greenspan... 17 percent.

Those who admitted to not knowing? Forty-eight percent.

Who's in charge of the @federalreserve? Don't bank on public knowing the answer http://t.co/2XF7CwRMRX pic.twitter.com/NQdBOT9W9I

— PewResearch FactTank (@FactTank) October 6, 2014

A hard look at corn economics — and world hunger

Mon, 2014-10-06 12:05

The corn harvest is coming in, and great weather has produced a record crop. This is terrible news for farmers: Oversupply means cratering prices.

If that sounds like a paradox, consider this: Corn, the biggest crop in our agricultural powerhouse of a nation, is not a foodstuff. It’s a highly refined industrial material—more like aluminum than apples. And a hard look at corn economics puts world hunger in a different light. 

Let's start at an ethanol plant: Lincolnway Energy, in Nevada, Iowa. CEO and President Erik Hakmiller is our guide.

The plant includes several big buildings, lots of loud noises... and some unexpected smells. One is hard to place at first. "What you smell is residual carbon dioxide, and a cooking— very much like a bakery smell," says Hakmiller.

Then Hakmiller opens the door to a giant building with a corrugated metal roof.  

It’s a barn. Inside are these golden mountains—piled-up flakes of grain.

Mountains of grain at Lincolnway Energy in Nevada, Iowa, from Dan Weissmann on Vimeo.

For every bushel of corn that comes to Lincolnway Energy, only a third comes out as ethanol. Another third comes out as carbon dioxide, which goes into soda pop.

The rest—the fat, fiber and protein—ends up on one of these piles. "Each pile being about a thousand tons," says Hakmiller.

That’s one day’s worth of this stuff, called distillers grains.

"It’s good food for cows, chickens and pigs," Hakmiller says. Just as important, it’s cheap.

"For animal feeding, you feed the lowest cost to get the most growth out of the animal," he says. "So, everything has to price itself into the ration. Because a cow doesn’t say, ‘I’m eating Italian tonight.’ He’s got to eat whatever he gets fed."

If he’s in a feedlot—where most cows gain half their body weight—he’s probably eating corn, either distillers grains or the whole kernel.

And we are not. We wouldn’t recognize it.

Chris Edgington has been growing corn for decades. Here’s what his corn isn’t: "It is not the corn you eat off the cob," he says. "It is not what’s in the can. It is not what’s in the freezer, in the bag. It is not that product."

That product, sweet corn, is a different crop. And a lot smaller. Last year, for every pound of sweet corn, U.S. farmers grew more than 260 pounds of field corn.

Sweet corn-- the stuff on the cob-- is not the corn that's grown on 90 million acres. | Create Infographics

Which goes to farm animals. If you are what you eat, they are, more than anything else, corn.

So, when we eat a ham-and-cheese omelette, that’s mostly corn.

"It’s a very small component of other foods," says Joseph Glauber, chief economist of the United States Department of Agriculture. "People talk about high-fructose corn syrup, but..."

Want to guess how much of the corn crop goes to corn syrup?

Three-and-a-half percent. A little less than that goes to other sugars, plus alcohol for vodka.

Actual corn-type food—Doritos, Jiffy cornbread mix, cornflakes—represents 1.5 percent of the corn crop.

For stuff we eat and drink, that’s about it.

Other than as a low-cost ration for animals, the big use for corn is ethanol.

Ethanol has been booming since 2000; there’s eight times as much now.

That’s been great for corn farmers because they have so much corn to get rid of.  

"The joke in farm country has always been, if you give a farmer a market, he’ll overproduce it," says Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, the state’s ethanol lobby. "And quite frankly, for over 200 years, that’s been pretty true, except for these last eight years, when ethanol sucked up all that extra corn production."

Extra production is not one year’s bumper crop, and it is not just the extra acres that got planted after the ethanol boom.

It’s a long-term constant. Productivity—the yield from one acre of cornfield—has been ratcheting up for decades and decades.

Even in 2012—a terrible drought year, with the worst yields in more than 15 years—productivity was more than twice as high as any year before 1960.

Which puts the whole food-versus-fuel question in a new light.

We plant more than 90 million acres of corn, and it’s in huge surplus. And it’s not even food. What if we planted actual food instead?

I put that question to Bruce Babcock, an economics professor at Iowa State University who studies corn, ethanol and renewable fuels.

"Our ability to supply the world with vegetables is practically unlimited," Babcock said.

Take corn, and add in other giant crops that basically just feed animals—crops like soybeans, barley, hay, sorghum—and two-thirds of U.S. farmland goes to animal feed.

"Such a small portion of our land goes to grow actual food that people consume," said Babcock, "that if we really wanted to increase that supply, it would be pretty easy."

The trick would be convincing the country—and other countries that import animal feed from the U.S.—to go vegan.

"There would be such a surplus of farmland to grow kumquats and pecans that we would be awash in those, in a heartbeat," says Babcock.

Would it be enough to feed the 10 billion people the United Nations projects as global population by 2100

"We would have more land available for the 10 billion than they would know what to do with," says Babcock.  

But we don’t. Thank markets.

"That’s not what consumers want," says Babcock. "As they get more money, they want to eat meat."

So farmers plant corn.

A hard look at corn economics - and world hunger

Mon, 2014-10-06 12:05

The corn harvest is coming in, and great weather has produced a record crop. This is terrible news for farmers: oversupply means cratering prices.

If that sounds like a paradox, consider this: Corn, the biggest crop in our agricultural powerhouse of a nation, is not a foodstuff. It’s a highly-refined industrial material— more like aluminum than apples. And a hard look at corn economics puts world hunger in a different light. 

Let's start at an ethanol plant: Lincolnway Energy, in Nevada, Iowa. CEO and President Erik Hakmiller is our guide.

The plant includes several big buildings, lots of loud noises... and some unexpected smells. One is hard to place at first. "What you smell is residual carbon dioxide, and a and cooking— very much like a bakery smell," says Hakmiller.

Then, Hakmiller opens the door to a giant building with a corrugated metal roof.  

It’s a barn. Inside are these golden mountains— piled up flakes of grain.

Mountains of Grain at Lincolnway Energy in Nevada, Iowa from Dan Weissmann on Vimeo.

For every bushel of corn that comes to Lincolnway Energy, only a third comes out as ethanol. Another third comes out as carbon dioxide— which goes into soda pop.

The rest— the fat, fiber, and protein— ends up on one of these piles. "Each pile being about a thousand tons," says Hakmiller.

That’s one day’s worth of this stuff— called distillers grains.

"It’s good food for cows, chickens and pigs," Hakmiller says. Just as important, it’s cheap.

"For animal feeding, you feed the lowest cost to get the most growth out of the animal," he says. "So, everything has to price itself into the ration. Because a cow doesn’t say, ‘I’m eating Italian tonight.’ He’s got to eat whatever he gets fed."

If he’s in a feedlot— where most cows gain half their body weight— he’s probably eating corn, either distillers grains or the whole kernel.

And we are not. We wouldn’t recognize it.

Chris Edgington has been growing corn for decades. Here’s what his corn isn’t: "It is not the corn you eat off the cob," he says. "It is not what’s in the can. It is not what’s in the freezer, in the bag. It is not that product."

That product, sweet corn, is a different crop. And a lot smaller. Last year, for every pound of sweet corn, U.S. farmers grew more than 260 pounds of field corn.

Sweet corn-- the stuff on the cob-- is not the corn that's grown on 90 million acres. | Create Infographics

Which goes to farm animals. If you are what you eat, they are, more than anything else, corn.

So, when we eat a ham and cheese omelette— that’s mostly corn.

"It’s a very small component of other foods," says Joseph Glauber, chief economist of the United States Department of Agriculture. "People talk about high-fructose corn syrup, but..."

Want to guess how much of the corn crop goes to corn syrup?

Three and a half percent. A little less than that goes for other sugars, plus alcohol for vodka.

Actual corn-type food— Doritos, Jiffy corn bread mix, cornflakes— represents one and-a-half percent of the corn crop.

For stuff we eat and drink, that’s about it.

Other than as a low-cost ration for animals, the big use for corn is ethanol.

Ethanol has been booming since 2000— there’s eight times as much now.

That’s been great for corn farmers - because they have so much corn to get rid of.  

"The joke in farm country has always been, if you give a farmer a market, he’ll over-produce it," says Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association— the state’s ethanol lobby. "And quite frankly, for over 200 years, that’s been pretty true, except for these last eight years, when ethanol sucked up all that extra corn production."

Extra production is not one year’s bumper crop. And it not just the extra acres that got planted after the ethanol boom.

It’s a long-term constant. Productivity— the yield from one acre of cornfield— has been ratcheting up for decades and decades.

Even in 2012 — a terrible drought year, with the worst yields in more than 15 years — productivity was more than twice as high as any year before 1960.

Which puts the whole food-versus-fuel question in a new light.

We plant more than 90 million acres of corn, and it’s in huge surplus. And it’s not even food. What if we planted actual food instead?

I put that question to Bruce Babcock, an economics professor at Iowa State University who studies corn, ethanol, and renewable fuels.

"Our ability to supply the world with vegetables is practically unlimited," Babcock said.

Take corn, and add in other giant crops that basically just feed animals — crops like soybeans, barley, hay, sorghum— and two-thirds of U.S. farmland goes to animal feed.

"Such a small portion of our land goes to grow actual food that people consume," said Babcock, "that if we really wanted to increase that supply, it would be pretty easy."

The trick would be convincing the country — and other countries that import animal feed from the U.S. — to go vegan.

"There would be such a surplus of farmland to grow kumquats and pecans that we would be awash in those, in a heartbeat," says Babcock.

Would it be enough to feed the ten billion people the United Nations projects as global population by 2100

"We would have more land available for the ten billion than they would know what to do with," says Babcock.  

But we don’t. Thank markets.

"That’s not what consumers want," says Babcock. "As they get more money, they want to eat meat."

So farmers plant corn.

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