National News

Silicon Prairie: Tech Startups Find A Welcoming Home In The Midwest

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 12:58

Some entrepreneurs are leaving the high tech hot spots of San Francisco, New York and the Silicon Valley for greener pastures in a place that actually has greener pastures: Lincoln, Neb.

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Startup mattress companies disrupt a stiff business

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-12 12:53

There’s a new set of companies getting into the mattress game, and they’re disrupting the traditional model of lying on bed after bed to compare. Kyle Stock explores the mattress industry and the newcomers that are changing things up in his piece, “New Startups Aren’t Keeping Big Mattresses Up At Night,” for Bloomberg Business.

In the scope of consumer products, the humble mattress is becoming simpler by the day. A mattress doesn’t need to get faster or smaller or lighter. It doesn’t have to charge more quickly or use less energy. And though bedding now involves complicated chemical formulas rather than horsehair and reeds, it is still primarily a puzzle of textiles.

But a mattress store was still plenty baffling to Jeff Holt, a professional photographer who recently moved to Charleston, S.C., with his girlfriend and her weary, taco-like mattress. They lay on bed after bed, lent a skeptical ear to a dogged salesman, and eventually grew tired—and not from the cushy products.

“It was like going to a restaurant with 200 options on the menu,” Holt said. “All it does is confuse you. And everything about it feels like a car dealership.”

 

As young companies grow, the future of the industry is uncertain. However, even with the new craft mattress companies starting up, industry giants are doing just fine. Last year, the three biggest public companies, Tempur-Sealy, Select Comfort, and Mattress Firm, saw sales jump 21 percent.

A Craft Beer Tax Battle Is Brewing On Capitol Hill

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 12:51

Craft beer is a rapidly-growing industry and Washington lawmakers have noticed. Two proposed bills would lower the federal excise tax for small brewers.

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In Idaho School District, Preschool At Risk Without Federal Funds

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 12:49

Congress has not reauthorized special assistance for rural communities this year. But to pay for extra programs like preschool, Basin School District doesn't have many other options.

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Unpredictable weather is remaking the ski industry

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-12 12:42

There is something depressing about a closed ski slope in winter. The trails are bare and grassy. The chairlifts just hang there, waving a little in the breeze. It's like walking into an empty restaurant on a Friday night. That's been the mood in Tahoe for much of this winter.

In the middle of February, I took a trip to the Homewood Mountain Ski Resort. It is a smaller ski area in Tahoe frequented by locals. Unlike the bigger resorts, Homewood sells lift tickets for under 50 dollars, and it isn't filled with restaurants and retail stores. The base of the mountain starts right at the lake, a relatively low elevation that gives it beautiful views but not much snow.

Like many of the smaller resorts in the area, Homewood has been forced to shut down twice this season because of warm, dry conditions. General manager Kevin Mitchell says it has been challenging to keep employees and customers engaged. Looking around at the muddy trails, it's not hard to see why.

Professor Daniel Scott studies tourism and climate change at the University of Waterloo. He says increasingly unpredictable weather favors companies with deeper pockets. They have resources to invest in ways that will mitigate the financial impact of unfavorable conditions — like snow-making machines and resort attractions aside from skiing and snowboarding.

"The problem with mom and pop resorts," says Scott, " is if you have two or three bad years in a row, your financial reserves are gone. You can't make a go of it anymore."

Scott says larger corporations are more climate resilient. They have capital reserves to ride out bad years, and they can diversify geographically. He says big resort chains are now buying ski areas across the country so they can cash in wherever the snow falls. Scott puts it this way: increased variable weather is hastening the trend toward consolidation in the ski industry.

It is already happening up in Lake Tahoe. Five ski areas there are now owned by either Powdr Corporation or Vail Resorts, both industry giants. And in the last few years, the private equity firm KSL Partners has merged two iconic Tahoe resorts — Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows.

Some of the bigger resorts in Tahoe seem to be handling these bad seasons better than others. Squaw Valley is a much larger and higher elevation resort than Homewood. President and CEO Andy Wirth says Squaw has been able to "hedge" the challenge of climate change.

"We are facing the three driest years in 1200 years," Wirth says. "But at the same time, we have increased season passes by 37 percent."

Squaw Valley has ways to make it through these dry winters. It offers season passes that can be used at other resorts, so skiers and snowboarders can chase the powder — that is, if they have the money to travel. Squaw also has attractions besides the mountain: restaurants, retail, and a winter park with tubing. There was even talk of building a water park, a popular development now at bigger resorts.

So, is this the future for a smaller resort like Homewood? No, says General Manager Kevin Mitchell. "We don't want to become one of the giant resorts in Tahoe," Mitchell says, "We want to hold a lot of the character we currently have." The resort is planning to build a gondola that will ferry passengers higher up the mountain where there may actually be some snow. In the meantime

But if the snowstorms don't start coming to Tahoe, that could become harder and harder to do.

This story originally appeared on KQED's "The California Report."

Powdered Alcohol Faces Hurdles After Regulatory Approval

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 12:41

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved Palcohol this week. But Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., says he is introducing legislation to make its production, sale and possession illegal.

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Hillary Clinton's Privacy Problem

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 12:36

"I've always believed in a zone of privacy," Clinton once said. Her use of a personal email account while secretary of state is just the latest example of trying to defend that zone.

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Tijuana Cops Turn On Body Cameras, And Hope To Turn Off Bribery

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 12:34

Police in Mexico are known more for taking bribes than fighting crime. Tijuana's force is now using body cameras and hopes it will show that the public also plays a big role in corruption.

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Google launches new cloud ‘cold storage’ service

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-12 12:11

If you are a business which needs to store loads of data, this week you've got more options for that so-called "cold storage."

Google has unveiled a new service to store old data at a penny per gigabyte per month, and a retrieval process it says takes seconds.

The company considers this new product a "game-changer" that will make it easier to access the kind of data a business might occasionally need.

Forrester analyst Henry Baltazar sees this as a way for Google to build relationships.

"There's a lot of things you can do once data is in the cloud but the key thing is you can't really sell those services unless you have data," he says.

Moon River? No, It's An Ocean On One Of Jupiter's Moons!

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 11:45

Scientists announced in a NASA teleconference that the biggest moon in our solar system has a salty ocean hidden below its icy surface.

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Southerners Are Getting Creative With Their Favorite Nut: Pecan

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 11:26

The pecan has become the latest obsession of Southern farmers, chefs and craft breweries. They're giving the buttery nut new opportunities to shine in the form of oil, flour and even beer.

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Disney Announces Title Of Stand-Alone 'Star Wars' Film

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 11:15

It'll be called Rogue One, and it's coming to theaters Dec. 16, 2016. The film stars Felicity Jones, most famous for her Academy Award-nominated performance in The Theory of Everything.

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Federal government approves powdered alcohol for sale

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-12 11:05

The Associated Press reported on Thursday that the federal government approved powdered alcohol for sale:

The product, called Palcohol, had received the greenlight from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau briefly last year before the bureau backtracked and said the label approvals had been given in error. 

On Wednesday, bureau spokesman Tom Hogue told The Associated Press the issues were resolved and that four varieties of Palcohol were approved. But Hogue noted that states can also regulate alcohol sales in their borders.

It's apparently freeze-dried alcohol packed in small easy to carry pouches. You can get it in vodka, rum, cosmopolitan, margarita and lemon drop flavors.

Left unexplained, is why — just kidding. I know why.

 

 

FCC releases 400-page net neutrality order

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-12 10:56

The Federal Communications Commission voted to approve new rules on Net Neutrality two weeks ago. On Thursday, the FCC released the 400-page document

Because the record overwhelmingly supports adopting rules and demonstrates that three 
specific practices invariably harm the open Internet—Blocking, Throttling, and Paid Prioritization—this 
Order bans each of them, applying the same rules to both fixed and mobile broadband Internet access
service.

Prefer a condensed version?  

After Rescue, Massive Sea Turtle Will Be Released In S.C. Thursday

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 10:32

A rare 475-pound leatherback sea turtle "immediately responded to treatments" of fluids, vitamins and antibiotics after it was rescued in South Carolina on Saturday.

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So How Did They Get That Crashed Plane Off The Runway In Kathmandu?

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 10:03

It took four days, during which time the airport was closed to international traffic It involved a truck. It did not involve sacrificing a goat. Maybe it should have.

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Alibaba is getting into Snapchat

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:59
$200 million

That's what Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is investing in Snapchat, Bloomberg reported, which would value the company at $15 billion. The disappearing photo and video sharing app had been reportedly fundraising at a valuation between $16 and $19 billion, but Snapchat's star is still rising fast.

24.79 million

Speaking of Snapchat, that's how many views one user's "Snapchat Story" got during New York's much-ballyhooed snow storm earlier this winter. The video was folded into a compilation feature Snapchat calls "Our Stories," which are pushed out to all users for 24 hours. Business Insider's Nicholas Carlson makes the case that "Our Stories" might just be the perfect mobile advertising platform, and a threat to Facebook, Google and broadcast television.

$3,120

The average refund this tax season, according to the IRS. A recent Bankrate.com survey found more people are saying they'll invest that money or use it to pay off debts than in the past. But when those checks actually arrive, more than the predicted 3 precent of people are likely to splurge.

$820 million

That's what General Mills paid for organic-and-natural food company Annie's last year. It's a bellwether for the food business in general, which is trying to pivot in the wake of customers' growing dislike of processes and packaged convenience foods.

52

The age of Google CFO Patrick Pichette, who just announced he would retire once a successor is in place. In the corporate world, Pichette is something of a rarity, Neil Irwin writes for the Upshot. When you're making seven or eight figures quality of life tends to plateau, making early retirement appealing. However, so few top businesspeople, athletes, or entertainers do because that's not the way someone at the top of their field tends to operate. And that's "the paradox of success."

The West Bank Battle For Land ... And Water

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:14

In the 1990s, Israelis and Palestinians made temporary arrangements in the West Bank as they worked toward a peace deal. The talks are now in the deep freeze, but the arrangements are entrenched.

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No Hope Of Survivors In Black Hawk Crash, Military Says

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:11

Officials say they've found only debris and human remains in the search of the area where a helicopter crashed in Florida Tuesday night with 11 people aboard.

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Do you know what you're paying for TV?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-12 09:11

If you ask Ian Olgeirson what it's like to comparison shop for a pay-TV deal, he will tell you that it's a confusing experience. 

"There are times where it's difficult to figure out exactly what's included in an offer," says Olgeirson.

While that's something TV customers might be able to relate to, Olgeirson is no mere customer. He is a principal analyst at SNL Kagan and follows the pay-TV market. In other words, he's a professional. 

 "We certainly are in an era of increasingly complex offers," says Olgeirson, "It is difficult to gain absolute clarity on a customer service call as to what your bill will be."

The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against DirecTV on Wednesday, accusing the nation's largest satellite TV provider of failing to disclose fees it charges customers above what's promoted in its advertisements. 

DirecTV denies the allegations and says its customers were fully informed of what they would be paying, but the company is hardly alone in complaints about charges. 

James Boffetti, who heads the New Hampshire Attorney General's Consumer Protection Bureau, says pay-TV providers register among the top 10 most-complained-about businesses. The bureau gets about 13,000 complaints a year in total.

The complaints against pay TV providers, he says, tend to follow a general theme. "People have complaints about ... the advertising of promotional packages" says Boffetti, "And they don't find that that's what they're actually being charged by the company."

Boffetti says a lot of complaints get resolved, and are usually misunderstandings between the consumer and the company. It's hard to draw a conclusion that companies are deliberately deceiving customers, he says. To do that, companies have to be more willful. 

"A lack of disclosure about significant terms in a business deal could be unfair and deceptive," Boffetti says. 

Still, the complaints show there is confusion out there about pay TV offers. And Laura Martin, an entertainment analyst at Needham & Company, says that's partly because pay-TV providers are facing price pressures both from consumers and the very TV channels that they sell. 

"Content providers have been investing more in original content, and that is increasing their fees to the cable operators ... Telco, cable and satellite, by double digits," says Martin. "And yet, the consumer is faced with a zero-inflation-rate environment, and therefore he doesn't want prices increasing. So we're getting margin pressure in the video part of the business, as programming costs rise faster than prices can be passed through to consumers."

And that means pay TV providers have to compete in price while also making enough to cover their costs. 

All of which comes back to consumers needing to be aware, says Olgeirson, and to do their homework. He recommends asking a pay-TV representative to add up exactly what the monthly bill is going to look like both now and in 12 months before agreeing to sign up for a new service. 

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