National News

Hewlett-Packard's innovation trend flattened long ago

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-23 13:01

Hewlett Packard helped create Silicon Valley. Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard started the company out of a garage in Palo Alto in 1939, and innovated like crazy for decades. But the company hasn’t been in the innovation business for quite some time, and it’s had a rocky 15 years. CEO Meg Whitman announced up to 16,000 layoffs Friday— bringing the total for this round to 50,000. And this is the sixth or seventh round of cuts since 2002.

Tech writer George Anders wrote the book on HP—Perfect Enough, which looked at the company’s efforts to reinvent itself in the late 1990s— after its work in innovation was over.

Hewlett-Packard’s last great innovation came about 30 years ago, says Anders, when it introduced the inkjet printer and the laser printer. "And that started as a small, stumbling little business with low-quality products, and it just kept getting better and better and more competitive."

After that, the company was too focused on looking for monster hits to tinker around with the little innovations that had made the company great. "At the boardroom level," says Anders, "HP was always thinking, 'Where’s the next printing business?'”

A series of CEOs came and went. HP bought companies and cut workers. A 2008 layoff made at least one list of all-time biggest mass firings. This round of cuts, which started in 2012, is twice as big.

However, tech analysts say the company has a future. For one thing: It’s now the old dinosaur — HP’s major revenue comes from serving giant corporate clients — and that comes with advantages. "The case for legacy companies is that they have client relationships, they have client trust," says Jim Kelleher, a tech analyst with Argus Research. He says the core business HP is now in — managing data — is growing.

Even though that business is threatened by cloud computing, HP has time to make a transition, says Brent Bracelin from Pacific Crest Securities. "That $110 billion billion dollars of infrastructure that they sell annually doesn’t move to the cloud overnight," he says.

Hewlett-Packard's innovation trend flatened long ago

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-23 13:01

Hewlett Packard helped create Silicon Valley. Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard started the company out of a garage in Palo Alto in 1939, and innovated like crazy for decades. But the company hasn’t been in the innovation business for quite some time, and it’s had a rocky 15 years. CEO Meg Whitman announced up to 16,000 layoffs Friday— bringing the total for this round to 50,000. And this is the sixth or seventh round of cuts since 2002.

Tech writer George Anders wrote the book on HP—Perfect Enough, which looked at the company’s efforts to reinvent itself in the late 1990s— after its work in innovation was over.

Hewlett-Packard’s last great innovation came about 30 years ago, says Anders, when it introduced the inkjet printer and the laser printer. "And that started as a small, stumbling little business with low-quality products, and it just kept getting better and better and more competitive."

After that, the company was too focused on looking for monster hits to tinker around with the little innovations that had made the company great. "At the boardroom level," says Anders, "HP was always thinking, 'Where’s the next printing business?'”

A series of CEOs came and went. HP bought companies and cut workers. A 2008 layoff made at least one list of all-time biggest mass firings. This round of cuts, which started in 2012, is twice as big.

However, tech analysts say the company has a future. For one thing: It’s now the old dinosaur — HP’s major revenue comes from serving giant corporate clients — and that comes with advantages. "The case for legacy companies is that they have client relationships, they have client trust," says Jim Kelleher, a tech analyst with Argus Research. He says the core business HP is now in — managing data — is growing.

Even though that business is threatened by cloud computing, HP has time to make a transition, says Brent Bracelin from Pacific Crest Securities. "That $110 billion billion dollars of infrastructure that they sell annually doesn’t move to the cloud overnight," he says.

Organic Cat Litter Chief Suspect In Nuclear Waste Accident

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-23 12:24

The release of plutonium at a New Mexico nuclear dump may have been caused by a bad purchase at the pet shop.

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At Pa. School, Teens Build Empathy By Confiding In A Crowd

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-23 12:16

Kids can act out when they're feeling isolated, so one Philadelphia school encourages students to take the mic and reveal their deepest fears in front of their peers. The result? Honesty and kindness.

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Obama Taps San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro For HUD Secretary

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-23 12:16

Castro would take over the Department of Housing and Urban Development at a time when the nation's housing market has been treading water.

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Obama Taps San Antonio Mayor For Housing Post

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-23 12:03

The president nominates Julian Castro as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, replacing Shaun Donovan, who would become budget director.

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California's Drought Isn't Making Food Cost More. Here's Why

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-23 12:01

California produces most of America's vegetables and nuts. Yet there's little sign the drought there is creating food shortages in the U.S., because farmers are rationing water and draining aquifers.

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Biometric underwear helps monitor the sick

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-23 11:55

We’ve all heard about patients using various apps and devices to track their health.

Well a hospital in Greece has taken what sometimes is called telemonitoring to a whole new level.

Doctors gave patients with the lung disease COPD biometric underwear to keep tabs on their heart rate, breathing and activity levels.

Biometric underwear goes against the rule of thumb in the world of wearable technology that fashion matters.

Unless, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Steve Downs says you’re sick. 

“In the case of somebody who is discharged from the hospital for COPD they may have a very strong motivation for putting on something that may or may not be comfortable,” he says.

In the case of the biometric underwear whatever discomfort there was, may have been worth it.

Patients left the hospital sooner, were less likely to come back and had fewer follow-ups.

A path to lower costs and improved health.

“The promise of this technology is that it allows you to have the data about effective the treatment is so you can make the kind of adjustments to get the best outcome,” says Downs.

These tantalizing possibilities drive the rush into wearables.

IHS Electronics and Media projects in just three years, it could be a $60 million dollar industry.

But it’s a tricky business says Dr. Jesse Shantz, Chief Medical Officer for Montreal-based startup OMsignal which has just introduced a line of workout shirts to monitor heart and breathing levels.

“To be successful in this, you have to become commercially viable. To be commercially viable you have to pick a narrow consumer segment and give them what they need,” he says.

The difficult question for consumers is what do they need?

“I think there is going to be a lot of chaos and cacophony until they figure this out,” saysDr. Bob Wachter, a health professor at the University of California San Francisco.

“I’m just worried that your mom, who is 80 years old but fine is in Boca. And here you are the daughter who is sitting in Philadelphia and the sensor that she’s wearing in her underpants shows that her heart rate just went up by 10 or 15. What do you do?”

Wachter expects Madison Avenue to convince the worried that collecting real time data helps you and your loved ones.

But right now, it’s the truly sick who may benefit the most from wearables fashion be damned. 

Congress To Award Highest Honor To Army's Only Latino Unit

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-23 11:42

A new bill passed by Congress would award Puerto Rico's 65th Infantry Regiment the Congressional Gold Medal, which has been presented to the Navajo Code Talkers, Tuskegee Airmen and other units.

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Ukraine's industrial heartland is up for grabs

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-23 11:19

Ukrainians head to the polls on Sunday. Well, maybe. 

Mark Lowen says that, in chaotic eastern Ukraine, the election may not even happen.

“You do occasionally stumble upon armed groups in the city center,” says Lowen, a BBC correspondent in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk. “But if you go out of Donetsk to [the outlying towns] they are totally in the hands of pro-Russia armed militias.  There is a siege-like atmosphere there, and that is where the election will not be held at all.”

Lowen says that losing eastern Ukraine to separatists would be a huge economic blow to the Ukrainian government.

‘This is the industrial heartland of the country," he says, "There is a massive mining, steel, iron industries... it is an extremely important area. If Kiev loses control of this area entirely it loses a massive chunk of its economy.”

The front runner in the presidential election is a candy making billionaire named Petro Poroshenko. He's reached out to the east -- if elected he says his first trip will be to Donetsk. But Lowen says he's still a controversial figure.

"His pro-European stance will go down well in Kiev and western Ukraine," Lowen says, "But less well here in the east, where there are many people who still feel Ukraine should have closer ties to Russia."

530 Years After Death, Richard III To Be Reburied In Leicester

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-23 10:36

Descendants of the king had sued to block his burial in Leicester Cathedral, arguing his roots were in York. But a court ruled Friday his remains can stay in the city where they were found in 2012.

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Boehner Reaches Out To The Tea Party — Or Trolls Them

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-23 10:31

Some elements of the Tea Party would like to see John Boehner ousted from his position as House speaker. Even so, Boehner insists there isn't much difference between the Tea Party and Republicans.

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A grand tour of Marketplace(s) in London

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-23 09:59

While the Marketplace Morning Report team visited London to broadcast from the BBC this week, we've featured audio postcards in and around the city's many neighborhoods. 

We also enlisted our BBC colleague and producer Marie Keyworth to serve as our guide on the city's vast and popular markets, traveling to Smithfield Market, a popular meat market, to Portobello Road where antiques and other goods are sold. At each stop she helped us gather snippets of people selling foods and other goods.

We asked Marie to give us an overview of London markets, and her recommendations:

There are more markets than you can shake a stick at in London.  It’s impossible to suggest to a visitor which is ‘the’ market to go to. The conversation can quickly become a long exposition, listing the various, unique, and equally interesting options available. A London market is always a true sensory experience – it just depends which one you want.

If buying meat at 3:00 am from friendly foul-mouthed traders is your thing, then head to Smithfield Market in Farringdon.  It’s Europe’s largest meat market, and it’s been around since 1868. It’s the coal-face of the food industry in London, where restauranteurs and caterers of all shapes and sizes come to buy their meat each day. But members of the public are welcome to buy on a smaller scale, if you’re not put off by the odd trader in a bloody-splattered white suit, or rows of dead piglets lined up in a fridge as if they are just sleeping.

For those who want a more rarefied atmosphere, with a touch of Hollywood glamour, a twenty minute tube ride across town gets you to Notting Hill and the famous Portobello Road market. The area was brought into public consciousness with the help of the film ‘Notting Hill’ in which Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts fell in love in a house just a stone’s throw from the market itself. Head to Portobello Road on a Saturday and you won’t be able to move for antique dealers, jewelry makers, and general purveyors of bizarre curiosities you never knew you needed.

Glamour is in short supply in Brixton market, which is south of the river and well out of London’s centre. Here you shop with the locals – the ordinary people picking up groceries sourced from all over the world. I dare say you’ll never see so many yams in one place anywhere else in London. The area’s multicultural residents hailing from the likes of Portugal, Afghanistan, and the Caribbean, make this market a down-to-earth melting pot.  But the traders say the place is changing. Brixton market is getting quieter, as steady gentrification attracts more and more young professionals to the area. These people prefer to brunch and lunch in the champagne bars and gluten free cafes of the covered Brixton Village complex next door. This, too, is a hub of independent traders, but as the population of Brixton changes, the markets there evolve to suit their more ‘moneyed’ needs.

Check out Marketplace's full set of stories about London culture, life, and economics on the Mind the Gap series homepage

Seeking A Boost: Italy To Include Cocaine Sales In GDP Numbers

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-23 09:56

In an attempt to improve Italy's debt ratio, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi says the country will include illegal drug sales and prostitution when it figures its gross domestic product.

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London's sewers overflow about once a week

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-23 09:47

While most of our focus this week while in the U.K. has been on our series, Mind the Gap: Exploring Income Inequality in London, there was just one story we couldn’t resist: The sewers of London!

London’s sewer system is perhaps the most notorious sewer system in the world. In the 1800’s, the sewer’s overflow into the (then) main source of drinking water for Londoners, the Thames River, resulted in tens of thousands of deaths from cholera and other diseases. A more advanced system was built as a result that boasted the best of Victorian engineering and craftsmanship. It’s the same system that is still being used today, more than 150 years later.

Last week in the U.S., President Obama called for an increase in the amount of investment in infrastructure.

Here in London, similar pushes for infrastructure enhancements are being made. The two most controversial are proposals to create a high speed rail that would extend from London to Birmingham, and a campaign for a super sewer system that would prevent the existing overburdened sewer system from overflowing into the Thames River.

Right now the sewer system overflows once a week, on average.

Imagine our luck when we learned that it just happens to be Sewer Week in London. This helped us gain rare access for a tour. We were told yesterday during our tour that in some cases, the public has to wait for up to five years for a tour like the one we experienced.

Marketplace's Nicole Childers wrote her take of the tour: 

We set off early in the morning and we were whisked off by Thames Water to Abbey Lane, home of the historic Abbey Mills Pumping station that was built in the 1800’s and served as the central transfer point of several of London’s sewers. We started our day learning about the history of the system before getting a tour of the Abbey Mills Pumping Station. Within Abbey Mills exists several stations. One of the most decorated is the B station, which has garnered quite a few media appearances throughout the years. The Arkham Asylum in the movie Batman Begins was filmed there as was part of Coldplay’s “Lovers in Japan” music video.

Marketplace's Nicole Childers (Marketplace)

We then made our way over to Wick Lane Depot for a tour of an operational sewer. After changing into protective gear that included rubber boots and gloves, a bright white full body protective suit reminiscent of a hazmat suit, and a hard hat to top it all off, our tour guide, Danny Brackley, led us through standard safety procedures. Then, one by one we were hooked up to a protective cable before climbing down a ladder into a hole that left us more than 30-feet below ground in a pool of raw sewage that included everything from fecal matter to cooking fat irresponsibly poured down many a London kitchen sink.

For someone like me who is terrified of heights, the last step off the ladder and into raw sewage was not as comforting as I’d anticipated. Before descending into the tunnels we had been warned that the water level could be as high as 2-3 feet in some parts. Instead of feeling solid ground beneath my feet, I was met with shaky gravel and cloudy brown water flowed through and around my legs. What was in the milk chocolate-y water that now surrounded me, you may ask?  The raw sewage included everything from what you flush down your toilet to the drainage from your shower, washing machine, and sink.

As we made our way through the sewers, the smell wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated. It was more of a musty moldy smell than the smell you generally associate with a sewer. Our guide explained that generally our experience with sewer smells is after a blockage when the raw sewage gets stuck and turns septic; emanating that recognizable but stomach turning odor. These sewers flow at a pretty steady rate, which prevents the waste from rotting before it reaches the water treatment plan.   

I thought I’d be most surprised to see fecal matter floating by, but the real surprise was the astounding number of spoons, yes, real spoons that made their way into the sewers. Our guide, Dan, explained his theory: In jail, prisoners often smuggle spoons into their cells from the canteen to transform them into sharp weapons, but they end up getting flushed down the toilet right before guards perform cell searches. Seeing cutlery cascading past me didn’t hold a candle to what we saw at the end of our time in the sewer.  As I made my way up the ladder at the end of the tour, someone still down in the sewers spotted a ring. The discovery led us all to ponder whether it was flushed down the toilet by an angry and disenchanted spouse seeking an incontrovertible end of matrimony, or whether it belonged to one half of a happy couple who removed the ring only to have it slip unwittingly into a kitchen or bathroom sink and down the drain. 

Detroit Federal Judge OKs Rep. John Conyers For Primary

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-23 09:36

The court overturned a decision by Michigan's secretary of state declaring the congressman ineligible because of problems with his nominating petitions.

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Guideline Is No Guarantee Insurers Will Pay For Pill To Prevent HIV

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-23 09:26

Truvada, an AIDS drug, is expensive, with an annual price tag of at least $10,000. High copayments are a real possibility for people, even those whose insurance covers use of the drug for prevention.

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Reports: Clippers Owner Sterling Agrees To Sell Team

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-23 09:01

Donald Sterling has agreed to let his wife negotiate a deal to sell the Los Angeles Clippers, according to reports. Sterling was banned for life by the NBA for making racist remarks.

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Sushi's Secret: Why We Get Hooked On Raw Fish

NPR News - Fri, 2014-05-23 08:42

We love raw seafood but can't stand uncooked fowl or pork. Why? A big part of it is the effective lack of gravity in water, a scientist says. Weightlessness gives fish muscles a smooth, soft texture.

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The aftertaste of bailouts

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-23 08:41

Four years ago, I accompanied then-Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to India.

He was there for the U.S.-India Economic Summit, and I was one of the few journalists along for the ride. I’d traveled with Geithner a few times before, and what struck me most was how relaxed he was on this trip. Geithner had grown up in India, in part. And he was, unmistakably, having fun there.

He blanched a bit when I suggested it then. But then considered the question. Part of his comfort level, he agreed, was his childhood. But another part, he suggested, was being in a part of the world familiar with economic crises. And unorthodox responses to them. Everyone was simply not as panicked.

I met with him again this week. His publisher invited a handful of journalists to an on-the-record coffee to discuss Geithner’s new memoir, Stress Test, much of which is spent defending his response to the financial crisis. It’s a philosophy very clearly shaped by his time at the Treasury Department during the Asian financial crises of the 1990s: act fast to prevent a panic, and then, he reiterated this week, “you go figure out how to bring a measure of justice.”

That approach is clearly controversial. It’s something economists and regular Americans will argue about for decades, especially as they see large banks continue to prosper. Geither is spending a heck of a press tour defending his view. Is he being disingenuous? I think it’s hard to say.

His contention is that punishment for malefactors is important, “but you need to make sure you’re not putting that ahead of what I think is the primary moral imperative: which is to prevent mass unemployment in the country.”

The book has come under criticism from many of the sharpest economic reporters around. From Felix Salmon, who was at this coffee, for overselling his role as a change agent at the New York Fed. And from Jesse Eisinger for many of the watered down solutions the Obama economic team was willing to accept.

Geithner has a strong preference for the art of the possible. Several of the reporters at this coffee asked him about the administration’s woeful record on housing. At one point, for example, the Obama team was behind a proposal that would have allowed some borrowers to reduce the principal of their mortgage if they filed for bankruptcy. The plan ran into trouble on Capitol Hill, and it was abandoned. “The president had a very talented legislative team,” Geithner said. “They tried. He told them to try, and they were not successful.”

He added: “You need a congress that can do stuff. And our system is set up so that it’s easier to block stuff than to do stuff.”

Perhaps the subject that resonates most for regular Americans is the hardest for Geithner, Hank Paulson, or anyone in either the Bush or Obama administrations to prove. That without TARP, or the subsequent lending programs, bailouts and what-have-you; we’d be worse off.  I don’t envy anyone who has to prove that negative.

Geithner himself agrees that he was terrible at explaining it. Reflecting on his opening policy speech in office, he writes: “It was a bad speech, badly delivered, rattling confidence at a bad time.” As someone who covered the crisis closely, I remember watching the markets plummet as he spoke, wondering what cataclysmic shoe would drop next.

And that brings us to the bitterest aftertaste of all the bailouts: the sense that those who gambled and were rescued with public money have never paid.  Geithner calls himself “a big believer in a powerful deterrent on the enforcement side.”

Yet when I asked him for an example of successful deterrence, he couldn’t name one. “You’ve gotta remind people, “ he said, “that I don’t get to make those judgments.” He added that the Justice Department’s prosecutors “were massively focused.”

Still, he said “its relative absence hurt us. Hurt the president a lot.” And perhaps that perception always will.

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