National News

A Senator Turns His Bible Into A Political Tool

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 14:28

In his new ad, Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor uses his Bible to respond to an opponent's attack.

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Just how bad was it to graduate into the recession?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-08 13:39

College graduation is supposed to be the start of something big. For millions of students who graduated in the middle of the Great Recession, it was a big disappointment.

The Department of Education has been tracking members of the class of 2008, who graduated right at the start of the financial crisis.

And today the  government delivered some new data on those 1.4 million grads.

The big takeaway is that, by 2012, more than 80 percent of them had  had jobs. 

“It’s taken a few years, but their employment numbers have gotten better,” says Ted Socha, a mathematical statistician with the National Center for Education Statistics, who ran the study.

Megan Nicklaus, who runs the career center at Colorado College, remembers those years well.

“Students were having to reevaluate and say, ‘Okay, what kind of intermediate step might I be able to take that will still set me up for when the market bounces.’”

On average, graduates of the class of 2008 have had a couple jobs. Sixteen percent of them have had three.  But unemployment is creeping up, and many recession grads report not being able to find enough hours at work.

Scott Hoberg was a senior at Fordham University, thinking about law school, when the recession set in. 

“It was sort of playing out in the background,” he remembers.

Today, Hoberg is an attorney in Cincinnati. His friends from Fordham? “Many of them haven’t found exactly their dream jobs, and certainly not jobs they’re using their degrees for.”

There are, we learned today, certain degrees were almost recession-proof: nursing and science, to name two.

Alex Wernli graduated from Iowa State University in 2008.

 "When I started school, I gave absolutely no thought to getting a job,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to be an engineer, and it’s kind of what I wanted to do.”

 Students who studied science, technology, engineering and math spent a lot less time looking for work.

 Werli had a job lined up before he graduated. They also made a lot more money out of the gate: $65,000 on average.

 “This was the lucky class,” says Tony Carnevale, who runs the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. “They came in under the wire.”

Phoebe Berke graduated one year later, with an English degree from San Francisco State University.

“It almost did feel like we got a pretty raw deal, graduating in 2009, like right after everything had kind of fallen apart,” she says.

 Berke says she did odd jobs, and she tutored.

 “Finally, in 2012, I got my first ‘real job,’ my first nine-to-five job, and I was really excited about that because it felt like I had finally gotten over the hump.”

Berkeley, California wants to sell marijuana too

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-08 13:39

Legal recreational marijuana went on sale Tuesday up in the state of Washington.

Not to be outdone, there's a proposal in front of the city council in Berkeley, California — a state where marijuana is so far legal only for medicinal use — that would oblige pot dispensaries in the city to provide free pot to the poor and homeless in an amount equivalent to 2 percent of their annual sales.

And the ordinance says it's gotta be good stuff, too.

How to make $7k a month at your high school internship

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-08 13:39

Interns at top firms in Silicon Valley and related tech firms can, reportedly, make between $5,000 and $7,000 per month. Some of them are still in high school.

It might appear insane for a high school intern to make more pay, annualized, than his or her teacher before even leaving said high school.    

But it’s not. It’s a reflection of the tech sector’s realities. 

Partly, it derives from competition for  talent in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields (STEM). “The demand for STEM skills is increasing virtually exponentially while we aren’t turning out graduates at the same rate,” says Ross DeVol, chief research officer at the Milken Institute. 

Silicon Valley and tech firms are increasingly competing with Wall Street for such graduates.

But there’s more to the insatiable drive for talent: The tech sector is a roiling mass of instability. The floor of Silicon Valley is littered with tech companies that didn’t reinvent themselves in time.

“It’s the changing of the landscape that has a lot of firms unsettled about where things are going,” says Kyle Mayer, professor of management and organization at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. Apple went from a computer company to making smart phones and tablets. “Amazon started out as a marketplace for selling books. Now not only are they a marketplace for selling everything, they do a lot of back-end storage, with servers that store a lot of other companies' data.” 

Tech and new media firms that have to constantly reinvent themselves or die need a rare kind of creative, conceptual talent: not simply people who can solve a question proficiently, but who can redefine the question itself.

“It’s not just about the smartest person in the room,” says Mayer. 

Of course, in many cases, a prospective intern or candidate may well be the smartest in the room - inventing viral apps in their spare time or hacking a network for fun. But it’s not enough. 

Individuals don’t solve complex problems in the tech sector. Teams do. Having a “good fit” – someone who can work well in a team such that it becomes more than the sum of its parts.

“It’s important to remember: What’s the cost of getting the wrong person in there?” says Russell Coff, professor of strategy at the University of Wisconsin Madison. “In many cases it’s a creative endeavor, putting together product development teams, and there’s only so much you can handle in terms of a personality that doesn’t fit.” An internship is a good way to suss that out. 

Given that many firms have become famous for what Mayer calls “acqhiring” - buying out smaller companies not for the product but for the highly successful team inside - $7,000 for an intern is a small price to pay.

 Bloomberg analyzed Glassdoor salary data to chart out the highest-paid interns. Not surprisingly, Silicon Valley's heavy-hitters dominated the list:

(Courtesy:Bloomberg)

 We compared their salaries to a few other Bay Area companies on Glassdoor to figure out just how much more these interns are pulling in. These numbers are approximate, averaged from user submissions, but they paint an interesting picture of an intern's value in the tech sector.

$4,280/mo

First, just to put things into perspective, median American household income was $51,371 in 2012, according to the Census Bureau. That's a little over $4,000 per month.

$5,859/mo

 Zynga, the mobile and social games giant behind FarmVille and others, didn't appear on Bloomberg's list. But according to Glassdoor, the company pays its interns nearly as much as Google, Facebook and Microsoft per month on average, edging out the likes of Apple and Amazon.

$4,230/mo

 Compare Zynga to Electonic Arts (EA), makers of blockbuster console gaming franchises like "Madden NFL" and "Battlefield." EA interns earn less than Zynga's but their salary is nothing to sneeze at, especially when most American households make.

$4,371/mo

 Pixar, the Disney-owned animation studio with Silicon Valley roots, pays its interns, on average, a measly monthly rate compared to the tech giants accross the bay.

$2,952/mo

 Electric car manufacturer Tesla also shares some DNA - and a co-founder - with the tech world. But Tesla interns don't make nearly as much as their counterparts in the tech sector.

$6,309/mo $1,268/mo

 One of these average salaries is earned, on average, by Yelp's software development interns. The other is the marketing interns' monthly rate. Guess which is which.  

$2,600/mo

 Newspaper interns might not fare much better than marketing interns in the Bay. The San Francisco Chronicle's summer internship is advertised at $650 per week.

????

 For what it's worth, none of the Bay Area-based Glassdoor interns have submitted their salaries to the site.

As the cupcake crumbles: Lessons from Crumbs' demise

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-08 13:09

If only Crumbs had paid attention when fondue was a thing.

"Remember when we [were] all supposed to go eating fondue? "says Rita McGrath, a professor of strategy and innovation at the Columbia Business School. "I mean, in New York there must have been 20 fondue restaurants."

The reason we don’t see gaggles of fondue restaurants anymore? Because trying to build a lasting business on a temporarily popular item can be dangerous.

"People get bored, people get fat, people just want to move on to something else... and the question you have to ask is, 'Well, when the fad has run its course, what do you have to offer beyond that?'"

Adam Fleck, director of consumer equity research at Morningstar, says competition from other bakeries and other desserts meant trouble for Crumbs. Beyond fads and cake frosting, he notes, a company dependent on just one product is especially vulnerable.

"Consumer preferences can change on a dime," he says - which was especially troubling for Crumbs at a moment when kale chips and quinoa are what's for dinner.

“You know these cupcakes were very high calorie,” Fleck notes.

There are successful businesses that sell just one product. But most are in markets where it’s easy to predict demand - like steel. So, says J.P. Eggers, an assistant professor of management and organization at NYU’s Stern School of Business, “They are, in general, able to deeply understand what their customers are after, deliver what they want, how they want it, at the price that they want it.”

But there are plenty of stores that sell mostly cupcakes. Eggers says it’s unlikely they’ll all go away. He says when the cupcake bubble burst, Crumbs found itself with some odd store locations. Adam Fleck says the company expanded too quickly and got burned.

Which companies stand to learn from Crumbs' crumbling? We started brainstorming. 

So #Crumbs, the cupcake bakery is closing. Other examples of one product trends? #Cronut, #FroYo For @Marketplace

— Sally Herships (@sherships) July 8, 2014

Add to our list!:

The Cronut
Krispy Kreme
Rice Pudding (a thing in NYC for a little while)
Fro Yo
TiVo
Crocs
Sriracha
Gorilla glue

3 Kickstarter Food Projects That Leave Potato Salad In The Dirt

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 12:59

One guy's Kickstarter quest for $10 to make his first potato salad has now raised over $50,000 — a kind of Internet joke gone viral. Here are three modest food projects to consider instead.

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Older workers struggle for cred in new economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-08 12:57

The unemployment rate for Americans age 55 and older is 4.4 percent -- lower by more than 1.5 percent than the population as a whole. By contrast, the unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds is 21 percent.

But older workers are also at greater risk of suffering long-term unemployment than any other age group. More than half of older workers have been unemployed for six months or longer, and many of them have been actively looking for more than one year. When older workers leave the job market for a period of time -- for instance, after a layoff, or to care for a spouse or elderly parent -- they are more likely to experience a significant decline in pay and job quality (working part-time or on contract) than other age cohorts.

And older workers often feel their age status acutely in the workforce. L.D. Kirshenbaum is 52 and lives in San Francisco. Several years ago, after a divorce and with a teenager at home to support, she found a job working half-time at a local Apple retail store.

Kirshenbaum graduated from Reed College, she’d worked as a journalist and launched a mobile news app. But she says she had to earn her cred with co-workers at the Apple store. “You’re sort of judged on your cool factor,” she says. “How clever are you with social media, do you take pictures of your lattes?”

Since then, Kirshenbaum has gone on to be an independent consultant on mobile marketing -- working with developers half her age.

“There are definitely younger co-workers that assume everyone’s uncool unless proven otherwise,” she says. “I have had colleagues who are my age, and they’re very self-conscious about showing themselves to be as young as possible. They’ll wear jeans every day, and they’ll never be caught dead wearing a wristwatch.”

The challenge is amplified when job-searching, says Ofer Sharone at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He’s interviewed older workers extensively for his book, “Flawed System/Flawed Self: Job Searching and Unemployment Experiences.”

HR managers can easily tell how old someone is, and how old they look, from LinkedIn, says Sharone. And he says they wonder: “Will the worker stick around? Maybe they want to retire, maybe they’re not as energetic, maybe they won’t work as many hours, maybe they’re not as technologically savvy.”

Sharone says most of the stereotypes are contradicted by research data on cognitive ability and job performance as we age. For instance, he says, older workers are likely to stay in a job longer than young workers. Also, they can be trained or retrained to be competent on new machines and technologies. And they bring experience and contacts that can benefit the organization, and also younger workers, through mentoring.

Sharone says what older workers need -- especially those who are job-hunting without success -- are groups to attend for career counseling and peer-group support, “to realize that other very competent, talented people are also not getting a job,” says Sharone. “And this lessens the fear that something is wrong with them, the degree of self-blame.”

Lauren Botney has attended a class for 55+ job-seekers at a local community college in Portland, Ore. She is 58, a lawyer by training, and she successfully ran a family-owned construction business. Now, she is trying to get back to full-time work after raising two kids (they are now teenagers) on her own.

“Back in the old days -- and I’ve been told to be careful using that phrase -- but, for my generation, once you started to have the gray hair, you were considered to be the sage expert in your field,” says Botney. “I think that now, there’s a feeling among many in the workplace that people of my vintage don’t understand anything about computers and therefore we’re too slow or we’re doddering.”

Botney’s trying to neutralize that stereotype by getting a digital marketing certificate from Portland State University.

“The one advantage that my age and experience brings,” says Botney, “is that I can usually do it faster than a newbie. And I should be able to. I’m better at knowing what the right questions are. That’s something that comes with time, experience and maybe a touch of intuition.”

What Looks Like Overcharging By Your Hospital Might Not Be

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 12:57

In 2012, Medicare was rocked by allegations that hospitals were systematically overcharging the program by miscoding electronic medical records. A study released Wednesday took another look.

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Germany Gives Brazil Das Boot With 7-1 Win, Enters World Cup Final

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 12:46

Brazil, without striker Neymar, was in shambles. Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos scored two goals each for Germany, and Miroslav Klose became the highest goal scorer in World Cup history.

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In A Lab Fridge, An Unsettling Surprise: Lost Vials Of Smallpox

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 12:40

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health made an unpleasant discovery as they cleaned out an old laboratory: The lab contained vials of the smallpox virus, previously unknown to authorities.

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In A Lab Store Room, An Unsettling Surprise: Lost Vials Of Smallpox

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 12:40

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health made an unpleasant discovery as they cleaned out an old laboratory: The lab contained vials of the smallpox virus, previously unknown to authorities.

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In Oslo, Attorney General Warns Syria May Be A Cradle Of Terrorism

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 12:12

In a speech in Oslo, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urged European partners to do more to find and disrupt plans of would-be terrorists who head to Syria — and, once trained, might return to the West.

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In Battle Over Gaza, A Slow Build-up Shows No Signs Of Ending

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 12:12

Israel stepped up its air assault on the Gaza Strip. Unlike air strikes in the past, Israel has tempered its initial show of force, but the situation appears to be steadily intensifying.

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Battered By Civil War, South Sudan Falters Toward 3rd Birthday

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 12:12

South Sudan is approaching the third anniversary of its independence. For more on the world's newest country, its civil war and the resulting humanitarian crisis, Melissa Block talks with E.J. Hogendoorn, the deputy director of Africa for the International Crisis Group.

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Obama Requests Nearly $4 Billion In Funds To Speed Deportations

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 12:12

Amid crises on the U.S.-Mexico border and roiling protests in Murrieta, Calif., President Obama is requesting $3.7 billion from Congress to address the unfolding issues over immigration.

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With Default 23 Days Away, A Little Clause Could Cost Argentina Big

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 12:12

After missing a June 30 deadline, Argentina has a 30-day grace period to pay investors $539 million in interest. Otherwise, the country will default on its debts. Argentinian officials argue they can't make the payment without triggering other debt payments that would bankrupt the country.

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Plants Know The Rhythm Of The Caterpillar's Creep

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 12:12

According to new research, plants can hear the sounds of insects chewing. A University of Missouri study reports that plants can recognize the sound of a predator using the vibrations of their leaves.

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The happy accident that changed squirt guns forever

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-08 12:10

In 1982 Lonnie Johnson made a discovery that would change his life and the future of toys.

“I was working on a new type of heat pump for refrigerators and air conditioners and I wanted to use water as a working fluid instead of Freon because I wanted working fluid that was environmentally friendly,” Johnson says. “So I was machining some nozzles and experimenting at home and shot some streams of water into the sink and then I turned and shot across the bathroom where I was doing these experiments and I thought to myself geez, this would make a neat water gun. So I decided to put the hard science stuff behind and start working on some really fun stuff.”

When Johnson says “hard science stuff” he means it. He’s a nuclear engineer by training who was working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA’s Galileo Mission at the time of his discovery. He always dreamed of being an independent inventor, but knew he had to keep his day job to pay the bills. He loved his job, but he hoped his idea for a powerful squirt gun would be his ticket to freedom.

“I decided I could develop a toy and get some revenue from that and then use that revenue to really become an inventor and work on some of the more challenging projects I had in mind,” Johnson says.

Johnson built a prototype out of Plexiglas, PVC piping and a two-liter soda bottle and inquired about producing the gun on his own. “I got some quotes on what exactly it was going to take to set up a manufacturing line and I was told it was going to cost a couple hundred thousand dollars to get the first thousand guns off of the product line,” Johnson remembers. “I was a captain in the Air Force and didn’t have $200,000, so I said, ‘okay, there are some things I need to learn.’”

The Super Soaker prototype.

Johnson instead tried to peddle his high-powered squirt guns to toy companies. He wowed bigwigs over and over by accurately shooting paper cups off of conference tables from across meeting rooms, but no one wanted to take the risk on this guy with no business experience. It took seven years of near misses and failed deals before an up-and-coming company called Larami Corporation bought the license to manufacture what it called the “Power Drencher.”

The gun was released in 1990, but it didn’t make much of an impact at first. That’s when the ad wizards got involved. They changed the name to “Super Soaker” and shot a now iconic TV commercial.

The commercial helped rocket sales up, and in 1991 alone more than 2 million of the guns were sold. The brand, now owned by Hasbro, has now brought in more than $1 billion in total sales.

Johnson has been working on a myriad of other inventions since the “Super Soaker” made him famous. He’s gotten back to his original idea of an environmentally friendly refrigeration system, he’s developed a battery he believes can make electric cars more practical and is researching a new way to generate energy from the sun. But he certainly doesn’t mind that despite the more than 100 patents he holds, his name will forever be tied to a toy. In fact, he says without the “Super Soaker” he never would have learned the most valuable lesson of his career.

“The only way I was going to learn what I needed to learn to be successful was to take the risk,” Johnson says. “Put it out there and if things go wrong, as long as I learn from the experience I get to go again.”

HPV Vaccine Doesn't Raise Risk Of Blood Clots, Study Finds

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 12:10

Earlier safety studies of the vaccine for human papillomavirus found a higher risk of dangerous blood clots. But a study of 500,000 women and girls finds that the vaccine doesn't raise risk.

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1 Out Of 4 Memphis, Tenn., Cops Calls In Sick

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 11:43

More than 550 police officers stayed home on Tuesday, apparently angered by big increases in health insurance costs. The number of "blue flu" cases has been increasing daily.

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