National News

One Man's Pee Pushes Portland To Flush 38 Million Gallons Of Water

NPR News - Thu, 2014-04-17 07:24

The trespasser relieved himself into one of the city's reservoirs of treated water. Officials say there's not much of a danger to public health, but they're being cautious.

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Police In Canada Make Arrest Related To 'Heartbleed' Bug

NPR News - Thu, 2014-04-17 07:10

A 19-year-old computer science student was taken into custody for allegedly exploiting the bug to steal sensitive information from government servers.

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Fate Of Girls Abducted In Nigeria Now Uncertain

NPR News - Thu, 2014-04-17 05:45

About 100 girls were grabbed Monday. Officials have blamed a radical Islamist group. Late Wednesday, Nigeria's military said almost all the girls had been accounted for. That claim is in dispute.

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When a company gives 'guidance': An explainer

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-04-17 05:42

Google reported an 11 percent drop in profit this week. And the company's stock immediately jumped more than one percent in trading.

Hey, hold on a sec – how does that work? How can a company report a big fat loss and then see its stock go up? And how is it that some companies' shares fall, even though they generate a profit?

It's all about "expectations." If a company's results miss expectations, the stock will usually fall; if the results meet or exceed expectations, the stock will usually rise.

But whose expectations are we talking about here?

That's right – investors, specifically analysts at the big investment houses, who pore over the company's filings and news releases and come up with their projection of how the company has performed over the quarter.

No company likes to see its stock go into a tailspin, especially at earnings time, so companies do everything they can to avoid missing expectations. The biggest weapon in their arsenal is something called "guidance;" also known as "managing expectations."

Guidance is when the company calls up investors ahead of the earnings release and says "Hey chaps, we've had a few problems recently. It looks as though our numbers aren't going to be so good this quarter."

The analysts factor that into their calculations, and their expectations are lowered. That way, if the company's results are terrible, no one is surprised. And if the results are really good, then the stock gets a bump.If this sounds like manipulation, well, maybe it is. It's something that we can all practice in our lives, and it's a particularly good technique to use when you're dealing with your finances.

If you think, for example, that you might have problems managing your debt, take a leaf out of the corporate playbook and issue your own guidance to your lender. The better you manage your bank's expectations, the more likely you are to remain a borrower in good standing.

And there's nothing wrong with that.

Ukraine Crisis: Russia Endorses Call For Protesters To Disarm

NPR News - Thu, 2014-04-17 05:11

Before foreign ministers gathered in Geneva, the prospect for progress on reducing tensions appeared to be be slim. But afterward, Secretary of State John Kerry said differences had been narrowed.

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Weekly Jobless Claims Stay Near 7-Year Low

NPR News - Thu, 2014-04-17 04:38

The 304,000 applications filed last week means they were close to the lowest level since May 2007. Analysts say the news is another sign that the economy continues to grow.

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Putin Tells Snowden That Russia Doesn't Do Mass Surveillance

NPR News - Thu, 2014-04-17 03:55

It was one spy speaking to another, as Putin put it, when "NSA leaker" Edward Snowden asked the Russian leader on national TV whether his nation has a program like the U.S. National Security Agency's.

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To Increase Productivity, UPS Monitors Drivers' Every Move

NPR News - Thu, 2014-04-17 03:34

A typical UPS truck now has hundreds of sensors on it. That's changing the way UPS drivers work — and it foreshadows changes coming for workers throughout the economy.

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No Sign Yet Of Hundreds Missing After South Korean Ferry Disaster

NPR News - Thu, 2014-04-17 02:55

Divers are having difficulty getting into the capsized ship. It was sailing to a resort island Wednesday when it capsized. Most of the passengers were high school students on a school trip.

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How "public" is Weibo?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-04-17 02:28

Despite being one of China’s most-visited websites, and analysts are watching to see if Weibo closes way low. That’s because of users like Lixin Huang.  He’s one of 130-million active users the website claims as its customer base. But he’s not exactly what you’d call “active.” 

“I used it sometime last year when my friends were using it,” he says. Huang, a finance professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta, now uses WeChat.  It’s growing at three times the rate of Weibo.

That’s one reason Huang is skeptical  about today’s NASDAQ debut. Another big reason? Censorship. China’s government bans everything from sexual innuendo to political dissent on the Internet.  

“Censorship has already caused a chilling effect,” says Jason Ng, who wrote the book, Blocked on Weibo.  He says China’s crackdown on that type of chatter means the site’s not as much fun as when it debuted. 

Even so, Ng says it’s still the go-to place for China’s nationwide conversation. “Obviously investors recognize the value of having that sort of space.”

A bill of health for insurance companies

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-04-17 02:26

Big insurance companies report quarterly earnings over the next two weeks, starting with United Healthcare today.

Thanks to new customers brought in by the Affordable Care Act, 2013 was a good year for health insurance companies.  The extended deadlines, which ended just this week, may provide more good news:   More enrollment, more premiums, more revenue.  Now comes the hard part. 

For one thing, new customers means new costs, in the form of claims, says Joel Shalowitz, a professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.  Insurers don't yet know the extent of those costs.

"For people who needed services provided, the insurer is not going to see the claims for another month or two," says Shalowitz. "The revenue has come in, but the expense has not yet been realized."  

Those new customers also came with new restrictions on insurance companies, says Morningstar analyst Vishnu Lekraj. "They’re restricted as far as profitability, and overall there’s more competition in the market, there’s more transparency, there’s more regulation," he says. "I do still see some tough headwinds for the industry and for most of the players."

At best, Lekraj thinks the strongest companies will see flat profits for years to come.

Blind spot: VC and minority business

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-04-17 01:03

Before a company sells for billions of dollars, it starts as an entrepreneur's big idea. Typically, somewhere in between are venture capitalists, who invest in startups with hopes of a hefty payday if the companies make it big. A recent study from researchers at New York University’s Stern School of Business and University of Munich shows VCs are more likely to back companies if the executives are the same ethnicity as the investors.

The findings have profound implications for entrepreneurs of color, though they don't come as a surprise to them. At the South by Southwest Interactive Festival recently, African-American entrepreneur Wayne Sutton recalled times he appeared at conferences and was mistaken for a member of the service staff.

“It’s hard enough just to try to launch a product that the world can use,” Sutton says. “But overcoming those biases as a minority entrepreneur is even double hard.”

The research supports what many minority startups have long believed, that investors have a tendency to back people who look like them. Entrepreneurs of color see the problem as one of investors afraid to step beyond what they know.

“A venture capitalist provides money, but also provides a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” explains Melissa Bradley, an African-American who started a venture capital firm after seeing firsthand how finding investors can be frustrating for minorities and women. “They’re there with you day in and day out and so there’s this implicit nature around if I have something in common with you already at the onset, that we’re probably gonna do pretty well down the road.”

Bradley says she’s raised tens of millions for minority and female-owned businesses and profited.

Both Bradley and Sutton say minority entrepreneurs shouldn’t despair. Both believe in the power of a great idea to break through, no matter who pitches it.

Deepak Hegde, the NYU management professor who co-authored the study, agrees. He adds that the findings may point to changes VCs could make.

“Startups tend to come from multiple communities,” Hegde says. “A venture capitalist that has a diversity of partners in its ranks might be in a better position to identify these opportunities and evaluate them better.”

After all, the last thing investors want is a billion dollar opportunity missed, lost in a blind spot.

Mark Garrison: That’s a venture capitalist investing in a startup on the HBO show “Silicon Valley.” Everybody around the table is white. The real Silicon Valley is also heavy on white guys. Minority company founders often go unrecognized, or worse.

Wayne Sutton: It’s like, what are you doing here? Or, go get me something to drink, because they think I’m working here or something.

Wayne Sutton has started companies and mentored entrepreneurs. As an African-American in tech, he’s not surprised by the study’s findings of a tendency for investors to go with people who look like them.

Sutton: It’s hard enough just to try to launch a product that the world can use. But overcoming those biases as a minority entrepreneur is even double hard.

Many American venture capitalists are white, so black entrepreneurs confront the problems the study uncovered daily. Melissa Bradley felt it firsthand when she pitched her business ideas.

Melissa Bradley: There was no one in the room that looked like me. There were no women and there were certainly no people of color in the room, oftentimes in the building.

That sometimes frustrating experience inspired her to start her own venture capital firm. She says she’s raised tens of millions for minority and female-owned businesses and profited. Bradley sees the larger problem as one of investors afraid to step beyond what they know.

Bradley: A venture capitalist provides money, but also provides a lot of blood, sweat and tears. And so they’re there with you day in and day out and so there’s this implicit nature around if I have something in common with you already at the onset, that we’re probably gonna do pretty well down the road.

Both Bradley and Sutton believe in the power of a great idea to break through, no matter who pitches it. Deepak Hegde, the NYU business professor who co-authored the study, agrees. He adds the findings may point to changes VCs could make.

Deepak Hegde: Startups tend to come from multiple communities. A venture capitalist that has a diversity of partners in its ranks might be in a better position to identify these opportunities and evaluate them better.

Because the last thing they want is a billion dollar opportunity missed, lost in a blind spot. I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

Dude, where's my flying car?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-04-17 01:00

With recent attitudes towards the tech industry sometimes bordering on chilly, Americans are surprisingly optimistic about what technology has to offer them in the next 50 years.

According to a new report published by the Pew Research Center, 59 percent of those surveyed thought that technology would lead to peoples' lives being generally better, though what most people hope for is a little different than the expectations of yester-year:

When it comes to health technology, a majority of Americans (81 percent) believe they will be able to receive a transplant of an organ that has been custom grown in a lab. That's not to say that there is general approval of high-tech healthcare: 66 percent of those surveyed think society would be worse off if parents could alter the DNA of their prospective children to create custom-designed wunderkinder.

The idea of robots taking care of the elderly was also met with disaproval; 65 percent thought this would be a change for the worse. Inspiring even less confidence is the prospect of one day being able to pull off this stunt (only 39 percent of Americans believe that scientists will achieve teleportation in the near future):

Among current hot topics (i.e. drones and Google Glass), 63 percent thought we would be worse off if drones were given permission to fly through U.S. airspace, and 53 percent thought it would also be a negative development if people wore devices that constantly showed them information about the world around them. 

In terms of that age-old expectation of flying cars, 19 percent of Americans said they would like to own a travel-related invention like said flying vehicle, but 50 percent said they would not ride in a self-driving car. Go figure.

In spite of skepticism surrounding certain aspects of technological advancement, the results of the study show that Americans' feelings are mixed-to-positive when it comes to how technology affects their lives -- Dystopian sci-fi aside, of course.

Ukraine: 3 Killed After Black Sea Base Attack

NPR News - Thu, 2014-04-17 00:25

A crowd of around 300 men armed with stun grenades and Molotov cocktails attacked the base, in the south-east part of the country late Wednesday, the interior ministry said in a statement.

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Plant Breeders Release First 'Open Source Seeds'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 23:30

Scientists and food activists are launching a campaign to promote seeds that can be freely shared, rather than protected through patents and licenses. They call it the Open Source Seed Initiative.

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Polio Hits Equatorial Guinea, Threatens Central Africa

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 23:29

The two cases are the first in the country since 1999. The virus spread from neighboring Cameroon. When polio is on the move in Central Africa, the toll can be tragic.

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Meet The Sisters Saving Spanish Horses From Slaughter

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 23:28

Once status symbols for newly minted millionaires, horses are now the voiceless victims in Spain's economic crash. Two sisters are adopting horses that might otherwise end up in the food supply.

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When Divorce Leads To A Happily Ever After For A Small Business

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 23:27

Most often, when married business owners divorce, both relationships sour. But that's not always the case. Some couples have figured out a way to make their companies succeed even after they've split.

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Sichuan Pepper's Buzz May Reveal Secrets Of The Nervous System

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-16 23:25

The Sichuan peppercorn that makes our mouths tingle activates the same neurons as when our foot falls asleep. Scientists are hoping the connection unlocks clues for how to turn those neurons off.

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