National News

The tech behind the New Year's Eve ball drop

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2013-12-31 02:51

It's New Year's Eve, so of course it's almost time for New York City to do its big ball drop. Technically not a ball as much as a geodesic sphere weighing around 12,000 pounds. And there's plenty of technology in the thing, including LED light bulbs. John Trowbridge, who has been production manager for Times Square New Year's Eve for 18 years, says all the engineering equipment that makes the ball work kind of comes from the Neighborhood. Click the audio player above to hear more.

What Apple learned from a luxury hotel

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2013-12-31 02:25

Consulting firms bring in tens of billions of dollars a year, so there’s a lot of competition for that money. But increasingly, it’s not just among the large consulting firms. Companies like Disney and MTV are in the game too, further monetizing their brands and expertise by selling what they know to companies in a wide variety of unrelated industries.

This growing trend is on display at a Washington, DC hotel conference room. It looks like a typical presentation consultants give to execs, with PowerPoint slides and buzzwords, plus a side table with snacks and coffee. As this is the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown, they’re really nice snacks, including artfully-presented cookies and rich hot chocolate.

But Ritz-Carlton isn’t the mere location of an advisory meeting. It’s giving the advice, about customer service, talent management and more. And a wide variety of businesses are buying.

“We’ve had everybody, except other luxury hotel companies,” says Ritz-Carlton vice president Diana Oreck runs the company’s executive education and consulting. “Health care, financial, automotive, supermarkets, Internet companies.”

Years before, Oreck taught a class like this to a team from Apple. They created the retail store’s Genius Bar, which is an awful lot like a hotel concierge desk.

Clad in a necklace bearing the Ritz-Carlton lion and crown logo (elegant, though compliant with the company’s dress code, which frowns on flashy jewelry as distracting to the customer’s experience), she says the advisory arm is profitable and growing. Already trilingual from decades working in global hotels and resorts, Oreck is currently studying Mandarin as the consulting group moves ahead with plans to expand internationally.

Execs pay $5,500 plus travel and lodging expenses to attend the full three days of Ritz classes. That means a typical set of classes, offered many times a year, brings in a low six-figure sum to the hotel company. Some firms pay additional fees for customized advice and education that brings Ritz advisors to them.

It’s a nice side business that offers not only additional revenue, but also the opportunity for Ritz-Carlton to learn a little something from other industries. Having waves of high-level execs cozy up to the Ritz brand doesn’t hurt either. They’re also very desirable hotel clients.

Other companies doing this kind of work include Disney, which offers advice on creativity, innovation, leadership and service. MTV helps brands connect with Millennials through Viacom’s new consulting arm.

New York University management professor Anat Lechner previously worked at consulting heavyweight McKinsey & Company and still consults through her own firm alongside academic work. She says hiring non-traditional consultants can be a smart move bringing fresh perspective, but that firms also need to be careful in how they seek and use advice from advisors in a totally different industry. Non-traditional consulting has its skeptics, among them, of course, traditional consultants.

But for many who seek advice from these non-consultant consultants, the lack of industry-specific knowledge can be an asset, opening the door to innovation.

“I specifically sought out an industry other than mine,” says insurance company president Greg Howes. “This really forces people to think outside the traditional metrics and benchmarks of their industry and I think it really helps you improve your service.”

The luxury hotel business would appear to have little in common with the insurance industry, but Howes sees parallels and is putting what he learns from Ritz to work. He has sent employees to stay at Ritz-Carlton hotels as a lesson on service. And his company’s website promises “Concierge Insurance.”

There’s a roaring fire going in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown. Downstairs in a conference room, execs are getting advice. But the Ritz isn’t the mere meeting location. It’s giving the advice, about customer service, talent management and more. Ritz vice president Diana Oreck says a wide variety of businesses are buying.

Diana Oreck: We’ve had everybody, except other luxury hotel companies. Health care, financial, automotive. So we learn from them as they learn from us

Apple took a Ritz class like the one she’s teaching today. Oreck taught the team that created the store’s Genius Bar, inspired by a hotel concierge desk. Execs pay thousands apiece for a few days of classes, which means Ritz-Carlton grosses in the low six figures for a typical group, done many times a year. Big companies pay to bring Ritz consultants to them.

Others going after consulting business include Disney and MTV. NYU management professor Anat Lechner, a consulting veteran herself, says hiring non-traditional consultants can be smart. But there’s potential danger in taking advice from a totally different industry.

Anat Lechner: The risk will be in guaranteeing or insuring that the company that comes in has a deep knowledge of the space.

Back at the Ritz, insurance company president Greg Howes says lack of industry-specific knowledge can actually be an asset.

Greg Howes: I specifically sought out an industry other than mine. This really forces people to think outside the traditional metrics and benchmarks of their industry.

Non-traditional consulting has its skeptics, among them, of course, traditional consultants. But it’s growing, meaning any company just might be a consulting company too. In Washington, I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

What Israel's Release Of Palestinian Prisoners Means For Peace

NPR News - Tue, 2013-12-31 00:32

Early Tuesday, Israel released another group of Palestinian prisoners convicted of violent crimes against Israelis. Former prisoner Omar Masoud says the releases legitimize the peace process for Palestinians. But the family of his Israeli victim says it's unacceptable for Israel to sell "our blood as a gesture."

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Despite The Headlines, Chicago's Crime Rate Fell In 2013

NPR News - Tue, 2013-12-31 00:31

Throughout the year, stories about gun violence in the city grabbed the country's attention. Now at the end of the year, the city's crime rate is again big news because it declined so much in 2013, to its lowest level in decades. It's a reality that often doesn't fit the perception of the city.

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Nothing Focuses The Mind Like The Ultimate Deadline: Death

NPR News - Tue, 2013-12-31 00:28

A Swedish inventor came up with a wristwatch that counts down the seconds left in your life. He calls it "the happiness watch" because he thinks living with the reality of one's mortality can enhance how we value our lives.

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Bon Voyage, Voyager: Old Friends Take Stock

NPR News - Tue, 2013-12-31 00:27

Long gone, but never forgotten, Voyager 1 is about 12 billion miles from home and now sailing through interstellar space, scientists were thrilled to confirm in 2013. The spacecraft carries with it a generation's dreams.

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Can Nasdaq move past Facebook debacle in 2014?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2013-12-31 00:05

Today NASDAQ will pay out tens of millions of dollars to firms which say they lost money from a technical glitch during Facebook’s IPO last spring. The exchange will pay out $41.6 million dollars even though traders estimate $500 million was lost.

Facebook’s IPO was supposed to start at 11:00.

“They let everybody know it’s not going to be 11:00 it’s going to be 11:05. It’s not going to be 11:05, it’s going to be 11:15,” says Jamie Selway, managing director at ITG, maker of software and hardware brokers use to trade stock. “And then not much happened,” he says.

Orders were coming in so quickly NASDAQ’s software couldn't keep up. Much like at an auction for art, or farm equipment, at an auction of stock (which is essentially what happens during an IPO),  Selway says the auctioneer, digital or human, needs a pause to let it know bidding is over.  But because of the onslaught of orders during the Facebook IPO, “the gap that the software was looking for,” says Selway, “to conclude the auction, never occurred.”

And  as markets have become more complex we’ve seen more and more of these technical glitches. So says Gaston Ceron, an equity analyst with Morningstar. Note what happened, he says, to BATS, another exchange.

“BATS had a problem with the handling of its own IPO and it ended up having to scuttle the whole thing,” he says.

NASDAQ says prior to the issue with Facebook it’s conducted more than a hundred IPOs using the same, or similar, systems without incident and that it’s hired new staff. Since then, the company notes it’s raised almost $8 billion dollars through IPOS.

The decision, says Jamie Selway, of where to list an IPO is highly complex. But he says it’s possible companies may be swayed by NASDAQ rival NYSE’s technology. When it comes to deciding when to end an auction, the exchange in New York makes the decision using an old-fashioned but nonetheless trustworthy mechanism – a human being.

Illinois law limits ways police can use drones

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2013-12-31 00:05

Call it the week of the drone.  Yesterday, the Federal Aviation Administration picked half a dozen sites for exploring drone tech—with an eye toward commercial development.  While those sites start exploring the possibilities of drone tech for business, the state of Illinois is about to limit the use of drones by law enforcement.  A new state law there takes effect tomorrow. It says state and local cops can’t use drones for surveillance without a warrant.  

Federal agencies like the FBI and Border Patrol already use drones.  Cops in Mesa County, Colo., have a couple. But they’re not routine police technology yet.

That's the idea, says Illinois State Senator Daniel Biss, who sponsored the Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act. "The philosophy is, put the regulation in place before every major law-enforcement entity is doing it," he says, "so you don’t find yourself living in a Wild West world, before it’s too late."

For instance, Chicago’s already got a big network of stationary surveillance cameras, and there’s no going back there. 

Seven other states have passed drone laws so far.  University of Washington Law professor Ryan Calo, an expert on privacy and robotics, agrees that this is a good time to set some rules.

Border patrol has the kind of military-grade Predator drones that can hover around all day. Local cops, not so much.  Yet.

"By and large, what the police are getting are these quadricopters, that can only hover in the air for 15 or 20 minutes," says Calo. "And so the uses are pretty limited for now."

But the technology is getting better all the time. With the FAA allowing commercial development to go forward, that’s likely to accelerate.  

Calo thinks drones are just one example of technology that's moving faster, so far, than laws that protect privacy.  "We need a fundamental re-examination of some of the fundamental doctrines of privacy law," he says.  "Like the idea that you have no reasonable expectation of privacy in public." 

Illinois law limits ways police can use drones

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2013-12-31 00:05

Call it the week of the drone.  Yesterday, the Federal Aviation Administration picked half a dozen sites for exploring drone tech—with an eye toward commercial development.  While those sites start exploring the possibilities of drone tech for business, the state of Illinois is about to limit the use of drones by law enforcement.  A new state law there takes effect tomorrow. It says state and local cops can’t use drones for surveillance without a warrant.  

Federal agencies like the FBI and Border Patrol already use drones.  Cops in Mesa County, Colo., have a couple. But they’re not routine police technology yet.

That's the idea, says Illinois State Senator Daniel Biss, who sponsored the Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act. "The philosophy is, put the regulation in place before every major law-enforcement entity is doing it," he says, "so you don’t find yourself living in a Wild West world, before it’s too late."

For instance, Chicago’s already got a big network of stationary surveillance cameras, and there’s no going back there. 

Seven other states have passed drone laws so far.  University of Washington Law professor Ryan Calo, an expert on privacy and robotics, agrees that this is a good time to set some rules.

Border patrol has the kind of military-grade Predator drones that can hover around all day. Local cops, not so much.  Yet.

"By and large, what the police are getting are these quadricopters, that can only hover in the air for 15 or 20 minutes," says Calo. "And so the uses are pretty limited for now."

But the technology is getting better all the time. With the FAA allowing commercial development to go forward, that’s likely to accelerate.  

Calo thinks drones are just one example of technology that's moving faster, so far, than laws that protect privacy.  "We need a fundamental re-examination of some of the fundamental doctrines of privacy law," he says.  "Like the idea that you have no reasonable expectation of privacy in public." 

Brain-Dead Girl Can Stay On Life Support, Judge Orders

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 17:04

Jahi McMath, 13, has been on a ventilator since a tonsillectomy operation went wrong earlier this month. The hospital has sought to terminate life support, but the family says there's still hope for the teen.

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Train Derailment In North Dakota Causes Explosion, Fire

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 16:26

A train carrying oil collided with one carrying soybeans, causing multiple explosions and a fire in the town of Casselton, about 10 miles west of Fargo.

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The Other 'F Word': Brewer Responds To Starbucks Over Beer Name

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 14:58

Getting a cease-and-desist letter from a big corporation isn't usually the mark of a good day. But after a brewery owner got a letter from a law firm representing Starbucks, he saw a chance to draw distinctions between the businesses — and to be funny.

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Was 2013 Really The Year Of The Paleo Diet?

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 14:51

Paleo was Google's most searched diet for 2013, but that doesn't mean it went mainstream. Instead, media coverage of one book criticizing the diet may have stoked much of the interest in the diet.

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$0 Profits Couldn't Hold Back This Year's Tech Darlings

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 14:09

In Silicon Valley, zero profit and even zero revenue don't make a company a loser. Tech companies like Snapchat and Twitter, which have not yet turned any profit, can be worth billions of dollars based on future potential alone.

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Whale Traffic Jam Delights Visitors And Baffles Scientists

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 14:00

Now is a good time to spot gray whales off the coast of Southern California, but scientists have been seeing an unusually high number of other whales. "The fact that we're getting a chance to see at this time of year fin whales, blue whales, is really a mystery," says a marine biologist.

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Marketplace’s most viral stories of 2013

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 13:35

Thoughts, disclaimers, bad jokes, etc.: This is our look back at Marketplace’s top stories on Marketplace.org, Facebook, Twitter, reddit and Stitcher in 2013. Like Katherine Goldstein at Slate pointed out in her article on Slate's most viral stories, one of the most interesting takeaways was the lack of overlapping stories between platforms. The only stories to appear on different lists were Income Upshot and a story on curing alcoholism in Russia.

Most viewed on Marketplace.org: These were our most visited stories in 2013, even if the article was posted before this year. A years-old story on alcoholism in Russia made our most-viewed list in 2013, probably due to hitting the front page of reddit (you can see the rest of our top reddit stories below). Timothy Geithner's signature is still ridiculous looking, even though that story came out in 2012.

  1. Income Upshot: Your income ranked nationally
  2. No more working at home for Hewlett-Packard employees?
  3. Timothy Geithner's signature not fit for print
  4. The killer cure for alcoholism in Russia
  5. What do employers really want from college grads? 

APM Marketplace on Facebook: Facebook posts are sorted by “biggest reach,” basically the total number of people who saw that post, whether because they like Marketplace on Facebook or saw the post through their friends. This list includes Facebook posts from 2013. Every top Facebook story included questions to spur discussion from our audience. None of these five stories were top stories on other platforms. Our Facebook post on unemployed millennials was Marketplace’s best Facebook story this year by far — which isn't surprising because if you're an unemployed millennial, you may be spending an inordinate amount of time on Facebook.

  1. Economically frustrated Millennials have a new meme for out-of-touch Baby Boomers. Whose side are you on -- and why?
  2. Do you agree with the TV show chosen to represent your state in this map?
  3. Are you ready to retire? Be sure your retirement is on track, no matter what your age.
  4. McDonald's offers employees sample budget that doesn't list 'food' or 'heat' as monthly budget items, and assumes workers have two jobs to make yearly income. Do you think the budget is realistic? Does it line up with your expenses?
  5. Michael Pollan says "We don't value cooking... We've fallen into this mode where we let the corporations do the cooking for us. The problem is, they don't do it very well." Do you agree? Why or why not?

@MarketplaceAPM on Twitter: Twitter stories are ranked by most clicks of links in tweets to read the article, and only include stories from 2013. These titles are the headline of the story, not the actual tweets themselves. Take homes? Twitter loves Rob Delaney, everyone loves Sriracha, and "1234" is a mediocre PIN choice.

  1. Exclusive: Sriracha founder reveals the 'secret' wholesale price of his sauce
  2. The funniest man on Twitter
  3. Income Upshot: What does your income say about you?
  4. Is your PIN code one of the easiest to figure out?
  5. How one family went bankrupt spending $100,000 on Beanie Babies

Marketplace on Stitcher: Stitcher is one of our most popular audio platforms to share individual audio segments. A lot of Stitcher's traffic comes from the Bay Area, which may explain the focus on tech, banking, and yoga pants.

  1. Ukraine decides between east and west
  2. Facebook warns some users to change their passwords after hack
  3. Google TV gadget costs $35. Game changer?
  4. Lululemon tries to get past transparent pants-gate
  5. Inside the world of China's "shadow banks"

reddit: Articles on reddit are sorted by which stories received the most upvotes (basically reddit's equivalent to Facebook's likes). TIL stands for 'Today I Learned," reddit's sub-section on interesting facts from the past. Three of the five reddit stories focus on tech in some way, which makes sense given reddit's stereotype of tech-savvy millennials.

  1. TIL in Russia many doctors "treat" alcoholism by surgically implanting a small capsule into their patients. The capsules react so severely with alcohol that once the patient touches a single drop, they instantly acquire an excruciating illness of similar intensity to acute heroin withdrawal
  2. TIL that 'casual friday' is the product of a guerrilla marketing campaign by Levis' new khakis brand, Dockers during the early 90s recession.
  3. Beijing provides a $19,000 USD subsidy to buy an electric car
  4. 'Creator of the Internet' Tim Berners-Lee says the Copyright Alert System is bad for democracy.
  5. Listen to a Verizon spokeswoman explain the reason behind Verizon's data plan changes. Around the 1:15 mark."

Mapping Emotions On The Body: Love Makes Us Warm All Over

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 13:04

How do you know you're in love? Angry? Or sad? Emotions start off in the brain, then ripple through the whole body. Now scientists have charted where we consciously feel specific emotions. They hope these sensation maps will one day help diagnose and treat mood disorders.

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Doctors And Teens Both Avoid Talking About Sex And Sexuality

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 13:02

Teenagers would sooner die than ask about birth control or other sexual health issues at a doctor visit. But if pediatricians bring the subject up, teenagers are happy they had the chance to talk, a study finds. But one-third of doctors aren't taking the lead.

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How to sell your hair for $4,000

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2013-12-30 12:51

Mary Brown is a mother of four in Provo, Utah. And this autumn, she said goodbye to something very close to her.

"I rolled it kind of like a rope," she says, "and placed it in the bag, and placed that into a mail envelope, and off it went."

Need a hint about she was sending off: Well, Brown had a nickname growing up.

"A lot of my friends called me Rapunzel from the time I was a teenager," she remembers. "I've always had long hair."

In October, her long hair became that rope she placed in a bag. Brown had spent the last four years getting her hair ready to sell.

"I did a lot of research," she says. "You don't want to use heating products on your hair, you want to use very mild shampoos. It also helps if you are eating really healthily and taking multivitamins."

Her sister had put her in touch with a hair sales website, and Brown put together an ad for her hair.

“My husband and I went and we took two or three days to do photo shoots around my hair, and picked the best ones we could – with my hair down, with my hair braided, so you could see the different shades of blonde," she says.

In the ad, Brown's hair was crazy-long, super shiny, and incredibly straight. A woman who makes hair extensions in Australia saw the ad too. She bought Brown's ponytails, for a thousand dollars.

Brown's ad was on Hairwork.com. Marlys Fladeland, who runs the website, says, “I am the first to start a business like this in the United States.”

There are nowat least four sites where you can sell your hair online.

Fladeland has seen hair sell from anywhere between $100 and $4,000. She charges people $25 to post an ad, and she gets about 20-30 ads a month.

"Everybody who needs money sells hair, I think," Fladeland adds. "It's actually more when the economy is bad because hair is something that you can grow back. And when people need money, they'll find a way."

She says she sees more people trying to sell their hair around the holidays, when wallets are especially empty. 

But people aren't just selling hair. They are also selling milk, eggs, even kidneys.

"It is horrifying," says Nicholas Colas, a market analyst at the brokerage firm ConvergEx. "And obviously selling a kidney is actually illegal in the U.S., or purchasing one as well. But it is to my mind speaks to the kind of relative desperation that a lot of people still have about their economic condition."

Colas says the stock market may be doing well, but the economic recovery hasn't filtered to middle-class people. He doesn't think that many people are actually selling their kidneys, but he sees hair and breast milk sales as a creative response to hard times.

"I find it very admirable," he adds. "It requires a lot of ingenuity and it requires a lot of focus to do what it take to make things happen for you."

Mary Brown says her experience has made her look at hair differently.

"I think that when I look at people now," she admits, "with long beautiful hair, in my head I calculate how much they could probably sell that for if they wanted to. 'You know she could he could probably get a good $300 for that ponytail.' Or 'Ooh, that hair is really thick, she might be able to get $1000, $1300 even.'"

Brown says she herself is doing alright money-wise. But she has a number of friends who aren't, and she wanted to help them out. So far, the cash has paid for one friend's school loan, and another friend's car repair.

Why Being 'Gypped' Hurts The Roma More Than It Hurts You

NPR News - Mon, 2013-12-30 12:49

You might know that the word "gypped" — often used to describe being cheated — comes from the word 'gypsy.' But less well known is the fact that it comes from derogative stereotypes about the Roma people.

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