National News

Putting Student Data To The Test To Identify Struggling Kids

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 13:46

Schools collect a trove of student information, like attendance and grades. Now, more schools are mining that data to flag kids at risk of dropping out — often before anyone realizes they need help.

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100-Year-Old Message In A Bottle Plucked From Baltic Sea

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 13:36

The beer bottle was tossed into the sea in 1913 and recovered by a fisherman last month. It is thought to be the oldest ever "message in a bottle."

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Manischewitz promotes 'Kosher' as 'healthy'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-04-08 13:23

Passover is a week away, and if you know anything about this Jewish holiday, you know that it involves matzos, the unleavened cracker that you can buy in your local grocery store, usually in that one aisle with all the "ethnic foods." The kosher section of the supermarket is dominated by one brand in particular, Manischewitz, which as of today is owned by Sankaty Advisors, a division of the private equity firm Bain Capital.

Manischewitz wants people to think of the kosher symbol -- that little letter K on food packaging -- in the same way they think of the Fair Trade symbol, or the USDA Organic symbol -- higher quality and healthier..

“People want to know where the stuff comes from, how it’s made, who's making it,” says David Bernard, a marketing strategist with Mythmaker, a company whose strategy is to turn brands into compelling stories about "the essential human truth or core beliefs that brought the company to life.".

That strategy seems tailor-made for kosher foods, which according to Jewish belief are approved by God.

“That’s a pretty strong endorsement, but I think what it gets down to is this idea of authenticity," Bernard says. "It’s like, 'The people behind this product really care about what goes into it.'”

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That little "K" (along with its friends "OU" and "P"); has been showing up beyond bottles of Manischewitz. Check out some of the (bizarre) ways companies try to leverage "Kosher":

Coors claims to be "America’s First Kosher Beer

Go on a Kosher Safari in Africa!

Kickstarter funded high-end Kosher cheese! 

For a truly hands on experience: Get yourself a ticket to Kosherfest.

Tech firms challenged over hiring practices

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-04-08 13:19

Several technology giants, including Google, Apple, Intel and Adobe, are embroiled in a class-action lawsuit, where their employees claim the tech companies made an agreement not to poach talent from each other.

Employees at those companies say that resulted in $9 billion in lost wages.

Jim Balassone, with the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, says figuring out exactly how much money in wages was lost is a lawyers' game. But, he says, the emails discovered during the lawsuit help connect the dots.

"In an email exchange between Google and Apple, Google sought the approval of Apple to hire four French software engineers who had already left Apple," Balassone said. 

Steve Jobs’ response? "We'd strongly prefer that you not hire these guys," he said in an email. 

Google honored his wishes.

"So there’s the issue of lost wages but harder to measure is the lost opportunity," says Balasone. 

Steve Donnelly, the head of recruiting for BigCommerce, has been reading the emails too. Referring to one in which Google asked if it could hire a current Apple employee, the answer was also "no." Donnelly believes that leaves the employee exposed.

"That limits the person who ends up staying with the company," he says, adding that an employer may decide not to promote that person or worse, start looking for somebody who’s more dedicated to the company to replace them. 

Scott Brosnan, a recruiter at Workbridge Associates in San Francisco, says competition for hiring engineers is stiff.

"I’ve seen candidates in this market where a year and a half ago were at $80,000 on their base salary and a year and a half later, they’ve changed two or three companies and their now at $140,000".

Brosnan says if engineers were blocked from taking jobs, then they were losing real money.

Google and Apple were contacted for comment, but did not respond to an email request.

Who's quitting? Who's hiring? Is it you?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-04-08 13:12

There are some good things in the JOLTS (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey).  There were 4.2 million new job postings in February, 300,000 more than in January. We're at January 2008 levels now.

But let’s have our fresh numbers with a side of pickled context shall we?

First, these are mostly low wage jobs: restaurant jobs, temp jobs, for example.  This is typical of any  post-recession recovery; these are the jobs that rebound first.  We may not like them, but at least they’re rebounding. Second, we still have 2.5 times as many people as job postings.  That means 60 percent of people looking for a job in February weren't going to get hired no matter what they did.  In this kind of environment, employers have little incentive to bid up wages.

If employers aren’t bidding up wages and there aren’t nearly enough jobs to go around, then, thirdly, people aren’t going to really feel very comfortable with their job prospects.  Which is reflected in the Quits Rate – that’s the number of job quits/total employment.  It’s low, at *1.9 percent and it hasn’t really changed meaningfully in three years. 

Finally, job postings don’t mean job hirings.  Employers appear to be taking their time filling these positions.  That’s why the Hires Rate (number of hires during the entire month as a percent of total employment) is still depressed at 3.3 percent. But let’s not get all doom and gloom here.  Things are improving without a doubt.  They’re just doing so very slowly.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the quits and hires rates in the Labor Department's February report. The text has been corrected.

The Forgotten Childhood: Why Early Memories Fade

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 13:08

Childhood amnesia descends gradually — and later than you might think, researchers say. Many 7-year-olds have robust memories of experiences from when they were 3 or even younger.

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Developer To Preserve Ancient Tequesta Village In Heart Of Miami

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 13:06

Archaeologists say the collection of circles in the bedrock of the city may be the oldest remains of a tribal village east of the Mississippi.

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Wave Of Newly Insured Patients Strains Oregon Health Plan

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 13:02

Cheryl Stumph and her family haven't had health insurance for years. Now that they do, they plan to take make up for lost time. Pent-up demand for care is overwhelming an Oregon health plan.

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The Ebola Outbreak, Three Weeks In, Is Dire But Not Hopeless

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 12:56

In Guinea, an aggressive strain of the virus has claimed over 100 lives and invaded the capital city. But while it may take months to contain the outbreak, there already are survivors.

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Burning down the house that Levi's built

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-04-08 12:41

Josh Gustin took a different path after getting his MBA from the University of California Berkeley 8 years ago.

“Everyone else was going into consulting and banking, and I wanted to teach myself how to make the perfect pair of jeans,” Gustin said.

He started the company Gustin Jeans, and he quickly learned that making his way in the $6 billion world of denim would require some hoop-jumping.

“The basic model of never knowing what consumers want to buy is the fundamental flaw in this model. I would basically sit here and say ‘What would [the customer] want to wear a year from now?’ And then I’d place a big bet on fabric, sew all these jeans, put them in a warehouse and then spend the next 12 months convincing you that is indeed what you wanted to wear. And that just doesn’t work. It’s crazy.”

That guessing game means higher risk for companies and retailers, and higher prices for customers. Josh sold his jeans wholesale for $81 and the stores would hike the price up to $250. Gustin explained how this worked to his friend and eventual business partner, Stephen Powell, and the two decided almost exactly a year ago to cut the retail cord.

But selling stuff on the Gustin website only solved part of the problem. What they really needed was a way to precisely calculate supply and demand, the retail industry’s most vexing problem. That’s when they looked to Kickstarter.

“We are the first fully crowd-sourced fashion company,” Gustin said.

Here’s how it works: Gustin and Powell post a photo of a fabric swatch on their website with a brief description of what they plan to do with it. They sell jeans, shirts, bags, wallets, all kinds of menswear. Customers can then bid on “campaigns” they like, committing to buy an item for the price listed if enough interest is shown. Josh says just about everything Gustin posts makes it to production. Some of the items ‘sell out’ in just a few days, and that’s all before a single one is even made.

The result? Gustin Jeans now sell for wholesale straight to customers, operates exclusively in the black, and customers don’t have to wait until next season for new designs.

“Since we don’t have to take big risk on a particular type of fabric, we can offer a lot more variety. So we’ve probably used over a hundred different denims in less than a year. That’s probably what another fashion brand would use in a decade. We line up supply and demand every single time, and this is something fashion never does.”

 Even though it’s working well for them, Gustin isn’t expecting competitors to flood the markets any time soon.

“We benefit a little bit from how old this industry is. A lot of fashion companies are used to working a certain way, and either they’re too wedded to the traditional retail model – they can’t walk away from hundreds and hundreds of stores, that’s too scary – or they just don’t get it. They say, ‘No, we’ve always done business this way, why would we change?’” 

Remembering Rwandans Who Followed Their Conscience

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 12:28

"I would do it again and again and again," says one Hutu woman who defied orders and sheltered Tutsis during the 1994 genocide. Rwanda is beginning to recognize people who rescued those at risk.

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WATCH: Sparks Fly In Holder, Gohmert Exchange On Capitol Hill

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 12:21

Rep. Louis Gohmert and Attorney General Eric Holder clashed over the House's decision to hold Holder in contempt in 2012. The exchange included finger wagging and warnings against lectures.

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The Security Bug That Affects Most Of The Internet, Explained

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 12:19

Google, Yahoo and other major Internet companies use OpenSSL to protect your data transactions with them. Turns out a bug called Heartbleed has been exposing much of their data, and yours.

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Why Physicists Are In A Film Promoting An Earth-Centered Universe

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 12:17

Scientist Lawrence Krauss says clips of him were "mined" to lend credibility to The Principle, a film he describes as "stupid" and "unbelievable."

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An Angry Hearing On The Hill For 'Cockamamie' Twitter-like Network

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 12:13

During a hearing Tuesday, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy vented anger about a USAID program to fund a failed, Twitter-like network in Cuba.

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New Rules Force Big Banks To Keep A Bigger Cushion

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 12:01

Banking regulators at the FDIC and the Fed are voting on whether to impose tougher rules on big banks. Analysts think that the new regulations, which are expected to pass, will hurt growth prospects.

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Natural Disasters Are Rare, But So Is Mudslide Insurance

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 12:01

Dozens of people lost their homes in the massive slide in Oso, Wash., but few are likely to see an insurance payout. That's because mudslide coverage is not included in a typical homeowner's policy.

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History And Hatred In A Battle Of Basketball Unbeatens

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 12:01

Michelle Smith, a women's basketball writer for ESPNW, offers a preview of Tuesday's NCAA women's basketball final.

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Al Sharpton, FBI Informant? New Claims Revive '80s Mob Story

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 12:01

Rev. Al Sharpton's past work for the FBI is under new scrutiny. On Monday, the website The Smoking Gun published documents that it claims detail Sharpton's work as a confidential informant during mafia investigations in the 1980s. Sharpton admits recording conversations with alleged mobsters for the FBI, but he denies doing anything wrong.

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Pistorius Trial Adjourns Early For Day Amid Runner's Sobs

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 12:01

In the second day of testimony from Oscar Pistorius, the former Olympic runner broke down in sobs on the witness stand. David Smith of The Guardian was in the courtroom, and he details the testimony.

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