National / International News

Who Needs Algebra? New Approach To College Math Helps More Pass.

NPR News - Thu, 2014-10-09 12:03

The subject long been considered essential to a well-rounded education, but it's also been a subject that keeps millions of people from getting a degree.

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The Weather Channel branches into 'weather adjacent' content

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-10-09 11:58

Sure, the Weather Channel still covers the traditional three to five day forecasts. But now, the company that has been on air since 1982 they also include anything that is “weather adjacent” to their content, says Claire Suddath, who wrote a piece about it called "The Weather Channel's Secret: Less Weather, More Clickbait" for Bloomberg Businessweek. 

"They refer to anything as nature, the outdoors, and climate – anything where you might be outside – that is part of what they consider weather now and they cover it," says Suddath."People are already coming to weather.com and using their app, but they need to get them to stay," says Suddath.

In an interview with Kai Ryssdal, Suddath says it's working. The Weather Channel app is popular with its users, and people no longer check the weather just in the morning - in fact, some of us are checking the weather up to 40 times a day.

"That means that what we’re looking for out of the forecast has changed," says Suddath. "Instead of the three day, five day outlook – which we do still use – we’re really looking for what are the next 15 minutes like, or the next few hours."

Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

Why women lag in winning federal contracts

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-10-09 11:49

It has been 20 years since the government set a goal of awarding five percent of federal contracts to women-owned small businesses – and not once has it met that goal.  

A third of businesses are now owned by women, and being a federal contractor can give business a significant boost. Having that relationship with a federal agency can open a lot of doors. Your business grows faster than other businesses. 

Still, Denise Barreto had another reason for signing up: "What motivated me to become a contractor on all levels for the government was the second I set foot inside of it and saw how it was run," she says.

Let’s just say she knew the government could benefit from her business sense and efficiency. Barreto got her first close-up look at local government when she was elected to her village board in Illinois several years ago. Her company is called Relationships Matter Now and it does strategic planning. It has landed some government work, but a federal contract has proved elusive.  Barreto says she has been in the federal system since 2012, and she has bid on eight contracts. She hasn’t won any.

It takes most people a while to get their first contract. An American Express OPEN study shows that in 2013 it took both men and women about two years and at least four bids before they succeeded.  Lynne Beaman is CEO of North Carolina company Highlands Environmental Solutions. She bid for the first time this summer, and recently found out she didn’t get the job.  Beaman says the whole process of certification and putting in a bid was byzantine. She thinks a lot of women prefer to take care of the business they already have rather than jump through a series of federal hoops to expand.  But she plowed on.

“We also have three children, two biological and one adopted from Russia,” she says. “So I feel if I could handle all the paperwork to get a foreign born orphan out of another country, then I can probably figure my way around this maze.”

She’s not discouraged by her rejection, and has other bids out right now.

Julie Weeks runs Womenable, an organization that supports female entrepreneurship. She says many government agencies are meeting their goal of giving five percent of contracts to women’s businesses, but the Department of Defense is missing the target. That matters because, Weeks says, “about two-thirds of federal spending is done by the Department of Defense.” So if the DOD misses its goal, the overall government goal won’t be met.

Weeks says it’s not that women-owned businesses don’t meet the DOD’s needs. Many make uniforms or do catering. I spoke to one woman who owns a company that bomb-proofs buildings. But Weeks says the DOD is a huge, complicated beast, and moving the needle is tough.

Denise Barreto says one reason few women get these government opportunities is they don’t know enough about them. She says government outreach needs improvement.  “I think having a real sexy website is good," she says, and "having an easy website that somebody can maneuver and understand is better. But nothing beats the opportunity for people to have face to face interactions with these decision makers."

She says women need more chances to meet representatives from Washington in the flesh, at events around the country. That’s what finally landed Barreto her first small federal contract. Her path was unusual, but direct: she didn’t even have to put through another bid. Someone at a federal agency heard her speak at an event, introduced herself, and Barreto ended up with her first opportunity to streamline the government.

Dutch Authorities Say One Malaysia Airlines Victim Was Wearing Oxygen Mask

NPR News - Thu, 2014-10-09 11:39

Authorities still don't know how the mask got there, but they said it may signal that at least that one passenger was alive long enough to put it on.

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Greenpeace used Legos to attack Shell. And won.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-10-09 11:38

The environmental group Greenpeace put out a video over the summer featuring an awesome Arctic landscape built entirely out of Legos. In it, a Shell-branded Lego oil rig spills, flooding artfully constructed Lego ice floes, and drowning adorable Lego polar bears and distressed-looking Lego eskimos. The message: Get Lego to “stop polluting our kids’ imaginations” by putting the Shell logo on toys.

Lego has now announced that when its “co-promotion” contract with Shell expires, the deal won’t be renewed.  

The video campaign, an inspired piece of brandjacking, borrows everything that’s awesome about Lego — the cuteness, the see-what-you-can-build-spirit — even the theme song from the hit Lego movie  … deconstructed a bit.

Greenpeace spokesman Travis Nichols says the video helped re-position people’s image of Greenpeace — its brand.

"When we’re talking about the Arctic, they might think, 'OK, I’m going to see a sad polar bear, or I'm going to see an oil rig.'  And with this campaign, you got to see these toys that you care about.”

Which are polar bears and oil rigs, but made out of Lego.

In other words, Greenpeace is doing with Lego what Lego has done with other franchises. The idea of borrowing power from another brand helped make Lego what it is today: the world’s number-one toy company. Fifteen years ago, Lego was a brand in decline. Then, it paid big bucks to put out a line of “Star Wars” Legos, and had a monster hit.

I asked Lego spokesman Roar Rude Trangbaek if there wasn’t some irony to getting attacked now for associating with another brand.

"That’s not the same," he said. "Partnerships or licensed products. That’s something entirely different. That’s not a co-promotion. This is a co-promotion."

Greenpeace isn’t a paying partner. What’s a brand like Lego to do when its brand power gets appropriated?

First, don't fight back by trying to get the video deleted, says Marc Fetscherin, a marketing professor at Rollins College and co-editor of the book “Consumer Brand Relationships: Theory and Practice.”  

"It could backfire in the social media, and you get an unwanted, huge media presence," he says.  That's called "the Streisand Effect" after singer Barbra Streisand, who sued to have a photo of her house taken off the Internet in 2003. The lawsuit brought more attention to the photo, and didn't reflect well on the singer.

However, Fetscherin says Lego doesn’t have to just play defense here. "I can imagine a lot of new opportunities for Lego," he says, to pursue a greener image. "Why not team up with Tesla, or any other green company?"

Neither Lego nor Shell will comment on the details of their agreement.

How College Students Battled Textbook Publishers To A Draw, In 3 Graphs

NPR News - Thu, 2014-10-09 11:35

The price of new textbooks has gone through the roof. But what students spend on books has barely budged.

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Who is Carl Icahn and what does he do?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-10-09 11:21

If you follow business news, you've probably heard about "activist investor Carl Icahn."

He pushed Family Dollar to sell itself. (Eventually it did.) He pushed eBay to spin off PayPal. (Eventually it did.) And now he's pushing Apple to buy back more of its stock. (So far, it hasn't.)

But who is Carl Icahn? 

He's a 78-year-old man worth $23 billion, whose favorite sport seems to be arguing with CEOs. 

"Activism in general draws a person who does not shy away from the limelight or shy away from a fight," says Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at NYU's Stern School of Business.  

Icahn has been fighting for decades. 

"Oh, gee, he goes way back," says Donald Margotta, associate professor of finance at Northeastern University. 

In the 1980s, Icahn was known not as an activist, but as a corporate raider, using debt to acquire companies, often to break them up. 

"The corporate raiders were a little bit different [than today's activist investors] in that usually their objective was to acquire the company," says Margotta. "Whereas now people don’t really want to acquire the company, although they do want to break it up."

Instead of acquiring entire companies, today's activist investors acquire large portions, and then leverage that portion through the media. 

"Since activist investors are only taking an ownership position and a portion of the company they also are reliant on other stockholders to have their viewpoint," says Don Steinbrugge, managing partner of hedge-fund consultant Agecroft Partners. "The more media attention they can get the more they can educate the other stockholders in what their position is."

The position could be to buy back stock, to split up the company, to seek an acquisition or a number of other strategies, but the underlying plan is to rally shareholders to force the CEOs hand, and then profit off any resulting increase in the stock price.

But for Icahn it seems to be about more than making money. He seems to want to set things right — as he sees it.

"He basically believes that corporate managers are, by and large, inept and self-serving," Margotta says. 

Apple CEO Tim Cook may be the exception. In his open letter, Icahn called Cook "the ideal CEO" and insisted "this letter is in no way intended as a criticism of you as CEO, nor is it intended to be critical of anything you or your team are doing from an operational perspective at Apple."

Except for that share buyback thing, of course.

Ben Bernanke used an alias during the financial crisis

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-10-09 11:00

What's in a name? A lot, apparently, if you happen to be one of the most powerful men in money.

Back during the financial crisis, then-Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke used an alias while planning the rescue of the global economy. Evidence in the AIG lawsuit introduced Thursday revealed Bernanke emailed with colleagues and others using the name "Edward Quince."

According to the Wall Street Journal, it's still unclear where Bernanke got his pseudonym, or why it was even used.

Stirling Prize 2014: London Aquatics Centre

BBC - Thu, 2014-10-09 10:59
Which is the UK's best new building?

Everything is branding: Four more weird partnerships

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-10-09 10:44

Lego announced Thursday it will cut ties with oil giant Royal Dutch Shell today following pressure from Greenpeace, which released a viral video and gathered signatures to protest the partnership. Shell-branded Legos aren't as common as "Star Wars" or superhero themed kits, but the agreement dates back decades and it's reportedly worth at least $110 million.

Inspired by those strange bedfellows, we found a few more examples of corporate incongruity.

McDonald's and Play-Doh

Thanks to brand licensing, children can pretend to do chores with their own Dyson vacuum or Home Depot leaf blower, and plenty of other toys. But fewer products let kids turn processed, salty, artificially colored goop into McDonald's food.

The discontinued Play-Doh McDonald's Restaurant playset molded fries, burgers and milkshakes, using plenty of the best Play-Doh color: brown.

For what it's worth, McDonald's has a partnership with Lego too; the company produced Happy Meal toys and a miniature restaurant.

Electronic Arts Games and various weapon manufacturers

A screenshot of the \"Medal of Honor\" website, via Eurogamer.

Blockbuster video games trade on their realism: in settings, character models, physics, anything. That's especially true for war-related titles, some of which depict weapons and equipment specifically modeled after commercial firearms and real military gear.

Electronic Arts took the idea a step further in promoting "Medal of Honor: Warfighter" in 2012. The game's website featured links to buy the real-world weapons and equipment included in the game. One developer blogged about using the advertised gear. A knife company sold a "Medal of Honor"-branded tomahawk, with proceeds going to EA's program to aid the Navy SEAL Foundation and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

Critics bashed EA for advertising and licensing weapons, and the company rolled back the promotion. EA claimed none of their marketing partners paid for product placement, but were merely trying to give back to service members.

Susan G. Komen and KFC

We've told you about oilfield services company Baker Hughes making pink drill bits for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Not quite as strange, but certainly more ironic: KFC's 2010 "Buckets for the Cure" campaign.

The fast food chain donated 50 cents of each pink bucket sold to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and raised $2 million in the first week. But the idea of selling fried food to fight cancer was criticized by activists and roundly mocked. ABC called the effort "Eat a Breast to Save a Breast," and Stephen Colbert described it as "hypo-crispy."

'The Sims' and various record labels

The life simulation video game series "The Sims" theoretically offers limitless possibilities for product placement, but EA — the company of the branded weapons for charity — have kept the games marketing partnerships both restrained and deeply strange. Sims can wear clothes by H&M and Diesel, sure, but far weirder is the "Sims 3: Katy Perry's Sweet Treats."

The expansion pack adds outfits, decorations and locations inspired by Perry's album "Teenage Dream," and Perry recorded a version of her song "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F)" in the game's made-up Simlish language.

Perry isn't the only artist to rerecord a song for "The Sims" either. High-profile acts like Matt & Kim, My Chemical Romance, Soulja Boy, Depeche Mode and many more have had songs "translated."

First Syria refugees in Uruguay

BBC - Thu, 2014-10-09 10:40
Uruguay receives the fist Syrian refugees and promises to cover the cost of a two-year resettlement programme.

Riba Stirling Prize 2014: London Bridge Tower (The Shard)

BBC - Thu, 2014-10-09 10:27
Is The Shard the best building in the UK?

The boom-and-bust story of a crop called guar

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-10-09 10:14

A little-known plant that has been an ingredient in foods for decades has taken on outsize importance in the fracking world over the past few years - and it has created huge swings in its commodity price and in the fortunes of farmers. 

Ever since the 1950s, the guar plant has been the source of the guar gum additive the food industry uses to thicken foods or keep various ingredients smoothly mixed together. It’s in everything from frozen pizza to ice cream, egg white substitutes and baked goods.

“Guar is what we call an emulsifier,” says Calvin Trostle, a professor of agriculture at Texas A&M and a guar expert.  “Guar is somewhat like a soybean plant. It has pods up and down the main stem."

Guar gum is not only a common food additive, but also an important ingredient in the fracking process (the hydraulic fracturing of underground rock to release oil and gas deposits). 

Crop specialist Calvin Trostle, Texas A&M University, adjust branches on a guar plant that contain maturing seed pods.

Courtesy of Calvin Trostle

In the last 40 years, multiple companies including Halliburton, Baker Hughes, FTS International and others have tried to create a synthetic substitute for guar gum, but they’ve failed to develop anything as effective for hydraulic fracturing, according to Trostle. 

With guar gum as its only option, the  industry has demanded more and more of the stuff. 

“The demand for guar exploded, literally mulitiplied by five, ten times, caught the suppliers’ side by surprise, and basically created a drastic shortage,” says Dennis Seisun, a guar market analyst and the publisher of The Quarterly Review of Food Hydrocolloids. (Hydrocolloids are substances that form a gel when mixed with water.)

As fracking and the demand for guar boomed, so did the price of the commodity, 98 percent of which comes from India and Pakistan. A couple of years ago, the price peaked at about 35 times what the cost of the plant product was just a few years earlier. 

Seisun, who regularly visits India and the region where guar is produced, says that’s been an economic boon for farmers there. There is now a futures market set up for guar, and farmers are able to hold back part of their crop yield to wait for a better price. 

Some farmers in the U.S. wanted to get into the guar business, too. 

“Last year, it was kind of like a revolution,” says Curtis Erickson, a north Texas farmer who was one of many spurred to plant guar because of its exploding price. “We knew we could plant it and farm it and make money at the end of the day. And we were very excited.”

Texas farmers grew about $20 million worth of the plant, based on what a Texas-based raw guar processor had contracted to pay them. The processor was the only one in the U.S. that could handle raw guar. 

But as demand soared, India and Pakistan guar suppliers managed to catch up with increased supply. And oil companies, which were paying high prices, stopped hoarding guar. 

The price plummeted. 

The Texas-based guar processor, which had promised the farmers a set price for their guar, could not pay. And the farmers are now stuck with a crop they can’t reclaim, and which they couldn’t sell anywhere else in the U.S. even if it was returned to them. 

“There’s a lot of farmers that I’m aware of that borrowed money last year to farm the guar on,” Erickson says “And since they didn’t get paid back, they in turn couldn’t pay their banks back.”

“And then the bank will come looking to collect somehow,” Erickson says. 

The farmers have taken their case to court, and the Texas guar plant is now bankrupt. 

While the price of guar has declined, it’s still about three times higher than it used to be. But since the U.S. historically has had little to no supply chain for processing raw guar, Seisun says India and Pakistan will remain the major suppliers. 

“Competing with costs of production in low-cost areas like India and Pakistan have always presented a problem. And I don’t see that source of supply is going to be very different in the near future,” Seisun says. 

Meanwhile a few Texas farmers, including Erickson, have planted a small quantity of guar again this year. Erickson says he wants to be ready, in case the guar market in the U.S. bounces back. 

Customers Can Keep The Tip — Which Might Please Restaurant Workers

NPR News - Thu, 2014-10-09 09:58

A handful of restaurants are experimenting with no-tipping models, guaranteeing their servers a base level of pay. So far, satisfaction is up and turnover is down.

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Nigerian leader warns over rich list

BBC - Thu, 2014-10-09 09:42
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan threatens to sue a website that listed him as one of Africa's 10 richest leaders, with a net worth of about $100m.

Ebola screening: Will it work?

BBC - Thu, 2014-10-09 09:34
Will it make a difference in the UK?

VIDEO: Ex-RAF officer guilty of sex abuse

BBC - Thu, 2014-10-09 09:04
A former RAF intelligence officer has been convicted of a series of sexual assaults on children, dating back more than three decades.

Fresh clashes break out in CAR

BBC - Thu, 2014-10-09 08:38
Heavy gunfire and explosions are heard in the capital of the Central African Republic, amid growing tension between rival militias.

'Legal high' dealer gets 10 years

BBC - Thu, 2014-10-09 08:16
A man who sold drugs running a "legal high" website which earned him £2.5m is jailed for 10 years.

MH17 passenger 'had oxygen mask on'

BBC - Thu, 2014-10-09 08:15
The Dutch foreign minister says a victim of the east Ukraine air disaster was found wearing an oxygen mask, suggesting not everyone died instantly.

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