National / International News
The new mobile app for live video streaming piggybacks off Twitter and is easy to use. Meerkat comes at a time when video is increasingly popular. But can the hype last?
This final note on the way out, in which we mix popular culture, high tech and metallurgy.
The folks at Slate have been poring over Apple's patent applications for that Apple Watch you may have heard so much about. It turns out, Apple's invented a new way to make 18-karat gold for it's top-of-the-line watches.
It's complicated, and I'm not a scientist, but Apple plans to use something called, "metal matrix composite."
To put it another way, Apple is combining gold with durable materials that don't have much mass, but take up lots of space. That gives it wonderful qualities like lightness and scratch-resistance (normal gold is somewhat soft and prone to damage). And by mass, the final product is still 75 percent gold. But when it's poured into a mold to make an Apple Watch Edition's shell, the other, not-so-precious ingredients take up most of the room. Apple gets to use less gold per cubic centimeter and still call it 18-karat. It gets to stretch its gold out further than, say, Rolex would, to make a watch this size and shape.
It's still actual 18-karat gold technically, but it lets the company — and this is a quote from its patent filing — use "as little gold as possible."
Thomas Jackson, the police chief in Ferguson, Missouri, resigned Wednesday, exactly one week after a scathing report from the Department of Justice criticized the city's use of law enforcement as a revenue generation tool.
Ferguson City Manager John Shaw stepped down on Tuesday.
Last Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said Ferguson officials pressured police to generate revenue through aggressive tactics and ticketing. City officials exerted "overriding pressure," Holder said, using "law enforcement not as a public service, but as a tool for raising revenue."
Beth Colgan, a law professor at UCLA who has been studying the issue of municipalities and their use of fees, says there's evidence that a lot of local governments are using law enforcement and court fines to shore up budgets.
"If you look at the criminal and civil codes in any county or state," says Colgan, "as a general matter, the use of fines, and fees, and costs, is something that's pervasive around the country."
In Chicago, for instance, red light cameras reportedly generate $70 million in fines every year. There is now debate between mayoral candidates about whether those cameras should remain, and if not, how to replace that revenue.
The tiny town of Randolph, Missouri, got into trouble a few years ago when the state learned the town's budget came almost exclusively from highway traffic fines.
Knowing whether local governments' reliance on fines has become a national problem or not is difficult, says Brian Jackson, because of a lack of empirical research examining the issue nationwide.
Jackson, who heads the safety and justice program at the Rand Corporation, says there is no question that fines and fees became prominent revenue sources for many local governments, especially after the financial crisis.
"As a business model, funding through fine revenue does reduce the amount of taxes that have to be levied to pay for public safety, because it's another funding stream," Jackson said.
But while many municipalities are relying on fines and fees from law enforcement, few have considered the potential implications, Jackson says.
"The problem here is one of incentives," he said. "The question comes down to how much is too much, and at what point does that start distorting the decisions of individual officers," or their superiors.
The bigger question, he says, is whether voters are willing to fund services their local governments provide through taxes instead of fines and fees.
The ol’ dollar just isn’t what it used to be. It's actually worth quite a bit more.
The value of the dollar has been rising steadily compared to other currencies. On Wednesday, the value of a euro fell to $1.05 -- below $1.06 for the first time since 2003. Tuesday, the dollar hit its highest value against the Japanese yen in nearly eight years.
What does that mean for U.S. consumers?
For Bill Kendrick of Davis, California, it means cheaper supplies for his 1983 Atari computer. He has his eye on a cartridge that’s 20 percent cheaper than a similar one he bought several years ago, thanks to a better exchange rate.
American retailers who buy goods abroad will see a similar discount, but they might choose to pocket the savings instead of passing them along to their customers, says Dan Morris of TIAA-CREF Asset Management.
Now would also be a good time to vacation in Europe, says Boris Schlossberg at BK Asset Management. He said he has been surprised by the speed at which the dollar is rising, but he cautions that what goes up will eventually come back down. Today’s discounts won’t last forever.
Four years after the earthquake and nuclear plant meltdown, Japan has gone cold turkey on nuclear energy. For now, zero reactors are currently in operation.
Solar energy has sought to fill some of that void. Thanks to subsidies and affordable, efficient solar panels, Japan’s solar market has grown tenfold in the last two years. Then, utilities controlling the grid pushed back, and refused to take additional solar energy.
There are technical trade-offs, says engineering professor Massoud Amin at the University of Minnesota, that can cause brownouts and blackouts.
There are fixes, a complex assortment of solutions often referred to as a smart grid. But that requires an enormous investment, that Paul Scalise of the University of Duisberg-Essen in Germany says raises a fundamental question: Who pays for it?
This is a clean-energy issue that doesn’t just face Japan. Germany, Spain, Australia and California all confront questions of grid reliability and upgrade. While it may be in the interests of some utilities to resist change — and hold off direct competitors in the power generation space — inaction in the case of Japan comes with its own trade-off: the environment. Without nuclear energy, the country increasingly relies on imported fossil fuels.
Under the federal health law, employers with 100 or more full-time workers can enroll them in the company plan without their say as long as the coverage is deemed affordable and adequate.