The latest installment in the Hobbit movie trilogy opens this week. And some hard-core fans plan to celebrate not just with a marathon screening of the Lord of The Ring films that came before it, but with a full day of feasting — seven meals, hobbit-style. We offer up a sample menu.
General Motors has a new CEO today -- Mary Barra, the first woman to head a U.S. automaker. Her appointment was announced just after the federal government said it had sold its remaining stake in GM. The Treasury Department bought nearly $50 billion in shares as part of the bailout of GM, which cost taxpayers $10.5 billion by the time the last share was sold.
There's no doubt GM needed the bailout. It had a reputation for designing cars that few Americans wanted. But the much needed taxpayer money came with a great gnashing of teeth because there were strings attached.
"Big bonuses were frowned upon in a big way," says Jack Nerad, the executive editorial director at Kelly Blue Book.
He says now that GM is out from under the thumb of the U.S. government, it can raise executive compensation, which could help it attract top talent. And the hiring of Mary Barra, a lifelong GM employee, is another sign that normalcy is returning to GM.
"This returns the company to the way it operated during its heyday," says Nerad. But he warns, "you could also look at it as a return to the kind of management that got it into the problems that led to its bankruptcy."
GM most recently has had CEO's with financial backgrounds, ending with the most recent, Dan Akerson who is stepping down. These top executives saw cars as just another financial instrument says Nerad. Mary Barra on the other hand, is a car person. Her father was a die-maker for Pontiac for 39 years. "Mary Barra certainly understands automobiles in a much deeper way then the typical business executive would," Nerad says. "So I think that bodes well because it is a product driven industry. Good products win overall."
Today at the Detroit Athletic club, finalists for the 2014 North American Car and Truck of the Year were announced. GM had six of the 24 entries. "That's huge. Ford has none," says Edmund's analyst Michelle Krebs, who attended the event.
Three of GM's vehicles ended up among the six finalists. Krebs says GM is doing what other successful automakers have done for decades, offer compact fuel efficient cars.
"You know, General Motors and Detroit automakers were never known for building great small cars. But they are now."
It’s a business model that sounds improbable on first listen: a salon in which you can’t find a single pair of scissors or a bottle of hair dye. Because all they do is blow-dry hair.
But that formula has led to great success for Alli Webb and her brother, Michael Landau, co-founders of The Drybar. On Wednesday, they open their 34th location, where their motto is "No cuts, no color, just blow outs."
Alli says the idea to open her first Drybar was an obvious one.
"Most women can’t do their hair as well as a professional can," she says.
She perfected the technique giving blow-outs to friends in their homes while their kids napped. But eventually Alli couldn't keep up with demand. So she decided to convince her brother Michael to lend her $250,000 to open her own store so clients could come to her.
Michael didn’t understand why a woman would pay for something they could easily do themselves and he jokingly points out that he has no hair anyway. He thought Alli would be crazy not to do cuts and color, where "the real money was."
“I explained to him that women felt really great when they got a blow-out," she explains. "And I felt that if the price point was right, they would come in frequently, not for just events.”
Michael agreed to lend her the money.
The duo figured out Alli would have to do 20-30 blow outs a day in her store in Brentwood, CA. Since they’ve expanded to 33 stores in several cities including outside of California, Landau says, "most of our stores average well over a hundred blow outs a day…it’s become a much bigger business than we ever expected" says Michael.
Michael has a background in brand marketing and they carry that through in every Drybar location.
"There is really a dry bar way," says Alli. They train stylists to use a specific technique for each blow-out. But even the spaces look similar -- from a "bar" where visitors "order" their style (named after cocktails) to the signature yellow hair dryers at every station.
"I feel like I’m living the dream and I feel so lucky," says Alli.
Jang Song Thaek was China's prime contact in North Korea and considered a sort of regent for the young leader, Kim Jong Un.
Leaked internal documents reveal new insights into the goals and finances of the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC brings together state legislators and representatives of corporations to develop model bills that lawmakers try to pass in their state legislatures.
Scientists measured temperatures of -137 Fahrenheit on the highest section of the East Antarctic ice divide. That's almost 10 degrees colder than the previous record.
The No. 2 Republican in the Senate is the latest GOP incumbent to receive a challenge from the right. In a surprise move, Rep. Steve Stockman, who has a knack for stirring controversy, entered the 2014 Senate race Monday just before the state's filing deadline.
General Motors announced this morning that Mary Barra, GM's current head of global product development, will succeed Daniel Akerson as chief executive officer when he retires next month.
Five federal agencies are set to reveal the long-awaited Volcker Rule, a centerpiece of the Dodd-Frank financial reform plan. The rule will limit proprietary trading, in which banks place bets with big trades, using their own money.
This morning in Stockholm, Sweden, three American men will be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics. Yale's Robert Shiller and the University of Chicago's Eugene Fama and Lars Peter Hansen are being recognized for their at times conflicting research into how financial markets work. Before he departed, Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio spoke with Lars Peter Hansen.
The U.S. National Security Agency has been sending virtual spies into World of Warcraft and other virtual worlds.
And the gaming worlds do have clandestine operations -- but they’re for doing business, not doing damage. On “gold farms,” low-paid workers in countries like China produce virtual goods to sell for real money to wealthier gamers. The gaming companies already have their own virtual security operations to root them out.
Brian Keegan is a computational scientist at Harvard. He looked at an NSA-style dump of five years worth of user behavior on the game "Everquest" -- and he used it to study gold farming, as an example of how clandestine networks operate.
He says you’d have to be a pretty dumb terrorist to think that "World of Warcraft" was a good place to hold a cell meeting, when the companies are listening to everything.
“There’s certainly smarter ways to talk about things you don’t want to be heard than logging into a virtual world of orcs and elves,” he says, “where you’ve got 10 million of your closest friends who are also listening in.”
At the same time, deploying individual virtual spies would be labor-intensive. "World of Warcraft" alone has 120 different servers -- each of them a parallel world.
“It doesn’t seem clear that you could go undercover at the scale that would be necessary to monitor these game worlds,” says Keegan.
He mused over a scenario where an NSA worker’s boss caught him playing "World of Warcraft" on company time.
“I’m almost tempted to think that a supervisor caught an agent playing World of Warcraft on their work-time,” he says. “So they came up with this ruse that, ‘Oh, I am chasing terrorists in the game.’ And that joke sort of got out of hand, and now they’ve got a whole project devoted to that.”