Kara Stone is an artist living in Canada. She recently built her first video game. But instead of a battlefield or a fantasy world, the game's landscape is built around the experience of mental illness.
Like many people in North America, Stone suffers from depression and anxiety. Her game, "Medication Meditation," was inspired by her struggles with depression. She describes it as "a series of five little exercise based around daily living with mental illness."
"All of these exercises come from my own experiences with trying to deal with living with mental illness -- or emotional disregulation," Stone says. "All of these lifestyle changes that I've had to make have filtered into this game."
The first exercise is called "Talk," where the gamer simulates the experience of a visit to a therapist's office. But, as anyone who has seen a therapist will find, there are a few quirky differences between the game and the real thing.
"The therapist is a disembodied ear, and you are a disembodied mouth," Stone says. "She takes you through a set of questions. The first one is 'How are you feeling?' And, you get to type in however you are feeling at the moment. It's nothing like a real therapist, obviously. It is an attempt to look at it in a funny way."
Stone believes that mental health issues could be a growing area for video games can be used. But, she says, "Medication Meditation" isn't supposed to be one of those games.
"There's a lot of room for experimentation within video games to kind of grow and serve different purposes. I don't think my game... No, it's not a self-help game. It's not really trying to help people. It's more just about a different way of using video games."
There is no way to win "Medication Meditation," but not because Stone wanted to frustrate the gamer. She's more interested in commenting on a widely-held societal belief about overcoming mental illness that isn't always true.
"There's a lot of rhetoric in dealing with mental illness that is like, 'let's overcome this, let's beat this,' but for me, dealing with my own mental illness, I can't really view it as, 'Oh, I'm going to beat this. I'm going to win. I'm going to kick this mental illness to the curb.' I just have to concentrate on the daily things, and making those ordinary experiences a little bit better."
After 12 days of protests, Parliament has scheduled a no-confidence vote for Tuesday. Demonstrators in the Ukraine are furious at their president for scrapping a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
By midday Monday, roughly 375,000 people had logged onto healthcare.gov. But an "Open for Business" sign may still be a long distance from a health insurance policy that works at the doctor's office. There are a lot of steps between signing up for health insurance and actually getting that insurance card.
Just think about all the folks-and computers- that need to talk to each other.
“Between the enrollee, the IRS, Homeland Security, and healthcare.gov,” says Robert Town, a professor of health care management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, there is a whole lot of verifying that that needs to happen.
“I'm sure there will be SNAFU's in the process," he says, "because it’s a pretty complex set of connections that have to be made.”
“It is puzzling why the government decided to fix the front door without having a reliable back door,” says Robert Laszewski, an insurance industry consultant. He says health insurance companies are getting all sorts of funky data from the government, about who is trying to sign up. Right now, Laszewski says, sorting things out is doable because the numbers are manageable. But, he says, “If we do start getting tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands enrolling during the month of December and we have a high error rate, we haven't accomplished a lot.”
And the government says people are coming. The site could get more than 800,000 visitors today.
For its part, the Obama Administration says it's working on fixing the back-end of the system.
But, says Peter Van Loon, COO of Connecticut’s health insurance exchange, making a fix, “it's not inconsequential to do, as we found out, when we built our system to make sure the carriers got the information they need.” His exchange is state run. People there don't have to rely on healthcare.gov.
But, states and the fed are still under the same pressure -- to get everyone who signs up that insurance card.
The Purchasing Managers Index is upon us!
A Purchasing Manager is someone who buys stuff for a company. And every month, they tell us something about the economy, by telling us about how all their purchasing is going.
Doug Fischer runs Marquette University’s Center for Supply Chain Management.
“We will ask them about their new orders -- better the same or worse, production levels, inventories, employment, supplier deliveries,” says Fischer.
The idea is if you ask how these things are going at companies, you can figure out where the economy is headed over the next few months.
“For people in financial markets it gives an early read on whether things are improving, and that gives an idea of whether interest rates might rise or stock market might do better,” says Kevin Logan, chief U.S. economist for HSBC.
The magic number is 50 -- if the PMI is above 50, it means all of those things (production levels, inventories, etc) are improving. If the PMI is below 50, it means things are getting worse.
The U.S. PMI this month, according to the Institute for Supply Management, is 57.3.
Overall, “they’re pointing to a pretty broad improvement in the global economy,” says Michael Feroli, Chief U.S. Economist at JP Morgan. “You’re seeing strength particularly in Asia and the U.S. and some pockets of Europe.” Germany’s PMI hit a 2.5 year high, while France’s declined.
“In the U.S. the motor vehicle sector seems to be picking up,” says Feroli, “and in Europe what you’re seeing is a gradual easing up of some of the stress caused over there by tightening financial conditions.”
But the PMI just covers the short term – in a few months everything could change. And for now, even though most countries are doing better, not many are doing great. Logan says what’s been missing in the U.S. and global economy, particularly in Europe, has been a “vigorous expansion in business capital outlays, investment spending.”
We've been living in a world of easy money and low interest rates, but Logan's troubled by the fact that businesses haven't taken much advantage of either.
“Housing has yet to fully recover from the move up in mortgage rates this year,” points out JPMorgan’s Feroli.
And there are some “red letter dates” coming up on the calendar as well. “The biggest risk to the global economy,” says Jeff Burchill, CFO of FMGlobal, “is the political uncertainty in Washington.”
Then again, that kind of uncertainty has been the norm for some time.
“At the same time, the risks we see don’t seem to be in any greater than they normally would be,” says Feroli.
The current slew of PMI’s are good -- but they don’t paint a picture of unbridled strength.
Thirty minute delivers aren’t just for pizza companies anymore. Amazon.com plans to deliver goods in about the same time. How could the Internet retailer possibly ship stuff so quickly? Drones.
“It looks like science fiction, but it’s real,” says Amazon spokesperson Mary Osako. “One day, we think seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today.”
But first, Amazon needs the government to establish rules so drones don’t crash into planes and other stuff.
The Federal Aviation Administration is working on regulations, but those are still years away.
Ryan Calo is an assistant professor of law at the University of Washington. He wonders if Jeff Bezos’ plan for drones will fall inside the existing law.
“It seems like he’s planning autonomous delivery, where no human being is necessarily, in the loop. That won’t fly, so to speak, under the current FAA’s understanding,” says Calo.
But influential corporations have a long history of working with the government on regulations. And Amazon is no exception.
Calo says, “Amazon seems like it’s already been in touch with the FAA. And I think it will work with the FAA to explain what it needs to do and how it means to do it.”
So Amazon could help craft the rules for future drone commerce. And that future may not be so far away.
“Unmanned aircraft will be the next big wave in all of aviation,” says Ben Gielow, government relations manager for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International – a trade association for the drone industry.
Unmanned aircraft systems are already a $14 Billion industry worldwide. But that’s mostly for military applications. Drones for the private sector could be huge.
Other parcel companies are also considering the use of unmanned aircraft.
“Fed Ex said a couple of years ago that they would like to have all of their pilots on their big cargo airplanes be on the ground, says Geilow. “What you could be seeing are some very long transatlantic or transcontinental flights that could be conducted with multiple crews on the ground, which would be a big cost savings for some of those package delivery carriers.”
Are Amazon and FedEx exceptions? Calo thinks not.
“I think a large, sophisticated delivery company that wasn’t looking at what robotics has to offer is not doing its job. And so I’d be surprised if those big carriers weren’t thinking about this already.”
As the week continues, we’ll learn more about America’s housing market. But we do know that many of those buying homes are utilizing the 30-year fixed-mortgage rate, which last week was averaging 4.29 percent. In the first half of 2013, 90 percent of new home loans were the 30-year. Why are they so popular?
“[It’s] really pro-borrower,” explains Marketplace’s Adriene Hill. “These are fixed-rate loans with no prepayment penalty, which means you don’t carry risk if interest rates rise or interest rates fall.”
Click the player above to hear about some alternatives to these kinds of mortgages, and the concerns that arise as interest rates change.
The technological trials for the online health insurance exchanges have turned an enrollment period that was supposed to be a leisurely three-month stroll into a last-minute sprint for millions of Americans. People who want coverage that starts at the beginning of 2014 need to sign up no later than Dec. 23.
It’s far from "Mission Accomplished," but in a conference call with reporters yesterday, federal officials said healthcare.gov -- the website for people to buy insurance under the Affordable Care Act -- is functional more than 90 percent of the time.
According to a new report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the site’s performance is up. The error rate, the number of times the pages would crash, has dropped from 6 percent a few weeks ago, to less than 1 percent today. And it’s quicker -- at the end of October, consumers were waiting about 8 seconds for a page to load, now it’s under 1. But the big thing is that now lots of people can be on the site at the same time -- up to 50,000 -- and the site doesn't crash, which means it can handle about 800,000 visitors a day.
But consumer use is just half the equation. There have been reports of so-called back end troubles, where insurers can’t get the information they need to complete enrollments.
In the call yesterday, officials said over the holiday weekend they put in some patches and upgrades to deal with some of those problems. Insurers are saying some consumers believe they’ve bought plans on healthcare.gov but the company can’t find any record of it. In other instances, key information is missing -- like how much federal subsidy someone should receive, so insurers don’t know how much to charge. It’s a mess and could only get worse at the start of the new year.
New insurance policies kick in on January 1, 2013 for people who sign up by December 23.
While CMS has made upgrades, one of the biggest changes appears to be management. Administration officials are now holding war room meetings twice a day to monitor problems in real time. The hope is this new structure -- and more time to focus on back end problems, now that the front end is doing better -- will help them to drill down and get the bottom of the problems.