Since you asked, one brilliant tip jar strategy can be found at Rize Coffee in Midtown Manhattan. It's actually two tip jars. Lee Major is the manager.
"Every day we change what each jar says, so it's usually a choice between two different things, For example, today the choice was between coffee and sleep. When you make your tip, you choose by placing a dollar and voting for coffee or sleep, whichever you prefer," says Major.
As you can imagine, coming up with a choice every day -- "bourbon vs. scotch," "Knicks vs. Nets," "duck-billed platypus vs. the sloth" -- can be pretty tough. And over time, he's learned some things about what makes people tip. But maybe not what you'd expect.
"Although it's a fun game, I don't think it really affects the amount of total tips. At the end of the day, what increases tips is good service and a great product," says Major.
Of course, this one coffee shop is a pretty small sample size. It's probably worth looking into the larger research on tipping.So, I went to TippingResearch.com. That's where you'll find Michael Lynn, a professor at Cornell's School of hotel management.
"I don't know of any studies that look into the effect of tip jar messaging on tips. I can speculate," says Lynn.
Which is exactly what we'll do. Professor Lynn thinks the Rize Coffee "vote by tip" method is probably a good strategy.
"People find the opportunity to say something about themselves valuable. I would fully expect that would increase tips," says Lynn.
We go through a little list of tip jar messages that I've seen, and he tells me what she thinks.
The classic one that says, "barista college fund."
"Um, I don't think that's terribly clever, funny. I would doubt that it would have a big impact," says Lynn.
One that says, "Every time you don't tip, a child gets a mullet."
He pauses. "OK, and my guess is that's an attempt to be funny. It creates positive affect, and people in a good mood tip more. My guess is that it would work," says Lynn."It's a joke at the expense of people who have mullets."
One that just says, "Don't be a selfish bastard."
"People who feel guilt, social pressure, are more likely to leave a tip, but they leave smaller amounts... The biggest thing you can do to increase tips is literally to communicate: 'Hey, everyone else is doing it, and you should too.' And frankly, the easiest way to communicate that is not through a message on the jar, but by salting the jar, putting money in yourself," says Lynn.
OK baristas, ball's in your court. Back at Rize Coffee, Lee Major is emptying the tip jar and counting the day's results for the showdown between coffee and sleep. Quarters, dollars, the occasional fiver.
"And that's it, coffee wins by a landslide," says Major.
"I guess that's a good thing, right? I mean, you are a coffee shop?" I ask.
"I guess so. Although me, personally, I drink a lot of coffee, but a good night's sleep is something very special," says Major.
Look, no matter your preference, to Lee, and his tip jar, every day is election day. And the important thing is that you vote.
It doesn’t seem fair, right? The U.S. Treasury gets to borrow money at about 2 percent interest these days. That’s latest yield on the 10-year Treasury note. When the government turns around and loans that money to college students, most of them are paying well over 6 percent interest. Meanwhile, the average fixed rate on a 30-year mortgage these days is just over 3.5 percent.
To understand why student borrowers pay so much more, I started with my go-to guy for all things financial aid, Mark Kantrowitz of FinAid.org. He says there are two big reasons federal student loans cost more than, say, a mortgage or car loan. Nobody checks your credit. And there’s no collateral.
“If you default on a federal education loan, they can’t repossess your education,” he says.
Other kinds of unsecured debt -- like credit cards -- usually cost much more, he says. “For someone with a typical credit pattern of a college graduate, we’re talking a 10, 11 percentage interest rate -- maybe even as high as 14 percent.”
Even at comparatively low rates, more people are defaulting on their education loans. And unlike other types of debt, you can’t escape student loans by filing for bankruptcy.
One youth advocacy group is pitching an idea to make it easier to pay them off -- a federal loan refinancing program.
“If you refinance loans down to 5 percent -- so just the loans that are above that -- that would save people about $14 billion in interest rate payments for this year alone,” says Tobin Van Ostern, deputy director of Campus Progress. It's part of the liberal Center for American Progress.
“It would be huge,” says Jennifer Belmont Jennings, an attorney in St. Louis. “For us, personally, it would just add a significant level of security to us.”
Belmont Jennings finished law school just as high-paying legal jobs seemed to evaporate. She owes about $170,000 in student loans, and says she could really use a few hundred extra dollars a month.
“Just from a spending standpoint of being able to do things, you know,” she says. “We bought a house several years later than we would have had we had that extra money.”
When they did buy a house, this year, they got a mortgage rate of 3.7 percent.
It is possible to refinance student loans -- privately. SoFi makes loans to students and graduates of certain colleges. The loans are funded by alumni of those schools. For a re-fi CEO Mike Cagney says the average borrower comes in with a rate of about 7.2 percent.
“We’re refinancing them into rates between 6 and 6.5,” he says. “And the borrower’s savings have been about $10,000 over the life of the loan.”
But to qualify you have to have gone to one of the 79 schools SoFi works with, like Carnegie Mellon or the University of Michigan. To refinance on a large scale, Cagney says, the federal government would need to step in.
A system of favors among Greek media outlets, politicians and banks helped produce one of the most inflated media sectors in Europe. But the media have been hit hard by the country's massive austerity drive, and have taken a huge loss in terms of credibility.
It's been nearly four tumultuous months since Superstorm Sandy forced the residents of Belle Harbor Manor from their adult home. Last week, the residents, who suffer mental and physical illnesses, were allowed to return home, only to find that things were not at all like they left them.
"What goes on inside our heads?" Perhaps the most basic biological question about humankind. The Obama administration is working on a plan to map human brain activity that may be released next month. Scientists say the decade-long project could spark an explosion in new devices, medical therapies and business opportunities we’ve never dreamed of.
The goal of this project is bold -- understand how the brain works and figure out how to influence, or manipulate the mind. Ralph Greenspan is the associate director of the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind at the University of California, San Diego. He says right now the brain moves too quickly to assess and measure what happens when we play the piano… or recognize a tune.
“And we all believe being able to do that is a key step towards understanding how the brain does what it does,” he says.
If we can unlock the answers to those questions, Greenspan says he and his colleagues can tackle trickier ones, like what’s happening in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, or schizophrenia.
“That can lead us towards ways to try to bring back balance where things are out of balance,” says Greenspan.
Greenspan thinks this project will spawn tons of new business for the pharmaceutical industry, of course, and the larger medical field. But the possibilities for high tech may be even greater, says NYU psychology professor Gary Marcus.
“I wrote a piece in the New York Times a few years ago about having Google built into your brain, but for your own thoughts and as we better understand how the brain works, that thing that was kind of a fantasy when I wrote about it a few years ago, that’s going to become a reality,” he says.
This brain mapping project hasn’t been unveiled yet. Scientists believe this initiative could boost the nation’s economic growth substantially. But NYU’s Marcus says if the U.S. doesn’t pour money into the brain, we could lose our intellectual capital.
“The scientist needs money to do their work. And it’s been a tough funding climate here lately,” he says.
Marcus says with the EU pursuing a similar project, the country faces a brain drain if it doesn’t pony up some cash quick.
There are an estimated 40 millions guns in India -- and as concerns rise about safety, the number of applications for gun licenses is growing.
Tanmay Chatterjee is a spokesperson for the group Indians for Guns. Chatterjee says, "More and more women are enquiring about the procurement process and are applying for licenses. The rise in the number of applications is very sharp."
But getting a gun license can take years. First, you have to prove there's a direct threat to your life. So the black market for guns is growing, says gun-dealer Joydeep Biswas, whose family has been in the gun business for five generations.
"A large chunk of people want it for self-defense. So yes, people want it for their own personal safety. And they will buy illegal arms irrespective of whether the government gives them a license or not."
One estimate puts illegal gun ownership in India at more than 85 percent of the total. And that, says Biswas, is wiping out businesses like his. "This is a dying trade. We are here because our family has been doing this for generations. In the cases of the gunshops, the new generation is not coming in. We are probably the last generation."
Many of the black market guns are made in India, but they're also coming in from neighboring Nepal and Bangladesh. And as regulation of gun ownership remains tight and concerns about safety grow, the balck arms market will likely continue to thrive.