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When the going gets rough, some sell poems

Mon, 2014-09-15 10:26

As D.C. commuters head to their offices, jazz drummer Glenn Ragland stands outside Metro stations. He's not hawking newspapers, or music. He's selling poems.

These days, Ragland has been finding it near impossible to make money in the music industry.

"I'm not making no money," he said. "The band business is gone. There's no big bands. The few night clubs, they don't want to pay musicians anything."

So for the past seven months, he's been standing at any of a number of the corners in the nation's capital — 13th and G Street, Connecticut and K Street, Connecticut and L Street or Connecticut and I Street, from about 7:30 to 10:30 a.m., trying to sell love poems.

He says he'll write about anything, though his sign advertises: "Poetry for love and romance $5 a poem." At first, he simply wanted a sign that said "poetry for $5," but he said his friend who printed the sign added romance to the mix.

"I just wanted to put 'poems' and 'jazz' in there, and he put that word 'romance' in there. And that changed the whole thing," he said. "It changed the mood of selling poems."

After he gets a request, he says he might work on a poem for a day or a week. He then finds the buyer later at the same Metro station.

Ragland isn't new to writing. He started writing poetry in Paris when he was 26 and in a band. He also penned "Jazz Profiles in Paris," a 1995 book that didn't make him much money. He sometimes manages to sell six or seven poems a day for $120 total.

He's working on another book, this time full of poems about passion and intimacy. He calls it "almost too intimate to publish."

If he's not trying to sell poems on the street or teaching drum lessons, Ragland can probably be found at Washington's well-known eatery and poetry hangout Busboys and Poets. He likes surrounding himself with writers and artistically-inclined people.

"I like to meet people that write because your imagination is more extensive," he said. “Sometimes at 11:30 at night, 1 o’clock in the morning, an idea comes to me. I get up and get a pen and paper and sometimes I continue working on a poem the next day. And sometimes I forget about it.”

A day in the life of a data mined kid

Mon, 2014-09-15 10:20

Education, like pretty much everything else in our lives these days, is driven by data.

Our childrens’ data. A whole lot of it.

Nearly everything they do at school can be — and often is — recorded and tracked, and parents don't always know what information is being collected, where it’s going, or how it's being used.

The story begins at the bus stop.

Your child swipes his ID card and climbs on the bus. The card may contain an RFID or  radio frequency identification chip, which lets the school know when he gets on and off the bus. In some school districts, parents will get text alerts, letting them know their child arrived safely to school. The bus technology is presented as a way to keep children safer.

“The data collection begins even before he steps into the school,” says Khaliah Barnes, director of the Student Privacy Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

And, says Barnes, in some schools it just keeps on going. RFID chips let schools track kids on school grounds. Administrators could know if a child leaves the building, or if he visits the school counselor.

“The issue is that this reveals specifically sensitive information,” says Barnes.

Location information is just one small part of a child’s data file.

In the classroom, teachers gather data on routine things like attendance, tardiness, test scores and grades. The kinds of records that used to be kept on paper.

See what a day in the life of a data mined student looks like with our Quantified Student infographic

In most states, the data are fed into a giant database, known as a “statewide longitudinal data system.” Different states collect different elements of personal student data. (You can look up your state here.)

In the last decade, the federal government has handed states more than $600 million to help them create these databases. The idea, says Stephen Balkam, head of the Family Online Safety Institute, is that “if we could keep track of our kids from kindergarten to 12th grade we'd have a much greater handle on what's working, what's not working, what needs to be added to the curriculum.”

The government isn’t the only one trying to figure out what’s working by investing in and gobbling up data about your kid.

Sales of educational technology software for kids in kindergarten through high school reached nearly $8 billion last year, according to the Software and Information Industry Association.

One of the biggest players is the field is Knewton. It analyzes student data that it collects by keeping track of nearly every click and keystroke your child makes during digital lessons.

Jose Ferreira is Knewton’s CEO.  In a video posted by the Department of Education, he says “We literally know everything about what you know and how you learn best, everything.”

Knewton claims to gather millions of data points on millions of children each day. Ferreira calls education “the world’s most data-mineable industry by far.”

“We have five orders of magnitude more data about you than Google has,” he says in the video.  “We literally have more data about our students than any company has about anybody else about anything, and it’s not even close.”

Five orders of magnitude more data than Google is a whole lot of data.

The promise is that all that data can be used to tailor lessons to individual kids, to their strengths and weaknesses. They will become better learners, and that will lead to higher grades and better graduation rates.

Ferreira imagines a day when “you tell us what you had for breakfast every morning at the beginning of the semester, by the end of the semester, we should be able to tell you what you had for breakfast. Because you always did better on the days you had scrambled eggs.”

If the right breakfast makes for a better behaved child, that will be measured, too.

Teachers are increasingly relying on behavior monitoring software not only to keep kids on track, but to track them, too.

With the help of an iPad, the teacher record’s whether or not your child is being helpful and attentive or talking out of turn. The child is rewarded, often with points, for good behavior. Points are taken away when behavior is not so good.

All this data is stored online. Parents can check it daily. It can be turned into reports for teachers and administrators.

“We live in a 24/7 data mining universe today,” says Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media.  “And I think most of us parents and teachers and kids don't realize how much of our data is out there and used by other people.”

Steyer is also a parent. He says what worries him most is that “information that's very personal to me and my family, for example my kids disciplinary record or health record or something like that, is made available to somebody who it's no business to have that.”

There are federal laws in place that limit what type of information can be gathered on kids and how educational records can be shared. But many of these laws were written for an age of paper records.

Though states have started writing tougher student data privacy protections into their laws, privacy experts think there are still big holes.

A study released last year by Fordham Law professor Joel Reidenberg found that very few school districts explicitly restrict the sale or marketing of student information in contracts with service providers.

There are also privacy issues with third-party educational apps, often brought into the classroom by teachers. Those apps may have weak privacy policies, or, in some cases, none at all.

Experts say the growth of technology in schools is happening faster than we can keep up with it.

At lunch, a child may use her ID to pay for her mini-cheeseburgers. When she does, her allergies and account balance may be displayed. It’s possible that her family’s financial information will also be linked in the software to her name and ID number.

Cafeteria software might also track exactly what she eats and whether she picks up chocolate or regular milk. In some schools, vending-machine purchases are recorded. Parents can log in at the end of the day and get a list of it all.

Should that child get in trouble, the principal may rely on discipline software to dole out her punishment. Some software advertises that it can save time by automating discipline consequences.

In gym class, some kids strap on heart-rate monitors, which record how hard they are working out. Some schools project this data up on the wall. Others base student P.E. grades on heart-rate measurements.

Other kids are asked to wear Fitbit-style wrist bands that record their activities at school, on the playground and at home — where the data grab continues.

Many schools have installed tracking technology on school-owned computers as a security measure. The technology allows schools to see where a kid is logging in from, via an IP address.

“At the beginning you would think there is no risk, that this is completely benign,” says Cameron Evans, chief technology officer for Microsoft Education.

But, if you start combining that data with other data sets, like addresses and phone numbers, you start getting into trickier territory. Especially if the tracking data doesn’t match the data on record.

Imagine, says Evans that “over a period of time the IP address where that computer connects to the Internet is not where near the address on file for them. In fact, it's not even in the same school district."

A school could investigate. And maybe find out the child doesn’t live in the district or that the reason he’s going to another part of town is because his parents have divorced. That may be enough to have that child labeled as  "at risk."

It's a label, says Evans, that could follow a kid through school.

“In the past, (schools) would have never had this data, but now that it's electronic, we can correlate data in a way that we never ever had the opportunity to do before."

The larger concern, he says, is that connecting all those dots can create a profile of a student that can follow him from kindergarten through college. Maybe even into the workforce.

It’s the prospect of that permanent data trail, say privacy advocates, that makes it so important that schools, teachers and parent wrestle with student data issues now.

A day in the life of a data mined kid

Mon, 2014-09-15 10:20

Education, like pretty much everything else in our lives these days, is driven by data.

Our childrens’ data. A whole lot of it.

Nearly everything they do at school can be — and often is — recorded and tracked, and parents don't always know what information is being collected, where it’s going, or how it's being used.

The story begins at the bus stop.

Your child swipes his ID card and climbs on the bus. The card may contain an RFID or  radio frequency identification chip, which lets the school know when he gets on and off the bus. In some school districts, parents will get text alerts, letting them know their child arrived safely to school. The bus technology is presented as a way to keep children safer.

“The data collection begins even before he steps into the school,” says Khaliah Barnes, director of the Student Privacy Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

And, says Barnes, in some schools it just keeps on going. RFID chips let schools track kids on school grounds. Administrators could know if a child leaves the building, or if he visits the school counselor.

“The issue is that this reveals specifically sensitive information,” says Barnes.

Location information is just one small part of a child’s data file.

In the classroom, teachers gather data on routine things like attendance, tardiness, test scores and grades. The kinds of records that used to be kept on paper.

In most states, the data are fed into a giant database, known as a “statewide longitudinal data system.” Different states collect different elements of personal student data. (You can look up your state here.)

In the last decade, the federal government has handed states more than $600 million to help them create these databases. The idea, says Stephen Balkam, head of the Family Online Safety Institute, is that “if we could keep track of our kids from kindergarten to 12th grade we'd have a much greater handle on what's working, what's not working, what needs to be added to the curriculum.”

The government isn’t the only one trying to figure out what’s working by investing in and gobbling up data about your kid.

Sales of educational technology software for kids in kindergarten through high school reached nearly $8 billion last year, according to the Software and Information Industry Association.

One of the biggest players is the field is Knewton. It analyzes student data that it collects by keeping track of nearly every click and keystroke your child makes during digital lessons.

Jose Ferreira is Knewton’s CEO.  In a video posted by the Department of Education, he says “We literally know everything about what you know and how you learn best, everything.”

Knewton claims to gather millions of data points on millions of children each day. Ferreira calls education “the world’s most data-mineable industry by far.”

“We have five orders of magnitude more data about you than Google has,” he says in the video.  “We literally have more data about our students than any company has about anybody else about anything, and it’s not even close.”

Five orders of magnitude more data than Google is a whole lot of data.

The promise is that all that data can be used to tailor lessons to individual kids, to their strengths and weaknesses. They will become better learners, and that will lead to higher grades and better graduation rates.

Ferreira imagines a day when “you tell us what you had for breakfast every morning at the beginning of the semester, by the end of the semester, we should be able to tell you what you had for breakfast. Because you always did better on the days you had scrambled eggs.”

If the right breakfast makes for a better behaved child, that will be measured, too.

Teachers are increasingly relying on behavior monitoring software not only to keep kids on track, but to track them, too.

With the help of an iPad, the teacher record’s whether or not your child is being helpful and attentive or talking out of turn. The child is rewarded, often with points, for good behavior. Points are taken away when behavior is not so good.

All this data is stored online. Parents can check it daily. It can be turned into reports for teachers and administrators.

“We live in a 24/7 data mining universe today,” says Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media.  “And I think most of us parents and teachers and kids don't realize how much of our data is out there and used by other people.”

Steyer is also a parent. He says what worries him most is that “information that's very personal to me and my family, for example my kids disciplinary record or health record or something like that, is made available to somebody who it's no business to have that.”

There are federal laws in place that limit what type of information can be gathered on kids and how educational records can be shared. But many of these laws were written for an age of paper records.

Though states have started writing tougher student data privacy protections into their laws, privacy experts think there are still big holes.

A study released last year by Fordham Law professor Joel Reidenberg found that very few school districts explicitly restrict the sale or marketing of student information in contracts with service providers.

There are also privacy issues with third-party educational apps, often brought into the classroom by teachers. Those apps may have weak privacy policies, or, in some cases, none at all.

Experts say the growth of technology in schools is happening faster than we can keep up with it.

At lunch, a child may use her ID to pay for her mini-cheeseburgers. When she does, her allergies and account balance may be displayed. It’s possible that her family’s financial information will also be linked in the software to her name and ID number.

Cafeteria software might also track exactly what she eats and whether she picks up chocolate or regular milk. In some schools, vending-machine purchases are recorded. Parents can log in at the end of the day and get a list of it all.

Should that child get in trouble, the principal may rely on discipline software to dole out her punishment. Some software advertises that it can save time by automating discipline consequences.

In gym class, some kids strap on heart-rate monitors, which record how hard they are working out. Some schools project this data up on the wall. Others base student P.E. grades on heart-rate measurements.

Other kids are asked to wear Fitbit-style wrist bands that record their activities at school, on the playground and at home — where the data grab continues.

Many schools have installed tracking technology on school-owned computers as a security measure. The technology allows schools to see where a kid is logging in from, via an IP address.

“At the beginning you would think there is no risk, that this is completely benign,” says Cameron Evans, chief technology officer for Microsoft Education.

But, if you start combining that data with other data sets, like addresses and phone numbers, you start getting into trickier territory. Especially if the tracking data doesn’t match the data on record.

Imagine, says Evans that “over a period of time the IP address where that computer connects to the Internet is not where near the address on file for them. In fact, it's not even in the same school district."

A school could investigate. And maybe find out the child doesn’t live in the district or that the reason he’s going to another part of town is because his parents have divorced. That may be enough to have that child labeled as  "at risk."

It's a label, says Evans, that could follow a kid through school.

“In the past, (schools) would have never had this data, but now that it's electronic, we can correlate data in a way that we never ever had the opportunity to do before."

The larger concern, he says, is that connecting all those dots can create a profile of a student that can follow him from kindergarten through college. Maybe even into the workforce.

It’s the prospect of that permanent data trail, say privacy advocates, that makes it so important that schools, teachers and parent wrestle with student data issues now.

Your Wallet: Is home-buying rebounding?

Mon, 2014-09-15 09:50

Is the housing market is making a comeback?

Wall Street Journal

Sales of existing homes increased 2.4% from June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.15 million, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday ... July was the fourth consecutive month sales rose from the prior month.

Not only were sales last month at their highest level since last September, but fewer transactions came from short sales of underwater homes and foreclosures. Distressed sales accounted for 9% of all sales in July, the lowest level since the trade group's tally began in October 2008 at the peak of the financial crisis. More than a third of all sales in 2009 were distressed.

We want to know if you're putting your toes in the water. 

How's the inventory? Can you get a loan? Are homes affordable? Tell us your experiences in the new normal. Email us or let us know on Twitter, we want to hear your story.

The 3 things that made 'Pretty Little Liars' a smash

Mon, 2014-09-15 09:44


The original log line for "Pretty Little Liars" was "Never trust a pretty girl with an ugly secret," and executive producer, showrunner and mystery-keeper Marlene King says the show has kept that spirit. The show, adapted from a series of young adult novels, focuses on several high school girls and their friends as more their dark secrets and lies are unraveled — and some disappear without a trace.

"[They have] well-intentioned ideas but continue to, I'd say, go down the rabbit hole and find a lot of trouble every season," King says.

The show has been such a smash for ABC Family that they ordered two more seasons before its fifth even began airing this summer. King calls the show "magic in a bottle," but says its possible to replicate its success. Here are the the three factors that make "Pretty Little Liars" not only a traditional ratings smash, but a great example of modern TV popularity.

It's been on social media since the beginning

People were still talking about TV on Twitter in 2010, but not nearly as much as they do now. But King says fans were tweeting about "Pretty Little Liars" before the pilot even aired. 

Social media has only become more important for the show. It has a very active Twitter presence, attracting over 2.4 million followers to the official account, and King says online discussion and ratings go hand-in-hand.

"Everything is changing now that we’re being credited for even our Twitter ratings," King says. "That seems to be as important as how many people are watching the show live, plus DVR. So that keeps us so relevant."

Now, Twitter is so integral to the show that if "Pretty Little Liars" stopped generating so much online discussion, that would be her cue to wrap things up.

Its young audience still watches live

Conventional wisdom says young people are the biggest time-shifters, more likely to binge-watch or even pirate their favorite shows long after they air. Not so for "Pretty Little Liars." The Internet isn't pulling viewers away; the very active online discussion is pushing them to keep up each week.

"I think we are one of the very few shows that has such a young demographic that still has a live following," says King. "Teen girls don’t watch shows on television very much anymore, but they are watching this show live because it is a mystery, we do have these big 'WTF' and 'OMG' moments and we do have this huge social media presence so if you don’t watch it live, somebody is going to spoil it for you online, so I think that helps us."

It has a very passionate and proactive audience

King says when she's asked if its possible to replicate the show's almost-cyclical success, bringing that kind of online following to new projects, she says yes.

Young women under 30 — the main audience of "Pretty Little Liars" — are so passionate, King says. The discussions that often start online spill over into groups and even conventions independent from anything organized by the people behind the show.

"People talk all the time about how social media and the Internet keep us separated but we see the opposite," King says. "It actually gives me goosebumps."

The numbers for September 15, 2014

Mon, 2014-09-15 07:41

Nineteen of the 125 death claims filed with General Motors since August 1 were in fact caused by the faulty ignition switches that have prompted many, many recalls, says the automaker's legal team. As the New York Times reported, the company also found eight other claims of serious injury to be eligible for damages. These are nowhere near the final numbers though – GM will accept claims through the end of the year, and plenty of existing claims are still under review.

Here are some other numbers we're watching Monday:

$70

That's the new expected share price for Alibaba's initial public offering, Bloomberg reported, up from about $66. The Chinese e-commerce company is expected to make an announcement later today. This new price could make Alibaba the biggest IPO ever.

$7.9 billion

The total in sales for education technology software in the U.S. last year, pre-K-high school.  Now, California is set to enact sweeping legislation to protect student data collected by all this software. We're exploring student data collection in our series "The Quantified Student" all week.

$122 billion

That's about how much financing Anheuser-Busch InBev would need to acquire its closest rival, SABMiller, the Wall Street Journal reported, in a deal that would unite the two biggest brewers in the world. Renewed talk of a merger comes just after Heineken, the world's third-largest brewer, rejected an offer from SABMiller this weekend.

Do you tip hotel housekeepers?

Mon, 2014-09-15 06:59

Checking out of a Marriott hotel this week? For the first time, you might see an envelope inviting you to leave a tip for the housekeeper. The company is adding the envelopes to 160,000 rooms in the U.S. and Canada to remind guests that even though they might not see the person who cleans their room, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t tip. 

“I think they want someone to know that the room isn’t cleaned by Rosie the robot,” says Henry Harteveldt, the founder of the travel research company Atmosphere Research Group. “There is a human who is working there.”

The program, called "The Envelope Please," launched in partnership with the nonprofit "A Woman's Nation," run by Maria Shriver, a journalist and the former first lady of California.

Hartevelt says some hotels already encourage tipping with a small sign in the room or include it as a fee on the bill.

“It’s a more widespread practice outside the United States, akin to how restaurants, for example, will include a service charge of 10 percent or more on the bill when you dine there,” he explains.

“Particularly for domestic travelers, that idea that you should leave some sort of a tip is something not many people consider,” says Doug Stallings, a senior editor at Fodor’s Travel.

Stallings recommends leaving a few dollars on the pillow each morning, since the same person may not clean the room during the entire length of a stay. He’s in favor of Marriott’s move, provided the hotel doesn’t base future wage rates on the fact that workers will be earning tips.

Typically, housekeepers and maids in this industry make about $9.20 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, critics argue that if Marriott was really concerned about how much their housekeepers are making, it could simply give them a raise.

“It’s [Marriott’s] responsibility to pay their workers enough so that tips aren't necessary,” Barbara Ehrenreich told the Associated Press. She worked in various low-paying jobs for her book called “Nickel and Dimed."

 

Navigating a data driven education

Mon, 2014-09-15 03:08

Meet the most measured, monitored and data-mined students in the history of education.

Your children.

From the time they get on the school bus, until they close their laptops at night, there’s a good chance data are being collected on their whereabouts, their learning patterns, their classroom behavior, what they eat for lunch, the websites they browse on their school computers, and maybe even the amount of sleep they get.

It’s all part of what we’re calling The Quantified Student.

Schools have always gathered basic data on kids—attendance, grades, disciplinary actions—but now that those records are digital, a school can better spot trends and patterns. 

Most states also gather student data in what are known as state longitudinal data systems, with the underlying theory that "better decisions require better information.

There are no laws requiring that states publish a list of the types of data they collect on students, and it can be hard information to track down.  Marketplace has put together a list of data nearly every state collects. 

One of the main reasons for this student data grab is the belief that the more educators know about how a child learns, the better learner he can be.  The more you know who is struggling with which part of the lesson, the better you can tailor an education to that child.

If you've been around a school in the last few years, it's likely you've heard the buzzwords associated with the data-driven classroom: individualized learning, personalized learning, differentiated learning

They’re all based on data. And in some schools, millions of pieces of data are being collected on individual children every week.

Parents may know  little about what is being collected, or how it is being used.

A lot of  student data collection is baked into the way schools run. Student data management services like Pearson PowerSchool gather data on 13 million kids every year. Learning software programs can gather millions of points of data on how a child learns in a single day.

There are laws that allow parents to set some limits on what student data is collected and who can see it.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) limits how school records can be shared.  It also gives parents the right to request a record of their child's data and to opt-out of some data sharing.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) limits the data that can be collected online from children under the age of 13. 

The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) requires parental consent before minors participate in some school surveys. 

States have also passed their own laws to safeguard student data.

But, privacy experts say there's still a whole lot more work to do--to make sure student data doesn't fall into the wrong hands or get gobbled up by marketers and other parties interested in targeting kids with products and services.

If we've learned anything over the last few months, between the NSA revelations and the massive retailer data breaches, it's that our personal information may not be as private as we'd like to believe.

To embed the "State by state guide to student data collection" widget, paste the following code into your page.
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Student data privacy laws around the nation

In 2014, many states considered or passed new legislation protecting student data. You can see which states responded to which issues by clicking on the icons below. You can also click on each state for more details about its laws.

Cloud-computing restrictionsStates which have passed or considered legislation restricting cloud-computing services and vendors.

Limits marketing to studentsStates which have passed or considered legislation restricting the use of student data for marketing

Limits data sharingStates which have passed or considered legislation restricting how student data is shared.

Increases transparencyStates which have passed or considered legislation making the data-collection process more transparent.

Limits data collectionStates which have passed or considered legislation limiting the kind of information that schools and agencies can collect.

Reset view

Laws:

Bills:

  • States with new privacy laws
  • States with legislation introduced in 2014
  • States where legislation was defeated
  • States which rely solely on federal laws
  • New laws or legislation restricting cloud-computing services and vendors.
  • New laws or legislation restricting the use of student data for marketing
  • New laws or legislation restricting how student data is shared.
  • New laws or legislation making the data-collection process more transparent.
  • New laws or legislation limiting the kind of information that schools and agencies can collect.

Sources: Marketplace research and Data Quality Campaign data

var icons = [] var cloudicon = '' var marketingicon = '' var sharingicon = '' var transparencyicon = '' var collectionicon = '' var stateData2 = [] var law = document.getElementById('law'); var bill = document.getElementById('bill'); var billinfo = document.getElementById('billinfo'); var statespan = document.getElementById('state'); sorting(dandata, "cloud") var clouddata = syncData(dandata,statesData); sorting(dandata, 'collection') var collectiondata = syncData(dandata,statesData) sorting(dandata, 'sharing') var sharedata = syncData(dandata,statesData) sorting(dandata, 'transparency') var transparencydata = syncData(dandata,statesData) sorting(dandata, 'marketing') var marketingdata = syncData(dandata,statesData) //function to sort JSON object by filters function sorting(json_object, key_to_sort_by) { function sortByKey(a, b) { var x = a[key_to_sort_by]; var y = b[key_to_sort_by]; return ((x < y) ? -1 : ((x > y) ? 1 : 0)); } json_object.sort(sortByKey); } //displays description of each bill function billPanel(state){ var i = 0; var firstlaw = true; var firstbill = true; law.innerHTML = ""; bill.innerHTML = ""; bill.style.visibility = "hidden" while(databills[i].State != state){ i++ } if(databills[i].State != null){ statespan.innerHTML = '

' + databills[i].State + '

'; do{ if(databills[i].billlaw == "law"){ if (firstlaw){ law.innerHTML = '

' + "Laws:" + '

'; firstlaw = false } law.innerHTML += '

' + databills[i].BillNumber + '

' + databills[i].Summary + '
' + '

' + databills[i].Status + ", " + databills[i].Date + '

'; law.style.visibility = "visible"; }else if (databills[i].billlaw == ""){ if (firstbill){ bill.innerHTML = '

' + "Bills:" + '

' + "This state considered legislation at some point in its 2014 legislative session. The bill, or bills, were neither passed nor voted down. Many states are near the conclusion of their legislative year, but some of these bills could still be passed. Many states considered multiple bills. The types of issues that the legislation addressed are described by the icons accompanying each state on the map." + '

' + "To read the legislation in full, click on each bill‘s number." + '

'; firstbill = false } bill.innerHTML += '

' + databills[i].BillNumber + '

' + '' + '

' + databills[i].Status + '

'; bill.style.visibility = "visible"; }else if(databills[i].billlaw == "dead"){ if (firstbill){ bill.innerHTML = '

' + "Bills:" + '

' + "Legislation was considered in this state, but was voted down. To read the rejected legislation in full, click on each bill’s number." + '

'; firstbill = false } bill.innerHTML += '

' + databills[i].BillNumber + '

' + '' + '

' + databills[i].Status + '

'; bill.style.visibility = "visible"; }else{ law.innerHTML += '

' + "This state follows federal laws governing student data. The two main student data laws are the Federal Education Rights Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Children‘s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA)." + '

' + "FERPA limits how, and with whom, a student‘s educational records are shared. It also gives parents the right to look at their child‘s records."+ '

' + "COPPA limits the data a company can collect online from a child under the age of 13, and would be the main source of restrictions for any company that receives student data." + '

' + "A bill was introduced in Congress in July to update FERPA with new restrictions on using student data for marketing, a mandate for more transparency on what data is being collected, and new requirements for data security." + '

' } i++ } while (databills[i].State == state) } } var buttonpushed; //create the map if(parseInt(window.innerWidth) < 786){ var zoom = 3 }else{ var zoom = 4 } var map = L.map('map').setView([39.8, -97], zoom); L.tileLayer('https://{s}.tiles.mapbox.com/v3/dabendschein.j88bdg63/{z}/{x}/{y}.png', { attribution: 'Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA, Imagery © Mapbox', maxZoom: 13 }).addTo(map); map.scrollWheelZoom.disable(); // control that shows state info on hover var info = L.control(); info.onAdd = function (map) { this._div = L.DomUtil.create('div', 'info upright'); var emptystate = " " var emptyicons = [] this.update(emptystate, emptyicons); return this._div; }; info.update = function (state, icons) { this._div.innerHTML = '' + state + '' + '
' + icons[0] + " " + icons[1] + " " + icons[2] + " " + icons[3] + " " + icons[4]; }; info.addTo(map); function filter(criterion) { buttonpushed = criterion if (criterion == 'cloud'){ stateData2 = clouddata }else if (criterion == 'collection'){ stateData2 = collectiondata }else if (criterion == 'sharing'){ stateData2 = sharedata }else if (criterion == 'marketing'){ stateData2 = marketingdata }else{ stateData2 = transparencydata } map.removeLayer(geojson) geojson = L.geoJson(stateData2, { style: restyle, onEachFeature: onEachFeature }).addTo(map); } function reset(){ map.removeLayer(geojson) geojson = L.geoJson(statesData, { style: style, onEachFeature: onEachFeature }).addTo(map); } //puts map geographical data in same order as map information data function syncData(dandata, statedata){ var newlist = [] for(i=0; i < dandata.length; i++){ var x = 0 while(statedata.features[x].properties.name != dandata[i].State){ x++ } newlist.push(statedata.features[x]) } return newlist; } // get colors from JSON data function getColor(d) { var i = 0; while (d != dandata[i].State){ i++ } return dandata[i].fill; } //new state colors for filter buttons function reColor(d) { var i = 0; while (d != dandata[i].State){ i++ } if(buttonpushed == "cloud"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].cloud }else if(buttonpushed == "collection"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].datacollection }else if(buttonpushed == "sharing"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].datasharing }else if(buttonpushed == "marketing"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].marketing }else{ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].transparency } var fill = dandata[i].fill; if (fieldvalue == "x"){ return dandata[i].fill; }else{ return "#6B6B73"; } } function getLineColor(d){ var i = 0; while (d != dandata[i].State){ i++ } if(buttonpushed == "cloud"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].cloud }else if(buttonpushed == "collection"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].datacollection }else if(buttonpushed == "sharing"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].datasharing }else if(buttonpushed == "marketing"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].marketing }else{ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].transparency } if(fieldvalue != "x"){ return "white"; }else{ return "yellow"; } } function setWeight(d){ var i = 0; while (d != dandata[i].State){ i++ } if(buttonpushed == "cloud"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].cloud }else if(buttonpushed == "collection"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].datacollection }else if(buttonpushed == "sharing"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].datasharing }else if(buttonpushed == "marketing"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].marketing }else{ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].transparency } if(fieldvalue != "x"){ return 2; }else{ return 4; } } function setDash(d){ var i = 0; while (d != dandata[i].State){ i++ } if(buttonpushed == "cloud"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].cloud }else if(buttonpushed == "collection"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].datacollection }else if(buttonpushed == "sharing"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].datasharing }else if(buttonpushed == "marketing"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].marketing }else{ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].transparency } if(fieldvalue != "x"){ return '3'; }else{ return ''; } } function style(feature) { return { weight: 2, opacity: 1, color: 'white', dashArray: '3', fillOpacity: 0.6, fillColor: getColor(feature.properties.name) }; } function restyle(feature) { return { weight: setWeight(feature.properties.name), opacity: 1, color: getLineColor(feature.properties.name), dashArray: setDash(feature.properties.name), fillOpacity: 0.9, fillColor: reColor(feature.properties.name), }; } function highlightFeature(e) { icons = [] var layer = e.target; var panel = document.getElementsByClassName("upright"); if (layer.feature.properties.name != null){ panel[0].style.visibility = "visible"; layer.setStyle({ weight: 5, color: 'yellow', dashArray: '', fillOpacity: 0.7 }); displayIcons(e) } function displayIcons(e){ var i = 0; while (layer.feature.properties.name != dandata[i].State){ i++ } if (!L.Browser.ie && !L.Browser.opera) { layer.bringToFront(); } if(dandata[i].cloud == "x"){ icons.push(cloudicon) }else{ icons.push(" ") } if(dandata[i].marketing == "x"){ icons.push(marketingicon) }else{ icons.push(" ") } if(dandata[i].datasharing == "x"){ icons.push(sharingicon) }else{ icons.push(" ") } if(dandata[i].transparency == "x"){ icons.push(transparencyicon) }else{ icons.push(" ") } if(dandata[i].datacollection == "x"){ icons.push(collectionicon) }else{ icons.push(" ") } info.update(dandata[i].State,icons ); } } function displayInfo(e) { document.getElementById("billinfo").style.display="block"; var layer = e.target; var i = 0; while (layer.feature.properties.name != dandata[i].State){ i++ } billPanel(dandata[i].State); displayIcons(e) } var geojson; function resetHighlight(e) { geojson.resetStyle(e.target); var panel = document.getElementsByClassName("upright"); panel[0].style.visibility = "hidden"; info.update(); } function zoomToFeature(e) { map.fitBounds(e.target.getBounds()); } function onEachFeature(feature, layer) { layer.on({ mouseover: highlightFeature, mouseout: resetHighlight, click: displayInfo }); } geojson = L.geoJson(statesData, { style: style, onEachFeature: onEachFeature }).addTo(map); map.attributionControl.addAttribution('Population data © US Census Bureau'); var legend = L.control({position: 'bottomright'}); legend.onAdd = function (map) { var div = L.DomUtil.create('div', 'info legend'), labels = []; // labels.push(' ' + "Bill"); // labels.push(' ' + "Bill Defeated"); // labels.push(' ' + "State Law"); // labels.push(' ' + "Federal Law"); div.innerHTML = labels.join('
'); return div; }; legend.addTo(map); document.getElementById("billinfo").style.display="none"; function closeModal() { document.getElementById("billinfo").style.display="none"; // document.getElementById("state").style.visibility="hidden"; // document.getElementById("bill").style.visibility="hidden"; // document.getElementById("law").style.visibility="hidden"; // document.getElementById("statecontent").style.visibility="hidden"; }

PODCAST: Tip your hotel workers

Mon, 2014-09-15 03:00

Federal Reserve policymakers won't raise interest rates at their meeting this week, but they may offer clues about when. More on that. Plus, if you are checking out of a Marriott hotel this week, you might see for the first time an envelope inviting you to leave a tip for the housekeeper. The company is adding the envelopes to 160,000 rooms in the US and Canada to remind guests that even though they might not see the person who cleans their room, that doesn't mean they shouldn't tip. And about 10 minutes after many of us threw out our entire collections of vinyl records, the digital generation went out and bought a turnable. We look into the rise in popularity of the vinyl record.

HBO 'seriously considering' selling online access

Mon, 2014-09-15 02:00

HBO, with its hit shows like "True Detective" and "Game of Thrones," made $1.8 billion in operating profits in 2013. But it made that money from cable subscribers — not Internet viewers.

There is no stand-alone Internet subscription to watch new episodes of HBO's shows. CEO Jeff Bewkes of Time Warner, which owns HBO, recently said directly selling online streaming access, and competing more directly with Netflix and Amazon, was "becoming more viable, more interesting."

HBO might seem to have a lot of negotiating clout in this battle, because its content is very desirable and, as the cliché goes on the Internet, content is king.

"That's the gambit, right," says Dan Porter, head of digital at William Morris Endeavor. "The gambit is that content is king and while you might alienate the cable people you have the leverage. You could certainly say that that is true for professional sports."

Porter believes the NFL can afford to sell access to its games online, because the cable industry can't survive without it.

"I don't know if HBO is there," he says. HBO also isn't an independent company. "It's part of Time Warner," says IDC analyst Greg Ireland. "Time Warner has other pay TV channel properties."

Those channels may be harder to sell when they don't come with an exclusive pass to the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.

Some numbers behind HBO:

6.8 million

Average number of same-night viewers of Game of Thrones' last season.

13

Consecutive years in which HBO has won more primetime Emmys than any other network.

1.8 billion

Operating profits for HBO in 2013.

4%

HBO revenue growth in 2013.

21%

Netflix revenue growth in 2013.

15%

HBO subscriber growth over the last year.

16%

Netflix subscriber growth over the last year.

On pins and needles for the next words from the Fed

Mon, 2014-09-15 02:00

Federal Reserve watchers are obsessed with two words right now: “considerable time.” 

That’s how long the Fed says it'll hold interest rates near zero after next month, when it stops pumping money into the economy by buying bonds.    

The Fed holds a meeting this week. Now, everybody's wondering, what’s next? An immediate increase in interest rates?

“No,” says Jonathan Lewis, chief investment officer of Samson Capital Advisors. “I would say the economy has strengthened and so therefore that’s why they might change their language. They’ve got good reason to change the language. But not good reason to act.”

OK, so what does the Fed say after its meeting? It has to pick its words carefully. 

“So, this is the trick that they really have to pull off," says Kevin Logan, chief US economist at HSBC Bank. "How to change their language without creating the impression that they’re likely to raise rates sooner.”

Because no one expects an interest rate hike until the middle of next year.

Any words to the contrary from the Fed would spook the financial markets, and nobody wants that. 

Vinyl record sales have jumped to 6 million

Mon, 2014-09-15 02:00

If you think the debate over digital or analog has long been answered, then you probably have not stepped into an independent record store such as Dusty Groove in Chicago. 

It is one of the nation’s top independent sellers of vinyl records, which have experienced a sales boom in the last seven years — going from 1 million to 6 million sales in 2013. This year, vinyl is likely to surpass last year’s total. 

 

Nova Safo

Of course, vinyl sales are still dwarfed by digital downloads. Nielsen SoundScan, which measures point-of-sale of recorded music product, says there were almost 50 billion video and audio streaming downloads in 2013. But vinyl’s resurgence has been dramatic enough in an industry of dwindling sales that record companies have begun to pay attention and, for the first time since the invention of the CD, to increase the number of titles they release on vinyl. 

“What’s great about the vinyl revival is seeing a generation that I think the music industry had written off 10 years ago as people that were only going to download and maybe only steal, seeing these people become very active, aggressive consumers of a physical item,” says Rick Wojcik, the owner of Dusty Groove. 

Wojcik has been in the vinyl business for almost 20 years, having opened his store first as an online operation and then adding a physical store to appease customers who would show up at his address only to be disappointed by the lack of a physical retail space. 

And that, Wojcik says, is the story of Chicago, a place where vinyl never lost its appeal and where more than 30 record stores cater to vinyl enthusiasts. 

“Our vinyl sales were always high, and they haven’t spiked, because we cared about vinyl,” Wojcik says. “What has happened in recent years is that this sort of activity is now taking place on a playing field that’s being recognized in the larger business community, by the record industry itself.”

Even outside of the music industry, there is now a jumping on board of the vinyl bandwagon. Urban Outfitters is now one of the nation’s largest vinyl record stores. Even the supermarket company Whole Foods has begun carrying vinyl records is certain markets. 

Wojcik is cautiously optimistic, but he says there is a danger in the recent vinyl book for the smaller independent stores that had up to this point differentiated themselves (and stayed in business) thanks to their vinyl offerings. 

Nova Safo

“I know that a lot of stores that are small and struggling, like most record stores are always kinda dancing on a razor’s edge of finances, are really worried that they’re going to be overstuffed with vinyl, because the amount of production has just expanded greatly in 2014,” Wojcik says. 

Much of the sales boom has been driven by people like Lindon McCarty, 27, who was shopping for a record at Dusty Groove. For him and his group of friends, the appeal of vinyl is obvious. 

“It sounds clearer to me. It sounds like, close your eyes, and you’re in the actual room that it was recorded in,” McCarty says, adding that he is a musician and his friends are all “music snobs.” 

Wojcik says in addition to the sound and the large album covers that CDs and MP3s can’t duplicate, vinyl — when holding original prints — offers a chance to have a piece of history. 

“It’s like reading a hardcover book versus a paperback book, or an ebook” Wojcik says. 

Yes, but does vinyl actually sound better? Wojcik gave a comparison demonstration to prove that it does. The results are in the web-extra audio clip on this page. 

I’ll give you a hint: I went into the demonstration thinking one thing, and left thinking another. 

What if the Fed just gave households money to help

Fri, 2014-09-12 14:54

It's raining cash, hallelujah, to (sort of) paraphrase what the Weather Girls sang. If you want to solve recessions, what about throwing cash at households instead of lowering interest rates by buying bonds or tweaking the interest rates American central bankers control more directly?

This is the proposal coming from a Brown University political economist and a London-based hedge fund guy. The professor, Mark Blyth, says if you took all the money the Federal Reserve has spent on its bond-buying and quantative-easing splurge, every household in America could have been handed $56,000.

Sure, the Fed waved its magic wand to "print" the money that bought the bonds. Under this cash-from-helicopters idea, central bankers would still have to use the magic of inventing money. But it's Blyth and Eric Lonergan's idea that the central banks could print less, give households more, and the stimulus would help a much wider cross section of the population than is helped now by QE.

Blyth told me that our current policies are designed to get people to borrow who don't really want to borrow. When interest rates are forced sown, this encourages people who already have excess cash to put more of their money into financial instruments, rather than spending it on business ventures in the real economy that might do more to create jobs.

Cash from helicopters is not a new idea. On the right, Blyth says Milton Friedman liked the idea. On the left, Keynes also embraced this.

We have done smaller versions of it before. Remember cash-for-clunkers, in which the feds handed out checks if you swapped an old car for a new one during the depths of the financial crisis? And the payroll tax holiday? Academic research shows that for every dollar spent on these programs, many more dollars went forth and multiplied through the economy.

The idea is the central bankers would still have to print money by saying the word "abracadabra" and making it appear, which can be inflationary. Some say that's the only way inflation happens. But Blyth and Lonergan believe under their proposal, the U.S. or Europe would have to print less of it than we do using the usual thinking.

Print less but transfer more, in their rallying cry. Details of this argument are in the September/October edition of Foreign Affairs. Will cash for households catch on? Blyth isn't optimistic at a time that political polarization means nothing catches on these days in Washington.

You love my job: JPL's Bobak Ferdowsi

Fri, 2014-09-12 13:54

You may have heard a series called "You hate my job" on our weekday sister show, Marketplace. Here's our first in our series: "You LOVE My Job."

Working at NASA sounds like a pretty awesome job.

Getting paid to maybe go check this place out for a week:

NASA

NASA

And hanging out here:

NASA

Or taking a picture like this:

NASA

What's it like to actually work there?

Well... every once in a while... it's like this:

Adam Berry/Getty Images

Yeah... a PowerPoint presentation.

Bobak Ferdowsi works at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California. You might know him as NASA mohawk guy:

He's an engineer who worked on the Mars Curiousity Rover, and is launching a new mission to Jupiter's moon Europa.

Don't get us wrong: His job is awesome.

But every job, even our fantasy ones, involves getting up, and going to work.

That extra chair in your home office? Rent it out

Fri, 2014-09-12 13:17

Normally around 10 in the morning, I'm writing a news memo or interviewing an expert on something like how our ethics change in accordance to our energy levels over the course of the day. But this morning I'm entirely focused on vacuuming up crumbs between couch pillows, and also, where to store squeaky dog toys (found behind the couch). That's because people are coming over, and soon. And these aren’t typical guests – they’re co-workers, and, bonus(!) perfect strangers who are planning to work, hopefully productively, from my dining room table for the day.

 

Together we’ll be beta-testing a new start up called SpareChair, a website that lets you rent out space in your home – like Airbnb, but for workers. And just minutes after I empty the dustpan and take down the trash, 32-year-old Brooklyn residents Jerry Emeka and Nate Graves, respectively a producer/ comedian and a web developer, arrive.

 

Like Airbnb, SpareChair lets homeowners or renters like me set their own rental rates, and the site takes a cut.
 
“I don’t think it’s that strange," Emeka says of the concept of paying to rent a chair in someone's private home. "It’s 2014 – we’re already dating online, we’re sharing our homes for strangers to live in. And we pay a lot of money to live in our homes. Why can’t we work at home?”
 
Why not indeed? Well, my apartment, for one, is in Brooklyn, on a traffic circle, and while I've become accustomed to the soundscape – which contains more than the occasional blaring of a taxi horn – I wasn't sure how co-workers would feel about the noise, especially if they were paying. SpareChair lets those offering space list amenities and preferences (such as "WiFi," "children present," or "children welcome") and users get to review them. But because Emeka and Graves were going to be my first co-workers, they didn't have any reviews to go on.

 

Luckily, neither said he minded.

 

"Even though I can see you cringing," Graves said. "I mean, compared to a coffee shop, this is steps above that in terms of noise."

 

Additionally, as a developer who works part time for MeetUp.com, Graves says he welcomes the chance to network and meet new people, so he regularly uses a co-working space. He says SpareChair would be about the same cost, and money changing hands can be a big plus of co-working.

 

“Cost reduction. It’s the economics," says Ed Glickman, executive director of the Center for Real Estate Finance Research at the NYU Stern School of Business.  He says co-workers tend to be young and live in expensive cities like New York or Seattle. For the renter out of home desk-space, co-working can literally pay off.

 

“All of the sudden not only do you have company, you have somebody who might give you connections but you also have a way to help you pay your rent,” he says.
 
And not just for the month. Glickman says co-working can lead to the birth of companies. People sharing space know what the others are up to, and sometimes join forces by pitching projects together. But, he notes, using a co-working space is altogether different than renting desk space in a private home.
 
“You’re taking a residential setting and all of a sudden you’re making it a workplace," he says. "You’re becoming a landlord.”
 
Which–if you're a renter–your own, real landlord, the one you signed a lease with, might not like. So Glickman says before renting desk, couch or other space out to people who are not on the lease or deed, you may want to check your insurance policy.

 

And, of course, there's always the ultimate, higher power employees need to get clearance from before taking on new projects: the boss. Before you consider working from home at all, make sure your manager fully supports the idea, and isn't just giving it lip service, says Douglas McCabe, a professor of management at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business. While some workers love telecommuting, management can still be skeptical.

 

“Are individuals working from home goofing off? Are they really working eight hours a day? Are they watching television when they should be on the computer?  It's a very interesting social, psychological phenomenon," he says, "that some people view this issue very well, and others view it very poorly."
 
There are pros and cons to working from home, McCabe says. In the plus column: no commute, and getting away from co-workers who want to talk about last night's Nets game, while you’re, um,  busy. McCabe does note that a particular kind of worker can be even more productive at home. But he says, most of us will miss the camaraderie of the office and can feel disengaged from employers, something he experienced first-hand while recuperating at home after having a medical procedure.
 
“I thought that this was going to be party - staying at home for three months, catching up on books that I've not read for a number of years," he said. "And I realized after about six weeks, boy, I miss the workplace, I want to go every day to be with my colleagues.”

 

Ben Waber, CEO of Sociometric Solutions, a company that uses wearable technology to understand how people’s interactions at work relate to job performance and satisfaction, says there's simply no substitute for the office

 

“Your default should be – you need to be with the people you work with,” he says.  “The whole reason we work in companies is because together we can do something that we couldn’t do by ourselves.”
 
Waber says it of course depends on the kind of work that you do. But for most of us, working solo is only okay sometimes. His company tracked a group of computer programmers to see how they worked best – together or apart.
 
“People assume, 'well you know what, a programmer, they’re just a person who sits in the corner, drinking Mountain Dew anyway,'" he said. "'They’re not going to talk to anyone anyway. It’s not a social job.'”
 
But when programmers don’t communicate, he says, their code takes a lot longer to write. And when workers don’t work in the same place, they communicate less. For big companies that can mean losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars. But he says working together is  not just about de-bugging Java. It's also about something more simple: face time with other human beings.
 
“Because that’s what gets lost," he says. "You still have the meetings about 'we have some big project coming up,' and you’ll get on a Skype call for that. But it's not the same as 'you’re at the coffee machine and you’re talking to a coworker about a movie you saw last night,' and you’re building that deeper connection with them. That’s what you can’t do when you’re remote."

 

But you can co-work, which Waber says is better than working alone. And toward the end of the afternoon I check in with Graves to see how he withstood my noisy living room. Did he get all his work done?

 

"It was good," he says. "I got as much done as I needed to."
 
And so did I.

Weekly Wrap: Hubub at Apple

Fri, 2014-09-12 13:14

Felix Salmon from Fusion and Leigh Gallagher from Fortune Magazine talked with Kai Ryssdal about the week that was: Does the looming Alibaba IPO spell trouble or fortune? Is the Apple Watch worth all the hubub? Is the era of small cell phones at an end?

Listen to their conversation in the audio player above.

A spot of . . . coffee?

Fri, 2014-09-12 13:14

Here's a quiz for you: Who do you suppose drinks more coffee? Police officers or journalists?

The easy answer is cops. It's also wrong.

A study over in the UK has journalists edging out police officers and interestingly teachers at just over four cups a day.

Mentioned nowhere in this British survey?

Tea.

Writing a recipe for change at Olive Garden

Fri, 2014-09-12 13:14

Darden Restaurants helped put “casual dining” on the map with family-friendly chains like Olive Garden and, until the company sold it this summer, Red Lobster. But the weak economy and competition from “fast casual” chains like Chipotle have taken some of the zip out of the company. Now, an activist hedge fund that’s fighting for control of Darden’s board has offered nearly 300 pages worth of suggestions for reviving the brands — right down to the way they boil water.

For a taste of Starboard Value’s suggested fix for Darden Restaurants, check out slide number 164: Add salt. The hedge fund says Olive Garden stopped salting its pasta water to get a longer warranty on its pots, calling the decision "appalling."

"It’s very important, because otherwise if you don’t salt the water, the pasta that you cook in it won’t have any flavor in it," says Italian cookbook author and teacher Giuliano Hazan, who says he is not, personally, familiar with Olive Garden’s cooking.

Starboard Value has other problems with the food. Another slide complains that authentic Italian dishes like Tortellini Fizzano have been replaced by the likes of “fried lasagna bites.” The legendary “endless” breadsticks have lost their taste, the investors complain. And, they’re flowing a little too freely.

“Bread, of course, is cheap if you look at it individually,” says Ron Ruggless, Southwest Bureau Chief for Nation’s Restaurant News. Multiplied by the Olive Garden’s 840 locations, he says, “that’s a lot of dough.”

A slide from the Starboard mega-presentation showing locations of Olive Gardens across the United States.

Starboard

Starboard has some meatier suggestions, like spinning off real estate into a separate company and expanding internationally. In a statement, Darden’s president Gene Lee says the company remains “open-minded” to new ideas, and that many of the strategies “are already being implemented across our company and are showing results.”

Shareholders will vote next month on who will control the board. Analysts say casual dining — once the “darling” of the restaurant business—has lost favor with customers who are choosing less expensive “fast casual” restaurants like Panera and Chipotle.

Another slide from the Starboard presentation for Darden, showing the average Yelp ratings for Olive Gardens across the United States.

Starboard

“Regardless of who wins the battle, those problems don’t go away,” says Robert Derrington, restaurant analyst with Wunderlich Securities.  “There’s essentially too many restaurant choices for consumers, and when they’re tight with their spending, if they want to dine out, they’ll spend where they can afford to dine.”

According to market research firm NPD Group, visits to casual dining restaurants have dropped by more than half a billion annually in the last five years, “which doesn’t seem like a lot,” says analyst Bonnie Riggs, “but it’s quite a few lost visits.”

Seven suggestions from Starboard's presentation

Cut down breadsticks 
For the last ten years, Olive Garden servers have been told to practice the ritual of placing one breadstick per guest, plus an extra one for the table. If you've been to an Olive Garden recently, you know that's not the case. Starboard says waiters currently hand out breadsticks in excess, causing an enormous amount of waste. They think with fewer breadsticks on the table, waste will decrease and customers will have more room for appetizers and desserts.

Add salt
To protect their pots, Olive Garden has stopped adding salt to the water it uses to cook pasta. This has significantly "deteriorated" the quality of Olive Garden's pasta which Starboard feels "results in a mushy, unappealing product that is well below competitors' quality despite similar cost."

Stop dressing the salad
The amount of waste produced from Olive Garden’s famous endless salad also concerns Starboard. They think “salads should be lightly dressed, potentially with a bottle of dressing placed on the side.”

Use cheaper containers 
Darden uses containers that Starboard believes are the “Cadillacs” of the industry. To-go bags are made with high-end material. Takeout containers have their own luxurious factor by being microwavable and dishwasher safe. From a business standpoint, Starboard believes they should downgrade to at least a “Chevrolet Hatchback” of containers.

Reduce menu options 
Starboard thinks the Olive Garden and Red Lobster menus have too many items on them, making the process of selecting a dish too complex. The complexity, in turn, has led to higher costs and inefficiencies.

An app…or some technology that appeals to millennials 
Darden’s brands need to adapt with the times in order to grow, argues Starboard. They suggest adding an app for their brands to appeal to younger customers. In their words: “Olive Garden is the 800-pound gorilla of Italian casual dining, but is a dinosaur when it comes to using technology in branding and marketing.”

A richer alcohol selection
Starboard also thinks a change in the restaurants' wine selection is necessary. They believe Darden should pull wine from Italy, Napa and Washington, to name a few, because after all, “wine is an integral part of the authentic Italian family dining experience.”

"Longmire" lost out because of its older viewers

Fri, 2014-09-12 13:14

A&E is dropping the show "Longmire," even though it’s the second-most popular show on a cable network. This begs the question: why? It’s too old. Or more specifically, the median age of the show's viewers is 60, and advertisers aren’t interested in them.

It’s an age-old notion in advertising, that youth consumers are more valuable than older ones. There’s lots of reasons why advertisers think that, but one of them is, well, they’re young and they like to try — and buy — new things. Unlike old people, right?

Erin Read of the marketing firm Creating Results says that’s not true.

"There are a few myths when we talk about older people," Read says. "Older adults are stuck in their ways. They’re not going to try new brands. So why should I even bother advertising to them, right? Well, my grandmother would say, ‘Pshaw!'"

Reed says those stereotypes might have been true 50 years ago, but boomers are breaking them and shaking up their lives in ways that previous generations didn't.  

“They’re moving houses, their kids are leaving home, divorce,” she says. And all those changes are opportunities to try new brands and experiences.

People are also living longer, and they're more active. Cassie Mogilner, a marketing professor at Wharton, says that's affecting their consumer behavior.

 “Among older people who feel like they have a lot of time left, they’re actually behaving very much young people,” Mogilner says. “They’re looking for excitement as opposed to calming things.”

And like young people they’re willing to buy new products and experiences that bring that excitement. There is one big difference between young and old, says marketing consultant Kurt Medina.

“50-plus-ers account for something like 75 percent of all disposable income in the United States,” he says.

By side-stepping TV shows like "Longmire," Medina says, advertisers are missing the money pot.

How advertisers target younger versus older audiences

Chevrolet has taken on older target audiences in its ads, which feature a somewhat different tone than their commercials aimed at young consumers:

Versus:

What can the U.S. do to attack ISIS financially?

Fri, 2014-09-12 13:14

In his prime-time speech Wednesday night, President Obama outlined how he plans to attack the terrorist group ISIS militarily. But he said less about economic sanctions against ISIS. So the question remains: can the U.S. punish ISIS economically? 

Cash gushes into ISIS from lots of places: international donors, extortion from people in places it controls and black market oil sales. ISIS gets the oil from fields it captured in Iraq and Syria. So, one way to attack their finances would be to just go after that territory.

"[In Iraq] a number of oilfields were actually recaptured by the Iraqi army or Kurdish forces," says Robin Mills with Manaar Energy in Dubai, "and that obviously is the most direct way of preventing ISIS obtaining oil and selling oil."

Otherwise, your chances of closing the ISIS oil spigot are pretty limited. After it's pumped, Mills says the oil is trucked over the mountains to Turkey, where it melts away into a vast black oil market. But what about finding ISIS's rich donors, and hitting them with penalties and sanctions? Turns out, the ISIS benefactors are very hard to find.

"I think it's much more unclear who these people are, how they operate, where any assets they have might be," says Adam Slater, a senior economist at Oxford Economics.

Here's the other thing: ISIS is frugal. It doesn't need much money to function.

"They're not buying equipment, they're seizing equipment," says Ben Connable, an international policy analyst at the Rand Corporation. "They're not hiring people at high salaries.  They're purposefully hiring people at relatively low salaries."

So even if the U.S. did have clear, effective ways of cutting off the money, Connable says ISIS could still survive for a long time.

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