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Nuclear warheads aren't going anywhere because... asteroids

Wed, 2014-10-01 14:05

From the Wall Street Journal, this item, in which the phrase "planetary defense" features prominently:

The U.S. has apparently fallen behind on its timeline for getting rid of old nuclear weapons. One reason we're hanging onto them, according to the GAO: Disposition is pending, and "senior-level government evaluation of their use in planetary defense against earthbound asteroids."

I feel much better now.

You?

Nuclear warheads aren't going anywhere because...asteroids

Wed, 2014-10-01 14:05

From the Wall Street Journal, this item, in which the phrase "planetary defense" features prominently:

The U.S. has apparently fallen behind on its timeline for getting rid of old nuclear weapons. One reason we're hanging onto them, according to the GAO: Disposition is pending, and "senior-level government evaluation of their use in planetary defense against earthbound asteroids."

I feel much better now.

You?

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich on 'silicon leadership'

Wed, 2014-10-01 12:42

Intel has been around for a long time: 

 

Intel's chips are still inside PCs, the guts of tablets, wearables, and increasingly, smart cars and refrigerators. They're not the shiny Gorilla glass or sleek brushed aluminum on the outside, but rather, the stuff that makes our stuff run. 

 

When you talk to Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, head of a tech company that's older than Larry Page, his tone is less flashy pitchman with a slide deck and more the engineer's precise graphs. Not least because Intel feels a kind of looming responsibility toward Moore's Law—the notion that chip capacity will double every 18 months—coined by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore. Krzanich mentions Moore's Law at least three times during our interview. It's on his mind. A lot. 

 

He also uses the phrase "silicon leadership" to describe Intel's role in the industry. We asked him what it means, and he said: "When you're the first guy to put out the piece of silicon that's half as expensive, or twice as powerful, you bring a capability to the market that nobody else does, or can." 

 

In addition to measuring out the nanometers and nodes that allow chips to continue to shrink in size and cost, Intel has given itself the challenge of removing conflict minerals from its supply chain by 2016. Smart phones, chips, and other gadgets rely on metals like tungsten and gold, which are often mined in countries with persistent civil conflicts, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

 

Before becoming CEO last May, Krzanich ran the supply chain for Intel, when the company removed conflict minerals from its microprocessors.  

 

"Back then we'd didn't even know how to do it, what the process was, or whether it could be done. We've done that," he said. 

 

When it comes to removing conflict minerals from every other product, Krzanich insists it will get done by 2016. 

 

"We have now a fairly long list of everything that needs to become conflict-free. We're simply mapping its supply chain, knowing where each metal comes from, and yes, we'll get there. But it'll be close."

 

When asked to describe Intel in five words or fewer, Krzanich said, "We make everything connected and smart."

Smaller cable companies are in a tight corner

Wed, 2014-10-01 12:02

Viacom, the giant media company that produces channels including Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and MTV, has been dropped from the TV menu of one of the nation’s smaller cable companies.

Suddenlink Communications, based in St. Louis, says Viacom’s stations cost too much, and that it can’t pass that cost on to its cable customers.

Industry watchers say this is evidence of a growing trend. Smaller cable providers are opting out of expensive carriage deals with major content providers and risking the ire of customers deprived of popular channels. Some small cable companies are getting out of the TV business altogether and offering only broadband internet and phone services.

Suddenlink serves approximately 1.2 million customers in North Carolina, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana and other Southern states. Company spokesman Pete Abel says Viacom was demanding nearly 50 percent more in carriage fees in their renewal contract this fall. Abel says Suddenlink came back with a counterproposal: The company would "un-bundle" Viacom’s channels “which our customers could then pick, choose and pay for, at their discretion."

"So far, neither Viacom nor any of the companies we have made that suggestion to have agreed to do that,” Abel says.

Viacom sent a written statement to Marketplace:

“After five months of negotiations, Suddenlink abruptly stopped negotiating with Viacom one week ago.”

Viacom says it accepted Suddenlink’s final contract proposal for one year, but Suddenlink walked away from that offer.

Whoever is to blame for the blackout of Viacom channels on Suddenlink, the phenomenon of small cable companies changing or dropping programming represents a paradigm shift in the industry, says entertainment equity analyst Tuna Amobi at S&P Capital IQ.

“We’ve always said that something has to give, given the escalation in programming costs, which is translating into cable bills outpacing inflation by orders of magnitude,” Amobi said.

Amobi predicts more consumers will "cut the cord" in the future.

Last year, the pay-TV industry lost customers for the first time ever, shedding 167,000 subscribers, according to research by MoffettNathanson cited in the Wall Street Journal. Media analysts say this trend is partly driven by the big media companies themselves—whether content providers like Viacom, or cable service providers like Comcast—which insist on bundling big packages of preselected channels to consumers, and then increasing bills to cover the cost.

“Across the entire U.S., the advent of over-the-top services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon is where the paradigm shift of cord-cutting is occurring,” said Amobi. “This trend is going to continue and ultimately exert even more pressure, in terms of consumers dropping the high-priced cable bundles in favor of cheaper alternatives.”

Why there is no Ebola vaccine

Wed, 2014-10-01 12:01

The first diagnosed case of Ebola in the United States reveals a truth people in developing countries know all too well: There is little incentive for drug manufacturers to develop vaccines and drugs for diseases that affect the poor.

The simple reality is that drug manufacturers want to make money. To that end, Columbia economist Frank Lichtenberg says companies want to know two things: the number of potential customers and their ability to pay.

“If there are a million consumers and each of them would be willing to pay $1,000 for a drug, that translates into a billion-dollar potential market,” he says.

That is in no way the Ebola market.

“The total number of cases of Ebola in the world between 1976 and 2013 were less than 2,000,” says Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, the CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which last month committed $50 million to address Ebola.

What the Ebola outbreak reminds us all is that millions of lives are potentially at risk and there are few incentives for private industry to treat or prevent diseases like Ebola and malaria. That has left funding vaccines and medicines to philanthropies, federal governments and entities like the World Health Organization.

Desmond-Hellmann says the spread of Ebola forces people to ask whether that system is adequate.

“This epidemic is showing us how important it is for the world to have at the ready a response for such an epidemic,” she says.

The U.S. government has invested millions on Ebola over several decades, but it could take years—and quite a bit more money—to develop effective therapies.

So how do you get more money into research and development for these diseases and other public health concerns? USC health economist Joel Hay shares one idea that's being kicked around: “If you just had a tax on every pharmaceutical product sold, that money could be used for some more of these socially desirable goals,” he says.

The thing to remember is that this is a tricky market to regulate. And it’s trickier still for our government, which has a duty to keep people safe, but must find the right incentives to keep the drug industry in the game.

Reddit raises $50 million and wants to share with users

Wed, 2014-10-01 12:00

Reddit is a digital bulletin board of sorts, the self-proclaimed “front page of the internet,” where gazillions of users post, share and read about almost any topic area, or "subreddit," that you can conceive of and many that you honestly couldn't (or perhaps shouldn't).

“The content is 95 percent of the time relevant and interesting, which is really cool,” says user Colin Grussing, of his favorite subreddits, which mostly include entrepreneurship. “I don’t know if there’s any other site on the Internet that does that so well.”

Reddit has just announced that it raised $50 million from a series of investors, including top tech venture capitalists and stars like Jared Leto and Snoop Dogg.

The company will use the money to:

"... hire more staff for product development, expand our community management team, build out better moderation and community tools, work more closely with third party developers to expand our mobile offerings (try our new AMA app), improve our self-serve ad product, build out redditgifts marketplace, pay for our growing technical infrastructure, and all the many other things it takes to support a huge and growing global internet community.”

“I grew up with a computer, and many of my friends were people I met online,” says Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator and the lead investor in this round of funding. “I think one of the most fundamental societal transitions in the last 20 years is this idea that people connect to some of the closest people in their lives and have some of these important parts of their personalities get developed in online communities.”

But he also thinks Reddit’s passionate, highly engaged users will make the site a good long-term investment.

Like other large community sites, he says Reddit could make money in three ways.

“One, obviously, is with ads,” he explains. “Two is with charging users for premium features, and three is some version of commerce. That’s more in the experimentation phase, but where you let people basically spend money on the site and take part of that transaction.”

Altman and his fellow investors want to give 10 percent of their shares back to the community, because users have helped build the site, and, as he says, people treat a car they own better than a rental.

It’s a relatively simple idea, but one that’s very difficult to execute legally, says Lance Kimmel, a securities lawyer.

“I think Reddit really has their work cut out for themselves,” he says. “This stuff is really, really complicated.”

The Securities and Exchange Commission has shut down other companies' attempts to do something similar, says Kimmel.

In announcing the idea, Reddit admitted that it has been interested in a similar move in the past, but hasn't found the right legal avenue.

Its CEO recently floated the idea of giving users a cryptocurrency backed by shares, though Kimmel is skeptical about the legality of that approach as well. 

Who are the small cable providers that are getting out of TV?

Wed, 2014-10-01 11:45

Cable subscribers aren't the only ones cutting cords. Increasingly, smaller broadband providers have been getting out of the TV business altogether, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, or scaling back their offerings. The latest is Suddenlink, a smaller cable provider that just dropped Viacom's suite of channels, including MTV, VH1 and CMT.

A representative for small cable companies told the Journal that change in the cable TV market is going to "come from the bottom." Are small broadband providers key to upending the cable business model? Here's what you need to know:

Who are these companies?

Just about all metropolitan areas in the U.S. are claimed by just a few large broadband providers like Comcast, Cox and Time Warner, but about 14 percent of pay TV subscribers are served by a cable company with a million or fewer customers.

These companies — like USA Communications, a co-op in Shellsburg, Iowa — typically serve rural or small-town customers. Many eschew eye-catching new subscriber discounts used by larger companies in favor of straightforward price lists by community. These subscriber bases are small, sometimes only a few thousand customers. 

About 915 smaller cable companies are represented by the National Cable Television Cooperative, which told the Journal that companies serving a total of 53,000 subscribers have gone out of business or dropped their TV offerings in favor of broadband. One provider in Missouri said only a fifth of its customers pay for TV anymore.

How do networks fit into this?

TV networks charge "carriage fees" to cable providers for the right to run their channels. Providers pay a fee per subscriber, often for a bundle of channels. Historically, cable companies have complained about rising fees and being made to carry channels their customers don't want.

The fees themselves are closely guarded secrets, but some estimates put them as high as $6 per subscriber for ESPN. The rising costs and ballooning bundles can put a strain on smaller providers, like Cedar Falls Utilities, who spoke out against the carriage system earlier this year.

Between high costs and low subscriber interest, it's easy to see why some smaller providers might be eyeing a broadband-only business model.

How are small providers making up for the lost programming?

These small companies are making up for programming by pushing à la carte streaming services. Earlier this year, Netflix inked deals with three small cable companies to put their services directly into set-top boxes, for example. One company, RTC Telephone in Georgia, promotes Roku's set-top box as a $5 add-on to its broadband service.

More rural cable companies, like BTC Broadband in Oklahoma, are also providing high-speed fiber internet, which could push customers away from pay TV and toward reliable broadband.

The numbers for October 1, 2014

Wed, 2014-10-01 07:22

The private sector added 213,000 jobs in September, according to an ADP payroll report out Wednesday morning. That's just ahead of expectations and a jump from the August report, which was revised down to 202,000 additions. Small businesses lead the way, with 88,000 jobs added to companies with less than 50 employees in September.

The government will release its monthly jobs report at the end of the week. As we wait for those numbers, here's what we're watching Wednesday:

24

Wednesday is Chinese National Day, and one human rights group estimates "nearly two dozen" people have been detained in mainland China for their support of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. The government has been moving quickly to scrub images of the protest from the Internet and tamp down small bursts of solidarity from the mainland, the New York Times reported, and Amnesty International said at least 60 people have been brought in for questioning about their support.

$1.5 billion

California's drought enters its fourth year Wednesday. An August study from the University of California at Davis estimated $1.5 billion in farm revenue has been lost, along with 17,100 jobs. A new report released this week linked climate change to many heat waves around the world in 2013, the Los Angeles Times reported, but could not draw a clear connection between human activity and the drought.

45 percent

That's how high fees can get for families sending money to incarcerated loved ones through JPay, a private vendor that handles money transfers for 70 percent of inmates in the U.S. JPay is at the center of an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity exploring the heavy, hidden costs put on inmates and their families. The second half of the series, focusing on no-bid agreements between big banks and corrections departments, will run Thursday.

Public health officials: We're prepared for Ebola

Wed, 2014-10-01 07:00

Federal health authorities are working hard to reassure the public they’re ready to contain the Ebola virus after announcing the first confirmed case of Ebola in the U.S. — a man who traveled from Liberia to Texas. 

Health workers are now trying to find people the infected man may have come into contact with. Those contacts will be monitored for 21 days.

“You’ve having to monitor all of those folks this person has been in contact with. And then that may expand to, you know, if one of those people is sick then you expand to trace all of their contacts,” says Jeanne Ringel, director of the population health program at RAND Corporation.

All that monitoring takes a lot of people and resources. Federal health officials tried to get a head start.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent checklists to hospitals with advice on containing the disease and protecting staff. The U.S. started beefing up bioterrorism preparedness years ago, after the anthrax attacks in 2001. 

Now, health officials say, all of that prep work is paying off.

“Our health system today is in much better shape than it was five or ten years ago to be able to identify and contain outbreaks like Ebola, even though that’s not exactly what we’re planning for,” says Dr. Paul Biddinger, chief of the division of emergency preparedness at Mass General Hospital. 

Dr. Biddinger says he’s not surprised that an Ebola case showed up in the U.S. He’s been preparing for it for months.  

 

 

 

PODCAST: Taking attendance to get funding

Wed, 2014-10-01 03:00

First up, federal health authorities are working to reassure the public they're ready to contain the Ebola virus after the announcement that the first patient in the U.S. was diagnosed with Ebola—a man who traveled from Liberia to Texas. More on how prepared the U.S. is for this and other infectious diseases. Plus, students in suburban Denver were threatening to walk out of school today in an act of civil disobedience. One of the reasons: a proposal to de-emphasize civil disobedience from their history curriculum. The choice of day by the students may be strategic: Today's the day some parts of Colorado count heads in classrooms, which will determine future school funding. And Ford Motor Company warned about its future profits yesterday, a reminder that recall problems have not just been a General Motors issue. Ford stock fell more than 2 percent. For a long time, Ford owned Jaguar of Britain, but sold it at the height of the financial crisis. Under new management, Jaguar is showing new signs of life. But until now, Jag's been missing something. 

Counting students in order to count up funding

Wed, 2014-10-01 02:00

Students in suburban Denver plan to walk out of school on Wednesday in an act of civil disobedience. One of the reasons is to protest a proposal that would, among other things, de-emphasize civil disobedience from their history curriculum.  

If the students wanted to make a point, they couldn’t have picked a more significant day to do it. That’s because every year on October 1, Colorado schools count up the students who show up in order to figure out how much state funding each school district will get.  

One school principal went on Facebook to ask students to show up to class on so-called “count day,” because anywhere from $4,000 to $6,000 in per-pupil funding from Colorado state is on the line. 

“In the past, school districts have done everything they can to get kids to attend” on count day, says Michael Smith with the Denver-based national group Education Commission on the States. “So, they’ll have pizza for free, or they’ll have activities. They will send out notices to families.” 

Nationwide, about half of school district budgets come from state funding. But only a minority of states use a single count day. It’s attractive because it requires less paperwork. But Jane Urschel of the Colorado Association of School Boards says her members want a different method. 

“Years ago, we had two count days," she says. "So, it’s been an issue whether this is the best way. We know we need to make better policy on that” Urschel says. 

Among other options is to count up the average number of students in school during the whole year, which is the most popular option among states. 

The discount that links big tobacco to the military

Wed, 2014-10-01 02:00

Before he retired from the Navy Dental Corps, Dr. Larry Williams used to help sailors quit using tobacco. One reason he says they start smoking, chewing or dipping is peer pressure.

"The imagery, the socialization, the context of being able to be with people your own age and talk about things" is key, he says. But tobacco use trumps rank, and users can end up crowded together, forced to forget protocol for the tiniest of whiles.

"It’s the one opportunity you have," Williams says, "in the smoke deck, or the smoking area, that you can go as an E3 and stand next to an E6 and talk to them and learn things that other people might not be able to pick up."

Members of the military use tobacco more than civilians. Depending on the division and age groups you look within, Williams says, usage rates can be as high as 32 percent. In the military, tobacco can be hard to avoid. Take one of Williams' colleagues, a sailor working in a medical clinic, who alerted Williams that he was about to start smoking.

“I looked over at him and said, 'why?' And he said, 'Well, everybody else in the office smokes, and when the senior chief goes outside to smoke, they all go with him and they leave me behind to take care of all the work in the office.'”

Williams was raised on a tobacco farm. It was the experience of seeing relatives die from tobacco-related illnesses, like emphysema, lung disease and cancer, that steered him to his eventual career, he says. He's now a consultant to the National Development and Research Institute looking at the effectiveness of tobacco policy and cessation programs in the military.

Tobacco use, notes Williams, harms the health and readiness of troops and costs taxpayers billions.

“If you’re a smoker, your hospital stays are 20 percent longer," he says. "You have a double risk of postoperative infection from any surgery that you have.”

The defense department spends $1.6 billion a year on tobacco-related expenses, like treating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

A discounted risk

Despite the numbers, members of the military get discounts on all kinds of products at military base stores, including tobacco—which the military sells a lot of. In the last year numbers were available, the Army and Air Force sold just under $400 million worth.

A new provision in next year’s spending bill for the Defense Department would eliminate that discount.

Williams says he also wants the discount ended. However, he says, doing so could be difficult.

“The profits from tobacco sales on the base—those are used by MWR—morale, welfare and recreation. It helps pay for the day care centers. It helps pay for the gymnasiums, for the clubs,” he says. So "any sale of tobacco is sort of a benefit. And that’s one of the things we need to remove—is any association between profits from items that cause health issues should be removed and that money come from another source."  

The military has been struggling for years with how to address tobacco, but it keeps getting caught up in politics, says Erika Sward, assistant vice president for national advocacy at the American Lung Association. Sward calls the problem the "iron triangle."

"When the military has tried to do something," she says, "Congress has stopped them because of tobacco industry’s lobby and pressure."

"There’s a law that prohibits the Veteran’s Administration from making its hospitals tobacco-free," she says. "There's a constant back-and-forth between the tobacco industry and Capitol Hill."

Sen. Richard Durbin, chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, included a provision in next year’s Defense Department spending bill that would end the military’s discount on tobacco products. He notes that, according to DOD policy, tobacco may only be discounted 5 percent.

But via an emailed statement he said, "In practice, these discounts are much greater. A study comparing cigarette prices at 145 military retail stores and their nearest Walmart found that the average discount on Marlboro Red brand cigarettes was 25.4 percent."

Will removing discounts change habits?

When tobacco is cheap, people buy more.

"We know that one of the greatest ways to reduce tobacco use across the board," says Sward, "is to increase the price. But when the military is subsidizing the cost of tobacco use, or undercutting local prices, as a result it means that cheaper tobacco products are more available and more people are likely to use them among military personnel."

An amendment to the spending bill, introduced by California Rep. Duncan Hunter, would prevent restrictions on sales of any products currently in stock at base stores, including tobacco.

Hunter declined an interview request, as did all but a few of the 53 of the 62-member Armed Services Committee who voted in favor of the amendment, effectively opting to continue the discount on tobacco. 

Southern Mississippi Rep. Steven Palazzo, who served for eight years in the Marine Corps Reserves, and a member of the Armed Services Committee, cast his vote with the majority.

“What’s next? Are they going to not allow you to eat a cheeseburger?" he questioned. "Hey, caffeine is bad for you so no more coffee? No more Krispy Kreme doughnuts? You’re talking about a lance corporal in the United States Marine Corp that just got through two weeks of hellacious fighting—seeing his buddies basically blown to pieces in front of him in Fallujah and he wants to come back to the fort operating base and have a cigarette?"

Palazzo says he knows ending the discount isn't the same as removing tobacco products from base stores altogether, but he says doing away with the discount would represent "a slippery slope."

Besides, he says, why single out one product? Especially given the kind of work that soldiers do.

"The availability of tobacco products in a combat zone is not the threat. The threat is the bullets coming from the enemy," he says. "But you know, we’re not going to ban war, so why would we ban tobacco products for our military?"

A question Senate isn't currently facing. However, the issue of the military’s discount on tobacco products is expected to come before legislators this fall.

Which month is National Month Month?

Wed, 2014-10-01 02:00

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It's also National Physical Therapy Month, National Pharmacists Month, Down Syndrome Awareness Month and more than a dozen others. Other months of the year are similarly crowded. One online calendar lists more than 30 “months” for May alone. 

How do all these months get scheduled?

It may have escaped your notice that October was Lupus Awareness Month. That’s “was,” past tense.

Lupus Month is now in May, but in 1994, when Duane Peters started working for the Lupus Foundation of America, it was October.

"We noticed that over the years the month became very crowded," says Peters, who is now the organization's senior communications director.

He won’t say breast cancer was the only big competitor, but that disease did lock up a lot of corporate support, which created awkward conversations.

"Certainly it would behoove us," he says, "not to put a company in that position where they say, 'Gee whiz, we already do something for breast cancer. We like lupus, we want to support it, but... '" 

In 2003, the Lupus Foundation started looking seriously at May. It took years: first to decide, then to switch.

Other months are more straightforward. I asked Pam Paladin, who runs marketing for the American Association of Orthodontists, why October was National Orthodontic Health Month.

"As it turns out, the week following Halloween is generally the busiest week for orthodontists for emergency appointments," she says.

Caramel apples — not so kind to braces. Be aware.

But what about all those commemorative days?

Sure, you'll spend October being aware of all sorts of stuff, but if you're wishing there were more to commemorate in a more arbitrary way, the month is full of many obscure holidays. In fact, you could spend every single day in October celebrating something. Some of these days are more official than others, but no matter. We assembled the list with some help from Marketplace's professional datebook-er Michelle Philippe, who also reminded us that October is American Cheese Month.

October 1 —World Vegetarian Day and National Fire Pup Day

October 9 — Leif Erikson Day

October 13 — National Kick Butt Day. Not to be confused with the anti-smoking Kick Butts day. Also happens to be Columbus Day.

October 16 — Take your Parents to Lunch Day and National Feral Cat Day

October 24 —National Food Day, kind of a catch-all. Not to be confused with...

October 25 —National Greasy Food Day

October 31 — National Breadstix Day. There's conflicting information on this one, but you should probably give your trick-or-treaters bread anyway.

 

 

Discovering hidden languages in centuries-old writing

Wed, 2014-10-01 02:00

If you were around during the '80s, you probably remember the Indiana Jones movies—the swashbuckling archaeologist traveled the world digging up ancient treasures.

If you were to go looking for a real-life, present-day Indiana Jones, you might get someone like Michael Toth. He travels with his teams around the world using modern technology—lasers, high-tech cameras—to unearth treasure. It's centuries-old writing that appears in very faint form on manuscripts called palimpsests. Along the way, they've discovered everything from lost languages to some very mysterious fingerprints. 

You’re not discovering ancient manuscripts; you’re working to read what’s buried in them. Tell me a little about the work you do.

We work on a range of manuscripts—the earliest copy of Archimedes work, David Livingston’s diaries—and we use spectral imaging to reveal that text which is not seen by the naked eye.

Why isn’t that text visible? We’re talking about two different layers of writing here, right?

That is correct. It’s usually on parchment. And they’re written initially with an ink made out of the galls of oak trees, and that’s been scraped off and overwritten. And in doing so, it’s preserved that text underneath it.

And the process you use is something called spectral imaging. Tell me about that and what kind of technology is involved in that.

So we shine lights on the object to bring out that ink which responds best to, say, the ultraviolet in the case of iron gall, or a modern carbon black ink in the infrared.

You and I met in the Sinai Desert, when you were working at Saint Catherine’s Monastery to look at some of the ancient manuscripts that have been held in the library there for over 1,000 years. Tell me a little about the work you’ve done at Saint Catherine’s and some of the things you found.

Some are historical texts. Some are medical or mathematical texts. We’re still assessing what is underneath this rich trove and, ultimately, are going to make this available to the world.

Do you have a favorite moment of discovery?

Oh, yes. The work on Abraham Lincoln’s draft of the Gettysburg Address. And as we were imaging it, at the bottom, on a blank part of the paper, the ultraviolet light came on and there’s gemlike glow at the bottom. And we said, “Hey, we’ve gotta look at this,” and we saw a thumbprint. And then on the back three fingerprints. As if someone was holding that paper, which is folded in thirds, as if it’s in a coat pocket, had held it up to read.

And is it Abraham Lincoln’s fingerprints?

We don’t know. We know there’s enough of the whorls and loops to be able to assess the fingerprint. But of course there was no FBI fingerprint lab, much less West Virginia back then. So they are working with various forensics experts to try to assess that compared to other documents.

There is going to be a 'Tetris' movie

Tue, 2014-09-30 15:36

This is about a movie that is, as they say, coming soon to a theater near you.

If that music doesn't provoke a Pavlovian response that sends you running for your old Game Boy, let us get to the point: There will be a Tetris movie.

The head of the company making the movie, Threshold Entertainment, also made the "Mortal Kombat" series.

But in case you're wondering how a game that's all about bricks will translate to the big screen, Henk Rogers, managing director of The Tetris Company, says: "There's much more to Tetris than simply clearing lines." The Tetris Company owns the rights to the game that debuted three decades ago.

"We have a story behind Tetris," Threshold's Larry Kasanoff promises, adding it'll be "a very big, epic sci-fi movie."

About bricks.

Your phone knows where you are. So do marketers

Tue, 2014-09-30 13:26

People who buy used trucks rarely go to toy stores. Customers of KFC also frequent Home Depot, Nissan dealerships and museums. Latinos are 43 percent less likely to shop at Whole Foods than the average person.

These are conclusions made by the consumer behavior analytics company PlaceIQ, derived from tracking people on their smartphones.

Over the years, companies have developed surveys to gather data on people inside their homes — things like demographics, income and automobile ownership. But the outside world has remained largely a black box. Now, smartphones allow companies like PlaceIQ to not only uncover what people do in the real world, but also connect it back to traditional data gathered from homes.

PlaceIQ CEO Duncan McCall says: “We use location as foundation to essentially hang data from.”

In other words, location becomes the glue holding together a rich digital profile.

To better track mobile users, PlaceIQ has built a new map of America. The company has broken down the country into 100-meter-by-100-meter tiles. Inside each one, PlaceIQ notes where mobile users go and what they do. “We can see their journey across our map of the world,” McCall says, “and now we can build very rich behavioral profiles.”

The company can tell who shops at Wal-Mart frequently, who travels for business, who likes fine dining or who works a particular job. Since PlaceIQ can see where mobile users live, it can tie this real-world behavior to traditionally gathered info like demographics, income and even TV-viewing habits. McCall says linking all this data lets companies see relationships. They can connect information — PlaceIQ gets TV data from the company Rentrack — with their physical behaviors in the world. That means companies can start to predict what people will do based on something like what they watch. And that is a powerful tool for advertisers. 

So, in case you're wondering, does PlaceIQ know exactly who you are? No, McCall says. The data is currently anonymous, and furthermore, McCall says he doesn't even want to know your identity. That would raise privacy concerns, and, well, it's not the point. With a rich digital profile, PlaceIQ doesn't need to know who you are in order to predict what you'll do and help companies sell you things.

Sanjog Misra is a professor of marketing at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. He says digital data “is going to change the way we market our products.” It will alter things like how companies develop products and display them in stores. Companies can now send personalized ads to individual users at an exact time and place. For instance, Misra says companies may advertise to customers when they are entering a supermarket but not while they are sitting at home.

Advertisers have been dreaming of individually tailored, one-to-one marketing for years. The ability to know exactly where you are is even better than they hoped.  

But according to Jeffery Chester, “It has a very, very dark side.” Chester is with the Center for Digital Democracy. He says collecting all this data is an invasion of privacy.  And there's another problem, he says — one that is less obvious and even more alarming: discrimination.

Chester says this kind of hyperlocal behavioral analysis allows for a new form of redlining. Chester says customers won't be treated differently because of where they live, but instead because of their digital data. Chester says digital data is already being used to determine how we are treated — whether we get perks like coupon codes and free shipping, or if we have to pay full price. In the future, who knows what it will impact, he says — maybe credit card rates and loan accessibility.

Chester wonders if this is the future we would like to have. “Do we want to live in a society where every movement we make, every decision we embrace is collected and analyzed and decisions are made about it?”

Well, we do give apps the right to track us. We can stop them by turning off the location services feature on our phones. But without it, some apps won't work.  

Duncan McCall from PlaceIQ says it's foolish to try to hide from tech. He says we cannot avoid the potential threats of innovation by “trying to play whack-a-mole with technology, because you'll always lose that, because it will always evolve.”  

McCall and Chester do agree on one thing: The only way to prevent discrimination and control our privacy is through regulation.

Cribbing from the Netflix playbook

Tue, 2014-09-30 12:30

Netflix dominates streaming media in a lot of ways. It has 50 million subscribers, some well-regarded original series, enough clout to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Comcast and Verizon and it accounts for a jaw-dropping 34 percent of web traffic. 

Netflix may have a virtual monopoly, but there are plenty of competitors lining up. Amazon, Hulu, Playstation Network, Xbox, Yahoo and others are all throwing around a lot of money to break in to original programming.

"The problem is, at a certain point, there's going to be too many of these services and they're not going to be able to sustain themselves," television critic Alan Sepinwall says.

An expensive cable bundle helps all channels subsidize each other, he says, but "There's no equivalent of that for streaming, and I don't think there will be."

Here's the recipe Netflix's competitors are following to try to break in to this hot new market.

Step 1: Don't wait for the audience to find to you

How can people watch your shiny, new original content if they don't know about your service? That's not really a problem for streaming-centric companies like Netflix and Hulu, but for other established brands it's a surprisingly tough nut to crack.

"Most of the time when I go to Amazon it's just listing 'Here are items you've viewed, maybe you should order those!'" Sepinwall says. "So you don't inherently think of Amazon as a streaming business. Whereas with Netflix, that's the only reason you go."

In fact, a study from earlier this year showed about a third of Amazon Prime customers have never used the video streaming service included in their membership.

Yahoo's Screen service has faced similar problems. At TechCrunch Disrupt, CEO Marissa Mayer noted that Yahoo had produced 86 different series over the past year, "none of whom you've ever heard about because it was sort of a failed branding exercise."

Only "Burning Love" — a "Bachelor" parody with literally dozens of big names attached — got any traction, and Yahoo Screen kept lagging behind until it suddenly made headlines in July.

Step 2: Buy yourself some credibility

Cult hit "Community" had barely hung on at NBC over five seasons of firings, re-hirings, behind-the-scenes drama, cast changes and sinking ratings before finally being canceled. But "Community" was exactly what Yahoo needed.

"The more players there are, the more you need to do something big to sort of stand out and seem like you belong on that same playing field," says Vox culture editor Todd Vanderwerff. "I think a lot of this is just purchasing credibility."

It's the same reason Netflix resurrected Fox's "Arrested Development" last year. A niche flop on traditional TV could be a huge hit for a new company if the audience is willing to follow.

There are a few other ways to close the credibility gap, too. Amazon paid through the nose this spring for the right to stream old HBO shows, and Hulu has built up a respectable catalog of foreign shows along with a just-announced Stephen King adaptation.

Even the mighty Netflix is still buying credibility, especially as it changes strategy. The service brought back three canceled shows this year, and Netflix is set to release its first original feature film — a sequel to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" — the same day it's released in IMAX theaters.

Step 3: Make a word-of-mouth hit (and stack the deck with a good gimmick)

It's tough to make a hit from scratch, but there are a couple of ways to tip the odds.

Sepinwall points to "House of Cards." The show isn't that good, he says, but gets by because it looks like a so-called prestige cable drama — the way it's shot, the antihero, the high-profile cast — and people like binge-watching it.

"I remember when 'House of Cards' season one was released ... I would watch my Twitter feed and it turned into a race," he says. "Even if [the show] is not that great, but it has some sense of forward momentum, it becomes easy to go forward and you feel like [you're] on the ground floor of something special."

When the show's second season debuted on Netflix all at once, the explosion of social media conversation seemed to prove the show's success. Netflix doesn't make its streaming numbers public, Sepinwall notes, so it's impossible to know how many people actually watched.

Amazon has turned to crowd-sourcing, letting subscribers see user-submitted pilots and vote on their favorites. The process has its flaws, both critics said, but after a few tries Amazon may have its first big hit in "Transparent," which debuted over the weekend to rapturous reviews.

Step 4: Wait for the industry to shake out

Vanderwerff compared streaming to the early days of home video, predicting we'll see a lot of media companies come and go or change hands as the industry adjusts.

"I really think we're on the precipice of everyone in Hollywood trying to get in this game, and it's going to come down to the same companies you've always heard of."

The player to watch is HBO. Their streaming service is still bundled with cable, but when they break from that model and embrace streaming, Vanderwerff says, many more companies will follow.

Streaming services are still tied to traditional TV in other ways. They have no restrictions on time or content, but they don't stray far from what the networks are offering.

"There's no reason an episode has to be 30 or 60 minutes," Vanderwerff says. "That is an artificial constraint placed on us by the early gods of television that we have now evolved past, we just haven't realized it yet." 

The full possibilities of streaming TV — the niche ideas, the crowd-sourcing, the binging and more — might not come to fruition until the format has become more standardized, and that could take some mergers and acquisitions.

Cribbing from the Netflix playbook

Tue, 2014-09-30 12:30

Netflix dominates streaming media in a lot of ways. It has 50 million subscribers, some well-regarded original series, enough clout to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Comcast and Verizon and it accounts for a jaw-dropping 34 percent of web traffic. 

Netflix may have a virtual monopoly, but there are plenty of competitors lining up. Amazon, Hulu, Playstation Network, Xbox, Yahoo and others are all throwing around a lot of money to break into original programming.

"The problem is, at a certain point, there's going to be too many of these services and they're not going to be able to sustain themselves," television critic Alan Sepinwall says.

An expensive cable bundle helps all channels subsidize each other, he says, but "There's no equivalent of that for streaming, and I don't think there will be."

Here's the recipe Netflix's competitors are following to try to break in to this hot new market.

Step 1: Don't wait for the audience to find to you

How can people watch your shiny, new original content if they don't know about your service? That's not really a problem for streaming-centric companies like Netflix and Hulu, but for other established brands it's a surprisingly tough nut to crack.

"Most of the time when I go to Amazon it's just listing 'Here are items you've viewed, maybe you should order those!'" Sepinwall says. "So you don't inherently think of Amazon as a streaming business. Whereas with Netflix, that's the only reason you go."

In fact, a study from earlier this year showed about a third of Amazon Prime customers have never used the video streaming service included in their membership.

Yahoo's Screen service has faced similar problems. At TechCrunch Disrupt, CEO Marissa Mayer noted that Yahoo had produced 86 different series over the past year, "none of whom you've ever heard about because it was sort of a failed branding exercise."

Only "Burning Love" — a "Bachelor" parody with literally dozens of big names attached — got any traction, and Yahoo Screen kept lagging behind until it suddenly made headlines in July.

Step 2: Buy yourself some credibility

Cult hit "Community" had barely hung on at NBC over five seasons of firings, re-hirings, behind-the-scenes drama, cast changes and sinking ratings before finally being canceled. But "Community" was exactly what Yahoo needed.

"The more players there are, the more you need to do something big to sort of stand out and seem like you belong on that same playing field," says Vox culture editor Todd Vanderwerff. "I think a lot of this is just purchasing credibility."

It's the same reason Netflix resurrected Fox's "Arrested Development" last year. A niche flop on traditional TV could be a huge hit for a new company if the audience is willing to follow.

There are a few other ways to close the credibility gap, too. Amazon paid through the nose this spring for the right to stream old HBO shows, and Hulu has built up a respectable catalog of foreign shows along with a just-announced Stephen King adaptation.

Even the mighty Netflix is still buying credibility, especially as it changes strategy. The service brought back three canceled shows this year, and Netflix is set to release its first original feature film — a sequel to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" — the same day it's released in IMAX theaters.

Step 3: Make a word-of-mouth hit (and stack the deck with a good gimmick)

It's tough to make a hit from scratch, but there are a couple of ways to tip the odds.

Sepinwall points to "House of Cards." The show isn't that good, he says, but gets by because it looks like a so-called prestige cable drama — the way it's shot, the antihero, the high-profile cast — and people like binge-watching it.

"I remember when 'House of Cards' season one was released ... I would watch my Twitter feed and it turned into a race," he says. "Even if [the show] is not that great, but it has some sense of forward momentum, it becomes easy to go forward and you feel like [you're] on the ground floor of something special."

When the show's second season debuted on Netflix all at once, the explosion of social media conversation seemed to prove the show's success. Netflix doesn't make its streaming numbers public, Sepinwall notes, so it's impossible to know how many people actually watched.

Amazon has turned to crowd-sourcing, letting subscribers see user-submitted pilots and vote on their favorites. The process has its flaws, both critics said, but after a few tries Amazon may have its first big hit in "Transparent," which debuted over the weekend to rapturous reviews.

Step 4: Wait for the industry to shake out

Vanderwerff compared streaming to the early days of home video, predicting we'll see a lot of media companies come and go or change hands as the industry adjusts.

"I really think we're on the precipice of everyone in Hollywood trying to get in this game, and it's going to come down to the same companies you've always heard of."

The player to watch is HBO. Their streaming service is still bundled with cable, but when they break from that model and embrace streaming, Vanderwerff says, many more companies will follow.

Streaming services are still tied to traditional TV in other ways. They have no restrictions on time or content, but they don't stray far from what the networks are offering.

"There's no reason an episode has to be 30 or 60 minutes," Vanderwerff says. "That is an artificial constraint placed on us by the early gods of television that we have now evolved past, we just haven't realized it yet." 

The full possibilities of streaming TV — the niche ideas, the crowd-sourcing, the binging and more — might not come to fruition until the format has become more standardized, and that could take some mergers and acquisitions.

Excerpt: 'Law of the Jungle'

Tue, 2014-09-30 12:03

Deep in the jungle of Ecuador, after a steep climb over the Andes and into the rainforest, oil executives struck gold. Well, more oil anyway. This was back in the 1960s. Texaco was drilling wells in Colombia and had reason to believe there was plenty more petroleum to the South. The boom that followed brought airports, roads, jobs and a middle class that hadn't really existed before in Ecuador.

But the oil company — Texaco then, now a part of Chevron — did everything fast and cheap.

Waste was dumped straight into unlined oil pits. Water used in oil production was left untreated on the surface of rivers. Although the Ecuadorian government noticed, no officials came from Quito to supervise.

The long-term damage to the community prompted an environmental lawsuit that lasted more than two decades. In the process, the pursuit of justice turned an initially well-intentioned lawyer named Steven Donziger into a green celebrity, and later, a Machiavellian figure.

Paul Barrett has documented the bad behavior all the way around, and wrote about it in his new book, "The Law of the Jungle." 

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.

Chapter One

SURVEILLANCE

The lawyer Steven Donziger stepped out onto 104th Street. He looked west toward Riverside Park and east toward Broadway. The dark sedans had been tailing him for at least a month now. They followed him for blocks at a time, slowing when he slowed, stop­ping when he stopped, their passengers watching his every move.

Donziger lived on a quiet block on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He worked from home, a two-bedroom apartment he shared with his wife, their five-year-old son, and a cocker spaniel. Photographs and artwork from Latin America adorned the apart­ment. Documents in cardboard boxes surrounded the dining table. In the narrow foyer, stacks of stapled legal filings competed for space with a mud-spattered mountain bike.

On this morning in the spring of 2012, Donziger had wheeled the bicycle down the hall to the elevator and across the marble-floored lobby. Fifty years old, he dressed like a graduate student, in jeans, unironed button-down shirt, and tattered jacket.

“Cómo estás?” he asked the doorman as they bumped fists.

“Bien, muy bien, señor.”

Then Donziger had emerged from the building and, as was his habit, searched for the dark sedans. Six-foot-four and powerfully built, he would not have been difficult to track. Sometimes, in ad­dition to the cars, he thought he saw men on foot, pretending to peer into store windows if he looked their way.

Donziger began pedaling toward Ocean Grill, a seafood res­taurant where he did business over lunch. As he approached the corner, he glanced over his shoulder in time to see the large car pull out of its parking space and fall in behind him. He didn’t fear actual physical harm. The company was too smart, he thought, to turn him into a martyr. It wanted to distract him, intimidate him.

He despised his corporate foes: their money, their influence, their cynical disrespect for his clients in the Amazonian rain for­est of northeastern Ecuador. The company would never willingly pay what it owed. Its lawyers and lobbyists had said as much. Now they were coming after him, making it personal. He’d written down license plate numbers, but the police weren’t interested. Every day people killed each other in New York. What did he expect the police to do about cars that might or might not have been following him?

The surveillance wasn’t his main worry. A year earlier, in Feb­ruary 2011, the company had sued him. The 193-page suit, filed under the federal antiracketeering statute, alleged that he had ginned up fraudulent evidence as part of a conspiracy to extort the company. A federal judge had taken the accusations seriously. The judge forced him to turn over his hard drives, e‑mail, and boxes of documents. Donziger had said some truly dumb things—he admit­ted that much—and now they were public. His bravado sounded in­criminating, he also acknowledged, especially if it was taken out of context. He’d cut a few corners, used tactics they didn’t teach back at Harvard Law School. He could lose his law license. Conceivably, the U.S. Attorney’s Office could bring criminal charges.

The company, as Donziger saw it, fought dirty; he fought back in kind. Slugging it out, he’d pulled off something amazing. His ragtag team had gone to a provincial Ecuadorian courtroom and won a judgment that mighty Texaco had ruined the lives of thousands of farmers and Amazon tribesmen. Because of him, a tiny third-world nation had spoken truth to power. Donziger had pressed the case for nearly twenty years now, beginning as the most junior member of the plaintiffs’ legal team and ultimately rising to field commander. Before going after Texaco (which was acquired in 2001 by Chevron), he’d never brought even a slip-and-fall suit. That he’d survived this long must have shocked the oil company and its lawyers. No wonder they were branding him a racketeer and prying into his personal life.

He was not alone, though. Impressed by the potential for gar­gantuan legal fees, Patton Boggs, a tough corporate law firm, had joined Donziger. Together, they were seeking liens against refin­eries, terminals, and tankers worldwide. He’d retained a famous white-collar defense attorney to represent him in the racketeering suit. The Amazon pollution case had been featured on 60 Minutes and in the New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Bloom­berg Businessweek. In 2009, it was the subject of an acclaimed docu­mentary that played at the Sundance Film Festival. A rock star in green-activism circles, Donziger had received support from Bianca Jagger, Sting, and Sting’s wife, the actress Trudie Styler. He had given Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie a private tour of the oil zone in Ecuador.

“I cannot believe what we have accomplished,” Donziger had written in private notes several years earlier, during a flight to Ecuador. “I cannot wait to get off the plane and see my fellow soldiers—often the only people I feel who get me. I want to look in their eyes and see if they understand the enormity of what this team has accomplished.” He had gone toe-to-toe with one of the most powerful multinationals in the world and won the largest pollution verdict in history: $19 billion. That was billion with a “b,” real money by anyone’s standard. If he could survive the venge­ful countersuit and collect the judgment, the Ecuador case would, in Donziger’s expansive estimation, create a precedent benefitting “millions of persons victimized by human rights abuses commit­ted by multinational corporations pursuing economic gain.” And it would make him a very wealthy man.

Arriving at the Ocean Grill, he slowed his bicycle. The surveil­lance sedan—Wait, were there two of them?—kept cruising south. Donziger chained his bike to a no parking sign and shrugged off his backpack. The spy cars disappeared in traffic. He knew they would circle back. They always did.

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