Marketplace - American Public Media
Vermont is the happiest state in the country, according to a data-based meter that measures people’s happiness in real time.
Hedonometer, as it’s called, sources words from tweets, movie subtitles, e-books, and just about any sort of publicly accessible electronic text available online. Each word is scored on a nine point scale of happiness. The meter then parses around 50 million tweets each day to find out if people are using happy or sad words.
And people in Vermont were using happy words the most in the last 30 days, says Chris Danforth, who is part of the team that developed Hedonometer: “People are talking about the amazing snow and being out with their family.”
Danforth, a professor of Mathematical, Natural and Technical sciences at the University of Vermont, says this can be a useful tool for public policy.
If there was a decision to be made, he says, about funding or changes in policy, the hedonometer could track people’s reactions to it in real-time. “Rather than using some anecdotal tweet you can look at the big data perspective on how people are feeling,” he adds.
The Labor Department today releases its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, known in economic circles as JOLTS.
The monthly JOLTS report gives economists a pulse check of the job market. It tells them who’s hiring, and how many people were laid off, or are quitting their jobs.
“It kind of gives you a sense of the underlying movements in the labor market to give you a better sense of what’s going on in the job market,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.
Zandi says in the first part of the economic recovery, employers mainly created low and high-wage jobs. But over the past 12 to 18 months, we’ve seen more jobs in the middle of the pay scale. So now, about a third of new jobs are low-wage, a third are high-wage, and a third are right in the middle.
“A lot of government jobs are middle-paying, and of course there were a lot of layoffs there until recently," Zandi says. "Construction jobs are generally middle-paying. A lot of manufacturing jobs – not all of them, some are high-paying – but some are middle-paying.”
There are winners and losers in the JOLTS report. There have been layoffs lately in the energy sector, because of falling oil prices. But Zandi says the healthcare, retail and construction sectors are all hiring.
Miami’s building boom has featured prominently in many stories about the threat the city faces from rising seas and a changing climate. Scientists warn that parts of greater Miami— including some of its crucial water infrastructure—will be below sea level within a few decades. Meanwhile, developers are pouring many billions of dollars into many thousands of new condominiums and offices.
However, downtown Miami's condo explosion turns out to run on its own financial logic—far removed from rising seas.
Peter Zalewski runs Crane Spotters, an information service on the building boom, explains that the bulk of these condos are not residences. They are apartment-shaped financial instruments.
"In New York, you trade stocks. In Chicago we trade commodities. Miami, we trade condos," he says.
"This is what we do," he continues. "We trade down here. These are traders who are not looking to live the American dream with a family of four and a dog. They’re looking to make a hundred-grand a unit … with virtually nothing being done but making a phone call to your broker in Miami and having him unload it to somebody else’s broker, who’s representing somebody in Russia."
The basic idea is: Investors buy in before construction begins, betting that by the time the building is finished, prices will have gone up.
Many of the buyers are from outside the United States—often from Latin American countries where other available investments and home currencies make Miami real estate look like a stable place to park some cash.
Bill Hardin, a real estate professor at Florida International University, likes to tell people that real estate is Miami’s number-one export.
He anticipates the obvious question—How do you export real estate? — and he has a ready explanation.
"In an economic sense, it’s not moving the product," he says. "It’s: where does the money come from that pays for those products?"
He sees the market at work every day from his office window. At the moment, his 11th-floor office overlooks the ocean. However, it also overlooks a construction site just below his window—soon to grow into an 87-story building.
"So somebody is going to have a great view in the future," he says. "But it won’t be me."
The Labor Department releases its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey on Tuesday, otherwise known as JOLTS. The report provides economists a look into the current state of the job market. After the recession, job creation was mostly focused on high-paying and low-paying employment. But now some economists are saying that middle-paying jobs are having a moment, with about 1/3 of new jobs in that sector.$7.99 a month
That's how much Netflix will charge for its services in Cuba (the same as its price in the U.S.). As reported by Tech Crunch, the streaming video company announced it will offer service to Cuban customers starting Tuesday. But as Quartz points out, the move is largely symbolic, as less than 5 percent of the population has internet access, and the monthly subscription fee is nearly half the average salary in Cuba.40%
That's the percentage increase Twitter has seen in government requests for information since its last report in July. As reported by the BBC, Twitter reports receiving 2,871 requests from around the world, and has fulfilled a little over half of them. The U.S. government was the most frequent requester; hundreds came in from Turkey as well.$975 million
That's how much China has fined chip maker Qualcomm for violating its laws to curb monopolization, as announced Monday. As reported by the New York Times, regulators in China defended the fine on Tuesday, saying that the large amount is meant to "restore market competitiveness."$2.69
Heinz is catching up to popular taste with the newly-released Sriracha-flavored Ketchup. The suggested retail price for the standard 14-ounce bottle is $2.69.
A report released Monday says the security protocols in connected cars aren't nearly secure enough. It's yet another example of the basic dilemma posed by the Internet of Things: how to connect more devices to each other and the Internet, while making them easy to use, technologically innovative and private and secure.
Cars with wireless systems connected to the Internet are vulnerable to hacking and data theft, according to the Senate report, which found that auto-industry security measures are "inconsistent and haphazard."
"Every time you add a new point of connectivity to a device, you have increased the attack surface — more ways to gain access," says Steve Checkoway, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute. Checkoway participated in experiments in 2010 that showed how vulnerable cars can be.
Automakers are designing cars with the same kinds of wireless connectivity technologies that consumers have come to expect from their daily digital devices. Accordingly, cars are becoming subject to the same growing pains facing computers and smartphones – in addition to featuring digital door locks and thermostats.
Silicon Valley is grappling with a delicate balance: Keeping these products easy to use while implementing enough security to keep customers comfortable with using them.
"The out-of-the-box experience when you start up a product [is that] when you unpackage it, put it on the wall, it needs to be very seamless," says Tom Kerber, who heads research into the Internet of Things at Parks Associates. If customers have to grapple with too many steps to implement security protocols, Kerber says, they will reject products instead of adopting them.
In the meantime, Silicon Valley is churning out connected products based on the same model it used to churn out computers and apps. "Innovation in Silicon Valley is all about iteration and experimentation," says analyst Frank Gillett of Forrester Research.
Experimentation tends to mean that products aren't fully cooked when they come to market, he says. "So the idea is: Figure out the minimum viable product that will let you experiment with an idea, develop it and see if there's something there, and then figure out how to improve it, iterate it, make it better," Gillett says.
While companies often think about security when first releasing a product, their process of improving a product after launch means security is often playing catchup, he says, and that model is not likely to change soon.
The Internal Revenue Service said Friday that the average refund so far this year is running at $3,539.
So two things: First, who's got their taxes done already? Because, cut it out! You're making the rest of us look bad.
And secondly, you know that when you get a refund you've basically given the government an interest-free loan, right?
Brian Williams, the host of NBC Nightly News, is embroiled in a scandal over fabricated stories he told about experiences during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He's taken a leave of absence from the show.
But just how important is an anchor like Williams to a news network in an era of declining network news viewership?
NBC took a ratings hit last week, according to preliminary numbers from Nielsen. It was a big dip, at 36 percent, but declining viewership for network news isn’t exactly, well, news. Fewer and fewer sets are tuned to these broadcasts after reaching a peak in the 1980s.
Is the evening-news tradition becoming irrelevant in this new era of 24/7 information? Or do the networks see a good reason to continue their investment? Williams' show, after all, is still a major source of ad revenue for NBC.
For more, click on the audio player above.
The man they’re calling “the rock star of anti-austerity” rocked financial markets Monday. Yanis Varoufakis — the new Greek finance minister — sent bank shares reeling on the Athens stock exchange with his comments on the euro.
Over the weekend, he warned that the eurozone would collapse if his country is forced out of the currency union by Germany’s refusal to accept a renegotiation of the terms of Greece’s bailout. Varoufakis said he believes that if Greece left the eurozone, investors will pull their money out of other heavily indebted euro countries – forcing them to leave too. With its biggest export market – the rest of Europe – then in turmoil, Germany could be the biggest loser.
First up, planning for a financial disaster if Greece decides to abandon the euro. More on that. Plus, more on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit with President Barack Obama, and what tops the agenda for the meeting. We'll also take a look at Medolac, a breast milk company that pays $1 per ounce, and how their business may be affecting non-profits who offer the same service.
When Alison Richardson’s baby was born prematurely, he weighed just 1 lb, 11 ounces.
“This is William Hague Richardson IV,” says Richardson, holding him carefully so she doesn’t tangle the wires, medical bracelets and oxygen tube that tethers William to the neonatal unit at Bronson Methodist in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Today, he’s wearing a baby blue onesie that says “Little Man.”
“He’s now 5 lbs, 13.9 ounces,” she says proudly.
A big reason Richardson says William is doing so well is that the hospital brought in donor milk when her own supply fell short.
For years, hospitals have gotten donor milk from non-profit milk banks.
But now, for-profit milk companies have entered the picture, like Oregon-based Medolac.
Medolac pays a dollar per ounce for the breast milk they get from moms, like Andrea Short of Newport, Michigan. Short’s youngest, Johanna, didn’t latch when she was born, so Short found herself with a freezer stuffed with frozen breast milk.
“She was probably four months old when I realized I had an overflow problem,” Short says.
Selling her excess milk to Medolac helped her family pay bills, and it even got her breastfeeding Johanna longer than the year she’d originally planned.
“It was a great incentive for me to continue, and make a little bit of extra money, and help some other babies who need it,” she says.
Over time, Short sold about 6,000 ounces of breast milk to Medolac.
But before this, she was donating her milk to the nonprofit milk bank in Kalamazoo, Michigan—The one that supplies the hospital treating baby William.
Cindy Duff runs that milk bank. She says lately, their donations have dropped sharply enough that they've had to send some patients to other milk banks out of state.
And she's critical of Medolac for not disclosing exactly where it sends its milk.
"My concern is that we want to be able to have the milk necessary to process for the babies in Michigan. And if the milk goes to a for-profit, and it's not even being dispensed to anyone in Michigan, that's concerning."
Medolac declined to be interviewed on tape.
But in an email, a spokesman says the company can't say which hospitals it sells to because of non-disclosure agreements.
The spokesman says all of the milk Medolac collects is given exclusively to sick infants.
On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Washington D.C., visiting President Barack Obama. Their agenda runs the gamut from transatlantic trade to climate change, counterterrorism to the G7 Summit in June. But the highest priorities are likely to be seemingly intractable conflicts facing the European continent.
Jacob Kirkegaard, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, says Chancellor Merkel and President Obama will discuss the worsening violence between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine.
Peter Sparding, transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund, says another subject may be a different conflict: The stand-off between the new Greek government, pushing back against the onerous terms of its bailout, and its European creditors.
A new Senate report released Monday says cars equipped with wireless internet could be a security risk, and could transmit personal information about a driver.
The report, from Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey, says automakers are short on safeguards that would keep hackers from, say, taking control of your car, and causing it to accelerate suddenly, or killing the brakes.
“This is a big deal,” says Dave Cole, chairman of AutoHarvest, which encourages innovation in the auto industry.
Cole says cars with wireless internet could also transmit all kinds of data about their drivers. That could come in handy during, say, a hurricane evacuation, or maybe help parents.
“Do I want to track a teenaged son who might be doing something I don’t want him to do? But how about my everyday life? Do I want somebody checking on that all the time?” Cole wonders.
He says we might need federal rules to establish what information can be collected, and how it can be used.
The International Energy Agency in Paris issues its look-ahead to oil markets in the next five years on Tuesday. So what's the key question, and why do so many energy pros follow this agency?
To many analysts, consensus is spelled I-E-A. The International Energy Agency forms consensus, says consultant Bob McNally of the Rapidan Group.
He says consensus used to be that OPEC would intervene whenever prices fell. Until last fall, when it didn't. The big question now – a central question in the upcoming medium-term report – is how a new world without an OPEC price-stabilizer might look.
Some analysts see a prolonged period of low crude oil prices, perhaps below $75 a barrel. McNally's take: "We told our clients, welcome back to Space Mountain, the Disneyland roller coaster."
In other words, volatility.
An app that helps the blind by connecting them to sighted volunteers who can see through their video camera has been gaining a lot of attention since its recent launch. Be My Eyes, as the app is known, was developed by Hans Jørgen Wiberg, a 50-year-old Dane, and funded by three different Danish groups. Wiberg himself is visually impaired.
“Its great to see people being really innovative in this space,” says Eliza Cooper, a social media consultant who has been blind since childhood. She recently tested the app to find out the expiration date on her milk carton.
“I didn't know where the expiration date usually is,” says Cooper. So her volunteer looked at her own milk carton and then told Cooper where to aim the camera.
What made her apprehensive, Cooper says, was not the technology itself, but the person who would be on the other end. “Maybe someone who is lonely and just wants a connection, and they choose to use this app,” she says. “That made me nervous."
But she soon realized that wasn’t the case. The woman Cooper spoke to didn’t ask to exchange names. “I felt good about not having any pressure to identify anything more than I wanted to,” says Cooper.
Click the media player above to hear more about Eliza Cooper's experience using 'Be My Eyes.'
The portion of New York City real estate purchases over $5 million that were conducted by shell companies, the New York Times reported. That adds up to more than $4 billion, much of it paid anonymously by LLCs or other corporations with fluid, obscured ownership. A Times investigation, rolling out this week, found that number is on the rise and transparency in the city's high-end real estate is disappearing, which becomes disconcerting when many of the shell companies trace back to foreign billionaires with checkered pasts.29
The number of states in which truck driving was the most common job in 2014, according to an analysis by NPR. They used census data, and excluded two very broad categories "manager" and "salesperson," to find truckers have become more and more common as other jobs move overseas or become obsolete.$590 million
That's the size of the stake Alibaba is taking in a smartphone maker based in China, as reported by the New York Times. Meizu Technology Co. will get access to Alibaba's sales channels in exchange for using Alibaba's operating system in its devices.1,800
The number of drunk driving accidents Uber claims to have "likely prevented" in California since launching there two and a half years ago. But ProPublica notes the relationship between the ride-sharing service and drunk driving may not be so clear-cut. Indeed, communities with UberX saw a larger drop in drunk driving accidents among under-30 set than those cities that didn't have the low-cost ride service. But it's a leap to credit Uber - both sets of communities saw drops and it's unclear how many of the people under-30 actually it.$56 million
Are you ready kids? The SpongeBob Squarepants movie won the weekend box office with a $56 million opening. As reported by the WSJ, the yellow sponge dethroned previous top spot holder "American Sniper."
Fun fact: The average American uses 100 gallons of water per day.
But according to the United Nations, the bare minimum we need is 13 gallons. There are many more fun facts about water in our new series Water: The High Price of Cheap.Counting gallons: How much water do you use?
Fun fact: Students at the University of Amherst will save an average of $380 per year on textbooks, thanks to a new deal the university made with Amazon.
Students will be able to buy books and branded swag from Amazon, instead of an old-fashioned, pricey campus bookstore.Amazon heads to college
Fun fact: Over two months have passed since the first Sony hack on Nov. 24, when Sony employees’ computer screen showed a message titled “Hacked by #GOP.”
Check out a timeline of the Sony hacks saga here:Amy Pascal is out as Sony Pictures head
It's official: We all think Goldman Sachs is the worst.
At least according to research firm Harris Interactive, which just released the results of its annual poll ranking the corporate reputations of what it says are the country's 100 most visible companies. Goldman came in dead last, behind even AIG.
Here are the bottom 10:
- Bank of America
- Charter Communications
- Koch Industries
- Sears Holdings Corp.
- Dish Network
- Goldman Sachs
What was No. 1? Wegmans, a regional supermarket chain based in Rochester, New York.
In his new memoir, "Independent Ed: Inside a Career of Big Dreams, Little Movies, and the Twelve Best Days of My Life," Edward Burns recounts how he got his foot into the door of Hollywood. It sounds like a fairytale.
In 1994, he was working as a production assistant on "Entertainment Tonight" and had shot his first feature film, “The Brothers McMullen,” in his spare time. He had been trying to get people to look at it for a year – distributors, producers, agents, film festivals, anyone. That’s when he risked his job for his future.
Redford was doing a junket for “Quiz Show” and knowing that I was going to see him that afternoon for the [Entertainment Tonight] interview, I brought my copy of “McMullen,” a rough cut on VHS. I sat through his interview, and while he spoke I went through my 30-second spiel about a hundred times. The minute the interview ended he went to the elevator, I cut around the other door, met him there, gave him the spiel, handed him the VHS. I basically said, "I’m an indie filmmaker, I made this movie, I just need a little help. Would you please look at it or have someone in your office look at it?" He took it and said, ‘Sure, we’ll be in touch.’ And that was it. Six months later or so we get the phone call from the Sundance festival itself saying the film had been accepted into competition. And then a few months after that when I finally get up to Park City and the film screens, I meet Redford afterwards and that’s when he comes up to me and says, "Hey, it took a lot of balls doing what you did."
“The Brothers McMullen” went on to win Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize, the festival's highest accolade. Burns sold it to 20th Century Fox and the film raked in a cool $10 million. Suddenly, he was labeled Hollywood’s hottest young independent filmmaker.
But Burns’ book is less about that meteoric rise and more about what happened next. The 20 years that followed were a roller coaster ride that eventually slammed Burns’ foot so hard in that door of Hollywood that he couldn’t get a movie made.
I’ve written and directed 11 movies. Six of which no one has ever heard of for the most part. And those movies didn’t just get bad reviews and bomb at the box office, some were even met with just complete apathy, which is worse. So it was tough to muster it up yet again to say, "You know what? I know that I have something to say."
What followed was some self-reflection and a realization that to get back to where he started, he needed to work like he did at the start. So he sat down and hashed out a plan with his producer.
We were at a bar. and we started to write down the sort of "McMullen" guidelines: $25,000, I can self-finance that, we’ll start there. But then we thought we’ll shoot it in 12 days like "McMullen," only use unknown actors. They’re all going to do their own hair and makeup, they’ve got to wear their own clothes, we’re not going to pay for a single location, which means we’ve got to call in favors or just use city streets. And we’re going to go back and use a three-man crew. Let’s just see if we can do that again.
Burns released “Nice Guy Johnny” in 2010, skipping the art houses in lieu of premiering the film on iTunes. Because the film was so cheap to make, it couldn’t help but turn a profit, and the digital-first strategy put Burns back in the spotlight.
Burns has now teamed up with Stephen Spielberg on a television series Burns is writing and directing for TNT. The show is called “Public Morals” and is set to debut next fall. Burns says shows like "The Sopranos," "The Wire" and "Mad Men" have slowly proven that cable television is the new playground for independent filmmakers.
You look at what makes those shows great. At the helm is someone who was left alone. One artist at the center and it’s their vision and they’re given the freedom to see that vision through.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s the small screen or the silver screen, to Burns that’s what the term “independent” has always meant.
If there is a singular voice, and that person is able to make the movie without any interference, to me that’s what independent film is.
As the economy picks up strength, more people are heading back to work and some are even seeing their wages tick upward. That means the lucky among us might find ourselves with extra cash and wondering what to do with it – after building up savings for emergency expenses and contributing to 401ks, of course.
An increasingly popular option for many want-to-be investors, especially millennials, are robo-advisers – online services that help people through a variety of financial decisions, such as how to invest a lump sum of money or provide feedback on the current mix of assets in their portfolios. Interfaces range from completely online and automated to those that may offer occasional video chats with human advisers. Many begin with a questionnaire for customers.
The questionnaires "remind me of a little bit of those Facebook, you know, 'What '90s song is your rock anthem?' or 'Which movie star is your soulmate?'” says Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America. “Ten questions, and they know supposedly everything about you.”
For example, an automated investment service called Wealthfront will create personalized portfolio recommendations for customers based on answers to these questions:
- What are you looking for in a financial adviser?
- What is your current age?
- What is your annual after-tax income?
- What is the total value of your cash and liquid investments?
- What would you do if your portfolio lost 10 percent of its value in a month?
Roper says these questions are meant to help the site determine an investors’ risk threshold – a difficult, complicated task, even for human advisers and especially tricky for robo-advisers. In general, robo-advisers can be a good option for investors, especially if they take a “set it and forget it” approach, she says.
“You set up some parameters, you automate the process, you keep expenses as low as possible, you diversify through ETFs,” says Roper. “Those are good principles.”
People considering robo-advisers may be attracted by their relatively low fees and the fact that – unlike some human advisers – they tend to have low minimum-investment requirements.
“Broadly speaking, these services are catering to less-affluent individuals,” says Grant Easterbrook, a former analyst specializing in financial technology. “Most human financial-advisers have account minimums. They don’t want to work with someone below a certain threshold. They don’t think it’s worth their time.”
By Easterbook’s calculations, the top 11 startups in this space, most of which have only been live for a year or two, have $19 billion dollars invested with them – and they’re growing fast. That’s drawn some bigger banks into the space as well.
But how does working with a robo-adviser compare to consulting a good old-fashioned human being, and how does the financial advice differ?
Sheryl Garrett, an independent certified financial planner who runs the Garrett Planning Network, says her first question for new clients is often: What’s going on in your life?
She inquires about a client’s income, debt, career plans, retirement accounts, what the money that may be invested will eventually be used for, if there are expenses on the horizon or a few years down the road, or family obligations they might have to take on. These types of questions can reveal deeper issues in our financial lives that the client may not even be aware of, she says.
Garrett’s not opposed to people using robo-advisers, although she cautions that automated advice can miss the bigger picture – that the extra money we think we have might not be truly extra. Her advice: planning first, and maybe, if it still makes sense, Internet second.