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Updated: 32 min 19 sec ago

Blackberry's not dead yet

Mon, 2014-09-22 13:30

Blackberries used to be a permanent fixture on the hip of many professionals, but in recent years, lots of those users have ditched the “crack berry” in favor of iPhone or Android devices. Vultures have circled over the company as a few of its new smart phones flopped.  

But despite the ongoing death watch, Blackberry is still alive and will likely debut two new phones this week: The Classic and the Passport.

However, it’s not trying to reclaim its old status, says Charles Golvin, the founder and principle analyst of Abelian Research.

“It would be a mistake to think about Blackberry as a competitor to Apple and the iPhone or other Android-based device manufacturers,” says Golvin. “They’re not focused on consumers, they’re focused on businesses.”

Blackberry’s target is “the hard-core email user who’s in a regulated industry where the keyboard is really the value-added differentiator,” explains Bryan Prohm, an analyst who covers Blackberry for Cowen and Company.

These phones are meant to attract government, finance, and legal users, plus IT managers who will be tempted by Blackberry's security and device management software.

The devices are a way to get people to use Blackberry’s software – the company’s real focus these days.

So is this makeover enough to shoo away the vultures?

“The way I see it is, it’s a reinvention in progress,” says Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester Research. “There’s still lots of challenges before we know whether [Blackberry] will survive. So I haven’t written them off, but they really aren’t competitive anymore in the consumer handset market.”

The company, which declined to comment for this story, has stabilized its financials in recent quarters. But Apple is also chasing corporate clients. It announced a new partnership with IBM recently, with its eye on a similar business prize.

You could be the life on Mars. Yes, you.

Mon, 2014-09-22 13:17

Suddenly, everyone seems to be going to Mars.

NASA's MAVEN satellite has just begun orbiting the Red Planet and studying its atmosphere, and a craft launched by the Indian space agency is due to arrive in the Martian orbit this Wednesday. Meanwhile, various private sector organizations are planning something far more ambitious: the first manned landings on Mars.  One of them – the Dutch-based Mars One project – says it’s on course for blast off with a four person crew within a decade.

You might think that Mars One’s biggest problem would be recruitment. The Mars visitors face a seven month long journey to a bitterly cold, dusty wasteland that has no oxygen and not much water. And then there’s the matter of the return journey: There isn’t one. The cost of bringing the crew back would be so prohibitive that this is to be a one-way trip. These are not so much Mars visitors as settlers or colonizers.

Nevertheless, an astonishing 200,000 people applied to join the mission. This figure has been winnowed down to a more modest 705 who are now being more closely assessed.

Twenty-one year-old Ryan McDonald – a physics student at Oxford University – is one of the (so-far) successful applicants . He can hardly wait for lift-off.

"I’m going there because I want to live on Mars, spend my life there – because that’s how I think I can achieve the most for humanity," he says.

"My main motivation is the example of the Apollo mission. It was the generation that was inspired by the moon landings that went on and gave us things like the internet, iPhones, advanced technology which immeasurably improves our lives and we’re so dependent on these days. A manned landing on Mars could have a similar effect. So I want to give a new generation their Apollo moment."

McDonald is unfazed by the prospect of never returning to Planet Earth. The same goes for 34-year-old school lab technician Alison Rigby – another Martian "candidate."

"It’s happened throughout human history,” Rigby says. “People have traveled across the planet with no hope of returning to where they came from. So I would belong to the next generation of these pioneers."

Bryan Versteeg and Mars One/

Rigby – who has a master’s degree in chemistry – finds the idea of spending the rest of her life in a bio-dome examining the chemistry of another planet "enticing."

The man behind the Mars One mission – Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp – claims his inspiration for the project comes from the Olympics.  Lansdorp, who made his money from a wind energy firm, says what caught his eye about the London Games was the revenue from sponsorship and broadcasting rights: $4 billion for only three weeks of broadcasting.

"That was because the world was watching," says Lansdorp “The world would certainly want to watch the first Mars Landing. We will raise the $6 billion we need for the project by selling the media rights.”

A subsidiary of the Dutch company that created the Big Brother TV franchise has already snapped up the broadcasting rights to the Mars One final crew selection process.
But Dave Wade – an underwriter at the Lloyds insurance market in London who specializes in insuring commercial space projects – is skeptical about the viability of the Mars One project. First of all, he believes it would cost a lot more than $6 billion: “ More like $100 billion,” he says. And he can see a problem with the those broadcasting rights – a conflict between the demands of interplanetary travel and reality TV.

Bryan Versteeg and Mars One/

“The TV producers will want controversial people, difficult people. They want drama,” Wade says. “That’s not the kind of people you want on a space mission, particularly a one-way mission where the crew are going to be locked up in cramped capsule for months on end. It’s just fraught with difficulties. And they won’t be able to evict anyone from the bio-dome on Mars!”

There goes the neighborhood: The college students next door

Mon, 2014-09-22 12:08

On a busy road in Baltimore, Valerie Sirani walks up to a shabby beige house with three mailboxes and Christmas lights lining the windows. She knocks on the door. After a few minutes, a dozen or so young men in shorts and T-shirts gather on the front lawn, looking a bit wary.

They’re all students at Loyola University Maryland, living in a row of big houses off campus. Sirani hasn’t come alone. She’s brought with her representatives from the university and City Hall, as well as a uniformed police officer.

“My name is Val,” she tells the group. “I’m the community association president. Does everyone know what community you’re living in?”

They throw out a few guesses, but it’s clear they don’t.

“It’s Lake Walker,” Sirani tells them.

Lake Walker is a small, middle-class neighborhood in North Baltimore. With Towson University, Goucher College and Loyola all just a few miles away, Sirani has counted at least 20 houses rented by college students, out of about 700 homes. Today’s meeting is part welcome wagon, part warning.

“You’re part of our community and we want you to have fun,” Sirani says, “but we want you to be safe.”

So maybe don’t come home from a day of drinking and set out lawn chairs on your slanted roof to watch traffic, like Sirani recently saw some kids on this block doing. She stopped and took a picture.

“The kids obviously saw what I was doing and came down,” she says. “They were very polite, but extremely intoxicated.”

The minute school starts back up each year, so do the off-campus parties—and the complaints from neighbors about noise, fights, and people urinating in the bushes. Baltimore City police officer Doug Gibson shows the students a folder full of reports just from the past few weekends. If a house gets written up as a “neighborhood nuisance,” the landlord and tenants can be hit with hundreds of dollars in fines.

“Some of the reports already from this block are in that process right now,” he says. “There are going to be, most likely, some $500 citations issued already this year.”

Afterward, Loyola senior Bryan Pricoli admits the chat was a little intimidating. He also admits that having people over is one reason he wanted to live off campus.

“Obviously within normal human behavior,” he says. “This is just six good guys living together, and just having a good time our senior year.”

And they don’t have that much choice about where to live. Decades ago Loyola made an unusual agreement with several neighborhoods in its backyard that its students wouldn’t live there.

Studies have shown that the presence of a college, with its cultural activities and open spaces, raises property values. That doesn’t mean people want students living next door. Joan Flynn, senior vice president for administration at Loyola, warns the students that their behavior reflects on the college.

“You need to understand that you’re living here for one year; these folks are living here essentially for a lifetime,” she says. “The goal here is to be viewed as a contributing member of this community and not an element that diminishes the quality of life in this community.”

Efforts to smooth neighborhood relations are catching on at other colleges, says Beth Bagwell, president of the International Town-Gown Association. When students know their neighbors, it’s “harder to ignore the fact that Ms. Smith next door has a baby and she has to get up at 7 o’clock in the morning,” she says.

At the University of Colorado Boulder, some students living off campus are required to attend an orientation before they can collect their keys. They learn about the local nuisance law and hear about the community from a neighbor. Among the houses that have participated, Bagwell says citations for things like noise and property damage have dropped by half.

“So they were able to quantify the fact that this was a very successful program, and they’re still doing this,” she says.

Lake Walker’s Valerie Sirani isn’t sure. After a meet-and-greet with students from Towson University the week before, she was inundated with emails from neighbors complaining about a Saturday night party.

A big week to come in climate change policy

Mon, 2014-09-22 10:14

It's going to be a big week in New York for the policy of climate change. 

Just a day after 300,000 people took to the streets of Manhattan to bring more attention to the need for climate change action, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund announced it was divesting from fossil fuel investments.

"What's clear is that this is a symbolic announcement," says Marketplace's Scott Tong. "But the amount of selling off would pale in comparison to the size of most of these big companies."

The reality, Tong says, is that we're in a planet that is supposed to keep global warming to just two degrees Celsius, but is currently on track to double that figure. But one of the other realities, he says, is that accountants could change the world of climate change.

"[The bankers] are everywhere talking about the opportunities of a low-carbon economy," he said. "Solar and wind energy, they say, are worth investing in, because in many places they can compete against coal and gas. There are tens of billions of dollars going towards bonds that invest in low-carbon technologies — not because of polar bears but because the return on investment is good. This is the kind of reality they're trying to send to national capitals."

Your Wallet: Redesigning student financial aid

Mon, 2014-09-22 09:18

According to the Federal Reserve, total student loan debt in the country has recently surpassed $1 billion:

The effects of student loans pop up throughout the economy: housing is out of reach for many, and even social security can be affected.

So, how would YOU re-create financial aid, if you could? Would you require work-study programs to bring down the cost of college while in school? A greater number of programs that cover student debt after you graduate?

Let us know on Twitter or email us, we'd love to hear your ideas.

When private investors, not taxpayers, pay the toll

Mon, 2014-09-22 07:00

Nine years ago, Indiana's then-Governor Mitch Daniels was looking for money to improve the state's roads and bridges. His solution was a public-private partnership in which the Indiana Toll Road Company leased a 157-mile stretch of highway in northern Indiana for 75 years to the tune of $3.8 billion. The deal was supposed to benefit both the state, and the company, a Spanish-Australian partnership.

“The private partners would receive tolls that were paid by motorists and the state would receive a better, improved road and this upfront cash payment,” said Robert Puentes, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. When the recession hit, Americans started driving less, and tolls became less lucrative. And while that became a problem for the Indiana Toll Road Company, the partnership meant that taxpayers weren’t on the hook.

“There's no taxpayer bailout involved in this in any way, shape or form,” said Robert Poole, director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation. “This is one of the advantages of these long-term deals. They shift the risk from the taxpayers to the investors.”

And, despite what’s happening in Indiana, investor interest in these types of projects hasn’t flagged, says Poole, who points to similar toll-road deals currently underway in Orlando, Dallas-Forth Worth, and northern Virginia.

The numbers for September 22, 2014

Mon, 2014-09-22 05:49

In New York Monday morning, everyone is talking about climate change. Thousands of protesters marched to promote awareness and action; the Rockefellers, who made their fortune in oil, announced their $860 million charity will divest from fossil fuels and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a 10-year, $1 billion-dollar plan to cut the city's greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050. All of this is timed with the climate summit convening at the UN Tuesday.

So everyone's talking about the environment this morning — including us — but we're reading some other stuff, too. Let's take a look at those numbers:

10 million

Apple sold more than 10 million iPhone 6 and 6 Plus devices since Friday, beating the first-weekend sales of the iPhone 5, CNET reported. Apple also upsold more people on pricier models with more storage than it has in past years, one analyst told Business Insider. Apple makes 70 percent of its profits from the iPhone, and that flash storage is high-margin. Overall, it's a good day for Apple and a bad day for the millions of women trying to fit those bigger iPhones in their pockets.


That's when Home Depot reportedly got the first warnings they might have a cyber-security problem, about six years before 56 million cardholders' information would be stolen in a massive data breach. Former network security employees told the New York Times that Home Depot was lax about security, using outdated antivirus software and failing to regularly scan for vulnerabilities.

14.7 percent

The nationwide three-year default rate on student loans in 2013, this year's numbers are expected Monday. Schools exceeding a 30 percent default rate three years in a row or 40 percent in a single year can lose federal funding, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported, and this year the department of education has changed its criterion from a two-year default rate to the ostensibly more accurate three-year rate. The default rate is on the rise, and one department of education official told the Chronicle as many as two to three dozen schools could lose federal aid.


In case you missed it, that's the day the Baltimore Ravens front office reportedly first learned what was on a security camera tape from inside the casino elevator where former running back Ray Rice knocked out his then-fiance. According to an ESPN investigation published late Friday afternoon, Ravens higher-ups pushed for leniency from both prosecutors and the NFL as they tried to keep the tape — which became public two weeks ago — under wraps.

PODCAST: To encrypt or not to encrypt

Mon, 2014-09-22 03:00

First up, an expected bankruptcy filing today is telling us something about the way Americans drive these days, and the wisdom of investing in U.S. infrastructure. The Indiana Toll Road company, which owns the rights to a 157 mile mile stretch of highway in Indiana, has been struggling with about $6 billion of debt. It's just one of several private companies that made what turned out to be bad bets on toll roads. Plus, after the iPhone accounts of some celebrities got hacked recently, Apple's been talking about privacy. It's now released a freshened operating system that makes it tougher for the unauthorized to get into Apple phones and tablets. Not to be outdone, Google's says its doing something similar for Android. Why the move is making law enforcement authorities unhappy. And the long recession deprived many younger people of a way to launch themselves into career-type jobs and what some might call financial adulthood. Which means, they also aren't launching into some big purchases that have traditionally been part of the American Dream: first car, first home, first retirement account. The big challenge here is for the younger workers themselves, but it's also a hassle for marketers.

New OS from both Apple and Google will encrypt

Mon, 2014-09-22 02:00

If you have a password on your smartphone, the new Apple and Android operating systems will encrypt your data so nobody can read it—Not Apple, not Google and not law enforcement.

Adi Kamdar, a policy analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said this move shows companies are realizing their users care about privacy.

“It is significant because privacy is becoming more of a competitive tool,” he says.  

Kamdar says the encryption only applies to the data you keep on your phone. It doesn’t apply to data gathered by apps or that’s stored in the cloud.

Despite these work arounds, law enforcement officials are upset. Ron Hosko, a former assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigative division, says in light of the Snowden revelations, he understands the need to protect privacy. But, he says, Google and Apple have gone too far.

“Two big tech providers are essentially creating sanctuary for people who are going to do harm,” says Hosko.

Hosko said lawmakers need to step-up and make laws that balance privacy and safety.

Many young people are not in a position to splurge

Mon, 2014-09-22 02:00

The recession deprived many young people of a launching pad into career jobs and financial adulthood. And that means they also aren’t launching into some of the major investments that have traditionally been part of the American Dream; such as purchasing a first car or a first home, or starting a first retirement account.

“Because the economy has hurt them so badly, they’ve had a delayed adulthood,” says Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding in New York, which conducts market research on the workplace and consumer expectations of this age cohort. “They don’t reach a salary of $42,000 until the age of thirty at this point; there’s $1.2 trillion in student loan debt; fifty percent of them are unemployed, underemployed or have given up on their job search completely; 21 million are living with their parents.

“They’re in debt,” says Schawbel, who has just published a book on Millennials' job prospects, titled "Promote Yourself: The New Rules of Career Success." “They’re getting married later, getting cars later. In order to make ends meet now, they have to have as few expenses as possible.”

If these consumers delay big-ticket purchases for years to come, or never make them in numbers comparable to the Boomers and Gen Xers before them, it could have a profound effect on the economy in the future.

Still, brands still have to at least try to interest young consumers in purchases such as new cars, starter homes and condos, or major household appliances. Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist at Golden Gate University and author of the book "Gen BuY: How Tweens, Teens, and Twenty-Somethings Are Revolutionizing Retail" has some advice for marketers.

“What people have is a showcase of who they are,” Yarrow says. Millennials express their identity through their clothes, their appearance, the objects they have around them.

She says new homes are a tough sell—especially in the high-priced hip cities where young people like to live. But furniture shouldn’t be.

“Ikea is perfect for this generation,” she says, “because it has an extremely low price point, it’s really customizable, it’s what you put in it, what you paint on it, how you make it yours.”

Yarrow thinks cars that will be more attractive to young people if the marketing focus is on environmental values and green fuels. “Because it’s not just transportation,” says Yarrow, “it’s also a way of saying who you are to other people.”

Dan Schawbel says the experience of learning about a brand—whether from the brand itself, or from friends and through social media, is crucial for this generation.

“They want interactive experiences,” says Schawbel. "So before you show them the product, before you connect with them, put stuff online that shows this is what you’re getting, here’s the experience, here’s why it could be valuable.”

But he also offers this caveat: “Even if you have a great experience, make the product look really good, you can tweet from the dashboard, all of that—it comes down to how much can Millennials even afford.”

At the moment, that’s not very much.

March in New York calls for action on climate change

Mon, 2014-09-22 02:00

Has the time for action on climate change finally come? That’s what protesters around the globe are hoping. Over 310,000 people took to the streets in New York City on Sunday, according to the march’s organizers. They’re calling it the largest climate march ever.   There were life-long activists and people who had never joined a protest before. Their list of concerns was long and varied, but the targets were mostly clear: the politicians and companies who marchers want to press to take action on global warming ahead of a climate change summit at the United Nations on Tuesday.   “Corporations generally don’t care about the environment,” said Benjamin Breitkreuz, a retired clergyman. “Theirs is a profit motive.” He came from New Jersey, carrying a sign that read “corporations are killing our planet.”   Over 1,500 organizations partnered in the march, including labor unions that pledged to use their organizing power to push for environmental causes.   “We need to send a clear message to the governments and the corporations that the people of the world aren’t going to stand for this,” said New York train operator and union member Josh Fraidstern. “We’re not going to let them poison us; we’re not going to let them destroy our future.”   But many people simply came on their own or with their families, hoping their numbers would raise awareness.   “Really, America needs to lead,” said Lu Petrie, who came up from Virginia for the march with her husband and son. “It’s so embarrassing that America isn’t leading on this issue.”   She said she hoped the high turnout would help raise awareness. She’ll also be looking to the UN this week to see whether world leaders have recognized that climate change is an issue people are willing to fight for.

Our readers' worries and hopes about student data

Fri, 2014-09-19 20:45

We hosted a Twitter chat on Thursday, September 18, to discuss our Quantified Student reporting project, and to hear what our readers have to say about student data policy issues. Here are some selected tweets from the conversation:

[<a href="//" target="_blank">View the story "LearningCurve's #studentdata chat" on Storify</a>]

The economics of slow money

Fri, 2014-09-19 15:14

We came across a story from Vermont Public Radio about a new digital currency called Beetcoin.

It's an electronic currency like Bitcoin, designed for farmers with small and medium-sized operations, and that got us curious about how smaller-scale farms are funded and the economics behind running a farm.

To put that in context, we headed over to Rockefeller Center in New York City, where we met up with Christopher Wayne, the technical director of Greenmarket Farmer's Market's technical assistance program. Greenmarket's oversees New York City's Farmer's Market Programs. 

While a farmer's market might seem like an oasis of natural goodness in the heart of the city, as Christopher Wayne explains, there's a lot of work with "slow money" that goes on behind the scenes to bring these markets here.

"Slow money" brings us back to Beetcoin. What exactly is slow money?

As Vermont Public Radio's Angela Evancie explains, "Slow Money is looking to establish networks where the investors in small farms and small food businesses are local, they're right there in the community … and they are the ones connected to the investors."

Click play above to hear more about Slow Money and the economics of farming.

Why SAP gobbled up Concur

Fri, 2014-09-19 13:46

If you travel for work, there's a good chance you've used Concur to help itemize all those minibar receipts, your taxi cab rides and cups of coffee. Well, this week software giant SAP has scooped up Concur for more than $8 billion, in one of the largest software acquisitions ever.

What would SAP want with a company that helps people track their travel expenses?

SAP has been successful selling software to help the world's biggest companies run their operations. The challenge, says Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler, is that the software industry is changing, and SAP has an obvious hole.

"They've been missing this big transition which is the move to what they call cloud services," he says.

Schadler says, historically, SAP has installed software at the office, but the new — and cheaper — way to run software is through these cloud services, where businesses pay to have the software run for them. Schadler says buying Concur is a signal to SAP's clients that its taking a giant step into the cloud.

"With the cloud, it's very easy to add customers quickly, and it's a lot easier to improve the cloud software," he says.

For all the potential, analysts are mixed on SAP's purchase. Morningstar senior analyst Rick Summer says Concur does little to meet the needs of SAP's core customers.

"Simply by going out and buying Concur, SAP can't walk in and say 'hey, we can make your inventory management system ready for the cloud tomorrow," Summer says, but he does believe for $8 billion, SAP has bought itself some time.

"The companies that have great, strong relationships with their customers can be patient and over years, and even over a decade move their customers over to that public cloud," he says.

Summer says it's difficult and expensive for SAP's customers to rip out their software and plug into the cloud with a competitor, but to remain an industry leader, the software giant must clarify its cloud picture soon.

SAP gobbles up Concur

Fri, 2014-09-19 13:46

If you travel for work, there's a good chance you've used Concur to help itemize all those minibar receipts, your taxi cab rides and cups of coffee. Well, this week software giant SAP has scooped up Concur for more than $8 billion, in one of the largest software acquisitions ever.

What would SAP want with a company that helps people track their travel expenses?

SAP has been successful selling software to help the world's biggest companies run their operations. The challenge, says Forrester Research analyst Ted Shadler, is that the software industry is changing, and SAP has an obvious hole.

"They've been missing this big transition which is the move to what they call cloud services," he says.

Shadler says historically SAP has installed software at the office, but the new - and cheaper - way to run software is through these cloud services, where businesses pay to have the software run for them. Shadler says buying Concur is a signal to SAP's clients that its taking a giant step into the cloud.

"With the cloud, it's very easy to add customers quickly, and it's a lot easier to improve the cloud software," he says.

For all the potential, analysts are mixed on SAP's purchase. Morningstar senior analyst Rick Summer says Concur does little to meet the needs of SAP's core customers.

"Simply by going out and buying Concur, SAP can't walk in and say 'hey, we can make your inventory management system ready for the cloud tomorrow," Summer says, but he does believe for $8 billion, SAP has bought itself some time.

"The companies that have great, strong relationships with their customers can be patient and over years, and even over a decade move their customers over to that public cloud," he says.

Summer says it's difficult and expensive for SAP's customers to rip out their software and plug into the cloud with a competitor, but to remain an industry leader, the software giant must clarify its cloud picture soon.

What's the craziest thing you've ever worn to work?

Fri, 2014-09-19 13:46

The Suitsy is a combination between a business suit... and a onesie. It’s an idea by San Francisco designer Jesse Herzog, and it is exactly what it sounds like – a onesie that looks just like a suit, complete with fake buttons and a belt. The idea is for one to look professional enough for a workplace dress code, but feel like you’re wearing pajamas. Because you are.  

Professional dress codes have changed a lot. 

“I mean, think, over the last 20 or 30 years men came to work in suit and tie, women came in jackets and skirts,” says Marcia Ruben, chair of the Department of Management at Golden Gate University Edward S. Ageno School of Business. “Over time it’s really evolved to be much more casual. I’ve been at companies where people come to work in sweat suits.”

Traditionally, dress codes were used to separate work from home, and to separate the role from the individual person playing it, says Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “One of the things you find is a trend of trying to blur this boundary more — part of it’s a generational shift, part of it’s a cultural shift.”

This shift hasn’t come to all industries equally. 

“Lawyers still wear suits and ties,” says Ruben, and the business suit is thriving in the finance industry. “But if you go into [tech] companies at least in Silicon Valley, men wear khaki pants, starched shirts, women wear pants suits, some people in sweat suits, even jeans – it’s all over the place.”

This has to do with what each industry is trying to convey to itself and to others, says Sanchez-Burks.

“There are certain industries where society would prefer there to be less change,” he says.

Banks who want you to trust them with their money are expected to communicate stability. “They set up their establishments in places that look like they were built by the Greeks and will last forever; creative accounting is a bad thing.” The traditional, expected dress code, signals a kind of stability and trust in the institution – you don’t see bankers, you see a grand institution you can trust with your money.

Likewise for doctors and their white coats – “I would be nervous if my doctor were dressed too casually,” says Ruben. In most circumstances, experimental medicine is not a selling point, whereas the authority of modern medicine is. The dress code is a way of channeling that broader identity, emphasizing the role and not the individual. 

The tech industry, however is different. It isn’t less concerned with appearance – even non-conformists are sending signals with how they dress – it’s rather about which signal. Creativity and change are the selling points. And the casual or unorthodox dress code reflects that.

“By breaking people’s expectations you’re literally signaling a sense that something new is to be learned you’re trying to accomplish something that’s not necessarily mainstream, you’re focusing on issues from a new perspective, you’re signaling a break from tradition,” says Sanchez-Burks.

In the creative industries, the individual and the role are much more closely tied. So to get the best role – production of creative ideas – you have to make the individual comfortable. “There’s a feeling that if the work atmosphere is more relaxed, than people will feel more comfortable,” says Ruben. “I think some of the larger high tech companies where people are hiring knowledge workers and looking at them to be creative and innovative, that that creates relaxation and comfort.”

Luckily for radio reporters, nobody can see what we’re wearing.

And we can't see you. Unless, of course, you tell us: What's the craziest thing you've ever gotten away with wearing to work?

A utili-kilt:

A trucker hat:

Pink fuzzy slippers:

Historic garb and more:

Scotland says no to independence. Now what?

Fri, 2014-09-19 11:30

The "no's" have it: the United Kingdom is still united as a kingdom.

Scotland's vote struck down their independence movement, 55 percent to 45 percent. The referendum posted the highest voter turnout–nearly 85 percent of the electorate–since the 1951 UK general election.

"There's a really strange atmosphere here in Glasgow, because the very vocal 'yes' campaign are now very quiet, very despondent," says the BBC's Lucy Burton. "The 'no' voters feel relief. They're not gloating, they just feel relieved."

Questions such as which currency an independent Scotland would use, or how much of the North Sea oil they would actually own, will now go unanswered, much to the 'no' campaign's relief.

Not everyone's votes, however, were economically driven, says Burton. 

"For the 'no' voters, it perhaps played an even bigger part," she said. She had gone down to interview some shipbuilders for BAA Systems, who were concerned about their jobs. Certain businesses, including the Royal Bank of Scotland, had threatened to move their headquarters to London if the 'yes' vote had won out.

On the other side, though, the 'yes' voters believed the economic concerns outlined in the days leading up to the referendum were scare tactics by design. They were also concerned that Prime Minister David Cameron's promised devolution of power to Scotland wasn't enough to meet their demands of having more Scottish power.

"In the end, it came down to a case of, 'who do you trust?' And for a lot of people, it came down to, 'what does your heart tell you?'"


Double Charged: Does paying back victims cost kids their futures?

Fri, 2014-09-19 11:13

Ricky Brum stood in an alleyway behind a furniture store in Manteca, California, and to be honest, it was a little awkward. He didn't really want to be there. Last February, Brum set some cardboard boxes on fire just a few feet away.

"Just that right there," he said, pointing to a black spot on the pavement. "Just a little burn mark on the floor."

Brett Myers/Youth Radio

One match did the trick, said Brum. "Like, I just sat there and was like 'Bam!'"

That "bam" changed Ricky Brum’s life. He was 15 when he set the fire. It was his first time getting in trouble with the law. He was lucky: his charges were reduced to a misdemeanor. Brum went on probation, and into juvenile hall.

Brum, and his mom Leanne, thought the worst was behind them. But then, while meeting with their public defender, they found out about restitution.

"We thought it was a joke,” said Leanne Brum.

Sitting at his kitchen table, Ricky Brum flipped through the restitution claim. Even though the fire department report said there was no damage to anything in the furniture store, the owner claimed his entire inventory of nearly 1,400 items was smoke-damaged.

The bill came out to $221,000.

The Brum family is fortunate. They own a house and have homeowner's insurance, and the insurance company went to bat for them, negotiating the restitution down to $10,000, and paying for that amount.

Restitution laws are by in large designed, to “make victims whole,” by requiring offenders to repay victims for their financial losses. Some states limit restitution for juveniles. In Missouri, restitution is capped at $4,000 for juvenile offenders. In New York, it’s $1,500. But in California, there are no limits to how much money minors can owe victims, often on top of serving time behind bars.

Christine Kroger is Ricky Brum's attorney, and she argues that restitution is anything but rehabilitative for young people. "What we see is that it’s all about punishment,” said Kroger. “For example, there's a whole caseload of kids that have satisfied every other term and condition of their probation, but they just don't get off probation because they still owe money."

Restitution can’t be erased by claiming bankruptcy. And if restitution is still owed by the time offenders turn 21, it can turn into a civil judgment. Victims can garnish up to 25 percent of offenders’ wages, can take their tax refunds and place liens on property.

Sueann Koster's grandson threw a pool party at her house while she and her husband were away on vacation. The grandson was in high school, and one of the teens who came over to swim came back and robbed her.

At the time, Koster was recuperating from breast cancer. She said, "I had done a year of chemo and my husband told me he wanted to take me on a little trip. Well, when I came back, I was not just a victim of cancer, but of a burglary."

Suanne Koster collected $8600 in restitution after her Woodland, California home was burglarized by a teen who was friends with her grandson.

Myles Bess/Youth Radio

The teen stole jewelry including her husband’s wedding band and a necklace Koster got as an anniversary gift, and in court, Koster says the teen spat at her to intimidate her from claiming restitution.

"Well, he did not realize that the more he did that, the more I was determined,” said Koster. “You know, 'You little punk. You’re not going to intimidate me.'"

Koster won $2,600 restitution for the stolen jewelry, and another $6,000 for things like mileage, lost wages and the cost of new security upgrades to her home – including the cost of spaying and neutering her new watch dogs Dorothy and Toto.  The offender still owes Koster about $1,000 in interest, but has otherwise paid the restitution in full.

Suanne Koster adopted Dorothy and Toto as guard dogs after her home was burglarized. The cost of spaying and neutering was covered by restitution. 

Myles Bess/Youth Radio

Payment is rare. There are no statewide statistics on juvenile restitution, but Youth Radio collected numbers from three of California’s largest counties and found that less than 30 percent of restitution amounts are paid.

"I think that people recognize there are certain dollar amounts that are not going to be paid at all, ever," said Roger Chan, who runs the East Bay Children’s Law Offices in Oakland. Juvenile law, said Chan, is about reform, giving young people a chance to start over. However, Chan argues that restitution too often gets in the way because it saddles kids with unreasonably high debt.

"If you order such a huge amount of restitution to a young person who has no ability to pay it, how meaningful is that as a consequence?” said Chan. “Is that really an effective way for the young person to be rehabilitated, and is that really beneficial to victims?"

Chan is trying to change California’s law to let judges consider a kid’s ability to pay. It’s not just for the benefit of young offenders, Chan says, it’s for victims too – because when restitution sums are realistic, he says victims are more likely to get paid.

To say that juvenile restitution is complicated is an understatement. It’s a process that wrestles with two competing philosophies around the idea of justice: justice for victims who have the right to be paid for their losses – even when the offender spends time in jail -- and justice for juvenile offenders, who need to be held accountable, but also allowed to move on from their crimes, and from the system.

What's the new normal for the housing market?

Fri, 2014-09-19 10:50

Susan Wachter, Professor of Real Estate and Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, explains the 'new normal' in the housing market:

Lizzie O'Leary: “What do you think about the kind of lending standards we have seen post-crisis? Because there’s arguments to be made that lending standards were really lax before the crisis, but then at the same time that now credit is so hard to get for a lot of people. Is there a median point that the economy should try to hit?

Susan Wachter: “Lenders have tightened up. Standards have tightened up. Way beyond where they were in the period before the crisis. As well they should. But they’ve gone beyond that. So, if you compare credit standards today to where they were in 2001, which was a period way before the crisis, where we had earlier decades of lending that [was] reasonable, responsible, sustainable, we’re not there yet. Standards have eased up slightly over this past year, but they’re far tighter than historically were their norm. So, why is that? In part it’s because of the experience of lenders, that if they make a mistake on the loan that loan is coming back to them. Reps and warranties are going to prevail. So they’re being extremely careful. We need a solution to that problem and we’re not there yet, but the solution that we have right now, which is keeping hundreds of thousands of people in renter-ship who would sustainably be able to be home owners- that solution is where we should be pushing towards.”

O'Leary: “Warren Buffet gave an interview a while back in which he said ‘Listen, I don’t think the economy is really going to recover until housing does.’ I know you’re probably not going to like me trying to put a time frame on this, but when could you see housing really come back?”

Wachter: “Well I think housing is going to come back in the new normal frame within a year to two years. That’s not the difficult question. The question of when will housing come back so it brings us to a traditional role in wealth building, in home ownership for families as they begin their family formation period, that’s a much larger issue, and one that I don’t have an answer to.”

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