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The meaning behind your favorite number

Mon, 2015-02-16 13:21

When we talk about numbers on Marketplace, we’re usually talking about their numerical value. But what about their cultural meaning?

That’s the subject of Barnaby Rogerson’s collection, “Rogerson's Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers -- from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World"

Here are a few examples from Rogerson:

Thirteen: Often known as an unlucky number – something Rogerson says is true around the world. But it’s also the number of states who rebelled against Britain in the 1770s. Coincidentally, it’s also the number of states recognized by the Confederacy as those rebelling against the Union in the 1860s.

Three: “My father-in-law is a banker who’s been watching the markets all his life ... and he always told me that three percent was the magical area of growth … and his job as a banker was to find out how people were getting more than three percent and how long they could sustain it before they were found out.”

Zero: Rogerson’s least favorite number. “You can’t list zeros … you can’t even list nothing-nesses.” Fun fact: The concept of zero or nothingness didn't get to the British Isles until the 16th century.

Forty-two: Rogerson’s favorite number. Many cultures assign special meaning to the number 42. But it’s also the answer to the Universe, according to Douglas Adams, author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

Why nobody buys movie tickets online

Mon, 2015-02-16 12:16

Even before the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” opened last weekend, it was already a box-office leader for online movie ticket vendor Fandango. However, even for highly-anticipated movies, most tickets are still sold the old-fashioned way, at the box office. 

Price seems like an obvious barrier to wider adoption. Unlike buying a book from Amazon, buying a movie ticket online means the customer pays an extra surcharge.

An executive from a major theater chain disputes that customers prefer to avoid fees.

"Nothing in our testing or our research suggests that it is a barrier," says Brent Cooke, vice president for guest relations at AMC Theatres. Financial analysts disagree.

"You're only going to pay that surcharge if you're not going to get in otherwise," says Sucharita Mulparu, an analyst with Forrester Research. "Otherwise, why bother?"

While some movies with a lot of buzz do sell out, the typical movie-theater experience is more casual.

"People will walk up to a box office and say, ‘What do you want to see?'" says Rebecca Lieb, an analyst with Altimeter Group.

Lieb points out another barrier to selling more tickets online: Lots of movie goers are teenagers. "And they don't have credit cards," she says. 

Eventually, the industry will do what it takes to move all sales online, predicts Michael Pachter, an analyst with Forrester Research.

The customer data, he says, is too valuable to pass up.

"Do you think if we called up Disney, they could tell me whether you’ve seen Iron Man 1, 2 or 3 in the theater?" he says. "They have no idea."

If ticket sales were digital, they would have that information.

"That would give them the opportunity to sell you Iron Man on DVD, or sell you Iron Man merchandise for Halloween, or whatever," he says. "I think that's a bigger opportunity than just getting the ticket sale."

President's Day: A celebration of two wheels?

Mon, 2015-02-16 08:51

It's President's Day! And, it's a day and a weekend when car dealers sell a whole lot of cars. But, long before minivans were decked in red, white and blue balloons, before TV ads featured one car special after another, President's Day was all about bicycles. 

According to The Atlantic, in the late 1800's Washington's birthday was celebrated with two wheels. Bicycle races ... bicycle sales ... it was the day the newest models of bicycles were unveiled. 

Which means we've been buying these symbols of personal freedom for a very long time.

PODCAST: The biggest bank robbery of all time?

Mon, 2015-02-16 08:36

We're still learning about a sweeping, year-long heist revealed by a Russian cyber security firm Monday. Hackers reportedly got away with up to $1 billion from the various banks by pulling little bits from about 100 banks over time. We chatted with one expert about how much a breach could have gone unnoticed. Then, the U.S. is trying to catch up on tech training, and apprenticeships could be the answer. Labor secretary Thomas Perez calls them "the other college, but without the debt." Finally: very few people buy movie tickets online, but industry watchers are looking to change that because the opportunities for data collection might be too good to pass up.

It's good to be a former president

Mon, 2015-02-16 07:14
$1,287,000

That's what the U.S. Government's General Services Administration allotted President George W. Bush for Fiscal Year 2014, Vox reported. That total includes office space, health care and other services — on top of the $201,700 all four living presidents receive annually.

Courtesy:Vox 2016

Speaking of presidents, the New York Times has made a handy, interactive scorecard for likely 2016 candidates. It rounds up the each candidates progress and parses through the currently crowded Republican field. 

100

The number of banks implicated in a sweeping, year-long heist revealed by a Russian cyber security firm Monday. Hackers reportedly got away with up to $1 billion from the various banks. We chatted with one expert about how much a breach could have gone unnoticed.

$90.7 million

The predicted box office take for "Fifty Shades of Grey" from Thursday night to Monday, the New York Times reported. It's a strong opening – among the highest for an erotic film, an R-rated film and a film directed by a woman – and it has potential to shift attitudes in Hollywood about all three types of movies. Not bad for what was once "Twilight" fan fiction.

$44 million

That's how much Colorado made from taxing recreational marijuana in 2014, the Associated Press reported. The market is still in flux, and the state got a bump from tourism last year, but it's an encouraging sign for legalization supporters, especially taking into account the additional $32 million in taxes Colorado from medical marijuana.

$30 billion

The approximate value of chocolate company Ferrero SpA, the Wall Street Journal reported. Company founder and Italy's richest man, Michele Ferrero, died over the weekend at 89. Ferrero gave the world Tic Tacs, Kinder eggs and most notably Nutella.

US hopes grants will spur apprenticeships

Mon, 2015-02-16 04:42

The U.S. lags behind countries like Germany and Switzerland in the race to train young workers in the latest advanced technologies.  Now, the Department of Labor has $100 million in grants it will award to create apprenticeship programs across the country.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez recently highlighted efforts by companies like Buhler Aeroglide, which offers training for high school students in manufacturing skills.  The federal government has singled out Buhler as an apprenticeship leader. Perez says creating more programs like Buhler's will help grow the economy.  

He hopes companies will offer training programs in all kinds of skills, including IT, cyber security and healthcare.

US hopes grants will spur apprenticeships

Mon, 2015-02-16 04:42

The U.S. lags behind countries like Germany and Switzerland in the race to train young workers in the latest advanced technologies.  Now, the Department of Labor has $100 million in grants it will award to create apprenticeship programs across the country.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez recently highlighted efforts by companies like Buhler Aeroglide, which offers training for high school students in manufacturing skills.  The federal government has singled out Buhler as an apprenticeship leader. Perez says creating more programs like Buhler's will help grow the economy.  

He hopes companies will offer training programs in all kinds of skills, including IT, cyber security and healthcare.

Billboards surprise motorists with art instead of ads

Mon, 2015-02-16 04:33

Driving across the middle of the country, you see billboards everywhere, for things like diners, casinos and adult bookstores. The sign advertising industry is actually worth $7 billion dollars nationwide.

Missouri averages three billboards per mile – more than any of its neighboring states. But when you get to Hatton, Missouri, there’s one sign that’s not like the others. It’s sandwiched between an ad for a strip club and an ad for more billboards in the middle of a muddy soybean field.

The billboard was designed by artist Kim Beck. It has the words “next exit” written in cloud letters gainst a blue backdrop. The background of the sign bleeds into the actual sky today. There are no logos or branding identification on the artwork.

The billboard towers above Anne Thompson, who teaches art at the University of Missouri. This piece is part of her I-70 Sign Show public art project. Thompson says this sign is meant to subtly confront billboards that ask drivers if they are going to heaven or hell.

“I think the words ‘next exit’ are probably the most [commonly found] along the interstate,” she says. “But when you see them written in clouds as this kind of displaced piece of sky in the sky, it takes on a different kind of poetic meaning, like where is your next exit?”

She picked six artists to create pieces that compete in the shouting match of anti-abortion, gun-rights and political campaign signage along the highway. One piece shows the words “blah blah blah” scrawled across the billboard that tackles the confusion of language. Another sign has the word “Blurred” written half in blue and half in red as a comment on the divided politics of Missouri.

More than 45,000 cars cruise I-70 each day with the chance to catch the socially engaging art.  In a city like Chicago, a sign might run you thousands of dollars a month. Here in rural Missouri? It’s only about $900.

One sign has caught the attention of Jessica Baran, the director of the Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts in St. Louis.

“To have a large, powerful, very assertive African American female figure flanking the exit that’s leading to where the recent unrest in Ferguson has taken place, certainly has a psychic value,” she said.

Indeed, Thompson says when that sign by artist Mickalene Thomas moved from a soy bean field to five miles from where Michael Brown was shot, the conversation changed from gender politics to race politics.

Ultimately, Thompson says she hopes the project continues stirring up more conversations about contentious issues seen from the road.

 

Why would credit cards want Costco?

Mon, 2015-02-16 02:16

The Costco and American Express partnership, which is ending at the end of March, was just one example of what credit card companies are doing more of these days. 

American Express offered an official Costco card and had been the only credit card you could use to buy stuff at the retailer, which posted $110 billion in revenues for fiscal year 2014.

Their partnership was a co-branding arrangement. Such arrangements have become more common, says Jason Arnold of RBC, and offer loyalty programs such as airline miles or cash-back cards. These arrangements are alluring to risk-averse credit issuers, says Arnold, because they are less likely to result in delinquencies.

"If a card-member wants to keep their rewards, they typically have to pay their card on time," Arnold says. 

Since the Great Recession, banks have been increasingly employing co-branding agreements to stand out from the competition, instead of competing with each other on lower interest rates, says Arnold.

Co-branding partnerships can encourage spending. American Express says 20 percent of its monthly outstanding balances are on its Costco cards. And, 70 percent of the money people spend on those cards, isn't even spent at Costco, according to the company.

Customers have been using the cards for other purchases, too.

Sameer Gokhale, who tracks the banking industry at Janney Capital Markets, says co-branding gives credit card companies a captive customer base.

"You have this one merchant. You have customers loyal to this one merchant," says Gokhale, "In this case it was Costco."

But he adds that it probably did not make sense for AmEx to retain the partnership under the terms which he thinks Costco was asking: accepting lower fees for point-of-sale transactions at Costco stores. 

For its part, American Express says it will try to hold onto its many Costco credit card customers by offering them other AmEx cards. It also plans to ramp up spending on marketing.

Will there be a U.S. version of Black Mirror?

Mon, 2015-02-16 02:00

Today, we kick off From the Hills to the Valley, our series on what divides Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and what pulls them closer? We are going to talk about a lot of different things - from creativity and fame to piracy and lobbying -  but we begin with how Hollywood sees and, therefore, represents Silicon Valley.

First up is Jenna Wortham, staff writer at The New York Times Magazine, who recently wrote about Black Mirror, a dystopian British series that’s recently become popular in the US.

Black Mirror, Wortham says, is an un-Hollywood version of how technology is changing our lives. She thinks one reasons it’s difficult for hollywood to represent silicon valley is that people “sitting behind screens,” is rather “boring and hard to illustrate.”

What about The Social Network? “It was great,” she says, “but you couldn’t get away from scenes of Jesse Eisenberg furiously coding. How do you make that sexy?”

Wortham isn’t sure Hollywood could have made a series like Black Mirror.

“I don't know that those narratives are very popular here," she says. “When we do dystopian narratives they tend to focus on collapse of civilization  or a zombie virus outbreak. Not necessarily computers have gone haywire and they are coming for us.”

 

From the Hills to the Valley

Sat, 2015-02-14 02:00

Next week, we are launching a new series! It’s called From the Hills to the Valley. And yes, that would be Hollywood and Silicon Valley, respectively.

In some ways, the two industries could not be more different. Hollywood was born and then flourished for over a century because of the technology of the movie screen. It still revolves around that screen. Silicon Valley happened decades later. It was the product of computing, and often emerged in garages in Palo Alto.

But, how different are venture capitalists investing in tech from heads of major hollywood studios? And how similar are artists making content for youtube to the stars who appear on big buck productions? Whatever the differences, they are growing. As Amazon and Netflix get deeper into the entertainment industry, and as Hollywood studios and Google trade accusations, the two industries seem at odds with each other now than ever before.

We are going to take a look at the tensions and parallels that exist in these two parts of California. Where does Hollywood meet Silicon Valley? And where do they diverge?

We have a great line-up of interviews, from YouTube star Hank Green talking about how he thrives outside of the traditional studio model to writer and actor, Issa Rae, on her transition from producing a web series to piloting a show on HBO.

And much more. The series begins on Monday with New York Times Magazine staff writer, Jenna Wortham, who talk about why the culture of technology resists Hollywood narratives.

Here's YouTube star Hank Green in a popular video about how to pronounce "gif":

And here's a video from Issa Rae, promoting her new book "The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl":

View-Master gets the 21st century upgrade

Fri, 2015-02-13 15:52

Listeners of a certain age will remember viewfinders, those binocular-like things you hold up and look through with the circular discs of slides that flip around.

Yeah, well, could you be more old fashioned?

Mattel and Google are coming out with an update, including virtual reality and augmented reality.

Also, there'll be a slot where you can slip your Android phone in when the thing debuts in the fall.

A mere $29.99, and its yours.

Weekly roundup: In the media, some tough goodbyes

Fri, 2015-02-13 14:23

Here are some of the highlights from Marketplace this week, on air and online.

Fun Fact: The average American eats about 70 pounds of chicken a year. That's five times the amount we consumed in 1950. Meanwhile, the chickens Americans farm have nearly doubled in size.

12 crazy facts about chickens, and then some

Fun Fact: But the average American's consumption of eggs has fallen to 250 eggs a year.

Our per capita consumption of eggs has plunged from a high of 400 eggs a year in the 1940s. The decrease has been attributed to warnings about cholesterol. But fear not, egg lovers: It appears health officials are rethinking the whole cholesterol thing.

Dietary update: Cholesterol-rich foods aren't so bad

And finally, what a week it's been for media. 

On Wednesday, NBC announced it would suspend Brian Williams for six months as anchor of the Nightly News after he acknowledged making misleading statements about his experiences during the Iraq War. The scandal caused viewership of NBC's news broadcast to drop by some 36 percent. But NBC isn't the only network experiencing declines.

Changing fortunes of nightly news shows

Also on Wednesday, self-proclaimed fake news anchor Jon Stewart announced he would be leaving "The Daily Show" at some point in 2015. That's bad news not just for fans of Stewart but for parent company Viacom, which has ratings problems with a host of its programming.  

What Jon Stewart's departure means for Viacom

And, like many around the country, we're mourning the loss of  journalist David Carr, 58, who died Thursday in New York. He was was a media and culture columnist for The New York Times, and his wit was as grand as his heart.

Another major loss for journalism: Veteran CBS News correspondent Bob Simon died this week in a New York City car crash. He was 73.

Marketplace Tech spoke to Carr last year. Have a listen.

Ferguson story highlights Twitter's role as source

On Valentine's, saying "#LOVE" with candy hearts

Fri, 2015-02-13 14:18

New England Confectionery Company, or NECCO, has been producing candy sweethearts for more than 100 years. NECCO spends most of the year gearing up for Valentine's Day. Every year, the company sells about 2 billion candy hearts.

CEO Michael McGee took a break to talk to us about the so-called conversation hearts. 

"There's a lot of emotion – emotional heritage tied up in our product. These are traditions that are very much passed down," he says. "I clearly remember telling my first childhood crush how much I love them with a sweetheart."

McGee says the company stays relevant by keeping up with the jargon of the times. This year's box of sweethearts will have messages that include "TEXT ME," "#LOVE" and "BFF."

It's Valentine's Day... what candy are you buying?

Fri, 2015-02-13 14:18

New England Confectionery Company, or NECCO, has been producing candy sweethearts for more than 100 years. NECCO spends most of the year gearing up for Valentine's Day. Every year, the company sells about 2 billion candy hearts.

CEO Michael McGee took a break to talk to us about the so-called conversation hearts. 

"There's a lot of emotion – emotional heritage tied up in our product. These are traditions that are very much passed down," he says. "I clearly remember telling my first childhood crush how much I love them with a sweetheart."

McGee says the company stays relevant by keeping up with the jargon of the times. This year's box of sweethearts will have messages that include: "TEXT ME," "#LOVE" and "BFF."

Chinese have their own Internet censorship song

Fri, 2015-02-13 13:23

Here's one of the New York Times' odder dispatches from China:

The Chinese Cyberspace Administration is the government agency in charge of Internet policy over there, which you can rightly take to mean Internet censorship.

Turns out they have their own anthem:

Devotedly keeping watch over the space every day, / Taking up our mission as the sun rises in the east.

And then it ends strong:

An Internet power: Tell the world that the Chinese dream is uplifting China. / An Internet power: I represent my nation to the world.

Watch the whole thing here, translated by ProPublica:

Chinese have their own Internet censorship song

Fri, 2015-02-13 13:23

Here's one of the New York Times' odder dispatches from China:

The Chinese Cyberspace Administration is the government agency in charge of Internet policy over there, which you can rightly take to mean Internet censorship.

Turns out they have their own anthem:

Devotedly keeping watch over the space every day, / Taking up our mission as the sun rises in the east.

And then it ends strong:

An Internet power: Tell the world that the Chinese dream is uplifting China. / An Internet power: I represent my nation to the world.

Watch the whole thing here, translated by ProPublica:

David Cross releases film on 'pay what you want' basis

Fri, 2015-02-13 10:47

Actor and comedian David Cross has entered the directorial game with an independent feature film called “Hits,” and he’s releasing it on a pay-what-you-want basis through BitTorrent.

Rather than follow the traditional route of independent film releases, Cross has decided to cut out sales agents and distributors in hopes of reaching a broader audience.

“The offers for this kind of movie, a low-budget indie with no real recognizable stars, were the very traditional idea of… 'You play for a week in LA and New York, and maybe three other cities,'" says Cross. "Then it’s straight to video on-demand and Apple iTunes. That wasn't appealing to me."

Instead, he teamed up with BitTorrent and the video-streaming site VHX to offer a bundle that will include interviews, videos and photographs.

BitTorrent has been closely associated with online piracy, but the file-sharing service has been making an effort to go legit. "Hits," a black comedy that satirizes millennial fame seekers, is the first feature film to be distributed through a BitTorrent Bundle. 

Cross is glad that his film is available online, but he also wants people to experience it in a theater. That's why he created a Kickstarter campaign that surpassed its $100,000 goal to fund the film's screening in 50 cities across the U.S. and Canada. These screenings will also be pay-what-you-want.

Watch the "Hits" trailer below.

 

A few rewards offered by Cross on the “Hits” Kickstarter page:

  • DAVID CROSS GODFATHER: David Cross will become a Godparent to your child.
  • STORY TIME WITH DAVID CROSS: David Cross will come to your house and read two chapters of your choosing of Fabio’s memoir … yes, someone pledged for this.
  • TWITTER COUNSEL: David Cross will run your Twitter handle for one week, and he hates social media.

Dinosaur departure prompts protests in the UK

Fri, 2015-02-13 10:19

Museums don’t often provoke strong emotions, but among the schoolkids and their teachers recently filing in to the Natural History Museum in London, there was shock, horror and dismay.

"Personally I feel really astonished. I just can’t believe it," said one.

"If you do this to the Natural History Museum, you take away its soul!" said another.

They were talking about the museum’s decision to ditch its most iconic exhibit: Dippy the Dinosaur. The 85-foot-long skeletal diplodocus has towered over the museum’s entrance hall for more than three decades.

“This space is due for a refresh,” says Sir Michael Dixon, the museum’s director. “ We want to do things differently. We want to tell a story as to why the museum is special. And it is special because we have this wonderful collection of real objects from the natural world.”

Notice he says “real” objects. Here’s the second bombshell. And it is worse than debunking Father Christmas: Dippy is fake.

“Dippy is a cast. It’s a replica of several different skeletons,” says the museum’s Richard Saybin. “Dippy is a life-size model of a diplodocus donated to Britain by the U.S. steel magnate Andrew Carnegie at the beginning of the 20th century. ”

The museum wants to replace Dippy with a genuine skeleton of a blue whale, the largest, existing animal on earth. The plan is to suspend whale from the ceiling of the entrance hall.

“The blue whale is a species that humans have taken to the edge of extinction through overexploitation. But then through careful management we’ve managed to pull that back. So it really does demonstrate what we  – as a museum – are trying to achieve through our research,” Sabin says.

Cynics suggest that the museum’s decision to eject Dippy has more to do with money. Like most public museums and art galleries in Britain, the Natural History Museum doesn’t charge an entrance fee. It survives on government funding and on the revenue it can raise, including by hosting corporate events. Getting rid of Dippy, and suspending his successor from the ceiling, will free up valuable floor space. Sabin concedes that could be a benefit but insists that was not the main reason for the move.

Dippy isn’t headed for extinction. After he leaves the museum, he is going on the road as part of a traveling exhibition.

Game theory may come into play in Greek negotiations

Fri, 2015-02-13 09:23

It was mostly calm Friday in Brussels, Belgium, where Greek debt negotiations are continuing.

Those talks have many layers to them, as the new Greek government doesn’t just want another bailout, but also to reverse some of the reforms Athens agreed to during its original bailout. The Greek finance minister is also a professor of game theory, which has prompted all kinds of game metaphors for the negotiations – from chess to poker to chicken, where neither side wants to change course.

“It’s this very fundamental, simple game theory here,” says Adam Lerrick, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. But he says Greece only has one card to play – threatening to leave the euro, which it believes would lead to disruption throughout the entire eurozone.

Nick Spiro of Spiro Sovereign Strategy says that card is a lot less valuable than it once was because Greece’s European partners are less worried about its problems spreading to other countries than they used to be.

While European leaders may not be using formal game theories in these negotiations, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, a New York University politics professor who specializes in game theory, says they’re likely doing a more seat-of-the-pants version of it. He says we all do that, every day. 

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