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Tips for landing a new job inside your company

Wed, 2014-03-12 14:50

The economy might not be firing on all cylinders, but it is adding jobs. So what’s the best strategy for people who are employed and looking for something better in their own company? Internal candidates often have an advantage, but being an insider can sometimes prove a double-edged sword: You know the terrain, but everyone else knows your baggage.

Here are a few pieces of advice from Beth Kelly, managing partner of HR Collaborative in Michigan, and Thomas Kochan of MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

Think about projects or assignments you’ve had in the past that would be good predictors for the new job you want. Beth Kelly says internal candidates are sometimes typecast as the accounting clerk or the receptionist. It can be hard to break out of those roles and convince the hiring manager you can also be a marketing specialist. Having concrete examples of your potential can help.

If your only route into a company is as temporary employee, treat that temp job like it’s the most important job you’ve had. In some fields, like manufacturing, temporary work has increasingly become the path to employment. Beth Kelly calls it a 90-day interview. Contingent hiring may be unsettling, but Kelly advises you to seize the opportunity and show what a team player you are.

If you trust your current boss, tell them you’re thinking about a job switch right away. If there’s not a trusting relationship, it’s different. Ask the manager to whom you’re applying for a job to tell you before speaking to your current supervisor. Having an open conversation with a trusted boss can open up opportunities. Thomas Kochan also encourages internal candidates who don’t get the new job to seek honest feedback on how to prepare for the next opening.

Apply for the job. Yes, it might be uncomfortable. But Thomas Kochan says many potential internal candidates who talk themselves out of applying for jobs later regret it.

The final push for Affordable Care Act signups

Wed, 2014-03-12 14:43

If you haven't signed up for health insurance by March 31, you'll likely face a penalty. 

The thing is, a lot of the uninsured don’t seem to know that the deadline is March 31.  Kantar Media says  insurance companies are now devoting almost half of all their ad spending to commercials with a health reform theme. 

Insurers are also giving financial support to some grassroots groups, like Enroll America.  It's organizing 3,000 enrollment events just in March aimed at getting people to sign up on one of the healthcare exchanges. The Service Employees International Union is also spreading the word, going door to door and making phone calls. "So far we’ve had 274,000 direct conversations but we want to pump that number up,” says SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry.

Both groups are focusing on states like Texas and Florida, which aren’t too keen on the Affordable Care Act but have lots of uninsured residents. 

Twitter invites writers to think beyond 140 characters

Wed, 2014-03-12 13:52

What's the pay-off for writers to keep sharing online? Twitter and publishers say the answer is simple: The social platform offers access to new audiences and book buyers. 

Twitter, the Association of American Publishers (AAP), and Penguin Random House (the publishing company that merged in mid-2013) organized a writing competition and a series of in-person and online events for writers. #TwitterFiction Festival, running March 12-16, includes formal talks and informal chats with a logophile cornucopia: published writers, young and old writers, unpublished but professional writers, famous writers who aren’t writing as much anymore, and the “new” and undiscovered writer.

In fact, #TwitterFiction is not really about any specific genre of storytelling. The organizers even included a category for non-fiction submissions, making the event more about writing andwriters, than the actual genre of fiction. #TwitterFiction isn’t really about Twitter itself, either, although it’s certainly not about the writing on Facebook walls.

Twitter emphasizes new writing styles the social network is known to appreciate and promote:  

“We encourage writers to use Twitter in a variety of ways — everything from connecting with their readers to experiments with new forms of narrative. Twitter is even a great way for writers to play with visual narratives in real time. We ask them to be experimental - taking the art of storytelling and character-creation and using Twitter to bring it to life. Twitter is a wide open frontier for creative experimentation with a built-in global audience of millions and we encourage writers to take advantage of that.” - Andrew Fitzgerald, media partnerships at Twitter

The event’s website offers a creative tweet generator, which is a great Mad Libs for the 140-character set.

And answering the question of what the event isn’t (an event about Twitter or fiction or meeting new people in-person) reveals what it is: an attempt by a more traditional industry to meet the demands of the social media age by mimicking its personality.

Twitter wants to be form-friendly

It’s perhaps not a surprise that social media is a willing participant in a project that allows it to counter criticisms that Twitter is killing the English language. It also makes sense for Twitter to find creative ways to help content creators feel comfortable using the network as a publishing and promotional tool.

I tweet that I have a book, that I like a book, that I like your book… and all of a sudden I am hooked to a regular stream of information. Twitter is looking for new sources of revenue, and the more active users of its technology the better, if only from a purely fiscal point of view.

No one will check your follower count if you tweet away at #TwitterFiction, publishers aren’t treating it like the last pitch they will ever take from you, and writers have embraced the opportunity to do what they love best. However, this unique collaboration doesn’t mean there aren’t high stakes.

Twitter is a publishing and a promotional platform, to be sure -- but is it a marketplace where creative content, such as works of fiction, can be sold and bought?

And how does the supply-side (the authors and the publishers) see Twitter? Mostly as a way to reach the demand side (readers). Authors want to be read, and Twitter gives them instant gratification, in a sense. I asked Twitter what they think writers gain from using the network and attending such events:

“#TwitterFiction is a great way for writers to challenge themselves with a new genre or new technique. It’s also really beneficial to writers because Twitter makes for such an interesting stage: authors are essentially performing their work in front of a live, global audience. Twitter Fiction offers something traditional writing does not, as the possibility for creative storytelling are endless.” - Andrew Fitzgerald, Twitter

Soft-selling books on social media

Author and non-fiction #TwitterFiction contest winner Adam Popescu, 29,  says at first he was concerned that sharing an entire chapter of his (as-of-yet unpublished) book about a trip to the base of Mount Everest would result in a net loss. Popescu (who has worked on contract for Marketplace) was surprised to see his following increase by 700 people on the popular community site Wattpad after he published the chapter. 

When asked if he ever reached out directly on Twitter to publisher accounts (@-replying or @-mentioning publishers to get their attention), Popescu said that using Twitter is a delicate balance for writers. Using the platform without spending time to understand or engage in the reader community is “the equivalent of making a joke on a public stage, and then pointing to someone in the fourth row to ask if they got it,” Popescu noted.

Authors: Tweet to @MarketplaceAPM and tell us if you’ve successfully reached out to publishers online.

Petru Popescu, 70, who is both Adam’s father and a successfully published author himself, sits apart from his son -- on the suspicious-of-sharing-content-online camp, so I asked him what he thought about his son’s success writing both short and long form online:

“[On Twitter] you can't be long winded AT ALL, your readers don't look for rhetoric effect/intellectual complication; you have to have a voice, EVEN TWEETING, actually more so, because the space is so limited. The first person narrative, the ultra direct engaging of readers, those are writing ways of great value.” - Petru Popescu

UPDATE: We received comments on #TwitterFiction from Emma Straub, author of The Vacationers, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, and Other People We Married, on how she approaches Twitter for writers. Straub highlights the community on Twitter which she is able to see and particpate in: 

"Before I had a baby, Twitter was my pretend office, a place I could go to talk about cheese and television and books and my cats. Nowadays I use it more sleepily, as a late night companion, an insomniac friend. I know lots of writers find Twitter too distracting, but I really love being able to dip in and out and see what people are up to. Maybe that doesn't answer your question. I suppose that what I gain (as a writer) is a conversation. Some writers like to hide in their garrets, but I'm not one of those. I'm an extrovert in an introvert's universe, and Twitter is a bubbly, chatty place for the likes of me. 

"There are very few writers who I think use Twitter really well--that is, writers who are clearly having fun playing with the form itself. Teju Cole, Gary Shytengart, Colson Whitehead. Poets are often good, practiced as they are in pithiness. Standalone tweets, be they funny or wry or sarcastic or what have you, are the best. And, of course, the key to writing while using the platform is to turn it off." - Emma Straub, author

 

If Twitter builds it, they should come

Publishers, too, see Twitter’s short form style as a good way to introduce a soft sell. The bird du jour has won the favorable participation of well-heeled publication houses, which have a continual influx of submissions using traditional means.

In explaining its participation, Penguin Random House focused on the use of reader engagement on Twitter:

“Penguin Random House believes that social media is an excellent way for publishers and authors to connect with readers. There is an active and enthusiastic community of book lovers on Twitter who are very engaged in the conversation about books and reading.” - Christine McNamara, Vice President and Director of Partnerships at Random House

On making Twitter a friendly place for book buyers:

“We have seen tremendous interaction on Twitter through the various accounts and dialogs we participate in. It’s our experience that the conversation surrounding books on Twitter is diverse, smart, dynamic, and constant. Innovative events like the TwitterFiction Festival provide a wonderful opportunity for celebrating storytelling in its myriad forms and engaging with readers all over the world. We are proud to be one of the supporters for this great celebration of storytelling.” -  McNamara, Random House

AAP on its members, publishers, and authors/writers (a list of their featured participants at #TwitterFiction):

“The publishers who are our member organizations are committed to promoting the joy of reading and improving literacy. We get involved in a number of such initiatives supporting that mission and this fit perfectly. ...We welcome opportunities that showcase authors, writers and the expertise required in compelling storytelling.” - Andi Sporkin, AAP

#TwitterFiction shows the strength of Twitter’s user base and access to readers, the demand-side of the social platform. If Twitter can pull off becoming a platform for buying and selling, one suspects it could attempt the same with other media, too: news, photography, film, oil paintings, clothing… the list goes on.

Publishers are reaching out to readers. Authors are reaching out to readers. Twitter is helping the industry to showcase its work in all forms. The market is set for selling success. The only unknown is whether writers and authors-to-be will continue to share online. Concerns still exist, and publishers do not appear to be using social media to open up the field for writers. 

As long as Twitter and publishers keep trying, writers should take note: the readers are out there, tweeting, and reading. 

Now you can buy solar power (of a sort) at Best Buy

Wed, 2014-03-12 13:45

Of all the things you can put in your cart at Best Buy, you probably didn’t think solar power for your home was one of them.

But that’s exactly what SolarCity CEO, Lyndon Rive, hopes you’ll do. His company just announced a partnership with Best Buy that he hopes will jump start the use of solar energy to power residential homes.

But Rive says this program isn’t just about buying the panels: "We install the equipment, we then sell you the electrons from the solar system.”

Most consumers say, from a poll the company conducted earlier this year that going green isn’t as important as paying less. Rive says he thinks customers will pay 10 to 12 percent less for their power than what they’d pay their utility company.

Rive says he thinks Best Buy is the best place to sell solar panels.

“When you go to Best Buy, the majority of the products you’re buying consume electricity. And what better to have a product to address that energy consumption with solar?”

Don't tase me, drone

Wed, 2014-03-12 13:36

This final note in which we've seen the future and it tases you from the air. There's a company that makes drones showing its wares down at SXSW, in Austin, Texas.

Drones with tasers on them. And, of course, they had to demonstrate their product. So they got an intern to volunteer to be zapped by the thing.

It's called the Chaotic Unmanned Personal Intercept Drone.

The company's slogan for the drone: "Amazon delivers packages. We deliver 80,000 volts of awesome."

It should be noted that the company says: "Chaotic Moon built CUPID to raise awareness of technology that's outpacing everything from regulatory agencies to social norms. We have no plans to develop drone type or commercialize this in any way."

We're losing the man versus machine battle

Wed, 2014-03-12 12:00

It was supposed to be the next chapter in the struggle of man versus machine. In what sounded like the premise of a startup fever dream, KUKA, a German robotics company, pitted their ping pong playing robot against German champion Timo Boll. Would humankind reign victorious, or would KUKA's machine crush the dreams of rec room wunderkinder everywhere?

Boll ended up winning...sort of.

It's pretty clear from watching the final product - as well as this behind the scenes video - KUKA did in fact build a robot that could play ping pong, they just had no intention of actually testing its ability against a human. Instead, they produced a terminator-esque tribute to man's ability to overcome the machine. Those anticipating the game were disappointed. Some called out the robot company for misleading advertising, while others called the match a "glorified commercial."

Clearly, people were looking forward to seeing how someone at the top of their field would fare against a machine designed to be better than the best. It's a tale as old as (computer) time. So how has humankind fared in the past when matched up against their robot foes? Let's get this robocage match underway.

Chess is considered the ultimate game of strategy, so what better arena to test a battle of wits. The first reported instance of a computer defeating a human happened in 1956, when a program called MANIAC was able to best a novice player. Though the development of the technology would continue to be tested throughout the next couple of years, it was in 1997 that robot-human matches garnered mass attention in the pairing of World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov against IBM's supercomputer Deep Blue.

Spoiler alert: Kasparaov lost. Though the chess playing computer craze hit fever pitch in 1997, advancements in programming continue to be developed. In 2009, a chess program running on a mobile phone was able to reach the grandmaster level of chess at an international tournament in Spain. At least we have computers beat on sportsmanship

Robots - 1, Humans - 0

It only gets more depressing from here on out. Olympian Ussain Bolt holds the record for the fastest human being in the world, with an average running speed of 23.35 miles per hour. Robotics company Boston Dynamics, however, has him beat.

With a speed of 28.3 miles per hour, the Cheetah Robot edges out the world record holder. Even at his fastest, Bolt runs at 27.44 miles per hour, giving robots another win.

Robots - 2, Humans - 0

There's no need to beat a dead horsebot. We all know how IBM's Watson did in its two day appearance on Jeopardy. That didn't stop Alex Trebec from getting in a dig at Watson's expense in the first couple minutes of the supercomputer's appearance on the tv quiz show. Watson got back at him by thoroughly defeating his human competitors by a margin of $23,213. That's cold, Watson.

Robots - 3, Humans - 0

It's pretty obvious that we're losing the battle. Robots are getting more and more advanced, while the human body can only do so much. So why did people get so angry when KUKA tried to score one for humankind by rigging the match? At the end of the day, people don't like to be lied to. That ping pong playing robot probably has us beat, fair and square.

 

A 19th-century invention to keep your ears cozy

Wed, 2014-03-12 11:46

From the Marketplace Datebook, here’s a look at what’s coming up Thursday:  

  • In Washington, the Senate Finance Committee discusses "Innovative Ideas to Strengthen and Expand the Middle Class."
  • Is the middle class spending money? The Commerce Department reports on retail sales for February.   
  • And it's the anniversary of earmuffs. That stylish and highly-functional accessory was patented by teen inventor Chester Greenwood on March 13, 1877.

Obama pushes for more overtime pay

Wed, 2014-03-12 11:28

What’s in a name? A lot, if you’re talking paychecks. Names - or job titles this case - are at the center of a new push President Obama is making to get overtime pay to more workers. He’s challenging ru:les put in place a decade ago that allow companies to avoid paying certain workers overtime if they classify them as executives or professionals. 

"Misclassification is a big one," says Heidi Shierholz, labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute. She says there are a lot of ways companies have been keeping wage costs low, like classifying people as executives or independent contractors. "Even though they’re technically employees, if they’re classified as independent contractors, the employers don’t have to pay workers' comp [or] unemployment insurance, they don’t have to pay minimum wage or offer overtime."

Shierholz says incidents of so-called wage theft have also been on the rise. "An example of this is when you work at a fast food restaurant and it’s 2 in the morning and your employer says: 'Clock out and then clean up.' That happens a lot."

This isn’t just a post-recession trend. These wage workarounds have been on the rise since 2000. "I think the labor market has tilted the labor playing field in the direction of employers," says Harry Holzer, professor of public policy at Georgetown University. "There’s just a lot more ways for them [employers] to get the work done that they need to get done."

Namely, technology and outsourcing: Employers use technology to replace a lot of jobs and can go overseas for cheaper labor.

The weak labor market has only made things worse for workers. "When you have three workers for every available job, that enhances employers' leverage to lower the norms and the treatment of their workers -- and that’s what they’ve done," says Michael Hillard, professor of economics at the University of Southern Maine.

But Hillard says wage stagnation isn’t entirely good for companies. When workers get paid less, they have less to spend -- which limits long term growth for many firms.

Fracking: 27 tons of dirty, radioactive socks per day

Wed, 2014-03-12 11:21

Today's news that an abandoned gas station in North Dakota was found piled high with radioactive material taught us something about fracking: It produces 27 tons of dirty socks a day. Those are "filter socks," used to collect solids from the water that gets pumped into wells.

What else? The socks contain NORMs-- short for Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials.

Here's an oilfield joke (as cited here): Dope comes in five gallon buckets, joints are 30 feet long, with a pusher on every rig.

Hilarious, right? Here are more terms to, er, grease the wheel:

Pusher: Short for "tool pusher"-- the boss on a rig, the guy who keeps everything moving. 

Dope: Also known as "pipe dope"-- goop that lubricates the threads when screwing two pipes together, and creates a water-tight seal.

Joint: A length of pipe.

More fracking fun:

Pigs: Do not bust pushers. They are tools for cleaning pipes.

Escort services: Drilling equipment arrives at oilfields on trucks... as an oversize load. Escort services provide extra vehicles to accompany the trucks like a motorcade, making sure they get plenty of room on the highway.

Fishing: Not for recreation. When something gets dropped down the hole in a well, it's called a "fish." Guys with good fishing tools can make a good living in the oilfields.

Find more in the oilfield glossary compiled by the oil-production services company Schlumberger

Fracking produces 27 tons of dirty, radioactive socks per day

Wed, 2014-03-12 11:21

Today's news that an abandoned gas station in North Dakota was found piled high with radioactive material taught us something about fracking: It produces 27 tons of dirty socks a day. Those are "filter socks," used to collect solids from the water that gets pumped into wells.

What else? The socks contain NORMs-- short for Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials.

Here's an oilfield joke (as cited here): Dope comes in five gallon buckets, joints are 30 feet long, with a pusher on every rig.

Hilarious, right? Here are more terms to, er, grease the wheel:

Pusher: Short for "tool pusher"-- the boss on a rig, the guy who keeps everything moving. 

Dope: Also known as "pipe dope"-- goop that lubricates the threads when screwing two pipes together, and creates a water-tight seal.

Joint: A length of pipe.

More fracking fun:

Pigs: Do not bust pushers. They are tools for cleaning pipes.

Escort services: Drilling equipment arrives at oilfields on trucks... as an oversize load. Escort services provide extra vehicles to accompany the trucks like a motorcade, making sure they get plenty of room on the highway.

Fishing: Not for recreation. When something gets dropped down the hole in a well, it's called a "fish." Guys with good fishing tools can make a good living in the oilfields.

Find more in the oilfield glossary compiled by the oil-production services company Schlumberger

Do you tip your barista?

Wed, 2014-03-12 11:17

Who to tip? How much?

These are questions that go back generations.

At the end of the 19th century, it was a huge controversy.

"There was probably not a newspaper you could pick up or a magazine that you could pick up, in the late 19th and early 20th century, and flip through it for a few pages, and not find an article about tipping," said Andrew Haley, a history professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, and author of "Turning the Tables: Restaurants and the Rise of the American Middle Class."

Middle class diners wrote editorials against tipping. They boycotted. Some places outlawed it.

"Six states passed anti-tipping laws in the early 20th century," Haley said, "and at least four other states were considering similar laws.”

Over time, Americans got used to tipping and settled on some basic rules.

"The norm is very clear," said Mike Lynn, a marketing professor at Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, "you tip 15 percent to 20 percent to waiters and waitresses." That, he says is pre-tax, and it includes beverages and wine.

As straightforward as it is, a third of folks don’t know it.

"There are norms for tipping other service providers," Lynn said, "but they are even less well known than the restaurant norm."

So, what's the norm for a coffeehouse like Starbucks?

Lynn paused. He sighed. "I don’t know," he said.

Everyone does something a little different -- no tip, tip all the time, tip when they get food.

Marketplace has a poll, too. Of the nearly 550 responses so far, most don't tip. Those who do, tend to tip $1. Ten people said they'll just drop whatever change they get back into the tip jar.

It's possible the Starbucks app could start to set a norm.

Some of that will depend on how the app works, said Holona Ochs, a professor at Lehigh University and co-author of "Gratuity: A Contextual Understanding of Tipping Norms From the Perspective of Tipped Employees." If the app asks you how much you want to tip, with suggestions, like the screens in the back of cabs do, "then it’s a signal that you are required to tip, even if the service was poor."

The more people are encouraged to tip, the more likely they are to give one.

But, should customers be tipping baristas at all? Why are hair dressers tipped, but not mechanics? There are a number of theories out there.

"Economists would say we tip those service providers where it is more economically efficient for the customer to monitor and reward employee behavior than for the firm to do it," Lynn said. Different customers want to be treated differently; people tip in circumstances where the customer is in the best position to determine who did a good job.

Anthropologists have a different theory about who gets a tip.

"We tip to avoid envy," explained Lynn. "My car mechanic doesn't envy me because I had a broken car."

But the server might. "When I go out to eat, I'm having a good time," said Lynn. We don’t want to be the subject of envy. So we give a tip to say "don't envy me, have a drink on me later."

Lynn says the small amount of data that exists suggests a third explanation: people tip more when they think there’s a greater income disparity between server and the customer. And when they have more personal contact with the person they’re tipping.

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Preparing for China's urban billion

Wed, 2014-03-12 10:33

Imagine close to the entire population of the U.S. picking up and moving somewhere else.

That’s the scale of China’s urbanization campaign: 250 million farmers moving to the city over the next 15 years. For those Chinese nervous about how this will transform – well, everything - in their country, Premier Li Keqiang told his countrymen this week not to worry: "We will strive to enable everyone has equal opportunity, regardless of whether you come from the city or the countryside," Li said, during his work report at the opening of the annual National People's Congress.

These soothing words – echoing the government’s "Chinese Dream," the theme of leader Xi Jinping’s new China – haven’t made believers of everyone.

In Southwest China, the city of Chongqing is being used as a test case for transitioning rural Chinese to change their residency status to urban residents. The government is persuading millions of farmers there to move to the city. When I ask a group of them, "How’s it going?" I get an earful - dozens of people speaking in the sweeping tones of the Sichuanese dialect yell over each other, complaining in unison.

The voice of Tan Congshu rises above the rest. "In the countryside, we grow our own vegetables and slaughter a pig when we want to eat," she says. "Here, everything costs money. Electricity, water, rent, food…everything!”

Tan just moved from her farm in the village of Wanzhou to this low-rent urban housing project near Chongqing's airport. She says if this is part of a national test, it’s already an epic fail. Dozens of curious onlookers nod in agreement. We’re standing in the shadow of a more than a dozen gray towers, each thirty stories high. The city built them to house more than 50,000 transplants from the farm.

Above the courtyard hangs a red propaganda banner. In white Chinese characters, it reads: “Deepen reform and unleash the power to realize the Chinese Dream!”

It’s sandwiched between banners warning residents about gas leaks and stray dogs.

Many here say they’ve forfeited their farms to the government in exchange for urban residency status, which provides health, retirement and education benefits for their children. But others, like Mrs. Tan, refused to give up their land – Tan's apartment here belongs to her son.

"The government offered me $200 to change my status from a rural to urban resident," Tan says. "They said it would be good for me and that they wouldn't take my land, but I didn’t believe them.”

Chongqing’s government is willing to give rural Chinese access to urban schools and health care, for a price – in many cases, the government wants their land. Many, like Tan, are refusing to part with their land, putting a kink in China’s urbanization plan.

"The issue now is whether or not this can be implemented, and I have a lot of doubts," says Kam Wing Chan, a professor at the University of Washington who specializes his research on China's urbanization campaign.

He says China’s government will have to give better incentives to rural Chinese to persuade them to move to the city – he says the future health of China’s economy depends on this.

"China’s been talking about creating domestic consumption," says Chan, "And now it’s harder because the urban population replacement rate is actually now negative.”

Chan says China’s plan for an urban consumer-based economy is at risk. And even if farmers are persuaded to move to the city, they may not become model consumers.

In the Chongqing district of Xinqiao, I ask another group of urbanized farmers how they like life in the city. Again, a chorus of screaming. It seems everywhere I go in this city, this question causes a social disturbance. Within minutes, two dozen people crowd around my microphone to complain.

Their apartments are older - resident Wang Xueying says they’re in terrible shape. She says most of the farmers haven’t found jobs in the city and do nothing but sit around. “After the local government took our land and demolished our homes, they put us here – but we still had to pay money," complains Wang. "They told us the value of our old homes wasn’t enough to cover the cost of these tiny apartments.”

The Xinqiao government refused interview requests from Marketplace. But the displaced people here say local officials who sold their farmland made a killing. They say the money was embezzled so that party officials could buy luxury cars and fancy apartments. "If this is what urbanization is like," screams one elderly resident, "I’d prefer to leave China altogether."

The life of a stolen passport

Wed, 2014-03-12 10:19

3.2 million passports have been lost or stolen from U.S. citizens since 2004.

That’s a lot of passports!

When a passport is stolen, it can make a circuitous loop around the world via underground criminal markets. Here's how it happens:

STEP 1:

The Passport is taken.


JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images

          

STEP 2:

The Passport makes its way from the petty thief to a wholesale warehouse. There, it will sit in a stack of other stolen passports. 


Flickr: UKhomeoffice

          

STEP 3(A):

A passport forger calls the warehouse to say, "I have someone who needs an American passport, got any?"

STEP 3(B):

The warehouse man rummages through the stack, pulls out a passport, and sends it to the forger.


PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

STEP 4:

The forger will, if necessary, adulterate the image on the passport. He'll run it through a chain of people possibly 10 links long, until it makes its way to the client.


Flickr: Hc_07

STEP 5:

Someone will buy the fake passport for $200-$7,000. It could be used to get a job, to open a bank account, to launder money, or to get on a plane. As is clear from the Malaysian Air mystery, border patrol does not always check against Interpol lists of stolen or flagged passports. 


Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images

STEP 6 (optional):

The stolen passport can be used to glean identification information that can then be used to apply for brand new passports – with a criminal’s photo and biometric information attached.  


Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

 

 Instructions for reporting your passport as lost or stolen are available here (for local) and here (for abroad).

Rosario Dawson: From Cesar Chavez to Twitter

Wed, 2014-03-12 09:10

Rosario Dawson was one of many celebrities in attendance at SXSW in Austin, Texas, this week. The actress, who has appeared in movies like Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof" and the comic-inspired film "Sin City," appeared on a panel entitled "What Would Cesar Chavez Tweet?", a perfect tie in for her to share how best to mobilize and engage Latinos in the digital space, while also promoting her new movie.

Dawson is playing labor leader Dolores Huerta in an upcoming biopic that chronicles the life of the late civil rights activist, Cesar Chavez. Dawson says the movie brought back memories of her own family's involvement in unions as she was growing up.

"My great-grandmother worked in the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, I came from people who were inspired by Cesar," Dawson says. "To look at it, to look at what they were doing, they were poor people helping poor people, passing on messages, just literally person-to-person. 'Psst, pass it on, march on Friday.' Pre-twitter."

Dawson was here in Austin not just to promote her new film, but also to talk about a project she's working on with her longtime friend and business partner, Abrima Erwiah. The project is called Studio 189, and it's an e-commerce platform that the duo has launched that curates the traditional artisan work of African artists and sells those products online to consumers.

Even though Africa is often overlooked as a place where entrepreneurship and innovation can really thrive, Dawson sees great growth potential, "When you have the median age in Africa being 18.6 and sub-Saharan Africa is expected to have two-thirds of the youth of the world by 2100, you are really looking at a very active, very present, very engaged community and it's really exciting to be working and partnering with folks who are really into it."

Rosario Dawson isn't new to advocating for underserved communities. She is a co-founder of Voto Latino, a 10-year old organization whose mission is to empower Latino Millennials and increase their engagement on a number of social and economic issues. Since its inception, Voto Latino has registered nearly a quarter of a million voters, and according to Dawson, they achieved an important first in the digital space.

"We were the first ones to use texting, to get people to register to vote," Dawson says. "Latino millennials are a very high number, and they really need a pathway, to being in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math education], to being able to have jobs and careers that other people aren't [targeting] them for. They are being talked to as only consumers -- and really they are innovators."

This level of advocacy is important to the actress, who points out that social media is an important way to reach and mobilize a very important demographic.

"Social media is in many ways the frontier for activism for people of color especially since they over-index on social media, especially Latinos," Dawson says. "They are the first ones to take on new technology from everything from 3-D televisions to new types of cell phones... They might not have computers but they have cell phones and they use [them] for everything."

Voto Latino is launching a movement they are calling #TrendURVoice as a way to further engage Latino Millennials around issues ranging from immigration to marriage equality to student loan debt. It's not lost on Dawson that the power of social media to help mobilize extends beyond American youth, "Through social media we are able to reach every corner of the earth just about.

"When you look at the uprising in Egypt you see proof positive about how that works. We are seeing it all around the world and it's the thing that gets kids walking out of class or mobilizing around the world."

PODCAST: Overtime, overworked?

Wed, 2014-03-12 08:02

The White House wants to make more Americans eligible for overtime pay. Currently, because of what is referred to as the Fair Labor Standards Act’s "white collar exemption," many salaried professionals are not entitled to extra pay if they work more than 40 hours per week. Later this week, the president intends to use his executive authority to change those rules. For 2014, which he is calling a "year of action," he has promised to pursue policy changes that do not involve congress. So whom would this change affect? "People who are defined as 'supervisors,'" says Gary Burtless, an economist at The Brookings Institution. "They have responsibility over other people besides themselves, a certain amount of independence."

Plus, it's hard enough measuring the mainstream economy. A new report from the Urban Institute has attempted to quantify the underground commercial sex economy. Researchers say in 2007 it was worth about $975 million, in just in seven U.S. cities. Curious about the business expenses of pimps? Check out their online feature for further insight. The Institute reports that pimps most often recruit sex workers from their own social circles. But the Internet is changing business. Bill Woolf is a detective with the Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia. He says most scouting and recruitment of victims by traffickers is now done online.

 

Obama seeks expanded overtime pay

Wed, 2014-03-12 06:44

The White House wants to make more Americans eligible for overtime pay. Currently, because of what is referred to as the Fair Labor Standards Act’s “white collar exemption,” many salaried professionals are not entitled to extra pay if they work more than 40 hours per week.

Later this week, the president intends to use his executive authority to change those rules. For 2014, which he is calling a “year of action,” he has promised to pursue policy changes that do not involve congress.

So whom would this change affect? “People who are defined as ‘supervisors,’” says Gary Burtless, an economist at The Brookings Institution. “They have responsibility over other people besides themselves, a certain amount of independence.”

The economic recovery, Burtless argues, “has been better for profits than wages.” “The government is trying to put its thumb on the scale, helping workers,” he says.

Economist Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow with the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, has pushed for this change for more than a decade, since President George W. Bush expanded the exemption in 2004: 

“We’re talking about millions of workers who would be newly eligible for overtime pay,” he says.

Critics argue changing the exemption would make it harder for businesses to hire new employees, and it could motivate them to trim their payrolls. In the long run, employers could simply reduce a white-collar supervisor’s base pay, so there would be no difference to his overall salary.

Bill Kilberg, a partner with the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, says he “doesn’t know if it is a good idea.” Kilberg suspects the courts will be asked to decide whether or not a rule change would be constitutional. “They can give it deference or not give it deference.”

Obama seeks expanded overtime pay for 'millions'

Wed, 2014-03-12 06:44

The White House wants to make more Americans eligible for overtime pay. Currently, because of what is referred to as the Fair Labor Standards Act’s “white collar exemption,” many salaried professionals are not entitled to extra pay if they work more than 40 hours per week.

Later this week, the president intends to use his executive authority to change those rules. For 2014, which he is calling a “year of action,” he has promised to pursue policy changes that do not involve congress.

So whom would this change affect? “People who are defined as ‘supervisors,’” says Gary Burtless, an economist at The Brookings Institution. “They have responsibility over other people besides themselves, a certain amount of independence.”

The economic recovery, Burtless argues, “has been better for profits than wages.” “The government is trying to put its thumb on the scale, helping workers,” he says.

Economist Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow with the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, has pushed for this change for more than a decade, since President George W. Bush expanded the exemption in 2004: 

“We’re talking about millions of workers who would be newly eligible for overtime pay,” he says.

Critics argue changing the exemption would make it harder for businesses to hire new employees, and it could motivate them to trim their payrolls. In the long run, employers could simply reduce a white-collar supervisor’s base pay, so there would be no difference to his overall salary.

Bill Kilberg, a partner with the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, says he “doesn’t know if it is a good idea.” Kilberg suspects the courts will be asked to decide whether or not a rule change would be constitutional. “They can give it deference or not give it deference.”

How El Niño will impact global food prices

Wed, 2014-03-12 00:58

Climatologists in the U.S. and elsewhere are starting to predict a likely El Niño weather pattern in the coming year. That’s when changes in the temperature on the ocean surface in one part of the world create all kinds of unusual weather in lots of other places: rains in Florida, droughts in Australia. What might that mean for global food prices?  

"Wait and see," says Scott Shellady, a commodities trader on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, an executive with Trean Group—and a farmer, growing corn and beans. At this point El Niño’s still a maybe. There’s other, for-sure stuff to factor for farmers to factor in right now, he says—like the prices of seed, fuel and fertilizer. "As much as El Niño gets talked about, if they put it in their business plan, they’ll probably be less profitable," Shellady notes. 

From Shellady’s commodities-trader chair, other events are more compelling. For instance, have you heard about this disease that gives piglets diarrhea? Awful.  And it’s raising the price of pork

El Niño effects are different everywhere—more rain in California, less in India—so the effects on crops vary a lot. Commodities markets smooth out some of the bumps—but not for everyone. Purdue University economist Nelson Villoria says in some places — for instance, parts of Africa — El Niño can mean prices double for staples like rice and corn. That’s because not all countries get their food on big global markets.

"Bangladesh gets rice from India," he says. "It doesn’t matter that rice in Uruguay or Argentina is growing strongly. Bangladesh really cares about what’s happening in India."

GIF: The sea surface temperature in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.El Niño is characterized by warm temperatures, which you can see appearing in red regions:


NOAA

Here is NOAA's official description of an El Niño and La Niña: "Sea surface temperature in the equatorial Pacific Ocean (above). El Niño is characterized by unusually warm temperatures and La Niña by unusually cool temperatures in the equatorial Pacific." 

Pimps use technology, too

Wed, 2014-03-12 00:03

It’s hard enough measuring the mainstream economy. A new report from the Urban Institute has attempted to quantify the underground commercial sex economy. Researchers say in 2007 it was worth about $975 million, in just in seven U.S. cities.

Curious about the business expenses of pimps? Check out their online feature for further insight.

The Institute reports that pimps most often recruit sex workers from their own social circles. But the Internet is changing business. Bill Woolf is a detective with the Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia. He says most scouting and recruitment of victims by traffickers is now done online.

“Whether it’s through social media, other chat lines, through false advertisements for employment online, things of that nature,” Woolf says. “But the majority is now done online.”

The Web's 25th birthday suit is embeddable

Tue, 2014-03-11 21:42

On March 12, the World Wide Web turns 25. In 1989, Tim Berners Lee wrote a paper at the European physics lab called CERN, about a way to help linked computers share their sets of data with the public.

Twenty five years later, that idea has let an ever-expanding universe of all kinds of devices share information. But those devices are going far beyond just sets of computers. One modern example is wearable devices, which are delivering data to us and collecting it from us with help from the Web. Wearables are having their moment right now. The Fitbit fitness tracker, Nike's Fuelband--these wearables use the Web to collect and deliver all the information we need to become fitter, happier, and more productive.

Some attendees at SXSW Interactive have already moved beyond wearables though, and are on to embeddables. What are embeddables? "Nanoscale machinery inside our bodies," says Andy Goodman, "which can monitor us and modify us." Goodman spoke about embeddables at SXSW, saying in the near future we could have everything from sensors that tweaked our home brewed coffee to our personal taste, to LEDs in our hair that would display our status updates or even ads. 

But there's a problem with embeddables: they present yet another data risk. Nicole Ozer is manning a quiet booth at the conference in Austin, as the tech policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union. And she's not just worried about how wearables (and someday embeddables) are collecting our data. She's worried about how the companies making this technology manage that data. "A lot of companies take the mindset of 'let's collect as much data as we can, says Ozer. "Let's retain it as long as possible. And let's have as much discression about how we use it." If companies are keeping the data around, she says the government or another third party could demand it, steal it, or just snatch it up because it's there. 

Ozer says another wrinkle is that users aren't as aware of data collection without sitting in front of a screen, so wearables and embeddables present an extra challenge about awareness. Out of sight, out of mind. A good example of this is the issue Fitbit users had with the dropdown menu on their sexual activity--which got posted inadvertantly in some google results. Now imagine that bit of tech being actually IN your body. Could an overreaching goverment charge you for eating a donut? 

If some of this stuff sounds far out, it may be. It may be a while before a sensor in our mouth makes sure we get the perfect-tasting coffee. Maybe never. But the LED hairdo might not be as far off. Researchers at the University of Washington made a new kind of LED this week. It's small. How small? Just three atoms thick.

 

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