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Tech IRL: Work it harder, make it better (with an app)

Fri, 2014-09-05 13:22

Fitness Apps are popular, really popular. But they have their own set of challenges, and what are these Apps doing with all your data?   Marketplace Tech’s Ben Johnson and Lizzie O’Leary work out a few fitness apps like One Hundred Pushups, and explore their challenges.  

Weekend brunch: Apple starts making the rules and economic pickles

Fri, 2014-09-05 13:22

This week, Lizzie O'Leary sits down for brunch with Nicolas Carlson from Business Insider and Reuters' Ben Walsh to discuss business news and the news of last week and what's on their plate this week (get it?).   Topics:   Tim Cook Says Apple to Add Security Alerts for iCloud Users Our Economic Pickle Single Women Irked by Pinterest Push Toward Altar

My money story: Writer Joey Slamon

Fri, 2014-09-05 13:22

Every week, we invite someone to tell us their story about money. This week, Los Angeles-based writer Joey Slamon tells us a story about the emotions money can create.

I’d like to say I don’t care about money. I’d love to be one of those cool, free-spirited hippies who lives with only what they can carry in their knapsacks or squeeze onto their rickshaws.

But the truth is, I love money.

Not because I love spending it, quite the opposite. I’m actually quite a hoarder with my money. No, I love money because of the emotional attachments I’ve developed for it. To me, money is a way of showing how much you care about someone. How much you spend on their birthday or Christmas present is a direct correlation with how much you care for them.

And it’s my grandmother’s fault.

I was born in 1982 and for 4 short, wonderful years, I was my grandmother’s favorite. My grandma (or Sito, as we called her) had three children but only one son, my father. And in the Syrian culture, men reign supreme. Maybe not even the Syrian culture anymore, but definitely the old-school mentality my Sito had. Women were to serve men and men were to provide.

And since my father was a doctor, well, you could burn your retinas on the pride she beamed.

So to be the only child of her only son, well, I was set. It was a given that I’d be her favorite grandchild and life was good ... until my brother was born. Everyone loves my brother more than me, to this day. But from the second he was born, it was clear that with my Sito, I was old news. Her son had a son and she couldn’t have loved him more.

It’s hard when you’re a child of around six to realize someone doesn’t love you as much as they love someone else. Especially when that “someone” is your own grandmother. And that “someone else” was this annoying, attention grabbing thing that kind of looked like me. But I wasn’t worried. Surely she’d have to see I was the superior grandchild and more deserving of her love and praise than my stupid brother who couldn’t even stand up on his own. But my efforts went unnoticed.

There is photographic proof of my grandmother’s love of my brother over me.

In every photo of the three of us, she’s practically pushing me out of frame so she can make room for her more loved grandson. This happened for years. One morning while visiting her in Pennsylvania, with my family she made a huge breakfast and there were three dishes on the dining room table. After coming back with a run with my father, I was starving and sat down at one of the place settings. You know what my Sito said? “Oh are you hungry? There’s cereal in the pantry.” He had made breakfast for my father, my brother and herself, so she could be surrounded by the ones she truly loved. I stood in the kitchen with my mother while we quietly ate old Wheetabix and my mother promised me a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts later to make up for it.

But it didn’t matter.

I knew that deep down she loved me as much as she loved my brother. I knew this for a fact because every Christmas, we’d each get a crisp $50 bill from my Sito. My other grandmother wrote checks, but my Sito sent cash. As a child with no allowance, seeing that much money at once was mind blowing. To this day I get a special feeling when seeing a $50. My Sito could pretend that she loved my brother more than me once a year when we made the trip to see her, she could dote over him and all but ignore me at her house in front of our family members, but here was cold hard proof that at the end of the day, my brother and I were the same. Each deserving of the same fifty dollar bill.

When she passed away years later, we were looking through some of her old belongings, and that’s when I saw it: The ledger. My Sito ran a cigarette and candy shop (which was a thing in the 70s) and was always a meticulous accountant. I never saw her pay for anything without writing down the exact amount to be officially recorded later. And going through her old money ledger, my heart welled with pride. This woman, who did so much for everyone around her, managed to stay independent even after the loss of her husband due to her meticulous finances. Good for her! To hell with men! We can be just as smart and capable with money! I vowed then and there to be as diligent with my own finances as an ode to my Sito, to run my own life and never let anyone tell me I was “less than."

And then I saw it: December 15th, 1997 – the entries for Christmas presents for her grandchildren. My brother’s name – Matthew – and next to it, $50. And then my name:

Joey - $25.

I was shocked and immediately went to my mother, hoping she would explain it away as a mistake. That my Sito obviously loved us both the same and there was no way she would give my brother double what she had given me. That I hadn’t been living a lie for the past 17 years and that the secret confirmation I had that my grandma loved me just as much as my brother was simply recorded wrong in the ledger.

What Ebola costs one community

Fri, 2014-09-05 13:22

The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the worst on record, more than 3,500 people have contracted the illness, and more than 2,000 have died.

The outbreak has also meant profound changes to everyday life. Curfews, containment zones, and a near halt to agriculture have occurred, stalling the region's economy.

Balmed Holdings buys and sells cocoa, coffee, and cashews with local farmers in Sierra Leone. 

Medgar Brown, the CEO of Balmed Holdings, joined us over the phone from Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, to tell us how Ebola is affecting his community.

A new way to apply to college: video

Fri, 2014-09-05 13:05

The postcard-perfect campus of Goucher College, in Baltimore, Maryland, might seem out-of-reach to students from low-income families, or those with iffy grades on their transcripts. New president José Antonio Bowen wants to change that.

"There are tens of thousands of high school seniors each year that do not apply to any selective liberal arts college, like Goucher College," he says, "despite the fact that they have great SATs and they have transcripts and they would get in."

To attract more of those students, Goucher introduced a new way to apply to the college — by making a video. On the college's website, a clip explaining the concept shows a student tearing up a transcript.

"That's it," he says. "No test scores, no transcripts."

Here's how their new system works: Students fill out a brief application, send two samples of their work from high school and submit a short video introducing themselves. Production value doesn't matter, Bowen says.

"You can use your phone, you can tell us who you are, and be admitted to college," he says. "That's a simple, straightforward message that I hope will resonate with lots of 18-year-olds."

Colleges are in fierce competition for those 18-year-olds. After a big boom, the number of high school seniors is shrinking in the Midwest and Northeast.

"The demographics are getting more challenging," says David Strauss, a higher education consultant with Art & Science Group. Students and families are worried about costs, and many are questioning the value of a liberal arts degree. "All of this adds up to a need for institutions to compete ever more effectively against each other for the students they need," he says.

Goucher isn't the only school experimenting with alternatives to the traditional application. Last year Bard College introduced an essay-only admissions exam, meant to attract talented students whose grades or test scores might not reflect their potential. Just 40 out of 6,000 applicants went that route, but nearly half of them got in.

There aren't enough teachers with coding skills

Fri, 2014-09-05 13:01

The looming shortage of coders and programmers in the tech industry has been well-documented. There are about a million (er, give or take) digital job openings predicted in the next decade, which has some schools mandating coding class. But where are the teachers?

“We need to train students today to have the skills that we don’t have,” says Ravi Gupta, founder of RePublic Charter Schools in Nashville. “But we don’t have enough people who have the skills to teach it.”

Schools around the world are trying to respond to tech entrepreneurs, who have been calling for required programming classes. Apple Founder Steve Jobs famously said in 1995 that everyone should learn how to program a computer. Now many people are echoing him, from President Obama to rappers like



There are several programs designed for kids to teach themselves how to code. But for schools that take the project to the classroom, good luck finding a coding teacher.

Gupta’s schools in Nashville decided to require coding this year, but when he started looking for teachers, he basically found none.

“We all knew that our students needed the skills, but none of us knew how to tackle the challenge,” he says. “So we started teaching ourselves as we teach our students. Not because that’s the ideal situation, but because it is the only way.”

In an echo-filled classroom, Ryan York leads a one-month crash course for a group of teachers who know almost nothing about coding, even though that’s what they will be teaching this year. Day one is animating a cartoon fish.

The teachers hunched over laptops are learning a fairly rudimentary coding language called Scratch, developed by MIT. They’ll work up to projects like building an on-screen piano.

“I’m getting there,” says Ben Keil, one of those hired to teach coding. He admits it may be a long first year.

“I actually roomed with two computer science guys in college and watched them through the whole process,” he said. “In hindsight now, I wish I had done a little more learning from them along the way.”

School leaders are spinning the lack of experience as a potential plus: Teachers can identify with their students because they’re just a few steps ahead.

“This is something where you are learning alongside with your students,” York says. “And that’s a beautiful model that’s at the heart of programming. But it also means there’s a lot more preparation on the front end.”

Around the world, schools are dealing with this circular problem in which kids need to learn coding, but teachers can’t teach it. England’s primary schools have mandated programming classes, but a recent survey finds teachers don’t think they’re ready, calling the preparation “chaotic.”

And when a teacher does master an in-demand skill like coding, will they actually stay in the classroom? Or will they be poached by the higher-paying tech industry?

“We have definitely had that happen,” says Mike Palmer, who runs a teacher training program based in St. Louis called Code Red. 

One newly minted coding teacher recently left for greener pastures.

“We basically trained her up to be a coder. She ended up self-training a little bit more, and she ended up getting a job in the private sector,” he says. “I don’t know if that’s us doing our job too well or not, but it’s happened.”

The potential for high turnover is a problem that, at this point, Nashville’s coding education pioneers say they’d be happy to have.  

Perhaps, Palmer says, it’s further proof that coding is a skill worth teaching to every student.

Grunge and heroin chic: the '90s fashion reboot

Fri, 2014-09-05 11:38

Everybody who's anybody in the rarefied world of high fashion is in New York City. Fashion Week is upon us once again.

While the runway shows, lavish parties, and air kisses are a mainstay, fashion hasn't consistently been ground for avant-garde experimentation, says Maureen Callahan. She has has long covered the industry as a reporter and editor at the New York Post and has written a book called "Champagne Supernovas: Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen and the '90's Renegades Who Remade Fashion".

Why did you pick these three people to anchor your book?

Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs and Alexander McQueen epitomized the revolution that took place in fashion in the '90s. And they remain as culturally relevant today as they were 20 years ago. 

The odd one out, it seems, is Marc Jacobs. By the time this book starts he's already won a big fashion award, he's a VP at Perry Ellis. He doesn't seem to need much of a boost, and yet he engineers the move toward grunge fashion. 

On the surface of it, it does seem that Marc Jacobs is the odd one out. It's easy to see why. He is the most famous, impactful, influential designer — I think ever. But he, like Kate and McQueen, has a dark origin story. The grunge collection, which today is rightly regarded as the most seminal American collection of the 1990s, was, at the time, a colossal failure.  The critics loathed it. The buyers did not know what to do with it. The editors hated it. And the girls he was designing for thought it was a highly cynical co-option of their authentic, organic culture. They thought Marc Jacobs killed it. 

Early on in this book you talk about how what rock'n'roll was to the '50s, drugs to the '60s, film to the '70s and modern art to the '80s, fashion was to the '90s. What is fashion today? 

What you see now, and this is a legacy of the '90s, is a democratization of fashion that's unprecedented. A lot of that has to do with technology -the idea that you can go to H&M and buy something days after it was shown on a high fashion runway for a fraction of the price, and then throw it away when it's no longer on-trend. But you also have the rise of street style blogs. Any girl can be shot by a photographer, put up online, and that can be an aspirational image for anyone. Fashion now is far more open than it ever has been. Bloggers are seated front row at shows alongside Anna Wintour. 

For all that accessibility though, that high-end stuff is out of reach for over 90 percent of the population. 

It absolutely is. Say you see a piece in Vogue that you would love, but it's that or your rent. You wait two to three weeks. Some High Street chain, be it Zara or Topshop or H&M will knock it off. 

Two to three weeks? That speed? That's insane. 

It becomes this poisonous feedback loop. The pressure on high-end designers to keep producing is incredible for exactly this reason. You have to create newer and more product to convince women that they absolutely need to buy this to be on-trend. Every designer worth their salt, from Marc Jacobs to Tom Ford to Nicolas Ghesquiere has said the production schedule is crazy, completely inhumane, and unnecessary. 

What's college worth anyway?

Fri, 2014-09-05 11:16

It’s a more important question than ever when you look at our economy today. College graduates have a much lower unemployment rate (3.2  percent) than adults with only a high school degree (6.2 percent).

Two economists from the New York Fed wrote in a recent paper that “the value of a bachelor’s degree for the average graduate has held near its all-time high of about $300,000 for more than a decade.”

Essentially, a degree is worth a fair chunk of change. Plus, it gets you connections — possibly from your professors, or the people you meet around campus.

Business Insider wrote up their research nicely, essentially noting that it only takes about a decade to work off what you paid for your degree. Back in the late '70s, it used to take more than 20 years.

At the same time, wages for people with only a high school degree are falling, which exacerbates the split.

But that’s value, not cost. Which is where student loans come into play.

One the one hand, loans can be great, since they contribute to the democratization of higher education. Students who do not have the wherewithal to pay full freight, or get enough grants to do it, can take out loans. Yay? Maybe. It depends.

Color matters. While black and white students tend to borrow the same amount, debt weighs more heavily on black families, according to a new study.  This is where I think the difference between income inequality and wealth inequality is key.

Even though we talk a lot about income inequality, talking about wealth inequality (and the historical barriers preventing black families from amassing wealth), really matters.

If your income takes a hit and you or your family don’t have any cushion to absorb it? Then that degree isn’t worth all that much. And the loan bills feel heavier and heavier.

Good news! The unemployment rate is 6.1 percent

Fri, 2014-09-05 10:14

This morning, we reported that most everybody expected an employment report that added quite a few jobs:

The U.S. Labor Department's monthly employment report for August is expected to show some improvement in the job market from July. The consensus among economists is for 230,000 jobs to have been added to private and public-sector payrolls.

Instead, only 142,000 jobs were added in August, making it the worst month since December 2013.

So, what does that mean for the unemployment rate?

The unemployment rate from January 2008 through August 2014.

Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace

Fewer jobs added and lower unemployment.

Beyond magnifying glasses: High-tech options for the vision-impaired

Fri, 2014-09-05 08:10

This week, Marketplace Tech has been talking technology and reading. We've heard about how new gadgets are changing reading in school and how they're changing reading education at home. We've talked about the impact of e-readers on the brain

But what happens if your vision makes it tough to read at all?

Today, we profiled Spotlight Text, one digital option for people with vision loss. However, there are many more tools for low-vision readers out there:

There’s an e-reader app for that.

Some e-reader apps are made specifically for those with reduced vision. Apps like Spotlight Text and Read2Go allow readers to increase or decrease font size as much as they need to.

E-readers like the Kindle or iPad already allow low-vision readers to adjust font sizes and contrast settings on the device. Many also have text-to-speech functionality.

The BARD Mobile app from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped offers readers almost 50,000 Braille and talking books. And it’s free.

Phone it in.

There are countless magnification apps that use a smartphone’s camera and flashlight to enlarge and illuminate text. Some are free, like iRead or Magnificent, while VisionAssist is $5.99 and EyeSight is $29.99.

EyeNote is a free app that identifies the denominations of U.S. paper currency for those with low vision.

The iPhone — and other smartphones — remains a powerful tool for low-vision readers. As Paul Otterness, who suffers from glaucoma, wrote on the Glaucoma Research Foundation's blog: “The big news for people with low vision is that high tech, big print, voice control and screen reading are brought together in a single handheld device: the Apple iPhone — a fully functioning computer with high-resolution screen and multiple magnification capabilities, small enough to carry in my pocket.”

Spoken words.

Text-to-speech apps like Speak it!, $1.99, and Voice Dream Reader, $4.99, allow low-vision readers to listen to texts read aloud.

Not out of sight.

Different high-tech glasses are being made to help those with low vision read more easily. These glasses from Low Vision Readers are equipped with LED lights and rechargeable batteries.

Some companies have also been trying to make Google Glass accessible for the deaf. They are working on live subtitle technology.

These high-tech devices can be expensive and insurance companies don’t always cover the costs. So support groups have been cropping up around the country to loan out devices or provide them for free to people with low vision.

If you have low vision, we want to know: Which technologies or devices have been helpful to you? Let us know in the comments below!

PODCAST: Colleges join ESPN

Fri, 2014-09-05 03:00

Just 142,000 jobs were added to American payrolls last month. That amounts to an unpleasant surprise. More on the disappointing numbers for August. And nearly a quarter of a million newly-naturalized American citizens or immigrants may lose their health insurance coverage under the federal reform law at the end of the month. The government is trying to verify people's identities and immigration status. Plus, ESPN3, the online streaming channel of the sports media giant is the place for less mass-market sports in America like cricket or volleyball. But it's growing it's share of college sports, including football. Schools eager for the exposure are finding creative ways to join the network. 

What to do when terrorists claim your company's name

Fri, 2014-09-05 02:00

What do you do when your brand gets adopted by a terrorist organization? That’s the question faced by businesses with ISIS in their names — the English-language acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

The most extreme strategy is to simply change the name. Mobile payment app Isis has announced it will change its name to Softcard. 

But so far, this is the exception. There are 49 corporations in New York State alone with "Isis" in their name, from Isis Fitness to Isis Nails. 

Patricia Luzi is the founder of Isis Essentials, selling organic oils and other products. She’s not afraid of a terrorist homophone.

"Isis is an Egyptian goddess and has been for thousands of years," she says. "I am not affected at all."

According to Steve Manning, founder of naming agency Igor, most Isis-branded businesses have nothing to fear because there is little chance of confusion with a violent sect of Sunni fundamentalists.

"But if your business isn't doing well or if you've got a bad reputation, it's the perfect excuse to make a change," he adds. 

This is what Manning believes was the true motivation of the mobile wallet app that is now called Softcard. 

"The irony being this mobile wallet was a huge initiative that never got any traction," Manning says. "Had it, they wouldn't have changed the name."

It wasn’t so much protecting a successful brand, as abandoning a failed one.

Many immigrants may lose health insurance under the ACA

Fri, 2014-09-05 02:00

Nearly a quarter of a million newly naturalized citizens or immigrants may lose their health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act at the end of the month.

The federal government is trying to verify people’s identities and immigration status, and Friday is the deadline to submit paperwork.

The National Immigration Law Center’s Jenny Rejeske says people are hustling to confirm their eligibility. But there are only so many ways they can reach out.

“People have mailed in their documents by certified mail, who have also tried to upload their documents online,” she says.

Despite that, Rejeske says, immigrants and naturalized citizens keep getting termination notices.

She says this is an old story for the Obama Administration.

“It’s just been part of the whole of array of technical problems that has faced,” she says.

Sonya Schwartz with the Georgetown Health Policy Institute also faults a lack of thorough planning. Why, she wonders, were most notices in English?

“It should have been a higher priority to think about how to communicate to all the different people in America, not just the people in English,” she says.

Apart from interrupting people’s health coverage, Schwartz says basic problems like this have a chilling effect on the millions who remain uninsured.

The federal government says it has whittled down immigration cases by nearly 75 percent.

Even if the deadline passes, Schwartz has a piece of advice for anyone who has received a notice:

“When in doubt, submit your paperwork again.”

'Security Princess' or 'Engineering Manager'?

Fri, 2014-09-05 02:00

In the tech world, it’s not uncommon to meet a princess. Mine is named Parisa Tabriz. I know, because it says so on her business card.

“So, 'security princess' is my self-appointed title,” Tabriz says. “My actual job title is I am the engineering manager for the Chrome security team.”

But she figures the title “security princess” is “more fun.”

It’s also much more Silicon Valley. It’s sort of like a tradition here, at least when companies are starting up, to let employees choose their titles — not their real titles — but the ones they put on their business card.

“This is my last business card when I worked at Apple,” says Guy Kawasaki.

It reads “chief evangelist.”

I ask, “Who gave you the title?”

“I took that title,” Kawasaki answers. “I assumed that title.”

Kawasaki says choosing your title — even if it’s just the one on your business card — encourages you to think big about your job. Take Kawasaki’s title: evangelist.

He says when Apple was introducing the Macintosh in the mid-1980s, the masses barely knew about personal computers. And they sure didn’t get why you’d buy one.

So Apple needed more than just sales people; it needed somebody to sell the idea that personal computing would change their lives. They needed an evangelist.

“Evangelism is seeing your product or service as a way to change the world, and you want to bring this good news to people,” says Kawasaki.

He says it might sound delusional, but it is different than sales. You're not worrying about quotas and selling units. So a new job needs a new name.

Kawasaki left Apple in the late '90s, and since then, techies have introduced all sort of titles, says Scott Brosnan, a tech recruiter at Workbridge Associates.

“Ruby on rails rockstar,” he says. "Software ninja, data wrangler, I see a lot of now."

Brosnan isn’t impressed by the titles. But, he says, like wearing jeans and T-shirts to work, when tech companies allow employees to choose their title, they’re saying: We’re not corporate types, we’re creatives! Come work for us!

Keith Rollag, a management professor at Babson College, says there’s a study that shows this practice can make employees happier. The study was conducted by two researchers from Wharton and one from the London Business School.

They went into a health care company and let some of the employees define their titles.

“And what they found was it actually reduced people’s feelings of job exhaustion and it reduced the stress they felt while they’re on the job,” says Rollag.

Rollag says those employees felt empowered to redefine their jobs in ways that felt more meaningful.

ESPN3 grows its offerings with student productions

Fri, 2014-09-05 01:30

On Saturday, the Mercer Bears from Macon, Georgia, will play their first Southern Conference football game against Furman. Fans can watch it on the ESPN3 Web stream, even though the Bears football program is only one year old. Mercer decided to take advantage of an ESPN3 initiative that allows schools to join the network.

“We're one of the first in football to pick that up and run with it and self-produce an event for ESPN,” said Mercer Athletic director Jim Cole.

It took an investment of $150,000 to upgrade the university's TV production studio, get some high-grade cameras and pull fiber cable throughout campus. But, Cole says, joining the ESPN network is money well spent — even if it's only their Web stream.

“I'm looking for name ID for Mercer,” Cole said, to showcase Mercer to potential students around the country. “Kids understand what ESPN means, so we view this as a recruiting advantage as well,” he said.

ESPN3 has been the place for niche events like cricket, tennis or volleyball, but it's making headway into college sports, including football. Colleges and universities are eager for exposure on any of the sports media giant's network, and the school production initiative is part of ESPN3's business strategy.

“There is the ability for us to leverage our position in the marketplace to deliver a Mercer college-football game in the same APP as Monday Night Football,” said Jason Bernstein, ESPN's senior director of programming and acquisitions.

ESPN3 has different deals with each school, but the production quality has to fit their broadcast standards, Bernstein said.

Mercer University has a professional producer and director on staff, but the rest of its production crew are students who work for free.

Students Emanuela Rendini (left) and Sam Strickland (right) are part of the 20 student production team.

Susanna Capelouto

“Being paid, to me, is not really important,” said sophmore Emanuela Rendini. She is a journalism major and works as a grip during football games. She's in it for the experience, and the ability to leverage the ESPN brand name.

“Having ESPN on your resume when you graduate is really big to me,” she said.

Her volunteer efforts help her school add to the more than 7 ,000 exclusive live productions on ESPN3 this year, which can be seen by 95 million ESPN subscribers, 21 million college students and soldiers who get internet access through their school or military base.

ESPN3 will stream the Mercer vs. Furman game Saturday at 6 p.m. 

Silicon Tally: Taxi for two

Fri, 2014-09-05 01:30

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, we're joined by Stephanie Humphrey, who writes about tech for

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Venture capitalists connect with local doctors

Thu, 2014-09-04 14:20

Venture capitalists are getting into the new health care game — a game in which the more money you save, the more money you make.

Enter Aledade, one of the first companies with VC backing. It's teaming up with small, independent primary care docs.

Why do investors think they can strike gold in these health care outposts?

It’s because of physicians like Dr. Rebecca Jaffe, who has spent the last 30 years running a family medicine practice in Wilmington, Delaware.

“We serve newborns and their parents, and their parents, and their parents, up to four generations of a family. We call it womb to tomb,” says Jaffe.

To Jaffe, “womb to tomb” is a pledge she makes to her patients. That type of attention often leads to meaningful patient-doctor relationships. To Aledade CEO Dr. Farzad Mostashari, those relationships represent a business opportunity.

“When a health plan sends a video out, a video about nutrition for people with diabetes, 4 percent of people open that link. When their primary care doctor sends it, 95 percent of the time we know that they click and open that video,” he says.

Today, the health care industry spends billions trying to buy the kind of persuasive power a physician like Jaffe wields.

If you can control — or at least influence — patient decisions, you can limit health care spending, which has become a high-stakes business. Mostashari says to imagine the case of a 30-something recreational runner who comes in complaining of knee pain and wants an MRI. The patient would think, “If they are not recommending an MRI for me, it’s because I don’t need one. And I trust my primary care physician,” says Mostashari.

Aledade is betting the relationships you find in these independent mom-and-pop practices will help control health care costs more than almost anything else. Already, the company is working with 100 doctors to form what are called Accountable Care Organizations, or ACOs.

That’s a jargon-y way of saying that the less spending overall, the more money doctors can earn while ensuring quality care.

To date, Aledade has helped the doctors create three ACOs under the federal government’s Medicare Shared Savings program. Mostashari says Aledade will be a savvy partner with cash.

“I’m going to give them what they need,” he says. “Whether that’s data, whether it’s capital, whether it’s tools, whether it’s technology.”

In exchange, Aledade keeps 40 percent of any savings.

The company is being backed by the venture capital firm Venrock, which hit health care grand slams with Athenahealth and Castlight Health, both multibillion-dollar businesses today.

Venrock’s Bryan Roberts sees that kind of possibility for Aledade, too.

Even though the practices are small independents, 100 doctors like Jaffe call the shots on nearly $1 billion of referrals, tests and hospitalizations every year. The trouble, says Roberts, is many don’t realize it.

“Today those primary care physicians have no control over and no incentive for control over those downstream dollars. And so to me that’s the place where magic can happen,” he says.

That magic will often mean offering same-day appointments, checking on patients just discharged from the hospital or extending hours to help avoid trips to the ER.

Similar programs in Massachusetts and Florida suggest this is a winning formula. 

Under its Alternative Quality Contract, Dr. Dana Safran of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts says not only do doctors make more money, but patients experience a new level of attention.

“Like never before, they have their doctor’s office calling them, just to check back in. So, they are finding, they are a patient the practice is thinking about all the time." 

The Urban Institute’s Dr. Robert Berenson says he’s preached this kind of approach for more than two decades.

But as hospitals have gobbled up physician practices, there are a shrinking number of doctor partners. Berenson sees no reason to think that trend will change anytime soon.

“Independent, small practices are likely going to die out simply because recent graduates of medical school don’t want to live that kind of life,” he says.

Venrock’s Roberts concedes the current crop of docs are more interested in shift work than paying bills and managing staff — the kind of responsibility that comes with running your own business. But he likes to think Aledade could reverse the trend.

“We show these primary care docs can have a real effect on their microcosm in the system. Having that effect will make them more money. That may in fact change the desires of doctors to be independent,” he says.

Dr. Jaffe certainly hopes signing on with Aledade makes life better for her and her patients.

She says she’s sick of hitting health care walls, like a recent case in which no repair company would fix a 101-year-old patient’s wheelchair.

“I have known this woman for more than 35 years. And I want what’s best for her — and what was best for her was for us to do our utmost at getting that seat fixed. I went so far as to ask my husband if he would consider doing it,” she says.

Jaffe worried the woman would get hurt trying to learn some new doodad of a device, but ultimately, that was the only choice.

“In less than two days, she fell, broke her leg and is now sitting in a nursing home,” she says.

It all goes back to Jaffe’s womb-to-tomb pledge. Even if Aledade makes bundles, but she does most of the work, Jaffe wants these sorts of health care pileups to go away. Something she knows she can’t do on her own.

How Mark Duplass makes movies on a microbudget

Thu, 2014-09-04 13:45

Making movies isn't for the faint of heart.

Filmmakers have to raise huge amounts of money and yet maintain creative control — all the while negotiating the twists and turns of a byzantine industry.

Mark Duplass does that and more, while writing, producing and directing independent films like "Cyrus" and "The Puffy Chair" with his brother Jay. 

Not to mention that he acts a bit, too. He plays football player Pete in FXX's "The League," which debuted its sixth season Wednesday, and he co-stars with Elisabeth Moss from "Mad Men" in the film "The One I Love." 


How does he do it? We've paraphrased some of his advice here — and you can listen to all of it in the audio player above.

A short guide to getting your film financed, via Mark Duplass:

Step 1 — Find yourself a star.

Decide to make a $5 million movie. Go to a movie star like Elisabeth Moss and offer "Schedule F," or $65,000.

Step 2 — Begin budget cuts.

When the $5 million budget gets cut down to $3.5 million, go back to the hopefully still-interested Elisabeth Moss and offer "scale," or about $3,000 a week. Then throw in "a point," or backend profits.

Don't dwell on the fact that with creative accounting at these companies, you'll never see that money. 

Thus, Elisabeth Moss is now working on this $5 million movie for four weeks and making making $12,000.

Step 3 — The twist.

Return to the agent and offer the minimum pay, with something extra added on. Everybody — Elisabeth Moss, a PA or Ted Danson — is going to make $100 per day, but they also get big points on the backend. And because they've made it so cheaply, profits will roll in sooner. 

The agents will say, "How do I know I'll see the points?"

Show them the documents from your other films. If you're Mark Duplass, that's "Safety Not Guaranteed," "Your Sister's Sister" and so on, including what everyone made. It dwarfs the Schedule F pay they were going to make in the first place.

Step 4 — Repeat.

Keep playing the game; keep producing.

Hotels jack up fees... and consumers continue to pay

Thu, 2014-09-04 13:25

If you have gone on a trip and stayed in a nice hotel lately, you might have shelled out more than expected. You are not alone. Hotels are increasingly boosting the bill with add-ons: fees for their gym, Wi-Fi, the “free” newspaper. God forbid you actually open the mini-fridge.

Fees have become a big part of the hotel business model. A study by Bjorn Hanson of New York University shows that the industry is going to rake in $2.25 billion this year from all those little additional charges. That is 6 percent more than in 2013, and a new all-time record.

These are not your garden-variety charges, says Colin Johnson, the chair of hospitality management at San Francisco State University. He says customers used to balk at bills for long-distance telephone calls. Now the list of fees scrolls on and on: charges for early check-in, using the gym, late checkout, baggage holding, even putting your own stuff in the minibar. Now that, Johnson says, is really creative.

Hotels have had some rough years: first the recession, and now rental websites like Airbnb. Fees offer some extra profit. So why not raise them? Airlines do it, and passengers make do with a pack of peanuts.

“Some of the businesses, honestly, just don't care,” says Carl Winston, who directs the Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at San Diego State University. Nor do those business have to, he says.

Winston says these fees are not due to bad times. They are the product of big data. Hotels now know better what we will and won’t pay for. “They are really able to predict consumer behavior in a way that they had no possibility of doing in the past,” he says.

Lots of little fees give hotels more information to profile us, to squeeze out every dollar. Plus, they create ammunition to build customer loyalty. And if you’re angry, maybe you’ll get the “free newspaper” for free.

Stripping out all the perks allows hotels to keep the initial room price low. If they bring you in the door with that, Winston says, they won’t waste what is called “perishable inventory.”

“An airline or hotel can only sell its seat or its bed today,” Winston says. “If they don't sell it, it's gone.”

So, gripe all you want about the fees. As long as you keep coming back for the cheap rooms, they won’t be going anywhere.

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