Marketplace - American Public Media

Rotten Tomatoes turns its Tomatometer to television

Fri, 2014-09-26 13:43

Matt Atchity is the editor-in-chief at Rotten Tomatoes, the website known for its film reviews and its signature “Tomatometer.” The site is now a year into featuring television reviews alongside its long-running film reviews. Atchity reflects on the reasons that TV has moved so much more into the spotlight in recent years.

People want more of it
Film watchers are passionate, but the buzz usually dies down after opening weekend. Atchity says television audiences don’t want the coverage to stop after a season premiere. They want to read and talk about the show episode by episode.

“People have really emotional relationships with the characters and you hear people talk about, ‘Oh god, did you see what happened with Walter White and his wife last night?’ It’s gossip. They invite these people into their homes because they’re invested in those characters’ lives.”

Television is the new film
Television series are increasingly filmed all at once, similar to the way feature-length movies are shot. Atchity gives "The Knick," a drama series from Cinemax, as an example.  “They shot that like a movie. That was a 70-day shoot.”

Beau Willimon did the same thing with "House of Cards," the series he created for Netflix. That’s also the way creator and director Jill Soloway shot her new Amazon series "Transparent."

When audiences are able to binge-watch 12 or 13 or even more hours of a television series, it can certainly feel like they’re watching a very long movie.

TV is more convenient
Atchity says Roy Price, the head of Amazon Studios, is right when he told Kai Ryssdal that TV should start when the viewer wants it to start. That’s a common theme among television services like Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go and Showtime Now.

Atchity also points out that younger viewers — like his 10-year-old son — are already comfortable watching 30- or 40-minute TV shows on their smartphones. The services and networks that figure out how to serve those audiences are going to win in the long run.

It's time to break out the decorative gourds

Fri, 2014-09-26 13:40

It's pumpkin-spice latte time.

What, you ask, does that have to do with anything?

Well, the good people — who clearly have too much time on their hands — at the Washington Post have run the numbers and figured out when peak "Decorative Gourd Season" is.

You know, pumpkins, squash and the like that show up carved and on people's porches and mantels this time of year?

Based on Google searches, Decorative Gourd Season runs from late August to early November. Specifically, the third Thursday in October is peak Decorative Gourd Day.

So, now you know.

Weekly Wrap: Inside Goldman Sachs

Fri, 2014-09-26 13:08

Linette Lopez from Business Insider and Cardiff Garcia from FT Alphaville talked with Kai Ryssdal about the week that was: The GDP is revised upward, what does it mean? What happens when the head of the world's largest hedge fund resigns? And we look at the report from "This American Life" on the role of Goldman Sachs and the New York Federal Reserve in the run up to the financial crisis.

Listen to their conversation in the audio player above.

What will TV be like in 25 years?

Fri, 2014-09-26 12:42

As part of "Screen Wars," our series exploring the future of television, we asked a bunch of the industry's brightest where they see the medium moving in the next 25 years. Here's what they said, some answers have been condensed for clarity.

Starcom President Amanda Richman, already exploring the possibilities of the second screen, focused on interactivity:

"Television will still exist but we'll think of it perhaps more as a screen that certainly has much more interactivity and opportunity for us to choose the shows that we want. Not through a remote control [but] more voice activated like, you've already seen with Xbox and Kinect over the last year. we'll be able to really program our old channels and that will be the biggest change. [TV] will look a lot more like the app world of mobile: choosing how you engage with the shows you want on an interactive screen."

Showtime head David Nevins looked to the future challenges of raising revenue without commercials:

"I don't think the demand is going anywhere. The challenge, the 'How do we get paid for it' challenge comes out of the captive audience [that] has to watch the 30 second ad. That's where some of the challenges are: There are other ways that people are demanding to see [TV], and some of them aren't so conducive to the 30-second ad. But I think people are rapidly figuring it out. I think as long as demand for television doesn't go away, we'll figure out the business model challenges."

Marlene King, showrunner of the very buzzy drama "Pretty Little Liars," said in the future the buzz around a show will keep up all year:

"This is the second golden age of television, I think it's such an exciting time to be in TV ... Netflix releases "House of Cards" or "Orange is the New Black" and it stays relevant — people are talking about it on social media — for about month, and then it kind of goes away until the next one comes out. What's next is finding a way to create a show that you binge-watch, but people keep talking about all year long. [You] find ways to stay out there in the universe. I think that's what people are trying to do, and I think in 25 years maybe there will be those types of shows."

Roy Price, head of Amazon Studios, said he's frustrated at scrolling through hundreds of channels and landing in the middle of a show he wanted to watch:

"My prediction is that everything or anything that you may find inconvenient or annoying about TV now is going to be innovated away ... I think we can do better ... With the exception of sports and live events, even the concept of coming into a show in the middle of the show will soon be part of the past ... It should start when you start, you should be the boss."

Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson had a few ideas, particularly about all the different places we'll watch TV:

We're going to see the nature of screens change in the home. It's not going to be a television anymore but maybe it will be a wall in your home ... that plays content that you deliver from your mobile device. You tell the wall what to play for you...Another place that I think we're going to be watching a lot of television is in our cars...It's early days right now, but a lot of estimates say that in 25 years we're going to see a lot more self-driving cars on the road. I think we're going to be watching a lot of TV while we are moving in vehicles. Not just as it is now, when you're sitting on a plane, but when you're sitting in a car doing every day things as you're traveling.

After asking all these guests that question for two weeks, Kai Ryssdal's prediction had gone full sci-fi. After all, who could have predicted all the advances in the past 25 years?

I am much more on the 'In 25 years we're all going to have chips in our brain' spectrum, and I'm only being a little bit factious... You heard Roy Price at Amazon say you're not going to have to scroll through menus and all that. I think we're going to be a step beyond that, and I don't know what that is...I think it's going to be much more innate, much more sub conscious, much more intuitive than actually having to decide to watch something. We're almost just going to think it and it's going to be there.

Finally, we asked you all to let us know what you thought TV would be like in the future. Most predicted that the platform won't even exist:

Weekend Brunch: The NFL's future, changing the climate and whither Olive Garden?

Fri, 2014-09-26 12:39

Joe Weisenthal from Business Insider and FT’s Shannon Bond chat about the week’s news. Click play above to hear them break down the NFL in pop culture and the market effects of climate change.

This weekend’s reading list:

New York Times: Roger Goodell Says N.F.L. Will Overhaul Personal Conduct Policy

Daily Beast: Capitalism Is Saving the Climate, You Hippies

Salon: Wall Street won’t save the world: Why “free-market solutions” are a recipe for disaster

Bloomberg Businessweek: A Hedge Fund's 294-Page Recipe for Fixing Olive Garden

Your Wallet: Getting financial aid, and getting out

Fri, 2014-09-26 10:16

This week, we learned that defaults on federal student loans declined in 2013 for the first time in years. 13.7 percent of student borrowers defaulted on payments after they started coming due, that’s about a point lower than last year. But defaults are still far above what they were before the recession. Student loans can be scary and emotional… but key to getting an education.

How would you redesign student financial aid?

Here's what students at the University of Southern California had to say.

The numbers for September 26, 2014

Fri, 2014-09-26 08:20

The news has been dominated this week by U.S.-led airstrikes on ISIS compounds in Syria, and today is no different. After a seven-hour debate, the U.K. parliament voted Friday to take military action against extremist groups in Iraq, the BBC reported. After being recalled by Prime Minister David Cameron, Parliament supported airstrikes beginning as early as Sunday, in a 524-43 vote.

Here's what we're reading — and some other numbers we're watching — Friday:

25 percent

The portion of auto loans made last year that are considered subprime — a number that has jumped in the last five years, and caught the attention of federal regulators. There's a side effect of this new subprime boom: More cars are being outfitted with a device allowing lenders to shut the engine down remotely if the owner misses a payment. These devices have become more and more common, the New York Times reported, and borrowers are raising serious safety concerns.


That's how many requests the much-hyped, invite-only social networking site Ello was getting every hour on Thursday, BetaBeat reported. Ello has billed itself as a sort of anti-Facebook, pledging to stay ad-free and never sell user data. The site's staff was blindsided by the high traffic and considered temporarily freezing account creation, but resolved to limit new users to about five to ten invites instead. 

50 percent

Half of all mercury found in public water treatment plants comes from discarded dental fillings, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday. To reduce waste, the EPA is pushing for dentist offices to use special devices that pull bits of mercury from water before it goes down the drain, the National Journal reported.


Surprise album releases are the new endlessly hyped album releases. Thom Yorke just put out a new solo record, "Tomorrow's Modern Boxes," on BitTorrent for $6. That model is meant as an experiment, Pitchfork reported. Yorke's band Radiohead has done stuff like this before, self-releasing new music through a pay-what-you like model, surprise announcements and even an iOS app.

PODCAST: The price of AC cools down

Fri, 2014-09-26 03:00

First up, there's news that Bill Gross — the man who built California-based PIMCO into one of the biggest money managers in the world — is moving to rival Janus, effective immediately. In what must be an overstatement, PIMCO's biggest shareholder called this a "Black Swan Event," something so unlikely it wasn't worth even thinking about. We look into what has been the talk of financial markets this morning. Plus, 100 years ago, the Federal Trade Commission was born when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Trade Commission Act into law. Since then, the agency has played an outsize role in the U.S. economy, and it's fair to say it's affected all of us. And as Marketplace celebrates its 25th birthday this year, we are looking at the surprising,  sometimes delightful and sometimes destructive ways that prices have changed during that quarter century. Today, we chill out with a look at the price of AC units, and what their changing costs say about how energy consumption has evolved.

U.S. government releases a second revision of GDP

Fri, 2014-09-26 03:00

The U.S. government released a second revision to its key measure of economic growth for the spring quarter early Friday. GDP grew at an annual rate of 4.6 percent. Nearly every category, barring consumer spending, was up. Americans, at least last spring, were still leery of splashing out on big purchases, other than health care. Gross national product and later gross domestic product are the accepted indicators of economic health, but a growing body of scholarly research suggests we can do better.

The skepticism around GDP and GNP as measures of well-being goes back decades, and is present in an iconic speech delivered by Senator Robert Kennedy at the University of Kansas in 1968.

“The Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play,” Kennedy said. “It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages.”

And while GDP is easily measurable — an important characteristic for an economic indicator — growth can be deceptive.

“If we have higher divorce rates in a country, then you have lots more money being spent on legal services,” said Julia Kirby, an editor of the Harvard Business Review. “That looks good in GDP, but at a societal level, you wouldn’t say that’s good."   

Kirby says better measures of well-being include whether a country’s population is healthy, educated, happy and getting enough sleep at night. 

Silicon Tally: India is anti-‘Gravity’

Fri, 2014-09-26 02:30

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

This week, we're joined by Joe Hanson, a science writer and host of the PBS digital series "It’s Okay to be Smart."

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Taking patient ‘happiness’ more seriously

Fri, 2014-09-26 02:00

It's a great time to be in the hospitality industry... if you want to go into health care.

In case you haven't noticed, health care is becoming more consumer-focused by the day, and in a fight for our business, insurers and health care providers are hunting for executives whose business is customer service — making sure once we walk through the door, we stay.

Deedra Hartung with Cejka Executive Search says hospitals are starting to pay top dollar for "patient experience officers."

"The right background for a Chief Experience Officer can range up to approximately $250,000," she says.

The Chief Experience Officer is responsible for what you'd expect: making sure a patient feels good about their hospital stay. The challenge for health care providers, says Hartung, is to understand "what makes one facility more comfortable for a patient than another."

Hospital executives struggle to answer the question Hartung raises. Clearly, as long as prices remain hidden and it's nearly impossible to assess quality, the industry will have a customer service crisis on its hands. But with patient satisfaction scores now tied to hospital bonuses (and penalties), some health care organizations have started to take steps to improve the patient experience.

It starts with snapping up executives like Fabian Marechal, who runs Penn Medicine's new Musculoskeletal Center. Marechal's pedigree is impeccable; he cut his teeth with Marriott and Ritz-Carlton.

"You know, in my practices, you won't see magazines that are two years old or dead plants," he says, laughing. But Marechal's not joking.

Marechal says he's learned a lot from his time in the hospitality sector — one of the most important lessons is that people must feel cared for. So frontline staff greet customers like a doorman or concierge at the Ritz, and walk them over to the kiosk to help with registration. It's a little thing, Marechal concedes, but with big symbolic value.

"I think all of this helps patients be more engaged in their care. [It shows] people are going to listen to me, people are going to acknowledge me. It changes your mindset from the get-go. You are more open and you feel more safe and secure to listen to your caregiver," he says. Another lesson Marechal picked up along the way: Better customer service can turn that new customer into a repeat customer.

Health insurers have every incentive under the sun to improve their customer service. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans have begun to shop online through the public exchanges for their insurance coverage, and this may be the wave of the future for many Americans. The firm that makes online insurance shopping easy — okay, as easy as it can be — will have a significant advantage over its competitors.

Aetna's Dijuana Lewis, whom the insurance company hired away from Wal-Mart, says the message is clear.

"It's all about knowing the customer, what the customer wants and how they want it. Health care hasn't really been approached that way," she says. It sounds simple, and it can be.
But Harvard's Ashish Jha has seen plenty of missteps in the industry's rush to "know their customers."

"I've seen a lot of hospitals that have made big investments in things like having a pianist in the lobby of the hospital," he says. But pianos are easy. Jha says the hard work — the work that wins consumer loyalty — is training staff to better connect with their patients, and sticking with it long enough to change the culture.

Maybe, Jha says, an infusion of hospitality executives will bring that kind of dedication and a bit more humanity to health care.

Happy 100th, FTC

Fri, 2014-09-26 02:00

One hundred years ago Friday, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Trade Commission Act into law, creating the agency of the same name. Since then, the FTC has played an outsize role in the U.S. economy, affecting all of us.

The commission's mandate is "to prevent business practices that are anticompetitive or deceptive or unfair to consumers."

"I don't think the mission of the FTC has changed really at all," says David Thomas, who worked for the agency in the early 2000s. What has changed over the last century is the agency's focus — from monopolies during the Progressive Era to deceptive advertising and privacy issues.

"When new issues arise in the American economy, the FTC has the tools to deal with them," says Bill MacLeod, chair of the antitrust practice group at the law firm Kelley Drye. He says the commission pays a lot of attention to technology, data security and virtual currencies, like Bitcoin. "The FTC today is as different as the means and media of communication are today," MacLeod says.

The commission still has to approve mergers — that is a responsibility it shares with the Department of Justice. And right now it's considering some big ones, including Zillow and Trulia, and Sysco's proposed merger with US Foods.

Unhappy workers are retaliating digitally

Fri, 2014-09-26 02:00

Not every cyberattack is an outside job. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security warned this week of an increase in attacks against businesses by current and former employees — disruptions that can cost companies millions of dollars to address.

So how does it happen?

Say a worker is fired. Escorted out. Email shut down. Her old company could still be vulnerable to digital retaliation, like the destruction of data or the theft of proprietary information.

Cameron Camp, a security researcher with ESET North America, says IT workers in particular tend to have a backdoor login.

“It would be like trying to get into your old apartment,” he says. “You know which key gets in to the back way that nobody else knows about. And you also know the lay of the land.”

The FBI did not provide data on how many companies have had their networks disrupted by disgruntled or former employees. It did say it can cost companies thousands, even millions of dollars to repair damage from stolen data, to add network countermeasures and to purchase credit monitoring services for employees and customers in the aftermath of a data breach.

You don’t have to be an IT professional to create that kind of damage, though. The FBI is warning that the business use of personal email and cloud storage websites, like Dropbox, make theft easier. Think how often we exchange work information through informal channels.

“When you have company resources flowing through systems that are not under company control, when somebody leaves they still have access,” says Dan Kaminsky, chief scientist of the anti-fraud firm White Ops.

Security researcher Cameron Camp says companies should have single sign-in systems. That means employees log in the same way for everything, including email, remote access and even cloud properties. That way all access can be shut down at once.

There’s another thing companies can do, he adds.

“Be nice to your employees.”

Plus, that’s free.




The price of AC units has cooled down

Fri, 2014-09-26 01:30

As Marketplace celebrates its 25th birthday this year, we are looking at the surprising, sometimes delightful and sometimes destructive ways that prices have changed during that quarter century.

A 1989 Sears catalog reveals that a medium capacity window air conditioner (in '80s-style faux-wood paneling) could be had for around $300. Factor in inflation, and that's about $575 in today's dollars. An equivalent 8000 BTU window AC unit, again Kenmore, today goes for just $219.

But what about the cost of running an AC unit? In the most recent period when stats are available, people on average spent $237 a year on electricity specifically for AC cooling. This includes the whole country, rich and poor, hot climates and cold. In 1989, adjusted for inflation, people spent $321 on power for the AC. In other words, the average household is paying less now for AC than in 1989.

So here's the concern when it comes to household budgets and climate change: When something like this gets so much cheaper, it changes our behavior. But how?

Click the media player above to hear Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio talk about what inflation can tell us about how we use energy.

No iPads for Clippers, says new owner Steve Ballmer

Thu, 2014-09-25 13:28

We learn once again that when you're writing the paychecks, you get to set the rules.

Steve Ballmer is the former CEO of Microsoft and new owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. He spent $2 billion to buy 'em, and he's remaking the team culture to his liking.

Just as Ballmer's family isn't allowed to own any iPhones, he told Reuters that the Clippers are getting rid of their iPads in the offseason. He's keeping track of which coaches use Windows, too.

When employees are given 'unlimited' vacation time

Thu, 2014-09-25 13:16

Billionaire businessman Richard Branson is telling some of his Virgin Group employees to take as much vacation time as they want.

They don’t have to ask permission first and no one will be keeping track, according to a company announcement, as long as they’re caught up on all projects and “their absence will not in any way damage the business — or, for that matter, their careers."

It may sound like a dream, but Scott Francis, and engineer, says an unlimited vacation policy wasn’t the perk he thought it would be.

“It sounded really cool to me until I started working at a company that had one,” he said. “The two problems that I had were not feeling like I had necessarily earned vacation because it wasn’t accruing, and also feeling like it was going to reflect negatively on me if I took vacation that wasn’t owed to me.”

Now, he’s changed jobs to a position which offers a set amount of vacation time, which he likes better. When his kids had the day off from school recently, he took a vacation day so they could spend it together, encouraged to do so because it would expire in a few months if he didn’t use it.

“It’s sometimes easier to accept something given to you, even if you don’t like it, than to be the one to decide how to extend this time off from work,” says Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She says Americans have a particularly strong work ethic and fear they’ll look lazy if they take too much vacation.

A survey of vacation time by the travel company Expedia found the average American has 14 vacation days, but only uses ten. Meanwhile, the French take all 30 days they’re allotted.

“The U.S. is more of a rat race that way,” says Robert Frank, an economist at Cornell University.

Despite the fact that many companies don’t offer much vacation time, employees feel reluctant to use their entire allotment for fear they’ll seem like slackers.

“You see the same problem in the decision of how long the workweek is at very competitive firms,” Frank says. “The investment bankers and the consultants work 65- or 80-hour workweeks, not because there’s that much to do, but because promotion chances are limited and the ones who are seen to be working the hardest are the most likely to get them.”

In terms of building trust between management and workers, a benefit of the unlimited vacation policy can be shifting workplace priorities from time spent at work to the amount of work accomplished, says Lotte Bailyn, an emeritus professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

But in practice, “without any guidelines, people are going to be quite nervous,” she says. “And we know in some companies, actually people have not been taking very much.”

One solution might be for management and executives to lead by example, she says, and dash off to Hawaii for a couple of weeks – living the dream.

FAA approves drones in Hollywood

Thu, 2014-09-25 13:09

You've heard how drones are being used in all kinds of industries, from real estate to agriculture to the movies. It turns out that in the U.S., most of those drones have been flying illegally. With a few exceptions, the Federal Aviation Administration has long banned the use of drones for commercial purposes, but it loosened those restrictions on Thursday.

Phil Finnegan, an aviation analyst with the Teal Group, said while the U.S. has led the world in developing the technology behind drones, it’s fallen far behind when it comes to letting them fly legally.

“Countries like Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom — a lot of European countries — are going after this market,” he says.

It’ll take the FAA several years to finalize regulations for all drones, Finnegan says, but he believes this initial move will make the American motion picture industry more competitive on the world stage.

The FAA announced six filming permits today. Ziv Marom is with ZM Interactive, which used drones to provide aerial shots in this summer's "The Expendables 3," and he applauded the FAA’s decision. But the process is moving slowly, he says, and we shouldn't expect a critical mass of movie drones anytime soon.

“It will take some time before people will actually get the permits,” Marom says.

Drone pilots will also have to follow strict regulations, Marom says, including rules for training and equipment.

But how will this affect the helicopter and airplane industry that has effectively cornered this market so far? Star Helicopters owner Keith Harter says he isn’t too worried that drones will cut into his business.

“There’s room for both types,” he says. And if that's not the case, Harter says most helicopter companies have diversified their business enough so that they don’t rely on the film industry as a sole source of revenue.

California tries to grow olive oil industry

Thu, 2014-09-25 13:07

This week new standards go into effect for California olive oil. The state is eager to grow its tiny share of the global olive oil market, which is currently at less than 1 percent. Demand in the U.S. is up, but the vast majority of the olive oil Americans buy still comes from the Mediterranean. That raises the question: Why isn’t California, which is blessed with a Mediterranean climate, an olive oil powerhouse like Spain or Italy?

In the 18th century, Spanish missionaries established a small olive oil trade, but American demand for olive oil was relatively small compared to demand for butter and vegetable oils. “Consider that 40 years ago, olive oil was sold in pharmacies in the United States,” says Eryn Balch, executive vice president at the North American Olive Oil Association, a trade group representing importers. It was “a specialized health product,” she says.

Italian cooks had always used it, of course, but it wasn’t until Americans focused more on heart-healthy eating that olive oil started flying off the shelves. U.S. consumers now buy more than three times the olive oil they did 20 years ago. It's been a significant enough jump to draw many California growers into the olive business. The state's drought also provides incentive. Olives are a less thirsty crop than, for example, almonds.

Thom Curry, general manager of Temecula Olive Oil in Southern California, says domestic olive oil is as good as Europe’s, and certainly higher quality than much of the cheap, imported oil sold in American supermarkets. Some of those imports are mislabeled as extra virgin when they’re not, according to reports over the past few years. Growers have complained to trade authorities about labeling fraud and generous European subsidies. But low-cost imports aren’t their only problem.

“I think we’re going to be limited for at least the near future by the amount of acres planted,” Curry says. “Once we get to tens and hundreds of thousands of acres, that’s when we can really start taking over the world.”

Just for comparison, right now California has about 35,000 acres in olive production, according to the California Olive Oil Council. Spain, meanwhile, has between 5 million and 6 million acres. But California growers are expanding quickly. “Right now, olives are the fastest growing specialty crop in California,” says the council’s executive director, Patty Darragh. She says California produced 1.2 million gallons of olive oil in 2011. Just two years later, it was producing almost three times that.

Much like California’s neophyte vintners in the '70s, olive-oil-makers in the state are trying to convince Americans to seek out domestic brands, even if some of them cost more than they’re used to paying. Many growers here are planting trees close together so they can harvest mechanically and cut costs. They’re also experimenting in new terrain. Temecula Olive Oil is expanding into the Imperial Valley, a dry, desolate region north of the Mexican border. “If they can grow there they can grow pretty much anywhere,” Curry says.

Supporters of California’s new labeling and testing rules hope they will signal “high quality” to consumers. “We want to make it easier for consumers to understand the product before them,” says Darragh.

One of the labeling rules bans using the term “light,” which denotes a type of oil common among imports. Darragh says many Americans falsely believe that means the oil is less caloric, though the term actually refers to the flavor and/or color.

Importers believe the new California rules are simply self-promotional. “They appear to be written in a way to name things based on a very specific flavor profile,” says NAOO's Balch. “They don’t take into account the reality of the broad market of olive oils today.”

Graphic by Shea Huffman

Olive oil pairings

We asked our sources for their favorite things to eat with olive oil, but we want your favorite pairings too! Tweet your suggestions to @Marketplace and we'll add the best ones here.

Patty Darragh, California Olive Oil Council: Vanilla ice cream with olive oil drizzled on top with a dash of sea salt.

Trudy Batty, Temecula Olive Oil: Grilled peaches brushed with blood-orange olive oil.



These are the ISIS refineries we're bombing

Thu, 2014-09-25 13:05

The U.S. and its allies bombed 12 “modular” refineries in territory controlled by ISIS on Wednesday. The terror group is considered well-funded, in part because of oil revenue. But Middle East analysts say the refineries are unsophisticated, not unlike homemade moonshine operations.

“These refineries are so rudimentary,” says analyst Shwan Zulal of Carduchi Consulting in London. “It’s almost like distilling your alcohol at home. They get these big barrels and they just burn the petrol underneath it to get it distilled. You can make a new refinery in a week.”

Zulal says private citizens – often a couple of guys – own the refineries, not ISIS. ISIS makes money by selling crude oil to these refiners. And the group needs the refined product — say diesel for Humvees, or kerosene for lamps.

The air campaign is meant to dent ISIS finances. But for now, a dozen refineries may be trivial.

“I think it’s really 1 percent of the volume that goes through their hands every day,” says Valerie Marcel of the Chatham House think tank in London. “So the U.S. and the coalition will need to bomb relentlessly for a sustained impact on the revenue generation.”

One argument in favor of the strategy: There’s little downside. Homemade refineries are often in remote areas, far from potential civilian casualties.

By contrast, targeting oil fields controlled by ISIS carries more risk.

“If people got concerned that, ‘Oh, what does that mean? We’re bombing crude-oil-producing wells in the Middle East,' the market itself might be concerned,” says Mark Routt at KBC Technologies in Houston. “Which would raise the price of crude, which would raise the price of gasoline for everyone around the world. So this is very clearly a thought-through strategy to minimize the market impact while still achieving the stated aims of degrading this group.”

By all accounts, degrading ISIS will take more than going after oil assets. The group is known to make money taking hostages for ransom, extorting traders and farmers and selling stolen antiquities.

First Heartbleed, now Shellshock

Thu, 2014-09-25 11:37

You might remember back in April when thousands of servers were hit with the Heartbleed bug. Well, the Department of Homeland Security warned Thursday against a new bug called Shellshock, which could be far worse.

"Shellshock is a new security hole and this is a way for hackers to get access to our information that we don’t want to give up," says "Marketplace Tech" host Ben Johnson.

While Heartbleed gave hackers access to a user’s data, Johnson says, the Shellshock bug allows hackers to take total control of a person’s computer.

So, what now? Unfortunately it's too early to tell.

"There’s not much you can do here except wait for the people who know what they’re doing to build the patches and fix these things on the back end," Johnson says. "In the meantime, I think you should be extra careful about clicking on links that come from mysterious people on your email, and just ride it out and hope for the best."

For more on Shellshock, click the audio player above.