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Greek Finance Minister resigns amid fallout from vote

Mon, 2015-07-06 12:55

The fallout from Greece's vote on Sunday has continued into Monday morning, with Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis stepping down from his position. Here's an update on the situation in Greece:

  • On Sunday, Greeks took to the polls to vote on a bailout deal, deciding against European austerity. As the New York Times reports, although the results may mean an even tougher road ahead for negotiations, it certainly solidifies Greeks' confidence in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
  • Monday morning, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis announced his resignation, citing reports that the Eurogroup had expressed they would prefer not to negotiate with him any longer. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Varoufakis became known for a confrontational style that did not win him many allies in negotiations.
  • Banks in Greece remain closed Monday. "The banks are the first fire that has to be put out. They're absolutely depleted of cash. They do not have a source of liquidity," says reporter John Psaropoulos of The New Athenian.
  • The BBC reports that eurozone leaders have called an emergency meeting for Tuesday.
  • TL;DR: Is Greece solvent yet? Nope.

Click the media player above to hear reporter John Psaropoulos' update on the situation in Greece from Athens.

Oreos are slimming down

Mon, 2015-07-06 12:23

From the Marketplace desk of "Nobody Checked With Me," here's the latest Oreo news. Oreos, yes, Oreos — those twistable, dunkable cookies that come in regular, double-stuffed and mega-stuffed varieties.

Nabisco has now decided, it seems, that less is somehow more.

Oreo Thins are coming to the market.

They are, apparently, 5 millimeters thinner than the originals.

Which prompts this: they're cookies, you guys, not iPhones.

PODCAST: The recycling economy

Mon, 2015-07-06 03:00

It's a new day in Greece after voters say no to deeper austerity. More on the latest in the ongoing financial crisis. Plus, if you've ever wondered why Styrofoam isn't recycled very often, it's because the economics don't work — Recycling needs markets for recycled materials. And as we find out, the global economy is putting stress on the markets that make recycling possible. 

Chicago schools face $200 million in cuts

Mon, 2015-07-06 02:00

The city of Chicago is cutting its public school budget by $200 million, after making a major payment into its teachers' pension system.

The move comes just a couple of years after the city closed almost 50 elementary schools, in what was at the time a historic number of public school closures.

Still, the school district's budget problems persist.

"Chicago Public Schools faces a significant budget crisis," says Sarah Wetmore of the Chicago-based Civic Federation, a government watchdog group. Wetmore says the city's schools have had deficits that won't go away.

"The structural deficit has been in existence for some time, and it's been papered over by ... accounting gimmicks to balance the budget," she says.

The Chicago Public Schools' cash crunch got worse last week when the city had to make a pension payment of more than $600 million. The budget cuts followed a day after, including layoffs in mostly administrative positions.

"This could be the tip of the iceberg," says Jackson Porter of the Chicago Teachers Union. "The city hasn't laid down its hand to exactly spell out: is this the first of a wave of cuts?"

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is asking state lawmakers to change the pension system to relieve some of the city's burden. Emanuel is also floating the idea of a property tax hike to increase school funding.

The fate of those initiatives may decide whether there are further school budget cuts in the Fall.

Reduce, reuse ... rethink?

Mon, 2015-07-06 02:00

Plastic foam is perfectly recyclable. There are machines the size of a refrigerator which can melt it down into blocks that can then be shipped to China and used to make patio furniture. Manufacturers who deal with large amounts of the stuff do recycle it, but in general, consumers don’t.

Why not? The economics just don’t work.   

Its density is low, it’s often dirty and the price one can get for those blocks shipped off to China is not lucrative enough to motivate cities or recyclers to collect and recycle it.

Recycling could not be what it is today without the good will and conscientiousness of people all over the world. But recycling is made possible in the first place by markets. Aluminum, glass and plastic from recycling plants are sold by the ton as a raw material just like steel or wheat. 

“This industry is based on creating markets for those recyclables — today's plastic bottle can become tomorrow’s carpeting,” says Sharon Kneiss, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Association. Aluminum cans can go from recycling bin to new cans full of soda on store shelves in about 40 days. 

But recyclers don’t set the prices at which they sell their materials. Those prices are set by the global market, and they have fallen drastically over the past year. 

“On a lot of recyclables, the economics are starting to challenge it,” Kneiss says. “We have heard that from our industry over the past year plus. That because it is a commodity market, and the commodities are significantly challenged right now, the economics of recycling are also challenged.”

Robert Anderson, a regional business development manager for the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions for ReCommunity Recycling, says he’s been in the waste industry for 30 years. “The current market environment has been the most difficult of my career,” he says.

He offers up a litany of price shocks to make the point: “We’ve seen highs in aluminum at $2,000 per ton. Until recently it was $1,800 per ton, and today we’re less than $900 per ton. Corrugated cardboard has gone from $200 per ton to $80 per ton. PET, the plastic water bottles, were $699 per ton, now $250.”

Anderson says the current downturn is different from previous ones — the recession saw similar price falls. “In the past they were brief, and we were able to sustain it and work our way through it and wait till commodity markets return,” he says. But he now worries this could be the new normal, “which means we need to rethink our business.”

There are other phenomena undermining recycling’s profitability — and even viability in some circumstances.

Many companies have made significant progress in reducing the amount of material used to make packaging, a practice called lightweighting. 

“Today’s PET water bottle is 30 to 40 percent lighter than its brothers and sisters from even five or 10 years ago,” Anderson says. It’s a boon for resource conservation, but another burden for recyclers. “It takes 11,000 more aluminum cans to make a bale today due to lightweigthting than it did five or 10 years ago.”           

Lightweighting has meant that the makeup of the stream of recyclable content has become less lucrative. More and more of it, by mass, is made of glass these days — one of the least remunerative recyclables. 

The combined pressures have contributed to several recycler bankruptcies and plant closures. 

Those pressures have also started to change the cost-benefit analysis of recycling versus old fashioned throwing away. In urban areas, recycling has long been cheaper than landfill dumping, which has its own fees associated with it, because the value of the material subsidizes the costs of disposal, and landfill fees are high (as much as $150 per ton). New York, for example, saves 20 percent on recycled waste versus non-recycled waste that goes to landfills or incinerators.   

As recyclable materials have lost their value, landfills look more cost competitive, particularly in regions where landfill fees are cheaper, such as the Midwest. Landfill fees there can be as low as $20 per ton, according to Anderson.

In some instances, it has also contributed to commodities that have long been staples of recycling starting to go the way of plastic foam. The city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is among several municipalities that have stopped recycling glass altogether. 

If prices stay low, towns and cities will have to pay more to recycle or recycle less.   

Greek Finance Minister resigns amid fallout from vote

Mon, 2015-07-06 02:00

The fallout from Greece's vote on Sunday has continued into Monday morning, with Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis stepping down from his position. Here's an update on the situation in Greece:

-On Sunday, Greeks took to the polls to vote on a bailout deal, deciding against European austerity. As the New York Times reports, although the results may mean an even tougher road ahead for negotiations, it certainly solidifies Greeks' confidence in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

-Monday morning, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis announced his resignation, citing reports that the Eurogroup had expressed they would prefer not to negotiate with him any longer. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Varoufakis became known for a confrontational style that did not win him many allies in negotiations.

-Banks in Greece remain closed Monday. "The banks are the first fire that has to be put out. They're absolutely depleted of cash. They do not have a source of liquidity," says reporter John Psaropoulos of The New Athenian.

-The BBC reports that eurozone leaders have called an emergency meeting for Tuesday.

-TL;DR: Is Greece solvent yet? Nope.

Click the media player above to hear reporter John Psaropoulos' update on the situation in Greece from Athens.

Reduce, reuse...rethink?

Mon, 2015-07-06 02:00

Styrofoam is perfectly recyclable. There are machines the size of a refrigerator which can melt it down into blocks that can then be shipped to China and used to make patio furniture. Manufacturers who deal with large amounts of the stuff do recycle it, but in general, consumers don’t.

Why not? The economics just don’t work.   

Its density is so low, it’s often dirty, and the price one can get for those blocks shipped off to China is not particularly lucrative to motivate cities or recyclers to collect and recycle it.

Recycling could not be what it is today without the good will and conscientiousness of people all over the world. But recycling is made possible in the first place by markets. Aluminum, glass, and plastic from recycling plants are sold by the ton as a raw material just like steel or wheat. 

“This industry is based on creating markets for those recyclables — today's plastic bottle can become tomorrow’s carpeting,” says Sharon Kneiss, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Association. Aluminum cans can go from recycling bin to new cans full of soda on store shelves in about forty days. 

But recyclers don’t set the prices at which they sell their materials. Those prices are set by the global market, and they have fallen drastically over the past year. 

“On a lot of recyclables, the economics are starting to challenge it,” says Kneiss. “We have heard that from our industry over the past year plus. That because it is a commodity market, and the commodities are significantly challenged right now, the economics of recycling are also challenged.”

Robert Anderson is regional business development manager for the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions for ReCommunity Recycling. He’s been in the waste industry for 30 years. “The current market environment has been the most difficult of my career,” he says.

He offers up a litany of price shocks to make the point: “We’ve seen highs in aluminum at $2,000 per ton until recently it was $1,800 per ton, and today we’re less than $900 per ton. Corrugated cardboard has gone from $200 per ton to $80 per ton. PET, the plastic water bottles, were $699 per ton, now $250.”

Anderson says the current downturn is different from previous ones — the recession saw similar price falls. “In the past they were brief and we were able to sustain it and work our way through it and wait till commodity markets return,” he says. But he now worries this could be the new normal, “which means we need to rethink our business.”

There are other phenomena undermining recycling’s profitability — and even viability in some circumstances.

Many companies have made significant progress in reducing the amount of material used to make packaging, a practice called lightweighting. 

“Today’s PET water bottle is 30-40 percent lighter than its brothers and sisters from even five or ten years ago,” says Anderson. It’s a boon for resource conservation, but another burden for recyclers. “It takes 11,000 more aluminum cans to make a bale today due to lightweigthting than it did five or ten years ago.”           

Lightweighting has meant that the makeup of the stream of recyclable content has become less lucrative. More and more of it, by mass, is made of glass these days — one of the least remunerative recyclables. 

The combined pressures have contributed to several recycler bankruptcies and plant closures. 

Those pressures have also started to change the cost-benefit analysis of recycling versus old fashioned throwing away. In urban areas, recycling has long been cheaper than landfill dumping (which has its own fees associated with it) because the value of the material subsidizes the costs of disposal and landfill fees are high (as much as $150/ton). New York, for example, saves 20 percent on recycled waste versus non-recycled waste that goes to landfills or incinerators.   

As recyclable materials have lost their value, landfills look more cost competitive, particularly in regions of the country where landfill fees are cheaper, such as in the Midwest where landfill fees can be as low as $20 per ton according to Anderson.

In some instances, it has also contributed to commodities that have long been staples of recycling starting to go the way of styrofoam. The city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania is among several municipalities that have stopped recycling glass altogether. 

If prices stay low, towns and cities will have to pay more to recycle, or recycle less.   

Salad market is a jolly green giant

Sun, 2015-07-05 01:44
$5 billion

That's how big the fitness tracker market is projected to get this year, but there's one problem: the tiny sensors that make these devices function aren't improving fast enough. They're not accurate enough, they use a lot of power and they can't withstand the punishment that comes with some activities. Experts say those limitations are holding back a huge and growing market.

$200 million

That's how much Chicago is cutting its education budget, in large part because of a forced $600 million pension payment by the city. But members of the Chicago Teacher's Union warn the recent cuts and layoffs may just be the tip of the iceberg

$300 million

Another big, healthy business. Salad shops took in nearly a third of a billion in the U.S. last year, the Atlantic reported. Packaged and made-to-order salads are a particularly lucrative part of the growing fast-casual movement, but there isn't yet an established national player. That void at the top has regional chains and upscale grocery stores like Whole Foods racing.

$8,500

That's how much William Walker estimates he has spent on the recording gear he brought to the final Grateful Dead concert, which took place on Sunday. But if you think he was part of the high-def video streaming of the event to fans everywhere, you'd be dead wrong. Walker is one of the "tapers" — a sub-culture of fans who are approved to record live concert audio with their own gear for distribution. As the New York Times reports, tapers have been at Grateful Dead concerts since the 1980s and have sparked concert audio trading among followers of others bands, as well.

$130,000

That's how much Burt Shavitz, the man behind the beard for the Burt's Bees brand, was paid for his shares of the company back in 1999 by co-founder Roxanne Quimby. Not such a great price when you consider Quimby later went on to sell the company for $1 billion. But Shavitz said that the house he was able to buy with the money was enough of a reward, the Washington Post reports. (He also reportedly received $4 million from Quimby when she sold the company to Clorox). Shavitz died Sunday at 80.

Now you can authorize mobile payments with a selfie

Fri, 2015-07-03 15:27

Most people aren't paying for things with their phones just yet. If you are, maybe you're just getting used to using your fingerprint to authorize a transaction.

MasterCard is blazing right ahead with an app that will let you pay for items with your face.

Technically, you pay using your MasterCard, obviously. But to authorize your mobile payment, you look at your camera's selfie cam and blink once to prove you're a human.

This story has everything America loves: Buying stuff, cell phones and selfies.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

The FCC is busy enforcing net neutrality

Fri, 2015-07-03 13:24

The Federal Communications Commission has now been in the business of enforcing net neutrality for a little less than a month and it's been busy. The FCC promptly fined AT&T $100 million for throttling some users unlimited data access. Sprint said it would stop doing the same thing now that the new rules are in effect. 

One formal net neutrality complaint has already been filed, and businesses and the government are trying to figure out what the Internet service game looks like now.

FCC Chair Tom Wheeler explains how the government agency suddenly has a lot more going on:

“Let’s face it, the Internet is redefining all of our lives. It’s an incredibly personal experience for all of us. When you put rules in place that say that there’ll be no blocking, there’ll be no throttling and there will be no paying for some kind of special priority treatment, we’ve established the rules for the road. We’re not going to tell the players how to play the game. We’re not going to get in there and micromanage like old time regulation used to, but we’re going to be on the field ready to throw a flag if there’s a foul.” 

Weekly Wrap: College tuition, Whole Foods and Uber

Fri, 2015-07-03 13:16

It’s a holiday weekend, but there's still news to unpack before the Fourth of July barbecues can get started. Catherine Rampell from the Washington Post and Sudeep Reddy from the Wall Street Journal join Molly for this installment of the Weekly Wrap.

In the headlines:

The University of Washington lowers its tuition

Whole Foods is sorry for overcharging (some of its) customers

Uber is getting a lot of funding … but not turning much of a profit

Greece heads to crucial referendum

Fri, 2015-07-03 12:31

Greeks head to the polls on Sunday in a referendum that could have major repercussions for Greece and for the rest of the Eurozone.

 

The Greeks will vote on whether their heavily indebted country should accept the latest proposed deal put forward by its creditors. Since that would mean more austerity and reform in return for more loans , but with no debt relief, the government in Athens is urging the country to vote no.

 

For such an apparently critical poll, you would expect a fairly stark and straightforward question in the referendum:

 

Should the plan of agreement be accepted, which was submitted by the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund in the Eurogroup of the 25th of June and comprises of two parts, which constitute their unified proposal?

The first document is entitled "Reforms For The Completion Of the Current Program and Beyond." And the second "Preliminary Debt Sustainability Analysis."

YES? or NO?

 

Not exactly snappy, is it?

This ponderous, dull and baffling paragraph has nevertheless galvanized Greece into two clearly defined camps: YES and NO, or in Greek: NE and OXI .

According to the opinion polls, each side commands roughly the same level of public support; the referendum is too close to call.

 

Thousands attend a pro-NO rally in front of the Greek parliament in Athens on Friday.

LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images

 

"I'm going to vote yes," says telecom engineer Efrosyni Pavlakoudi. "A no vote would be saying 'no' to any further help from our European partners. Our banks – which are closed and running out of cash – would collapse. It's a matter of life and death for us and our country."

Pavlakoudi also believes that after a "no" vote, Greece would be forced out of the Eurozone which would be "disastrous".

 

But the word "no" or "oxi" has a special resonance in Greece, and does not have as negative of a connotation as elsewhere. It carries powerful overtones of national pride and defiance. There is even Oxi Day, which commemorates the resounding answer that Greece delivered to an ultimatum from the Italian dictator Mussolini in 1940. Greece's radical Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has even tried to appeal to the same spirit of wartime resistance.

 

"No" voters, like Elena Christidi, a psychologist, believe that the referendum is about national survival and the cohesion of Greek society. Christidi regards austerity as a dangerously corrosive force that must be combatted— and by voting "no," she says Greece can strengthen the government's hand in the negotiations with the creditors, get a better deal and uphold Greek social values.

 

"We cannot just forget our values and the human factor," she says, "I'm voting no because I want to tell the rest of Europe that we reject austerity and the unemployment, the poverty and the misery it brings. We cannot go on cutting our social payments. We cannot go on thinking only about numbers."

 

But in the end, it's numbers that will determine Greece's fate. The country's shuttered banks are reported to be down to their last half billion euro. If there's a "yes" vote on Sunday – they could get the cash injection they need. If it's a "no," the banks could run dry; Greece may be forced to launch its own currency and the country could face a very perilous future.

 

 

Nike prepares for life after Phil Knight

Fri, 2015-07-03 11:33

Nike founder Phil Knight announced this week that he'll be stepping down from his position as chairman of the company's board. Knight, 77, says he would like current CEO Mark Parker to take his place.

Knight founded the company in 1964 with Bill Bowerman, his running coach from the University of Oregon. Each man put in $500 dollars; Nike recently reported that its annual revenue rose 10 percent to $30.6 billion.

Over the past half-century, Nike has outrun many formerly globe-dominating sportswear companies like Adidas. Paul Swangard at the Warsaw Center for Sports Marketing at the University of Oregon says Phil Knight has baked his personal business ethos into the company he's passing on, "the idea of always pursuing innovation, and always pursuing that extra edge that would provide an athlete the ability to perform at his or her best."

Nike's sophisticated global supply chain helps — with high-priced designers and marketing-types working primarily in the U.S., and low-cost contract-shoe-making workers overseas, mostly in Asia.

Sports-business professor Patrick Rishe at Washington University says he doesn't believe Nike has outpaced its main rivals, companies like Adidas and Reebok, in innovation and technology. Rather, the company has kept ahead with its marketing.

"Look at the Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods effects," says Rishe. "That makes it very difficult for other competitors. Nike has that first-mover advantage."

Rishe says the company has kept up that advantage by continuing to sign top athletes, like LeBron James and Rory McIlroy.

Women's marketing expert Mary Lou Quinlan says Nike's competitors are being smart, too.

"Under Armour is the one I'd be worried about if I were Nike," says Quinlan, "because they seem to have struck that strong-woman place with their unique choice of celebrities, like Misty Copeland, the new principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre."

On the other hand, Quinlan says Nike still remains at the forefront of marketing athletic styles to women.

"Even if we're wearing it to run to the office, yoga pants are pants, and sneakers are fashion."

Aetna announces deal to buy Humana

Fri, 2015-07-03 10:34

What can $37 billion dollars you these days? One health insurance company. Aetna purchase of Humana is the nation’s third-biggest insurer buying the fourth-biggest, in terms of revenue.

And there’s chatters of other mergers afoot.

The need for scale is one driver of this, as insurers negotiate how much they pay to hospitals and doctors.

“In a local market, it’s a matter of who has the greater market power,” says Ana Gupte of the investment bank Leerink Partners. “So Humana combined with Aetna has a lot more market power in any market with a hospital or a physician group.”

Insurance firms have to be big and nimble at the same time. Gupte says the Affordable Care Act caps overhead and profitability for insurers. At the same time, competition is more fierce than ever for corporate customers.

“The old days where you had a broker, who was cozy with a particular employer and could direct the traffic, that kind of a business-to-business market has eroded,” says J.B. Silvers, a former insurance CEO now teaching business at Case Western Reserve.

One growing section of the market is the part of Medicare run by private insurers is growing. Baby boomers are aging into it, and Humana is a large player in that space.

The question is, if this tie-up makes sense for Aetna and Humana — as it does for doctors and hospitals to merge — do patients benefit? That answer may not be clear.

“Consolidation in both sectors has led to increases in provider prices and health insurance premiums,” says Leemore Dafny, health economist at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.

Others argue large insurers negotiate discounted payments to medical providers, and pass the savings on to consumers.

PODCAST: Theme park traffic

Fri, 2015-07-03 03:00

On today's show, more on the shrinking stock market in Shanghai, which took a tumble today. Plus, we're headed into the thick of theme park season, and around the country-parks are adding new attractions, scarier rollar coasters, and wilder rides. We take a closer look at the role of a new ride in driving theme park traffic.

What's holding back wearable tech?

Fri, 2015-07-03 02:00

Personal health and wellness technologies are projected to be a $5 billion business this year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association

Even President Barack Obama wears a wearable wellness device — a Fitbit — on occasion.

But, as it turns out, wearable technologies have a big obstacle to overcome: sensors — the miniaturized devices that measure things like speed and motion.

They are technically called MEMS, or microelectromechanical systems. We are most familiar with them in the forms of the accelerometers and gyroscopes that help smartphones and tablets keep track of motion. This is how we play games on our smartphones by just tilting and moving them, and how wearable wrist trackers count up our steps. 

"The sensor market today is being driven by mobile technology," Charlene Marini, vice president of marketing of embedded segments at ARM, said earlier this year, in an interview with Marketplace at the Consumer Electronics Show. "There's a huge volume, of course, in mobile.  And so mobile technology is being reused in things like wearables."

That reuse has had its limits. In wearable devices, current MEMS sensors have not been able to keep up with some of the rigors imposed on them. For example, they have not been as power efficient as needed.

They also do not perform all the functions that wearable device designers dream up. 

"A lot of these wearables end up in a sock drawer," says Karen Lightman, executive director of the MEMS Industry Group. "After you watch your steps for one week you're like, 'Yeah, I get it. I understand. I need to walk more. OK, that's not helpful.'" 

But what if you could track more than just your steps or your heart rate? There are efforts to do that by addressing the shortcomings of current MEMS sensors in key ways: building new sensors, creating software that better operates those sensors in more rigorous conditions, and better understanding the data coming out of current sensors.

The Chicago-based startup Rithmio is taking the latter approach. You can see the function of a program they've created in the video below:

Rithmio co-founder Adam Tilton is working on a program that can track all exercises by learning the unique patterns of movement from each exercise, as performed by each individual user. In a demonstration, he showed how Rithmio's program could recognize a new weight-training exercise within four repetitions, consistently, in multiple attempts.

"So, if you give me 10 seconds of motion-sensing data, I'll tell you whether the user did 10 jumping-jacks, or five bicep curls or whatever," Tilton says. 

Tilton could make his program even more accurate, if he had more sensors — ones embedded in clothes. But put those clothes in a washing machine, and the sensors would be ruined. Current sensors can't be washed.

"There's still issues with respect to interoperability. There's still issues with respect to energy and ... power management," says Lightman. "And for wearables that's a big deal." That's because consumers will want wearable devices (even smart shoes and T-shirts) that don't need recharging too often. 

There's a race to overcome these limits. Recently, Samsung came out with a new all-in-one chip that's more energy-efficient and has better communication. Intel has announced a similar chip.

Merini says sensors for wearables are quickly evolving, and within a few years there will be a "greater use of new types of sensors, that might not be applicable to phones. For instance, body type sensors, heart rate sensors, etc."

Mehran Mehregany, an engineering professor at Case Western Reserve University, is keeping track of technological advancements in wearable sensors. He says there are efforts to improve sensor technology so that they can measure not just our external activities and surroundings, but also what's happening inside our bodies.

"For example, it would be fantastic to do long-term, non-intrusive blood glucose monitoring," Mehregany says. "The sensor technology is not there to be able to do that type of measurement reliably."

Mehregany also points to accurate, reliable blood pressure monitoring, which he says is the "Holy Grail" for wearable sensors. Right now, MEMS sensors for consumer-grade wearable gadgets still can't reliably perform that measurement either, Mehregany says. 

But, he predicts that in 25 years, sensors will measure many vital signs and will be embedded in us, acting like a biological black box. Just as black boxes today keep track of the mechanics of an airplane.

Philadelphia: the largest city to legalize Airbnb

Fri, 2015-07-03 02:00

Philadelphia has legalized Airbnb and agreed to tax rentals booked through the site. The city is preparing itself for two huge events — The 2016 Democratic National Convention a year from now. But first up, the pope’s visit.

According to Philadelphia’s tourism bureau, more than 1.5 million visitors are expected to descend on the city for the Papal event.

Philadelphia has 15,849 hotel rooms. That might not be enough. And when there aren’t enough hotel rooms, prices go way up. Georgios Zervas, marketing professor at Boston University, has studied this. “If people want to be in Philly when the pope is visiting, and prices are extremely high,” Zervas says. "Then they might decide not to visit the city at all.”

Which would explain why the city would legalize and tax Airbnb rentals. But how many people even know that in a lot of cities, Airbnb still isn’t legal? Well, if you’re someone wanting to rent out your place you could look at Airbnb’s “Terms of Service."

It clearly states it’s up to you to check. But if you’re like most people: “We scroll to the bottom, click on agree, and move on,” says Cait Lamberton, who teaches marketing at the University of Pittsburgh. Usually at this point in the transaction, people intending to rent out some space are going to do it, Lamberton says.

“You know they’ve probably taken some pictures, they’ve probably written a description, they’re probably thinking about the rate they should charge,” she says.

In other words the legality of the transaction is kind of an afterthought.

Silicon Tally: We go together like guac and peas

Fri, 2015-07-03 02:00

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

This week, we're joined by Brad Jenkins, Managing Director of Funny or Die’s DC office.

Walmart brings greeters back to the front door

Fri, 2015-07-03 02:00

If you’re planning on shopping at a Wal-Mart on this holiday, you may encounter a throwback from the company’s past. The Wal-Mart greeter is making a comeback at the front of some stores. In about 300 of its 4,500 stores, the company is testing a new program to cut down on theft.

“A few years ago, greeters were moved from the front door entrance to what’s called ‘action alley,’ which is over by the self-checkout area,” says Wal-Mart spokesman Brian Nick. Now the company is experimenting with moving them back, to greet customers as they walk in and let would-be shoplifters know someone is watching.

“They serve a twofold function,” says Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at Retail Systems Research. “Ideally they make you feel welcome and, theoretically, they nip a few basis points off of shrink.”

“Shrink” is the industry term for merchandise lost to shoplifting, employee theft, and vendor fraud. It cost retailers an estimated $44 billion last year, according to a new survey by University of Florida criminology professor Richard Hollinger.  

Wal-Mart greeters will sometimes check receipts at the door. In other stores, the company is adding “asset protection” specialists in bright yellow vests.

When "internet famous" turns into just "famous"

Fri, 2015-07-03 01:30
$20 million

That's how much analysts say Digitour, a traveling show featuring teen social media celebrities, is set to make this year. Buzzfeed embedded a reporter on the tour, which has been packing sold-out theaters with centennial girls who want to catch a glimpse their favorite Vine and YouTube personalities. It's unlikely you've heard of them,  but Digitour's acts together boast tens of millions of followers, and a sponsored six-second video from them costs six figures. It's big business, big enough to potentially blur the line between "internet famous" and just "famous."

2

That's how many black-owned banks are in Chicago -- half as many as there were just a few years ago -- and one is on the brink of shutting down. That's a pretty major loss; during segregation those banks would give out loans to black homeowners and entrepreneurs when no one else would, and today community banks still diffuse racial prejudice in loan applications.

300 stores

That's how many of Wal-Mart's stores will be testing out greeters at the front entrance as an anti-theft measure. After having been moved to the self-checkout area for the past couple years, the greeters will be returned to their spot front and center — the idea being potential thieves will be deterred by the knowledge that someone is watching. Last year, theft cost retailers an estimated $44 billion.

19 percent

That's how far ratings dropped from last year at Viacom's cable networks, Bloomberg reported. The company at MTV in particular, all part of Sumner Redstone's media empire, is having trouble adjusting to disruption in the industry, but the reason why is divisive. Executives blame poor audience measurement, while others blame Redstone's alleged health problems and an unwillingness to take risks on programming.

10 percent

That's the percentage drop in digital music sales in the first half of 2015, according to a report on Nielsen stats by Billboard. But as the Verge reports, even more startling is the fact that people are streaming music twice as much as they did during the same period of time last year.

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