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Chris Hadfield can show you your hometown from space

Thu, 2014-10-16 11:56

Commander Chris Hadfield is arguably the most famous astronaut of the modern era, not just because of his trips to space. He won a massive following using Twitter and Instagram, and even singing David Bowie covers on YouTube.

Now, he's gathered thousands of photographs he took from space, and whittled them down into a book called "You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes."

Here are some highlights from our conversation:

You’ve got more than 1 million Twitter followers. They seem to love what you do. Why do you think that is?

Such a tiny little group of people have had a chance, not just to leave the Earth, but to spend half a year off the Earth. Using the capability of social media, with all those followers, [I was able to say], “Hey, if you’re interested, look what we can see from here. Look how you look. You are here.”

At one point, my son sent a note, he said, “Hey, why don’t you ask everybody what they want to see?”

Everybody said, “I want a picture of my home town.” Which made me laugh, because it’s kind of like narcissistic. But then I thought about it. People are proud of where they’re from but also want to see where I’m from a perspective and in proportion to everyone else. I want to see how I fit in.

Into the void: spacewalk today! Reid & Butch going out to fix a broken shunt. Watch here: http://t.co/UbpGnfUL4E pic.twitter.com/eYp0tv83CT

— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) October 15, 2014

What’s next for you? Will we see you piloting a commercial space mission?
I know several of the guys flying… Virgin Galactic. It’s a very interesting commercial first step. It goes straight up and falls straight back down, so it really is just the first step. Sir Richard admits that. But he’s looking for ways to apply it. Maybe it can go straight up and land somewhere else. Maybe we could get from New York to LA in 30 minutes or something.

I don’t think I’m going to be the pilot of it. I’ve been a pilot my whole life and I’ve had such a richness of experience. I flew in space three times, and helped build two space stations, and commanded this one that’s up there.

A little taste of a ride like that would be like a Formula 1 driver going for a quick ride in somebody else’s car, but if someone gives me the opportunity, I”ll go for sure. But I don’t think I’m going to be the pilot.

What’s your favorite space movie?
I really like Galaxy Quest. But I also like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Those are my two favorites.

Holiday hiring is a path to permanent jobs, for a few

Thu, 2014-10-16 11:29

This year’s holiday shopping spree will be preceded by a strong holiday hiring spree.

As big-box and online warehouse retailers announce their seasonal employment plans, economists are predicting 2014 will be the best year for holiday jobs since 1999, with more than 800,000 temporary hires in the final three months of the year. Retailers hired 786,200 seasonal workers in 2013, according to the annual forecast published by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Individual companies that serve the holiday trade have more robust hiring plans than last year. UPS has announced it will double its seasonal employment boost to 95,000. Amazon announced Thursday it will add 80,000 temps at fulfillment and sortation centers across the country, as it staffs up an expanding nationwide delivery network.

“Last year, Amazon converted thousands of seasonal employees into regular full-time roles after the holidays,” Amazon spokesperson Nina Lindsey says. “And we’re really excited to be expecting to do the same this year.” Last year, about 15 percent of temps who got holiday work were brought on for full-time, permanent jobs, according to the company’s press release.

Lindsey would not provide an average wage. According to one staffing agency, these jobs appear to offer above the minimum wage, in the $11 to $15 per hour range.

“In this kind of economy, with this lack of safety net, any job is often better than no job,” says Stephanie Luce, professor of labor studies at the City University of New York. But she also pointed out that many job-seekers are underemployed in this economy — working temporary or part-time jobs and wanting full-time permanent work.

“You’re taking this job — it might even be your second job or third job — but you’re just trying to patch together many temp jobs, seasonal jobs, part-time jobs to make a living,” Luce says. “And it’s not really not a sustainable model.”

Georgetown University public policy professor Harry Holzer, who served as chief economist in the Labor Department during the Clinton Administration, said many of these jobs don’t deliver a significant long-term benefit to job-seekers.

“If the job is really short-term, I doubt that anyone’s going to be impressed by it when they look at someone’s work experience,” said Holzer. “If it’s a little longer, and if you can argue that you picked up a skill on the job, then potentially it could have a positive effect.”

Holzer said that during the 1990s, when the U.S. had full employment, most people taking temporary seasonal jobs for the holidays probably wanted to work short-term to make extra money—either because they were semi-retired, or simply didn't want year-round work. Now, he said, temporary seasonal workers are more likely to be people struggling with unemployment or underemployment.

Bono apologizes for free iTunes album

Thu, 2014-10-16 11:28

Bono has apologized for a recent self-promotion stint, albeit in a video promoting his new album release on CD and vinyl.

The U2 frontman apologized to everyone who was annoyed after the band's new album "Songs of Innocence" just showed up in their iTunes accounts last month.  All 500 million iTunes users received the free download.

In a Facebook video posted Oct. 14, Bono said he got carried away with the "beautiful idea" of the auto-download, but artists are "prone to a drop of megalomania" and he feared the album wouldn't be heard.

The download was announced Sept. 9 at the Apple event unveiling the iPhone 6, 6 Plus and Apple Watch. Apple automatically sent the album for free to active iTunes accounts, and for some people with certain settings, that meant an automatic download too.

Billboard reported last week the album had been downloaded 26 million times, and 81 million people had listened to at least one song — it's not clear how many actually meant to.

Why the Ebola patients were transferred

Thu, 2014-10-16 11:21

Health officials transferred Dallas nurse Nina Pham to the National Institutes of Health facility in Maryland Thursday.

Now both Dallas nurses infected by a patient with the disease have been sent to specialty hospitals with biocontainment units. There are four such hospitals in the U.S., with sites in Maryland, Georgia, Nebraska and Montana.

Given mistakes in Dallas, health officials are talking about whether certain hospitals should be designated to treat Ebola cases. But there really aren’t any Ebola experts, no super doctors who have special tricks. Doctors say treating Ebola is actually pretty straightforward business.

“Most of the treatment issues really are the generic treatment of very, very sick people with multiple organs that are failing, and most reasonable-sized hospitals can do that competently,” says Dr. Bob Wachter of University of California-San Francisco.

Wachter says with Ebola, what matters more than medical brilliance is organizational acumen, where everyone from the hospital CEO to the top nurse to the waste hauler knows how to handle something this infectious.

“That’s really, really hard, and I don’t think every single hospital will be able to sort that out,” he says.

The events over the past week in Dallas drive that home, but what’s happened there shouldn’t come as a shock. Remember, estimates suggest nearly 100,000 people die from hospital acquired infections every year. Mistakes in hospitals happen; they’re expected. With the danger of Ebola there’s increasing talk in the healthcare world that these cases should go top hospitals.

But Dr. Ricardo Martinez, who oversaw EMS efforts for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, says every hospital needs to be better prepared.

“There are other diseases coming, so we should be able to provide some level of protection that not only care for the patient but contain the spread,” he says.

Martinez says if Doctors without Borders can protect many of its workers in field-like settings, U.S. hospitals should be able to do the same.

How stock market volatility could impact the economy

Thu, 2014-10-16 11:13

The stock market jitters of the last week have numerous causes: ebola panic, Europe's economic slump, the settling in of weak economic growth and the imminent end of the Fed's bond-buying program. 

The effects, beyond temporary shifts in stock prices, are less evident. But stock market volatility can have a real-world impact.

"In research I've looked at 19 previous stock market jitters in the U.S.," says Nicholas Bloom, professor of economics at Stanford University. "These are normally followed by nasty contractions.  And the reason is reasonably easy to see."

Bloom says that volatility can lead to uncertainty, and when  individuals and businesses are uncertain about the future, they put off big purchases.

"So, for example, firm investment tends to drop very heavily. If you look at consumers you see it’s consumer durables that drops a lot. So things like new cars, furniture, clothing," he says.

And a lack of investment, whether it's by companies or consumers, has a real effect on the economy.  But before you lock up your credit cards, Bloom says the volatility we’ve seen this week is all smoke and no fire--so far. 

First, consider stock prices.

"I think at this point, if, say, we were lucky and things stopped today, didn’t get any worse, probably not too big of an impact," says Russ Kinnel, director of mutual fund research for Morningstar. 

 Kinnel says shares have lost--at most--the gains from one year of a five year rally.

 Then consider the stock volatility. One common measurement is the VIX.

"It’s risen by about 50 percent over the last week," says Bloom. "Historically big jumps that I’ve examined have a VIX increase of more than 100 percent.  They also lasted around a month."

In other words, if the current volatility doesn't last, its effects shouldn't linger either.

"After it’s out of the news, you know, people’s perceptions and sentiment tend to shift back," says Gary Thayer, macro strategist at Wells Fargo. "And that’s I think what we’re likely to see here."

 

 

Advertisers can now tell if we're paying attention

Thu, 2014-10-16 11:12

Online advertising has long been dominated by the click and impression — how much an ad is shown to users. Now the industry is establishing a new metric: our attention.

People click on the average Internet display ad about .1 percent of the time. It's a dismal fraction for advertisers, and it doesn't tell the full story. Ads can have a large branding impact on us even if we don't click on them. That's why advertisers need metrics that deliver a more nuanced picture, says Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile.

His company is the first to have its techniques for quantifying attention certified by the Media Ratings Council, an organization that determines if an audience measurement tool is “valid, reliable, and effective.”  For years, Chartbeat has been measuring attention for web content — trying to determine if we are really engaging with websites, or just happen to have the tab open while watching a cat video elsewhere. The company is now taking the tools it built for content and applying them to advertising.

To analyze our engagement, Chartbeat measures things like how we move the mouse, scroll, and tap on our keyboards. “All of those signals effectively allow us to get a picture of behavior,” Haile says, “it gives us a sense of when attention is happening or when someone is distracted.”

Chartbeat's content analytics have been especially popular with news organizations. They use it and other services to see what articles engage readers. You might recognize a few of Chartbeat's clients: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN. Now, some are starting to use it for ads as well.

Jon Slade directs digital advertising for the Financial Times. With attention metrics, he says, “I'm able to value engagement and commercialize it.” That helps the site compete against websites with a larger volume of content that people interact with more superficially.  The metrics are changing how the Financial Timessells ads. Advertisers can now pay for how long people will see and engage with an ad instead of how many times it will be shown and clicked on. It's quality over quantity, Slade says — a huge shift for online advertising, and a better business model for those who create content.

This shift in the advertising industry could be a big boost for news sites. In the words of Trevor Fellows, “the recognition that not all impressions are equal is huge.”

Fellows is the chief revenue officer for The Wall Street Journal. He says attention metrics will show advertisers it's worth paying to have ads displayed next to engaging content. It's a way for news sites to stand out from the soup that is the Internet.

Fellows predicts it will be a while before engagement becomes a standard measurement in the advertising industry. “A change of this magnitude is going to be a long time in becoming commonplace,” he says.  Advertisers still quibble over the old metrics—how to determine whether an ad has actually been viewed and intentionally clicked.When it comes to human attention there's more going on than just the push of a button.

The numbers for October 16, 2014

Thu, 2014-10-16 07:05

Apple unveiled the iPad Mini 3 and the iPad Air 2 at a big media event Thursday, though the basics of the new tablets were already leaked by Apple itself. IPad sales have been falling or staying flat for the past several quarters, as the market gets more crowded and iPhones get more popular (and larger).

Quartz has a good look at Apple's iPad conundrum and some suggestions for giving the device a more distinct place in their product line.

Here's what we're reading — and some numbers we're watching — Thursday.

1 in 4

The portion of millennials who have cut the cord or never had a cable subscription at all, TechHive reported. That's especially important as HBO and now CBS have announced they'll uncouple streaming from pay TV packages, and offering their online-only services.

300

The number of companies that signed a pledge earlier this year to reduce hiring barriers for the 3 million job seekers who have been unemployed 27 weeks or longer. It's why some companies are exploring with getting rid of resumes, and opting instead for video applications.

72 percent

That's how many Airbnb listings in New York violate zoning or other laws, according to a new report from the city's attorney general. The start-up, valued at $10 billion, blamed a lack of clear laws for home sharing,  the New York Times reported. Nearly all of the rentals are in Manhattan, and many are from individual hosts with a high number of listings: Six percent of renters take in 37 percent of Airbnb revenue in the city, which amounts to about $168 million.

PODCAST: Here's my video resume

Thu, 2014-10-16 03:00

First up, the Fed released new data on industrial production this morning. How will the markets react? Plus, Americans who've been out of work for months face an uphill battle getting hired. That's why 300 companies signed a White House pledge earlier this year to bring down some of the barriers faced by the long-term unemployed in this country. One company's approach is to forget resumes and turn to videos. And Mexico's been trying to attract foreign investment to help boost its economy, but the country's facing challenges. Corruption is big one. Violence is another. More on that.

The value of voicemail

Thu, 2014-10-16 02:00

Text messages, e-mails, missed phone calls, "Yo's — it's easier than ever to let someone know you want to get a hold of them. In many ways, the voicemail is a relic in the eyes of millennials and those younger, but a staple of etiquette for Gen X'ers and older.

This was the precise problem that Leslie Horn ran into with her mother. She just wouldn't stop leaving voicemails.

But then something happened that made her change the way she viewed the end of unanswered phone calls forever: her father passed away.

Upon the passing of her father, Horn's phone rang for months. Many of them ended at the machine.

It was here that she realized a few things about these messages. People often ended up saying more than they do in an actual conversation (in an endearing way), it's nice to hear a voice other than your own sometimes, and that there was a special place reserved for all the messages people left her throughout the years waiting in storage.

Old friends with stories, the occasional ramblings of a drunk dial, and one very special message for her birthday last year: A voicemail from her dad.

A push to hire the long-term unemployed

Thu, 2014-10-16 02:00

People who’ve been out of work for months often face an uphill battle getting hired. That’s why some 300 companies signed a White House pledge earlier this year to reduce hiring barriers for the three million job seekers who’ve been out of work 27 weeks or longer.

One company’s approach: Forget resumes; turn to videos.

Frontier Communications Corp. sells things like high speed internet and phone service. The company realized that resumes can’t always predict who’ll be good at selling its triple play packages. Jim Oddo was looking for soft skills.

Like the ability to delight the customer,” says Oddo, senior vice president of human resources. “How do you read that on a resume?”

So this year, Frontier has been moving from a resume-first hiring model to a video-first model. To do so, the company teamed up with a group called HireVue. As the system rolled out, applicants started answering a few questions on videos they could submit from their smartphones.

“So the very first evaluation that we would have of someone is how they communicated," Oddo says. "And then we would look at their resume."

Frontier’s needs dovetailed with the Obama Administration’s push to decrease employment barriers for the long-term unemployed. Oddo says Frontier hired more unemployed people this year, half of whom were long-term unemployed.

The White House is touting this strategy and others.

Mitchell Hirsch with the National Employment Law Project says otherwise qualified jobless applicants are sometimes rejected by automatic filters.

“So they’re being unfairly screened out,” he says. “Often without the direct knowledge of the hiring managers themselves.”

A new guide to hiring the long-term unemployed recommends removing those filters. 

For homebuilders, things are looking up...just a bit

Thu, 2014-10-16 02:00

The latest figures on builder confidence are out today. Tomorrow, the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report on housing starts and permits for September 2014 will be released. The consensus among economists is for a rise in both measures of homebuilding, compared to August figures.

Confidence among homebuilders is gradually improving, as unemployment falls and job creation has strengthened since the end of the recession, says David Crowe, chief economist at the National Association of Home Builders. Still, housing starts have only recovered to about half the level of the mid-2000s, before the housing crash.

From 2004 through early 2006, housing starts consistently numbered 2 million annually. So far in 2014, Crowe says, housing starts have bounced back and forth around the 1 million mark. Nonetheless, that’s a major improvement on construction levels at the depths of the recession, when housing starts fell below the 500,000 annual level.

“It’s pretty good now, from where we’ve been,” says Crowe of the current state of homebuilding.

Crowe points to several factors that are still holding back home construction. He points out that builders—those who are left in business after a severe winnowing of the industry following the housing crash—have a hard time securing financing, due to tight lending standards. They are also having trouble finding skilled construction workers, since so many left the field during the recession. Finally, land that has been prepared for development is scarce in many markets around the country.

Economist Stephanie Karol at IHS points out that the real estate market is still digesting a decade-old oversupply of new homes. “We saw a lot of overbuilding leading up to the crash,” says Karol. “There’s less of an incentive to add to the housing stock, especially when household formation is below expectations.” Young people have been delaying marriage, and eschewing major financial commitments, like getting a mortgage, since the recession hit. Many also face high levels of student loan debt.

David Crowe says the hottest sectors of the residential construction market right now are ‘move-up’ homes (in the $300,000-plus range) for those who already own, as well as multi-family housing, which has fully rebounded since the recession.

First-time homebuyers looking for new homes in the $125,000-$150,000 price range are having a harder time, he says.

“We have very tough lending standards,” says Crowe. “So even for people ready to buy, if they have the least ding on their credit, it gets more difficult.”

Priscilla Chan on why she gave $25 million to fight Ebola

Thu, 2014-10-16 02:00

Why people donate is a mystery. And when it comes to giving money to help contain the spread of Ebola, charitable giving has been modest. This week, Priscilla Chan and her husband Mark Zuckerberg — the co-founder of Facebook —  donated $25 million to help fight Ebola.

In an interview with Marketplace, Chan explains why one of the most prominent couples in the United States decided to donate millions to the cause — and what they hope they get for that money.

Thinking like a doctor

The gift — which Zuckerberg of course announced on Facebook — will go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the idea that it will filter through to many different organizations on the ground.

Chan, who works as a doctor, explains her rationale this way: "As a pediatrician, [my] training is in preventing disease and keeping children healthy. And so we take advantage of — and are appreciative of — the massive vaccine program in our country to help prevent the spread of a more serious epidemic, of anything ranging from...flu to measles...and what I see as cases of devastating illness that would otherwise be preventable...I understand how important it is to act now to keep Ebola from being a massive problem that affects the lives of many, and the importance of prevention and early intervention."

What they're worried about

Ebola is, at present, a disease without a cure

"Right now we don't have an effective vaccine program...Not acting now might lead this to be a more pervasive illness that's harder to control later down the line,"Chan says. "The examples Mark brings up are diseases like HIV, Polio...infectious diseases that are so difficult for us to control, or in Polio's case, eradicate. But we have an opportunity now to act quickly and to really change the direction and growth of Ebola."

A larger donation than originally planned

Chan and Zuckerberg had been contemplating a donation for a couple of weeks, she said. Then, Zuckerberg took a trip to India. After seeing the lack of public health resources in the country's poor and rural communities first-hand, Zuckerberg called Chan and suggested they make a larger gift than they had previously been considering (Chan declined to say how much they increased the donation by).

How did she react?

"We definitely had to think about it as a couple, if this was something we really wanted to commit to...the need to respond has always been a no-brainer, the thing that changed with Mark's visit, and seeing the disparity in resources," she said. "[We decided] that we need to act now and make a larger gift, to be able to keep Ebola to a confined state, where we can aggressively intervene, rather than have it evolve into something that ends up having to be costly and linger in our worldwide community for decades."

Click the media player above for audio.

Quiz: How much is a work-study job worth?

Wed, 2014-10-15 14:38

More than 700,000 higher-ed students get federal work-study funds.

What is the average annual pay for a work-study job?

You can buy ebola.com for $150,000

Wed, 2014-10-15 13:09

Yes, there's a market for everything, even ebola.com.

First of all: that domain name exists. But secondly: the guy who owns it, Jon Schultz, bought it six years ago for $13,500. The asking price today? $150,000, according to the Washington Post.

If that's too dour, Schultz also owns terror.com, fukushima.com, potassiumiodide.com and H1N1.com.

Yes, all of them are for sale, too.

 

 

 

HBO is cutting the cord. Will cable survive?

Wed, 2014-10-15 12:08

HBO has announced that starting next year it will offer its online streaming service HBO Go to anyone willing to pay, whether they have cable or not.

Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson says the move is an important about-face for entertainment giant Time Warner.

“The CEO [Richard Plepler] has promised that HBO wasn’t going to do this and now they’ve changed,” Johnson says. “I think that’s probably because there’s been a discussion behind the scenes about just what the lay of the land looks like.”

Access to HBO Go is widely shared, something Plepler has said he doesn’t mind. But last year HBO’s paid customer count was surpassed by Netflix, and Game of Thrones recently set a world record for piracy.

Johnson guesses HBO has been pressuring its parent company Time Warner toward this move for a while now.

“I think it’s kind of bad news for cable companies,” Johnson says. “By some estimates only like 3 percent of people are going to cut the cord next year, but those numbers are really growing fast for certain demographics and people’s behavior is really changing.”

Retail's new normal

Wed, 2014-10-15 11:54

Retail sales numbers released Wednesday from the Commerce Department suggest consumers spent slightly less in September than the month before.

There were some bright spots in the electronics category, and overall gains from the same period last year. Still, the headline numbers might give retailers some anxiety heading into the holiday season, says Georgetown University professor Marlene Morris Towns.

“I think that retailers are really, really, kind of struggling to get people in, to get people shopping,” she says. “I think they’re pushing to holidays on us faster and faster.”

But Towns is optimistic about consumer spending going forward.

It’s just that we have to take into account the economy’s new normal, says Susan Viamari, who tracks consumers and retail trends for IRI. “The new normal is going to be much more conservative mindset than what we saw before that proverbial bubble burst.”

Viamari says many consumers who cut back during the recession are keeping a tight grip on their spending.

Compare that with a decade ago, RBS Securities economist Omair Sharif says, when homeowners were pulling equity out of their homes or using credit cards to fuel shopping sprees.

“So it’s just a very different environment in terms of your ability to finance your expenditures,” he says. “It’s just night and day versus 2004.”

Consumers are largely limited to spending what they have, says Sharif, and he doesn’t expect that to change anytime soon.

Plant-based hamburger leaves 'blood' on the plate

Wed, 2014-10-15 11:49

You know how techies are all into disrupting businesses? Well, right now, there’s a lot of interest in the food industry. In Impossible Foods' case, its mission is to disrupt the $74 billion beef industry.

It’s egregiously inefficient,” says Patrick Brown, the CEO of Impossible Foods.

Brown is talking specifically about the big business of raising animals for food. He says, worldwide, animal farming is one the biggest consumers of water.

“It’s using 30 percent of the entire land surface of earth,” he continues.

And that land is being cleared to make room for cattle to graze and to grow feed crops, which brings us to Brown’s next point.

It’s the biggest driver of biodiversity losses in the world,” Brown says. “Just to raise animals, to make cheeseburgers, it’s ridiculous.”

We've been using animals to make food for about 10,000 years, Brown says, and that technology is outdated. Take off the cultural veneer and you’ll see “livestock is a technology. We use it to take cheap plant biomass” and turn it into meat.

Or in layman’s terms: We grow and harvest tons of corn, grass and other plants and turn it into meat by feeding it to animals, which we then kill and package into chops and steaks.

Brown says we don't need to do that any more. We now know how to extract nutrients and proteins from plants, and use those ingredients to make meat without animals. Enter Impossible Foods, one of a handful of tech start-ups that wants to make animal products, from cheese to eggs and beef, from plants.

To show me what he’s talking about, Brown asks Beth Fryksdale, the food scientist in charge of making the plant-based meat.

So I’m going to put the patty on the griddle here,” she says, plopping down two of Impossible Foods’ most recent burger prototypes. When the "meat" it hits the fry pan, it sizzles.

You’ll notice we’ve got this nice transition in color from red to brown,” Fryksdale says, just like a real burger.

I glance over at the plate the patty was on and I see ... blood?

“Yup, it looks like blood although this is not blood from an animal, this is blood from plant,” Fryksdale says triumphantly.

That’s the color of the 'heme' that I was talking about,” Brown interjects.

Heme is a substance found on the roots of bean plants. It gives meat its unique flavor. It’s naturally red, and when you taste the heme raw, like I did, it tastes like blood.

When the burger was done, I ate it. And If I’d tasted it at a fast-food joint, I probably wouldn’t have noticed a difference. At the same time, it’s not as good as the grass-fed burger that I get at my favorite restaurant, and that’s what Impossible Foods is going for.  

Google Ventures invested in the start-up, and partner Andy Wheeler said while he’d like to go after that gourmet market, “it really is the mass-market opportunity that’s interesting.”

To get into there, Wheeler says, Impossible Foods needs to make its ground beef cheaper than the real stuff. And that’s a challenge. Right now, one Impossible Foods burger costs about $20 to make. Despite that, Wheeler says a bunch of events have made investors more bullish on food.

We all see that obesity is a huge problem and people are getting more concerned with health,” Wheeler says.

And more people are concerned about sustainability. Traditional food companies have been slow to address these concerns, Wheeler says. Investors see an opportunity, and they think advances in science have made food more of a tech play.

So the company may be starting with a ground beef product, but the core technology they’re developing around food science is really applicable to a really wide range of potential foods,” Wheeler says.

The idea of synthesizing real food is an age-old dream, says Michael Pollan, a food journalist and activist.

Think: Tang, non-dairy creamers and Cool Whip. But he says what’s new this go-around is that techies are on a mission.

“Which I think is distinct, and I think it’s political,” Pollan said. “These companies aim to shrink animal agriculture because of their environmental footprint.”

Pollan applauds that effort, but “I think you run into some of the limitations of Silicon Valley thinking when it comes to culture, which is the pleasure of eating meat is not simply a sensory pleasure,” he says. “Meat connotes prestige all over the world. Will fake meat offer that pleasure?”

And while this new crop food techies are using plant-based nutrients, instead of, say, artificial chemicals like they did decades ago. Pollan says there are reasons to be skeptical.

Foods that we’ve been eating for tens of thousands of years have kind of proven themselves out and we are talking about introducing some novel foods and so we need to be careful,” he says.

But he says, that's not so say we shouldn’t do it.

Pollan says, we make processed foods for all kinds of reasons. We make it for convenience, taste and to make money. And so why not make it to save the environment?

The NBA's experiment: offering fans a shorter game

Wed, 2014-10-15 11:34

The National Basketball Association will run an experiment this week to test the premise "Less is more." A preseason game pairing the Brooklyn Nets with the Boston Celtics will have just 44 minutes of play, instead of the usual 48. 

NBA officials mentioned “our schedule” as one motivation behind the experiment. That is: Lots of games often means lots of injuries. Maybe shorter games could mean less wear and tear on players’ bodies.

Then again, maybe not, says Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College. "If for instance, it’s the case that LeBron James, out of a 48 minute game plays 37 minutes, we don’t know if he’ll play proportionately fewer minutes" in a shorter game.    

In other words, the coach is already asking himself:  "How many minutes can I play LeBron without worrying too much about injury?"

"If that number's 37," says Zimbalist, "it could still be 37 in a 44-minute game."

There is the possibility that fans — and TV networks — would prefer shorter games, says Glenn Wong, who teaches sports management for the University of Massachusetts business school.

"Two hours is something that fits well in terms of fans — and in terms of TV slots," Wong says. Typical NBA games last significantly longer.  "I think there’s a certain trend toward reducing the length of the game."

In particular, the final minutes of an NBA game can drag. The 44-minute game would also cut one of three mandatory ad breaks in the fourth quarter. But what slows down those last minutes, really, is part of how the game gets played. The NBA's own website lays out how teams use intentional fouls to stop the clock.

"You can just keep fouling people, and fouling people, and fouling people and extending this," says David Berri, a sports economist at Southern Utah University, "and hope something’s going to happen."

A 44-minute game doesn't address that problem.

"I think you could say that the game in terms of actual chronological time is too long, and you could take steps to address what’s actually making it go longer," Berri says. "But just giving people less product — that just doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense."

John Nagl says the U.S. isn't finished in Iraq

Wed, 2014-10-15 11:15

American soldiers found chemical weapons in Iraq as long as a decade ago, left over from Saddam Hussein's war with Iran, according to a New York Times investigation. Some U.S. troops were injured by the shells. Both the discoveries and injuries were kept secret. 

This comes against the backdrop of deepening American involvement in the region, where we've already invested close to $2 trillion in Iraq alone. 

John Nagl helped write the Army and Marine Corps' "Counterinsurgency Field Manual." In a new memoir he details the cost of the wars - both in terms of money and, in his view, credibility - through the lens of his own life. A retired Lt. Col. and Pentagon official, Nagl served in Iraq twice. 

"There clearly is another war happening in Iraq right now," Nagl said, referring to the 1,600 troops on the ground as military advisers, plus the supporting planes, ships, and intelligence officers. 

"I don't think it's going to be as big for the United States as the last Iraq war was, or my first Iraq war was. But the implications of the war and the necessity of to get it right is just as big as it was the last two times. 

Nagl's new book"Knife Fights," catalogs what he sees as the costs of the second Iraq war through the lens of his personal experience in the region: 

1990
Nagl deployed to Iraq in first Gulf War

2003-2004
Nagl deployed to Al Anbar province, Iraq

NYT Magazine cover story: Prof. Nagl’s War 

2004 
Saddam Hussein captured. 

Nagl returned to Washington, DC to work in office of Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz. Co-authored the U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual with Gen. David Petraeus.

Donald Rumsfeld on Iraq 

Job prospects for Petraeus

2007
Iraq Surge: U.S. sends additional 20,000 troops to Baghdad and Al Anbar Province

Troop cuts could mean contractor surge

2011
Official end of U.S. combat mission in Iraq

U.S. troops quit Iraq, but large U.S. presence remains

What Iraq taught us about reconstruction

2014
Rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria

ISIS gains control of key infrastructure in Iraq

Read an excerpt from "Knife Fights" below:

PREFACE

 

This is a book about modern wars and how they affect the lives of young men and women. It is a tale of wars that needed to be fought and wars that were not necessary but that happened nonetheless, at enormous cost in blood and treasure. It is also an intellectual coming-of-age story, that of both the author and the institution to which he devoted most of his adult life, the American military. It is a book about counterinsurgency and its journey from the far periphery of U.S. military doctrine to its center, for better and, some would argue, for worse. It is also, then, a book about America’s role in the world, and specifically about when and how we use military force abroad in the name of national security.

The book largely takes the form of a memoir, which feels somewhat self-indulgent to me—I was very much more shaped by than shaper of the events this book relates. But my hope is that following the arc of my own learning curve will be the easiest way for a reader to understand the broader story of the American military’s radical adaptation to a world of threats very different from those involving nuclear weapons and Soviet tanks massed at the Fulda Gap that I studied at West Point a generation ago. Following that arc will also help to explain why, after decades of responsibility for the lives of American soldiers, I have recently shouldered the responsibility to prepare another generation of young men for a life of service far from the battlefield, in the classrooms and on the playing fields of friendly strife as the ninth headmaster of The Haverford School.

The U.S. military changed quickly after 9/11—not quickly enough from the perspective of those we lost and had injured, but quickly indeed by the standards of very large, hierarchical institutions. Some say the military in fact has changed too quickly, embracing counterinsurgency with a fervor that has had unforeseen negative consequences. I do not take that view. This book is not a pep rally, not a victory lap around counterinsurgency’s successes in Iraq, and certainly not in Afghanistan, where they have been thinner on the ground. But as the historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., liked to say, the right question is often “Compared to what?” Any intellectually serious reckoning with America’s post-9/11 wars has to contend with what the alternatives were once the decision to invade Iraq had been too hastily made and too poorly implemented. In the wake of mistakes there are sometimes no good choices; in both Iraq and Afghanistan, counterinsurgency was the least bad option available.

I had the rare opportunity to be involved in both the theory and the practice of war, helping write doctrine and also living with the consequences of implementing doctrine in the field as an officer responsible for the lives of America’s sons and daughters. The bulk of my combat experience was in Iraq, and Iraq is central to the story this book tells. But the shadow of Afghanistan hangs over all of it, even the Iraq story.

The first post-9/11 consequence of the American military’s pre-9/11 focus on large, conventional combat operations wasn’t the failure to see the Iraq War for what it was. First there was the Afghan campaign of the fall of 2001, a campaign conceived of and initiated by the CIA because the American military had no plan on the shelf that spoke to such a situation. The Afghan campaign’s initial success at scattering America’s enemies allowed us to make the mistake of immediately pivoting to Iraq, sinking us into the morass of two ground wars in Asia when one would have been more than enough.

Focusing on Iraq meant taking our eye off the ball in Afghanistan and Pakistan, allowing the Taliban and Al Qaeda to regroup and gain strength, blinding us to the true nature of the situation there until it was almost too late.

If Iraq was the midterm, Afghanistan is the final exam. It’s a lot harder than the midterm. And while we eked out a passing grade on the midterm, after a horrible start, the final grade remains in doubt, an incomplete. We’re unlikely to know the answer for some years to come, but the Afghan end state is important for the future of the region and for America’s place in the world—a world that is likely to be roiled by insurgency and counterinsurgency for decades to come.

The story begins in a very different place and time, a time when the Soviet Union had just been tossed into the dustbin of history, its internal contradictions rendered unbearable after its own painful war in Afghanistan. America stood unchallenged as the world’s only superpower for the first time in history, but Saddam Hussein had misread American determination to enforce the international security regime it had created in the wake of the Second World War. For the first time since Vietnam, the United States deployed the full weight of American power abroad. It was a heady and unsettling time for a young man who had studied war but never seen it.

What it takes to make all hospitals Ebola-ready

Wed, 2014-10-15 11:14

The largest nurse organization in the country, National Nurses United, is asking President Obama to take executive action and mandate “uniform, national standards” at all U.S. hospitals to help protect healthcare workers confronting Ebola.

"We know that without these mandates to health care facilities we are putting registered nurses, physicians and other healthcare workers at extreme risk," the letter says. "They are our first line of defense. We would not send soldiers to the battlefield without armor and weapons."

The group says those standards should include protective equipment like Hazmat suits and hands-on training to protect nurses and other hospital workers, even at the smallest of hospitals. And there are 5,000 community hospitals in the U.S.

Dr. Dennis Maki, a disease control expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says it takes at least half a day to train people in the protective garb alone. “I’ve just gone through Ebola training in my own hospital for putting the garb on and off this week, and I can tell you that’s a very complex undertaking.”

Dr. Ashish Jha,  director of the Harvard Global Health Institute,  says proper Ebola training and equipment at every hospital in the U.S. will probably cost in the tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars. But not every hospital worker needs in-depth training.

“I think every hospital person certainly needs to know something basic about isolation,” Jha says.  “And then probably every hospital needs a small number of staff who can stabilize and manage that patient for the short run.”

Jha and Maki say it’s unreasonable to expect that small community hospitals be able to care for Ebola patients long-term. Large medical centers have more staff and resources to safely care for them, they say.  

The CDC says it is reaching out to hospitals to help them prepare for Ebola cases. The agency is investigating exactly how two healthcare workers at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas contracted the disease.

Graphic by Shea Huffman & Tony Wagner/Marketplace

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