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PODCAST: The falling price of gas

Tue, 2014-09-16 03:00

A high level, international panel has done the numbers that it says show it makes economic sense to fight climate change. The new report comes from the Global Commision on the Economy and Climate. In a sense, tugging the other way, is this: A year ago today, the head of the American Automobile Association said sub-3 dollar a gallon gasoline in America "may be history." Well don't look now, but a global glut of oil has pushed down the average price to $3.39 and falling. Plus, some private insurance companies reimburse doctors for end-of-life conversations. Now, Medicare is considering paying for these. How some technology companies that are coming up with organized ways for people to spell out their medical wishes when the end comes

Scotland's oil...or is it?

Tue, 2014-09-16 02:00

This Thursday, the people of Scotland vote in a crucial referendum. They will decide whether or not they want their country to separate from the rest of the UK and become independent again, dissolving the union forged with England 307 years ago.

Yes campaigners claim that a kind of nirvana beckons. They argue that the Scots will each be at least $1600 better off if they secede. The country will be wealthy enough to afford all its existing state-funded benefits like free university tuition and free social care for the elderly and much more besides.

But this rosy scenario is partly based on a key assumption: The separatists take it for granted that an independent Scotland would inherit the vast bulk of the oil and natural gas that lies off the Scottish coast in the North Sea. Is this a safe assumption?

“Absolutely not,” claims Oxford University economist Professor Sir Paul Collier. “This is a greedy resource grab. The Scots have every right to secede but they cannot run off with all the oil. They have to share it.” Collier points out that when oil was discovered in the North Sea in the 1960’s, the British parliament passed an Act establishing that the resource belonged equally to every part of the UK.

“The Scots represent about 8% of the UK population,” says Collier. “Therefore they should only be entitled to about 8% of the oil.”

The pro-independence campaigners are banking on more like 90%; they’ve dismissed Collier’s claim. Scottish entrepreneur Ivan McKee maintains that an independent Scotland will own everything that lies in its territorial waters regardless of any British Act of parliament.

“After independence, whatever laws were passed by the Westminster Parliament won’t actually be in effect in Scotland any more than a law that was passed in Westminster would have any jurisdiction in the USA,” McKee says.

But the Yes campaign’s reliance on North Sea oil is shaky for another reason: production has sharply declined. There’s still plenty of fossil fuel there, but it’s in deeper and rougher waters than before; costs are rising; and a number of studies and forecasts indicate that tax revenues from North Sea oil are likely to shrink in the years ahead.

“That’s bad news for the separatists” says retired executive Anthony Rush, who lives in Scotland and campaigns against independence. “This puts this idea that we’re going to have free healthcare, free education, free this that and the other, funded by oil. That puts that in severe doubt.”

A place to store your end-of-life wishes

Tue, 2014-09-16 02:00

Dying isn’t what most people want to talk about when they visit the doctor. But it could soon become a standard part of a check-up. Some private insurance companies already reimburse doctors for end-of-life conversations, and Medicare is considering joining the club.

When people over 65 end up in the hospital, about half of them eventually need someone else in the family to make decisions for them—End of life decisions.

Still, only a small percentage of people—under 30 percent in the U.S.—have written advanced directives.

Tech entrepreneurs are trying to change that by creating apps and online databases to store and edit end-of-life wishes.

Scott Brown and Jeff Zucker started one such company, called My Directives. It’s a web-based system they hope will become a sort of Facebook of advance directives.

Jeff Zucker and Scott Brown are co-founders of My Directives.

Lauren Silverman

Right now, Brown says, end-of-life wishes are still stuck in the era of file folders.

“That document, once it’s created,” Brown says, “it’s placed in a shoe box or file cabinet or safety deposit box, and it’s not available when it’s needed. People can’t plan their emergencies Monday through Friday 9-to-5.”

Cutting Out The Legal Jargon

Online sites and apps for living wills make it possible to upload and edit the medical procedures you do and don’t want in your final days. They’re also a way to personalize end-of-life wishes.

The "My Directives" site, for example, allows you to upload video messages to loved ones.

Christine White, 62, is a social worker in Salem Oregon who uses My Directives.

Christine White, with her husband Daniel in Oregon.

Christine White

In a note to her husband, she wrote the following:

“If I precede my husband, I want him to know that his incessant whistling was the joy of my life. In fact, every day with him was a gift I cherished.”

“I felt so much better he would know how much he meant to me,” she says.

Costs, Savings, And Criticism

In addition to emotional relief, proponents of advance directives say they can save money.

Still, there are plenty of advance directives critics.

Dr. Henry Perkins has been researching advance directives for 35 years, and he still doesn’t find them very useful.

“They promise more control over future care than is possible, they are hard to implement, and some doctors don’t follow them,” says Perkins.

He recommends patients choose one or two people whom they trust a great deal to be their surrogate decision makers in a time of crisis. “The best we can do is ask people to be there for us,” he says.

Control Through Technology

Dr. Molly Coye, chief innovation officer at the University of California, Los Angeles, envisions a world where talking about the end of life is normal; Perhaps part of signing up for health insurance, getting a driver’s license or applying for a mortgage.

“People are ready to hear this I think,” she says. “It’s just so far there are not a lot of people who have been approached about it.” Coye says new tools and technologies make end of life documents more accessible and easier for doctors to follow in emergencies.

As for patients, moving the advance directive from the shoebox to a smartphone means making updates is less dusty, and a lot faster.

You may see $3 a gallon for gas in your lifetime

Tue, 2014-09-16 02:00

A global glut of oil has pushed the national price of gasoline to $3.39 and plunging. In certain places, such as Greene County, Missouri, unleaded already goes for under $3.

“At this moment today, we are at $2.95,” says James Orr, manager of Casey’s General Store on South Grant Avenue in Springfield, the county seat. As for his competitors, “most of them are at $2.98, $2.99.”

A few factors are at play here: As of this week, gas stations in many states can sell a cheaper gasoline product called winter blend. Summer blend gas is held to a stricter standard, for warm-weather pollution reasons.

In world oil markets, where pump prices are mostly set, there is ample supply. A big factor in that is rising U.S. production, now at a 28-year high. Finally, global demand has softened in places like China.

Houston-area oil industry consultant Andy Lipow thinks the national gas price will fall another seven percent to $3.15 by Halloween.

“And $3 a gallon is in the cards if we can see crude oil prices decline to $85 a barrel,” Lipow says.

A year ago, the president and CEO of the auto club AAA, Robert Darbelnet, predicted $3 a gallon gas would never return.

“Paying less than $3 per gallon for gasoline may be automotive history for most Americans, like using 8-track tapes or going to a drive-in movie,” Darbelnet said in September 2013. “The reality is that expensive gas is here to stay, which is tough on millions of people who need a car to live their lives.”

A spokesman for AAA said Darbelnet was unavailable for an interview. The group’s current gas price prediction is that winter prices will dip to $3.10.

Los Angeles Gas Prices provided by GasBuddy.comClick here to add this map to your website.

Rising numbers of seniors are paying off student loans

Tue, 2014-09-16 02:00

According to a new report from the Government Accountability Office, between 2004 and 2010 the number of seniors with student loan debt quadrupled to 706,000 households.

Betsy Mayotte is the director of regulatory compliance with American Student Assistance, a non-profit that helps families manage education debt. She says she's starting to see a fairly significant increase in older borrowers reaching out for help. 

Take one borrower she heard from recently: "He's 77, his wife 82," says Mayotte. "They both have age typical health concerns, they’re not going to work again and they owe a significant amount in student debt — both their own and debt they took on for their children — and they don’t know how they’re going to pay for it."

It's not what many expect, says Persis Yu, a staff attorney with the National Consumer Law Center's student loan borrower assistance project.

“Older Americans have a lot more student loan debt than people realize,” she says.

Federal student loans, notes Yu, never go away. They have no statute of limitations.

“So, if a borrower doesn’t finish paying off a loan, they could be on the hook for the rest of their life,” she says.

Yu says if a senior defaults on a loan, their social security benefits could be garnished. The GAO says when that happens, additional fees can be involved making it even harder to pay off the loan.

Who makes your favorite beer? Probably one of these 5 companies.

Mon, 2014-09-15 14:09

Anheuser-Busch InBev, the brewer of Budweiser beer is rumored to be seeking financing for a possible deal to purchase rival beer-maker SABMiller, reports the Wall Street Journal. If the deal succeeds, it would combine the two largest beer producers in the world.

The Wall Street Journal reports that its source, "a person familiar with the matter," says formal talks between the companies haven't yet begun, as AB InBev wants to secure funding from banks before making an offer.

From the Wall Street Journal: 

The talks about financing come on the heels of an approach by SABMiller to buy Dutch brewer Heineken NV, which Heineken said Sunday it had rejected. The U.K. brewer hasn't been discouraged by Heineken's initial rejection and would consider another bid, according to another person familiar with the discussions.

China creates a texting lane

Mon, 2014-09-15 13:41

I don't known whether it's this week's sign the apocalpypse is upon us, or simply an acknowledgement of reality, but officials in Chongqing, China have created an entirely separate section of sidewalk just for pedestrians using cellphones.

That is, people walking along with their noses down in their phones.

It should help with those awkward near-collisions, but the signs do have a disclaimer: "Walk in this lane at your own risk."

Chongqing City has set up China's 1st "exclusive sidewalk for mobile phone users ” to avoid possible crashes on Fri

— People's Daily,China (@PDChina) September 13, 2014


Microsoft founders commit $59 million to fight Ebola

Mon, 2014-09-15 13:33

Last week, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committed $50 million “to support the scale up of emergency efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak,” and Paul Allen has pledged $9 million. 

On Tuesday, President Obama will travel to Atlanta, where he will visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has been overseeing the U.S. government’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, but Gilbert Burnham, co-director of the Center for Refugee and Disaster Response at Johns Hopkins University, gives a lot of credit to philanthropists like Gates and Allen.

"This is going to be the thing that turns the tide, the concern of individuals, rather than just the concern of government here,” he says.

The field of public health has changed, and, according to UNC medical anthropologist Peter Redfield, foundations and non-governmental organizations are more important than ever. “I think we now have a different set of expectations of what will happen in response to a kind of crisis or outbreak, and who will be the primary actors involved.”

Governments and the United Nations used to take the lead, but Dan Bausch, an expert on infectious diseases at Tulane University, says budgets took a hit after the financial crisis. “We probably would be on top of this more than we are if we hadn’t seen some dwindling of those funds in recent years.”

The Gates Foundation plays an outsize role in public health these days, but Rebecca Katz, a public health professor at George Washington University, says this pledge of support is kind of out of character. “They haven’t traditionally been engaged in disaster response,” she says. “But this outbreak is precedent-setting in all sorts of ways.”

Katz hopes some of that money will help with personnel. She says there are fewer than 250 doctors in all of Liberia.

“In Sierra Leone, you’re looking at a ratio of one physician for 30,000 people,” Katz says.

That is not nearly enough to combat an outbreak  that- as she and other experts say - is still out of control.

Dress like Olivia Pope with help from 'The Limited'

Mon, 2014-09-15 13:33

In the ABC drama “Scandal,” Kerry Washington plays the fiercely stylish Olivia Pope, a crisis manager in the nation’s capital. Just in time for the show's fourth season premiere later this month, The Limited is unveiling a line of clothing inspired by the show.  

While kids shows are no strangers to merchandising, the “Scandal” collection is hardly the first TV licensing deal for grownups. Duck Dynasty-themed products brought in an estimated $400 million last year. And have you seen the Game of Thrones-branded beers?

Sometimes it happens in less obvious ways,” says Marty Brochstein with the Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association. “There is a furniture line connected to 'The Good Wife,' for example.”

Yes, you can sit on Alicia’s Guest Chair or Cary’s Office Sofa, from furniture retailer Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams.

For the networks, Brochstein says, the goal isn’t just selling products, but getting more butts on those sofas, watching their shows.

“It is reminding you that the show is on and that you love it and wow, isn’t that a great look?” he says.

Fans of the AMC hit “Mad Men” may have had that thought walking by Banana Republic at the mall a while back. A line of clothing inspired by that show sold well for a while, says analyst Wendy Liebmann with WSL Strategic Retail.

“Then it faded pretty quickly,” she says. “For fashion, you know, it’s all fast and furious.”

One the other hand, demand for the products can outlast the shows, says the licensing association’s Marty Brochstein. Thanks to Netflix, people just getting into AMC’s “Breaking Bad” may still want a licensed hazmat suit for Halloween, even though the show ended a year ago.

Questions over highway oversight

Mon, 2014-09-15 11:35

The New York Times published an investigative piece yesterday on the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) and poorly-handled automobile safety defects. The Times found that the agency "frequently has been slow to identify problems, tentative to act and reluctant to employ its full legal powers against companies."

Rebecca Ruiz shared the byline on the story. She says the last time the NHTSA ordered a recall was 35 years ago. Not even the 2,000 complaints that the agency had logged about General Motors' ignition defects triggered a recall.

"The agency received complaints as early as 1997," says Ruiz. "Up until the very month that the recalls began in February, NHTSA was responding to drivers who were writing in saying, 'unfortunately there is not enough evidence for us to open an investigation, but thank you for writing.'"

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.

When the going gets rough, some sell poems

Mon, 2014-09-15 10:26

As D.C. commuters head to their offices, jazz drummer Glenn Ragland stands outside Metro stations. He's not hawking newspapers, or music. He's selling poems.

These days, Ragland has been finding it near impossible to make money in the music industry.

"I'm not making no money," he said. "The band business is gone. There's no big bands. The few night clubs, they don't want to pay musicians anything."

So for the past seven months, he's been standing at any of a number of the corners in the nation's capital — 13th and G Street, Connecticut and K Street, Connecticut and L Street or Connecticut and I Street, from about 7:30 to 10:30 a.m., trying to sell love poems.

He says he'll write about anything, though his sign advertises: "Poetry for love and romance $5 a poem." At first, he simply wanted a sign that said "poetry for $5," but he said his friend who printed the sign added romance to the mix.

"I just wanted to put 'poems' and 'jazz' in there, and he put that word 'romance' in there. And that changed the whole thing," he said. "It changed the mood of selling poems."

After he gets a request, he says he might work on a poem for a day or a week. He then finds the buyer later at the same Metro station.

Ragland isn't new to writing. He started writing poetry in Paris when he was 26 and in a band. He also penned "Jazz Profiles in Paris," a 1995 book that didn't make him much money. He sometimes manages to sell six or seven poems a day for $120 total.

He's working on another book, this time full of poems about passion and intimacy. He calls it "almost too intimate to publish."

If he's not trying to sell poems on the street or teaching drum lessons, Ragland can probably be found at Washington's well-known eatery and poetry hangout Busboys and Poets. He likes surrounding himself with writers and artistically-inclined people.

"I like to meet people that write because your imagination is more extensive," he said. “Sometimes at 11:30 at night, 1 o’clock in the morning, an idea comes to me. I get up and get a pen and paper and sometimes I continue working on a poem the next day. And sometimes I forget about it.”

A day in the life of a data mined kid

Mon, 2014-09-15 10:20

Education, like pretty much everything else in our lives these days, is driven by data.

Our childrens’ data. A whole lot of it.

Nearly everything they do at school can be — and often is — recorded and tracked, and parents don't always know what information is being collected, where it’s going, or how it's being used.

The story begins at the bus stop.

Your child swipes his ID card and climbs on the bus. The card may contain an RFID or  radio frequency identification chip, which lets the school know when he gets on and off the bus. In some school districts, parents will get text alerts, letting them know their child arrived safely to school. The bus technology is presented as a way to keep children safer.

“The data collection begins even before he steps into the school,” says Khaliah Barnes, director of the Student Privacy Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

And, says Barnes, in some schools it just keeps on going. RFID chips let schools track kids on school grounds. Administrators could know if a child leaves the building, or if he visits the school counselor.

“The issue is that this reveals specifically sensitive information,” says Barnes.

Location information is just one small part of a child’s data file.

In the classroom, teachers gather data on routine things like attendance, tardiness, test scores and grades. The kinds of records that used to be kept on paper.

See what a day in the life of a data mined student looks like with our Quantified Student infographic

In most states, the data are fed into a giant database, known as a “statewide longitudinal data system.” Different states collect different elements of personal student data. (You can look up your state here.)

In the last decade, the federal government has handed states more than $600 million to help them create these databases. The idea, says Stephen Balkam, head of the Family Online Safety Institute, is that “if we could keep track of our kids from kindergarten to 12th grade we'd have a much greater handle on what's working, what's not working, what needs to be added to the curriculum.”

The government isn’t the only one trying to figure out what’s working by investing in and gobbling up data about your kid.

Sales of educational technology software for kids in kindergarten through high school reached nearly $8 billion last year, according to the Software and Information Industry Association.

One of the biggest players is the field is Knewton. It analyzes student data that it collects by keeping track of nearly every click and keystroke your child makes during digital lessons.

Jose Ferreira is Knewton’s CEO.  In a video posted by the Department of Education, he says “We literally know everything about what you know and how you learn best, everything.”

Knewton claims to gather millions of data points on millions of children each day. Ferreira calls education “the world’s most data-mineable industry by far.”

“We have five orders of magnitude more data about you than Google has,” he says in the video.  “We literally have more data about our students than any company has about anybody else about anything, and it’s not even close.”

Five orders of magnitude more data than Google is a whole lot of data.

The promise is that all that data can be used to tailor lessons to individual kids, to their strengths and weaknesses. They will become better learners, and that will lead to higher grades and better graduation rates.

Ferreira imagines a day when “you tell us what you had for breakfast every morning at the beginning of the semester, by the end of the semester, we should be able to tell you what you had for breakfast. Because you always did better on the days you had scrambled eggs.”

If the right breakfast makes for a better behaved child, that will be measured, too.

Teachers are increasingly relying on behavior monitoring software not only to keep kids on track, but to track them, too.

With the help of an iPad, the teacher record’s whether or not your child is being helpful and attentive or talking out of turn. The child is rewarded, often with points, for good behavior. Points are taken away when behavior is not so good.

All this data is stored online. Parents can check it daily. It can be turned into reports for teachers and administrators.

“We live in a 24/7 data mining universe today,” says Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media.  “And I think most of us parents and teachers and kids don't realize how much of our data is out there and used by other people.”

Steyer is also a parent. He says what worries him most is that “information that's very personal to me and my family, for example my kids disciplinary record or health record or something like that, is made available to somebody who it's no business to have that.”

There are federal laws in place that limit what type of information can be gathered on kids and how educational records can be shared. But many of these laws were written for an age of paper records.

Though states have started writing tougher student data privacy protections into their laws, privacy experts think there are still big holes.

A study released last year by Fordham Law professor Joel Reidenberg found that very few school districts explicitly restrict the sale or marketing of student information in contracts with service providers.

There are also privacy issues with third-party educational apps, often brought into the classroom by teachers. Those apps may have weak privacy policies, or, in some cases, none at all.

Experts say the growth of technology in schools is happening faster than we can keep up with it.

At lunch, a child may use her ID to pay for her mini-cheeseburgers. When she does, her allergies and account balance may be displayed. It’s possible that her family’s financial information will also be linked in the software to her name and ID number.

Cafeteria software might also track exactly what she eats and whether she picks up chocolate or regular milk. In some schools, vending-machine purchases are recorded. Parents can log in at the end of the day and get a list of it all.

Should that child get in trouble, the principal may rely on discipline software to dole out her punishment. Some software advertises that it can save time by automating discipline consequences.

In gym class, some kids strap on heart-rate monitors, which record how hard they are working out. Some schools project this data up on the wall. Others base student P.E. grades on heart-rate measurements.

Other kids are asked to wear Fitbit-style wrist bands that record their activities at school, on the playground and at home — where the data grab continues.

Many schools have installed tracking technology on school-owned computers as a security measure. The technology allows schools to see where a kid is logging in from, via an IP address.

“At the beginning you would think there is no risk, that this is completely benign,” says Cameron Evans, chief technology officer for Microsoft Education.

But, if you start combining that data with other data sets, like addresses and phone numbers, you start getting into trickier territory. Especially if the tracking data doesn’t match the data on record.

Imagine, says Evans that “over a period of time the IP address where that computer connects to the Internet is not where near the address on file for them. In fact, it's not even in the same school district."

A school could investigate. And maybe find out the child doesn’t live in the district or that the reason he’s going to another part of town is because his parents have divorced. That may be enough to have that child labeled as  "at risk."

It's a label, says Evans, that could follow a kid through school.

“In the past, (schools) would have never had this data, but now that it's electronic, we can correlate data in a way that we never ever had the opportunity to do before."

The larger concern, he says, is that connecting all those dots can create a profile of a student that can follow him from kindergarten through college. Maybe even into the workforce.

It’s the prospect of that permanent data trail, say privacy advocates, that makes it so important that schools, teachers and parent wrestle with student data issues now.

Your Wallet: Is home-buying rebounding?

Mon, 2014-09-15 09:50

Is the housing market is making a comeback?

Wall Street Journal

Sales of existing homes increased 2.4% from June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.15 million, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday ... July was the fourth consecutive month sales rose from the prior month.

Not only were sales last month at their highest level since last September, but fewer transactions came from short sales of underwater homes and foreclosures. Distressed sales accounted for 9% of all sales in July, the lowest level since the trade group's tally began in October 2008 at the peak of the financial crisis. More than a third of all sales in 2009 were distressed.

We want to know if you're putting your toes in the water. 

How's the inventory? Can you get a loan? Are homes affordable? Tell us your experiences in the new normal. Email us or let us know on Twitter, we want to hear your story.

The 3 things that made 'Pretty Little Liars' a smash

Mon, 2014-09-15 09:44

The original log line for "Pretty Little Liars" was "Never trust a pretty girl with an ugly secret," and executive producer, showrunner and mystery-keeper Marlene King says the show has kept that spirit. The show, adapted from a series of young adult novels, focuses on several high school girls and their friends as more their dark secrets and lies are unraveled — and some disappear without a trace.

"[They have] well-intentioned ideas but continue to, I'd say, go down the rabbit hole and find a lot of trouble every season," King says.

The show has been such a smash for ABC Family that they ordered two more seasons before its fifth even began airing this summer. King calls the show "magic in a bottle," but says its possible to replicate its success. Here are the the three factors that make "Pretty Little Liars" not only a traditional ratings smash, but a great example of modern TV popularity.

It's been on social media since the beginning

People were still talking about TV on Twitter in 2010, but not nearly as much as they do now. But King says fans were tweeting about "Pretty Little Liars" before the pilot even aired. 

Social media has only become more important for the show. It has a very active Twitter presence, attracting over 2.4 million followers to the official account, and King says online discussion and ratings go hand-in-hand.

"Everything is changing now that we’re being credited for even our Twitter ratings," King says. "That seems to be as important as how many people are watching the show live, plus DVR. So that keeps us so relevant."

Now, Twitter is so integral to the show that if "Pretty Little Liars" stopped generating so much online discussion, that would be her cue to wrap things up.

Its young audience still watches live

Conventional wisdom says young people are the biggest time-shifters, more likely to binge-watch or even pirate their favorite shows long after they air. Not so for "Pretty Little Liars." The Internet isn't pulling viewers away; the very active online discussion is pushing them to keep up each week.

"I think we are one of the very few shows that has such a young demographic that still has a live following," says King. "Teen girls don’t watch shows on television very much anymore, but they are watching this show live because it is a mystery, we do have these big 'WTF' and 'OMG' moments and we do have this huge social media presence so if you don’t watch it live, somebody is going to spoil it for you online, so I think that helps us."

It has a very passionate and proactive audience

King says when she's asked if its possible to replicate the show's almost-cyclical success, bringing that kind of online following to new projects, she says yes.

Young women under 30 — the main audience of "Pretty Little Liars" — are so passionate, King says. The discussions that often start online spill over into groups and even conventions independent from anything organized by the people behind the show.

"People talk all the time about how social media and the Internet keep us separated but we see the opposite," King says. "It actually gives me goosebumps."

The numbers for September 15, 2014

Mon, 2014-09-15 07:41

Nineteen of the 125 death claims filed with General Motors since August 1 were in fact caused by the faulty ignition switches that have prompted many, many recalls, says the automaker's legal team. As the New York Times reported, the company also found eight other claims of serious injury to be eligible for damages. These are nowhere near the final numbers though – GM will accept claims through the end of the year, and plenty of existing claims are still under review.

Here are some other numbers we're watching Monday:


That's the new expected share price for Alibaba's initial public offering, Bloomberg reported, up from about $66. The Chinese e-commerce company is expected to make an announcement later today. This new price could make Alibaba the biggest IPO ever.

$7.9 billion

The total in sales for education technology software in the U.S. last year, pre-K-high school.  Now, California is set to enact sweeping legislation to protect student data collected by all this software. We're exploring student data collection in our series "The Quantified Student" all week.

$122 billion

That's about how much financing Anheuser-Busch InBev would need to acquire its closest rival, SABMiller, the Wall Street Journal reported, in a deal that would unite the two biggest brewers in the world. Renewed talk of a merger comes just after Heineken, the world's third-largest brewer, rejected an offer from SABMiller this weekend.

Do you tip hotel housekeepers?

Mon, 2014-09-15 06:59

Checking out of a Marriott hotel this week? For the first time, you might see an envelope inviting you to leave a tip for the housekeeper. The company is adding the envelopes to 160,000 rooms in the U.S. and Canada to remind guests that even though they might not see the person who cleans their room, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t tip. 

“I think they want someone to know that the room isn’t cleaned by Rosie the robot,” says Henry Harteveldt, the founder of the travel research company Atmosphere Research Group. “There is a human who is working there.”

The program, called "The Envelope Please," launched in partnership with the nonprofit "A Woman's Nation," run by Maria Shriver, a journalist and the former first lady of California.

Hartevelt says some hotels already encourage tipping with a small sign in the room or include it as a fee on the bill.

“It’s a more widespread practice outside the United States, akin to how restaurants, for example, will include a service charge of 10 percent or more on the bill when you dine there,” he explains.

“Particularly for domestic travelers, that idea that you should leave some sort of a tip is something not many people consider,” says Doug Stallings, a senior editor at Fodor’s Travel.

Stallings recommends leaving a few dollars on the pillow each morning, since the same person may not clean the room during the entire length of a stay. He’s in favor of Marriott’s move, provided the hotel doesn’t base future wage rates on the fact that workers will be earning tips.

Typically, housekeepers and maids in this industry make about $9.20 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, critics argue that if Marriott was really concerned about how much their housekeepers are making, it could simply give them a raise.

“It’s [Marriott’s] responsibility to pay their workers enough so that tips aren't necessary,” Barbara Ehrenreich told the Associated Press. She worked in various low-paying jobs for her book called “Nickel and Dimed."


Navigating a data driven education

Mon, 2014-09-15 03:08

Meet the most measured, monitored and data-mined students in the history of education.

Your children.

From the time they get on the school bus, until they close their laptops at night, there’s a good chance data are being collected on their whereabouts, their learning patterns, their classroom behavior, what they eat for lunch, the websites they browse on their school computers, and maybe even the amount of sleep they get.

It’s all part of what we’re calling The Quantified Student.

Schools have always gathered basic data on kids—attendance, grades, disciplinary actions—but now that those records are digital, a school can better spot trends and patterns. 

Most states also gather student data in what are known as state longitudinal data systems, with the underlying theory that "better decisions require better information.

There are no laws requiring that states publish a list of the types of data they collect on students, and it can be hard information to track down.  Marketplace has put together a list of data nearly every state collects. 

One of the main reasons for this student data grab is the belief that the more educators know about how a child learns, the better learner he can be.  The more you know who is struggling with which part of the lesson, the better you can tailor an education to that child.

If you've been around a school in the last few years, it's likely you've heard the buzzwords associated with the data-driven classroom: individualized learning, personalized learning, differentiated learning

They’re all based on data. And in some schools, millions of pieces of data are being collected on individual children every week.

Parents may know  little about what is being collected, or how it is being used.

A lot of  student data collection is baked into the way schools run. Student data management services like Pearson PowerSchool gather data on 13 million kids every year. Learning software programs can gather millions of points of data on how a child learns in a single day.

There are laws that allow parents to set some limits on what student data is collected and who can see it.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) limits how school records can be shared.  It also gives parents the right to request a record of their child's data and to opt-out of some data sharing.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) limits the data that can be collected online from children under the age of 13. 

The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) requires parental consent before minors participate in some school surveys. 

States have also passed their own laws to safeguard student data.

But, privacy experts say there's still a whole lot more work to do--to make sure student data doesn't fall into the wrong hands or get gobbled up by marketers and other parties interested in targeting kids with products and services.

If we've learned anything over the last few months, between the NSA revelations and the massive retailer data breaches, it's that our personal information may not be as private as we'd like to believe.

To embed the "State by state guide to student data collection" widget, paste the following code into your page.
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Student data privacy laws around the nation

In 2014, many states considered or passed new legislation protecting student data. You can see which states responded to which issues by clicking on the icons below. You can also click on each state for more details about its laws.

Cloud-computing restrictionsStates which have passed or considered legislation restricting cloud-computing services and vendors.

Limits marketing to studentsStates which have passed or considered legislation restricting the use of student data for marketing

Limits data sharingStates which have passed or considered legislation restricting how student data is shared.

Increases transparencyStates which have passed or considered legislation making the data-collection process more transparent.

Limits data collectionStates which have passed or considered legislation limiting the kind of information that schools and agencies can collect.

Reset view



  • States with new privacy laws
  • States with legislation introduced in 2014
  • States where legislation was defeated
  • States which rely solely on federal laws
  • New laws or legislation restricting cloud-computing services and vendors.
  • New laws or legislation restricting the use of student data for marketing
  • New laws or legislation restricting how student data is shared.
  • New laws or legislation making the data-collection process more transparent.
  • New laws or legislation limiting the kind of information that schools and agencies can collect.

Sources: Marketplace research and Data Quality Campaign data

var icons = [] var cloudicon = '' var marketingicon = '' var sharingicon = '' var transparencyicon = '' var collectionicon = '' var stateData2 = [] var law = document.getElementById('law'); var bill = document.getElementById('bill'); var billinfo = document.getElementById('billinfo'); var statespan = document.getElementById('state'); sorting(dandata, "cloud") var clouddata = syncData(dandata,statesData); sorting(dandata, 'collection') var collectiondata = syncData(dandata,statesData) sorting(dandata, 'sharing') var sharedata = syncData(dandata,statesData) sorting(dandata, 'transparency') var transparencydata = syncData(dandata,statesData) sorting(dandata, 'marketing') var marketingdata = syncData(dandata,statesData) //function to sort JSON object by filters function sorting(json_object, key_to_sort_by) { function sortByKey(a, b) { var x = a[key_to_sort_by]; var y = b[key_to_sort_by]; return ((x < y) ? -1 : ((x > y) ? 1 : 0)); } json_object.sort(sortByKey); } //displays description of each bill function billPanel(state){ var i = 0; var firstlaw = true; var firstbill = true; law.innerHTML = ""; bill.innerHTML = ""; = "hidden" while(databills[i].State != state){ i++ } if(databills[i].State != null){ statespan.innerHTML = '

' + databills[i].State + '

'; do{ if(databills[i].billlaw == "law"){ if (firstlaw){ law.innerHTML = '

' + "Laws:" + '

'; firstlaw = false } law.innerHTML += '

' + databills[i].BillNumber + '

' + databills[i].Summary + '
' + '

' + databills[i].Status + ", " + databills[i].Date + '

'; = "visible"; }else if (databills[i].billlaw == ""){ if (firstbill){ bill.innerHTML = '

' + "Bills:" + '

' + "This state considered legislation at some point in its 2014 legislative session. The bill, or bills, were neither passed nor voted down. Many states are near the conclusion of their legislative year, but some of these bills could still be passed. Many states considered multiple bills. The types of issues that the legislation addressed are described by the icons accompanying each state on the map." + '

' + "To read the legislation in full, click on each bill‘s number." + '

'; firstbill = false } bill.innerHTML += '

' + databills[i].BillNumber + '

' + '' + '

' + databills[i].Status + '

'; = "visible"; }else if(databills[i].billlaw == "dead"){ if (firstbill){ bill.innerHTML = '

' + "Bills:" + '

' + "Legislation was considered in this state, but was voted down. To read the rejected legislation in full, click on each bill’s number." + '

'; firstbill = false } bill.innerHTML += '

' + databills[i].BillNumber + '

' + '' + '

' + databills[i].Status + '

'; = "visible"; }else{ law.innerHTML += '

' + "This state follows federal laws governing student data. The two main student data laws are the Federal Education Rights Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Children‘s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA)." + '

' + "FERPA limits how, and with whom, a student‘s educational records are shared. It also gives parents the right to look at their child‘s records."+ '

' + "COPPA limits the data a company can collect online from a child under the age of 13, and would be the main source of restrictions for any company that receives student data." + '

' + "A bill was introduced in Congress in July to update FERPA with new restrictions on using student data for marketing, a mandate for more transparency on what data is being collected, and new requirements for data security." + '

' } i++ } while (databills[i].State == state) } } var buttonpushed; //create the map if(parseInt(window.innerWidth) < 786){ var zoom = 3 }else{ var zoom = 4 } var map ='map').setView([39.8, -97], zoom); L.tileLayer('https://{s}{z}/{x}/{y}.png', { attribution: 'Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA, Imagery © Mapbox', maxZoom: 13 }).addTo(map); map.scrollWheelZoom.disable(); // control that shows state info on hover var info = L.control(); info.onAdd = function (map) { this._div = L.DomUtil.create('div', 'info upright'); var emptystate = " " var emptyicons = [] this.update(emptystate, emptyicons); return this._div; }; info.update = function (state, icons) { this._div.innerHTML = '' + state + '' + '
' + icons[0] + " " + icons[1] + " " + icons[2] + " " + icons[3] + " " + icons[4]; }; info.addTo(map); function filter(criterion) { buttonpushed = criterion if (criterion == 'cloud'){ stateData2 = clouddata }else if (criterion == 'collection'){ stateData2 = collectiondata }else if (criterion == 'sharing'){ stateData2 = sharedata }else if (criterion == 'marketing'){ stateData2 = marketingdata }else{ stateData2 = transparencydata } map.removeLayer(geojson) geojson = L.geoJson(stateData2, { style: restyle, onEachFeature: onEachFeature }).addTo(map); } function reset(){ map.removeLayer(geojson) geojson = L.geoJson(statesData, { style: style, onEachFeature: onEachFeature }).addTo(map); } //puts map geographical data in same order as map information data function syncData(dandata, statedata){ var newlist = [] for(i=0; i < dandata.length; i++){ var x = 0 while(statedata.features[x] != dandata[i].State){ x++ } newlist.push(statedata.features[x]) } return newlist; } // get colors from JSON data function getColor(d) { var i = 0; while (d != dandata[i].State){ i++ } return dandata[i].fill; } //new state colors for filter buttons function reColor(d) { var i = 0; while (d != dandata[i].State){ i++ } if(buttonpushed == "cloud"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].cloud }else if(buttonpushed == "collection"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].datacollection }else if(buttonpushed == "sharing"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].datasharing }else if(buttonpushed == "marketing"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].marketing }else{ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].transparency } var fill = dandata[i].fill; if (fieldvalue == "x"){ return dandata[i].fill; }else{ return "#6B6B73"; } } function getLineColor(d){ var i = 0; while (d != dandata[i].State){ i++ } if(buttonpushed == "cloud"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].cloud }else if(buttonpushed == "collection"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].datacollection }else if(buttonpushed == "sharing"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].datasharing }else if(buttonpushed == "marketing"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].marketing }else{ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].transparency } if(fieldvalue != "x"){ return "white"; }else{ return "yellow"; } } function setWeight(d){ var i = 0; while (d != dandata[i].State){ i++ } if(buttonpushed == "cloud"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].cloud }else if(buttonpushed == "collection"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].datacollection }else if(buttonpushed == "sharing"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].datasharing }else if(buttonpushed == "marketing"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].marketing }else{ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].transparency } if(fieldvalue != "x"){ return 2; }else{ return 4; } } function setDash(d){ var i = 0; while (d != dandata[i].State){ i++ } if(buttonpushed == "cloud"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].cloud }else if(buttonpushed == "collection"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].datacollection }else if(buttonpushed == "sharing"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].datasharing }else if(buttonpushed == "marketing"){ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].marketing }else{ var fieldvalue = dandata[i].transparency } if(fieldvalue != "x"){ return '3'; }else{ return ''; } } function style(feature) { return { weight: 2, opacity: 1, color: 'white', dashArray: '3', fillOpacity: 0.6, fillColor: getColor( }; } function restyle(feature) { return { weight: setWeight(, opacity: 1, color: getLineColor(, dashArray: setDash(, fillOpacity: 0.9, fillColor: reColor(, }; } function highlightFeature(e) { icons = [] var layer =; var panel = document.getElementsByClassName("upright"); if ( != null){ panel[0].style.visibility = "visible"; layer.setStyle({ weight: 5, color: 'yellow', dashArray: '', fillOpacity: 0.7 }); displayIcons(e) } function displayIcons(e){ var i = 0; while ( != dandata[i].State){ i++ } if (! && !L.Browser.opera) { layer.bringToFront(); } if(dandata[i].cloud == "x"){ icons.push(cloudicon) }else{ icons.push(" ") } if(dandata[i].marketing == "x"){ icons.push(marketingicon) }else{ icons.push(" ") } if(dandata[i].datasharing == "x"){ icons.push(sharingicon) }else{ icons.push(" ") } if(dandata[i].transparency == "x"){ icons.push(transparencyicon) }else{ icons.push(" ") } if(dandata[i].datacollection == "x"){ icons.push(collectionicon) }else{ icons.push(" ") } info.update(dandata[i].State,icons ); } } function displayInfo(e) { document.getElementById("billinfo").style.display="block"; var layer =; var i = 0; while ( != dandata[i].State){ i++ } billPanel(dandata[i].State); displayIcons(e) } var geojson; function resetHighlight(e) { geojson.resetStyle(; var panel = document.getElementsByClassName("upright"); panel[0].style.visibility = "hidden"; info.update(); } function zoomToFeature(e) { map.fitBounds(; } function onEachFeature(feature, layer) { layer.on({ mouseover: highlightFeature, mouseout: resetHighlight, click: displayInfo }); } geojson = L.geoJson(statesData, { style: style, onEachFeature: onEachFeature }).addTo(map); map.attributionControl.addAttribution('Population data © US Census Bureau'); var legend = L.control({position: 'bottomright'}); legend.onAdd = function (map) { var div = L.DomUtil.create('div', 'info legend'), labels = []; // labels.push(' ' + "Bill"); // labels.push(' ' + "Bill Defeated"); // labels.push(' ' + "State Law"); // labels.push(' ' + "Federal Law"); div.innerHTML = labels.join('
'); return div; }; legend.addTo(map); document.getElementById("billinfo").style.display="none"; function closeModal() { document.getElementById("billinfo").style.display="none"; // document.getElementById("state").style.visibility="hidden"; // document.getElementById("bill").style.visibility="hidden"; // document.getElementById("law").style.visibility="hidden"; // document.getElementById("statecontent").style.visibility="hidden"; }

PODCAST: Tip your hotel workers

Mon, 2014-09-15 03:00

Federal Reserve policymakers won't raise interest rates at their meeting this week, but they may offer clues about when. More on that. Plus, if you are checking out of a Marriott hotel this week, you might see for the first time an envelope inviting you to leave a tip for the housekeeper. The company is adding the envelopes to 160,000 rooms in the US and Canada to remind guests that even though they might not see the person who cleans their room, that doesn't mean they shouldn't tip. And about 10 minutes after many of us threw out our entire collections of vinyl records, the digital generation went out and bought a turnable. We look into the rise in popularity of the vinyl record.

On pins and needles for the next words from the Fed

Mon, 2014-09-15 02:00

Federal Reserve watchers are obsessed with two words right now: “considerable time.” 

That’s how long the Fed says it'll hold interest rates near zero after next month, when it stops pumping money into the economy by buying bonds.    

The Fed holds a meeting this week. Now, everybody's wondering, what’s next? An immediate increase in interest rates?

“No,” says Jonathan Lewis, chief investment officer of Samson Capital Advisors. “I would say the economy has strengthened and so therefore that’s why they might change their language. They’ve got good reason to change the language. But not good reason to act.”

OK, so what does the Fed say after its meeting? It has to pick its words carefully. 

“So, this is the trick that they really have to pull off," says Kevin Logan, chief US economist at HSBC Bank. "How to change their language without creating the impression that they’re likely to raise rates sooner.”

Because no one expects an interest rate hike until the middle of next year.

Any words to the contrary from the Fed would spook the financial markets, and nobody wants that.