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Whither Europe on emissions?

Tue, 2014-01-28 12:48

Is Europe blowing hot and cold over climate change?

The European Union has been in the forefront of the campaign against global warming, but its latest climate plan has been attacked for being much weaker than it should be. Some scientists say that by 2030, the world must cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent of 1990 levels if it is to avert a catastrophe. Europe is proposing a 40 percent cut instead.

"Although it’s better than doing nothing at all, it’s not an awful lot better,” says Dr. Doug Parr of Greenpeace,”The leadership that Europe has displayed up to now is slipping back."

Other campaigners are concerned about Europe’s new target for renewable energy use. It commits the EU to producing around a quarter of its energy from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2030. But the target is for Europe as a whole, and is not binding for each of the 28 individual member states. 

"Some member states will be more virtuous, and some will be less virtuous," says Monica Frassoni of the European Alliance to Save Energy. She believes the member states will bicker over this commitment, the target will be hard to enforce, and that won’t encourage companies to invest and innovate.

"The combined effect will be much less development and research of technologies on energy efficiency and renewables," says Frassoni.

The European Commissioner for Climate Action defended her targets. Connie Hedegaard said that in these tough economic times ,the Europeans would have rejected a more stringent and ambitious plan. She pointed out that Europe still leads the world in climate action, lamenting the fact that other big economies had not followed Europe’s example by adopting emissions targets.

"That should be telling the Europeans something," argues James Sproule of Britain’s Institute of Directors.He says no one else wants to sacrifice economic growth in the name of saving the planet. And he says the new, softer targets are a sign that Europe’s enthusiasm for climate action is also waning.

What the NSA can learn from Angry Birds

Tue, 2014-01-28 12:30

The NSA has been reportedly snooping into the data collected by mobile apps. What does Angry Birds know that the NSA doesn’t? 

Well, in general, here is what your gaming app knows about you:

LEVEL 1: Whether you suck at the game. 

"It’ll see that you’re getting stuck in a particular part of the game, or a place where most people are getting stuck," says Kelly McIvor with the mobile fundraising service TapFunder.   

That kind of internal analytic can be kept within the publisher’s purview, and used to improve the game. 

ULTRA LEVEL 2:  Your location.  

Some apps may ask for information that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the game – like your GPS location.  This, again, can be kept in house and used for marketing.

"They want to know, 'Is this game really being played a lot in North America, versus Asia, versus wherever,'" explains Amal Graafstra, Director of Awesome at AtomicMobile.

SUPER MEGA LEVEL 3: Your Social Media profile.

"By granting a game app access to your Facebook profile, you tell people where you are, what your birthday is, who your friends are, the cities you live and vacation in," says Will Riegel, a marketing and advertising consultant.   

When you start letting your game access your Facebook profile (or Google+, or Pinterest, or any other social network), perhaps for the ostensible purpose of posting about your score, then the data really starts pouring in. 

And don’t forget that with some apps – perhaps not games as much, but some mobile apps – there’s plenty of information that you tell the app yourself when you register.   

"Sexual orientation or relationship status," says Riegel. Think Grindr or OkCupid.

Add to this the information associated with your phone’s browsing habits, and you’ve got a ton of information.

IS IT SHARED?

Some apps share, some don’t. But the more there is, the more lucrative it is to share it. 

"There are some companies that make money as brokers,” says Graafstra. A game maker may have no reason to gather GPS data, but "along comes this other company and says if you add GPS coordinates to your app and periodically report those to us, we can pay you for that data." 

On the other end of the spectrum, information can also be shared in an aggregated way (no individual identifiers) to ad networks.

 IS IT ANONYMOUS?

Usually, it is uniquely identifiable but not personally identifiable.  As in, it could be traced to a particular phone or a “user 5013820” but not “James Jones, 35, New York based circus performer and socialite."

But not everyone is convinced of that.  

"Anonymization gets difficult once you start coupling a lot of disparate data sets," says Nathan Eagle, CEO of Jana, a mobile technology platform that connects global brands with emerging market consumers.

"There’s not anything guaranteeing that all this data is anonymized," says AtomicMobile’s Graafstra. "I would bet apps that collect this data nefariously do so with the highest degree of accuracy, because that’s where the more value lies."

Basically, the data is more valuable when it’s not anonymized. 

WHAT’S IT USED FOR?

"It’s used for one purpose and one purpose only – to increase the probability that you click on that banner ad," says Eagle. 

Unless, of course, you’re the NSA and you’re hacking into app servers to get this data.  Then, well, you have other purposes. 

[<a href="//storify.com/Marketplace/why-does-the-nsa-collect-info-on-angry-birds" target="_blank">View the story "Why does the NSA collect info on Angry Birds?" on Storify</a>]

No more Sunday ad supplements -- unless you subscribe

Tue, 2014-01-28 12:25

Time for another installment in the ongoing drama:  The Death of Print. 

For decades, many newspapers have been delivering their Sunday ad supplements to everybody in their circulation area—even non-subscribers.  The Chicago Tribune is about to end that practice.  

Once upon a time, sending the Sunday ads to everybody used to be great for advertisers, says Owen Youngman.  He teaches digital strategy at the Medill School of Journalism, and he ran the Tribune's interactive side in the 1990s. 

"It was the best way to make sure that every household in Chicago knew what the price of lettuce was going to be this week," he says.

That was then.

"Now, thanks to Google and other technology, we’re in a world where, instead of one audience of 3 million, which the Tribune might have served with its million copies, it's now 3 million audiences of one," he says.

Interesting bit of history:  This practice—blanketing the whole ciruculation area with the ad supplement—was actually an early innovation in using databases to target audiences. 

In this case, the trick was getting the database to identify which households were subscribers and which weren’t.  That way, a newspaper could promise advertisers they weren’t paying to hit the same household twice.

That data has only gotten more refined, says Randy Novak, an executive with NSA Media, a company that sells ads in local papers to national advertisers.  

It’s not a million copies of the same ad that are getting distributed, he says.  Actually, it goes down to the ZIP code-- and sometimes to smaller areas than that.

"So, if I'm a grocer," says Novak, "and I've got a location with three, four, five competitors out there, then one way I can try to drive traffic is by being very competitive on the price of milk."  

In other words, cut the price just at that location.  And target the ad to people who live right by that location.

Another surprise:  The Tribune actually has a new print product that’s a hit. And Novak thinks its success has to do with why this blanket delivery is going away. 

That print product? The Sunday ads.  People actually sign up to subscribe to them. They don’t want the day-old news cluttering up their doorstep, but the ads are still a draw.

"Studies show that people still want to look at the ads in print," says Novak. "They still want to do their comparison shopping."

In this way, readers are catching up with the way advertisers have always looked at newspapers.

"As news consumers, we look at the newspaper as editorial product," Novak says. "It's really a distribution vehicle, and if you think about it, they have the people going out at five in the morning anyway."

So why not use that infrastructure, he says, "and continue delivering ads even if we can't deliver the news?"

$10.10: Just a nice even number?

Tue, 2014-01-28 12:25

It was just last year's State of the Union, when President Obama offered up this plan: “Let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour.”  

Now, he wants $10.10.  A number from where?

The short answer is, from a plan by two democrats, Senator Tom Harkin and Representative George Miller. “It's going to lift the family of three with one worker above the poverty line,” says Julia Krahe, a spokesperson for Miller. She says $10.10 will help restore the value the minimum wage has lost since its peak in the 1960s. And, it's in-line with past increases.

“This is the number that was settled at that got at the three big things we wanted to do,” says Krahe. It’s also “a nice easy number to repeat.” Way better than $10.09. Or $9.97.

According to Demos, a progressive policy group, hundreds of thousands of federal contract workers currently make less than $10.10. “They are people cleaning the floor in federal buildings, people taking care of the grounds of these buildings,” says Amy Traub, a Demos analyst.

“It shows just how dependent the federal government is on contractors,” says David Van Slyke, a professor of business and government policy at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. He says, especially since the 1980s, the government has done more and more contracting for all sorts of labor.

 Jobs that will soon pay at least $10.10 an hour.

 

Why no women in the story on Silicon Valley fashion?

Tue, 2014-01-28 12:13

We've gotten a ton of response as to why we didn't include any women in my piece about the unwritten dress code in Silicon Valley. First off, I want to say it was my bad not to address women in the story.

<br /> [<a href="//storify.com/Marketplace/ok-but-what-do-women-wear-in-silicon-valley" target="_blank">View the story "...OK, so what do women wear in Silicon Valley?" on Storify</a>]

 

In fact, I approached quite a few of them during my reporting. However, I didn't see a dress code among women and none of them could articulate one. Perhaps it exists? But the women I approached said it wasn't as obvious as it was with the men. 

I've actually done a few stories about the issue of women and the male-dominated culture of Silicon Valley (Why aren't more women on tech boards?Why one company wants to hire more women in techHey brogrammer, let's crush some code), and my New Year's resolution was to try and be more conscious of this issue in several ways. The challenge is that tech is dominated by men. And when you work under tight deadlines, you sometimes end up calling the people who are already on your source list -- mostly men -- and the people noted as experts by the media -- again, mostly men.

That sounds like an excuse, right? In a way, it is.

Culture doesn't change without people going above-and-beyond. So thanks for calling me out on it and pushing me to go beyond.

(Also, email me if you're a woman in tech and an expert in a field!)

PODCAST: White House to raise minimum wage for federal contracts

Tue, 2014-01-28 07:53

Tonight, President Obama delivers his State of the Union address. Income inequality is something the president has said he wants to tackle this year, but he has also acknowledged it is unlikely he is going to get much support from congress on anything.  So, what are President Obama’s options?

Next time you take out your smart phone for a game of Angry Birds or to check Facebook, there's a chance someone's watching you. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden show that the NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters could be tracking data from some mobile apps

Silicon Valley, of course, is known for its casual dress, which means t-shirts, jeans and sneakers. But don't be fooled, techies care a lot more about fashion than they let on. Or put another way, there’s a lot of code in the Silicon Valley dress code.

60 million people will get new Google Glass frames covered by insurance

Tue, 2014-01-28 07:38

It’s a big day for Google Glass.

The tech giant has announced a deal with VSP, the country’s largest optic health insurance provider to cover frames for Google Glass. The company also unveiled a new product line of frames hoping to tone down that tech-geek look that the current frameless headset has right now.

Forrester Research Vice President J.P. Gownder says it helps to team up with an outfit like VSP when you market something that looks like a Star Trek leftover.

“It really increases the credibility of Google Glass. Google Glass compatible lens will be sold probably at many opticians who carry VSP,” he says.

That’s some 30,000 opticians nationwide. VSP also ensures more than 60 million consumers, and in this new arrangement will give its patients about $120 off the price of frames.

The computer part of the glasses though will still run north of $1,000 dollars.

“It’s still a lot for something that I don’t think your average consumer will see as a necessity," says Carolina Milanesi with Kantar ComTech.

She says to succeed, Google Glass must overcome privacy concerns and simple strangeness. “In particular something that is maybe a little bit more intrusive, more in your face, excuse the pun,” she says.

Google hopes disguising the product with fashionable titanium steel eyewear will make it easier to ignore that minicomputer attached your head. 

U.S. Olympic Ski Team 'lives high, trains low'

Tue, 2014-01-28 07:13

Have you ever heard the phrase “live high, train low”? It’s part of the strategy employed by a U.S. Olympic Ski Team about to head to Sochi for the games. The idea is to acclimate the body to an altitude with less oxygen, which can boost performance. Today, on the second conversation in our sports and tech series "Gaming the System," Marketplace Tech talks with Jim Stray-Gundersen, who advises Team USA and pumps nitrogen into athletes’ bedrooms so they can live high and train low. Click the audio player above to listen to the interview.

Study links DDT exposure to Alzheimer's disease

Tue, 2014-01-28 06:33

There is a link between exposure to the pesticide DDT and Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study published in JAMA Neurology. Eighty percent of Alzheimer's patients involved in the study had evidence of exposure to DDT. DDT was a widely used pesticide in the U.S. for over 30 years before it was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1972.

"In our study, we found that of the patients that we sampled had on average about four times the level of DDE [a compound created when DDT breaks down] in their blood, and this was associated with about a fourfold increase in risk for being diagnosed with Alzheimer's," says Dr. Jason Richardson, the lead author of the new study. "We have to be very cautious with this. Studies like this can't really tell you about the cause of the Alzheimer's."

To hear more of Lizzie O'Leary's interview with Dr. Jason Richardson, click the audio player above.

 

Does the government like what you're up to on Facebook?

Tue, 2014-01-28 06:04

Next time you take out your smart phone for a game of Angry Birds or to check Facebook, there's a chance someone's watching you. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden and reported on by The New York Times, the Guardian, and Pro Publica show that the NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters could be tracking data from some mobile apps. To hear the story from the BBC's  security correspondent Gordon Corera, click the audio player above.

Silicon Valley has a dress code? You better believe it

Tue, 2014-01-28 05:40

Silicon Valley, of course, is known for its casual dress, which means t-shirts, jeans and sneakers. But don't be fooled, techies care a lot more about fashion than they let on. Or put another way, there’s a lot of code in the Silicon Valley dress code.

In fact, engineer Alexey Komissarouk boasted he could tell if people were in tech and what they did by just looking at their dress. I met him a few months ago at the FWD.us hackathon and I asked him to show me his super power. He agreed and we met in downtown Palo Alto.

Before we got started, Komissarouk explained that the Silicon Valley is full of tribes: there are the engineers, designers, product managers, salespeople, entrepreneurs and VCs. And each tribe has its uniform. 

The engineers? T-shirts, jeans and hoodies, of course.

“Hoodie signals young talent,” said Dan Woods, a techie we stopped on the street.  

Woods walked by us and Komissarouk nudged me and said, “That guy, he’s a VC.”

The tip off? A zippered v-neck sweater.

“That’s like classic VC and then you got the button down underneath it, that’s like the classic uniform,” Komissarouk said.

We stopped Woods and asked him. Turns out, he did work in venture capital, which is about when he got the sweater.

Turns out the uniform is a long time tradition in tech, says Erik Schnakenberg, a co-founder of Buck Mason, a start-up that sells men's clothing online. 

"I wear a pair of jeans and a black t-shirt almost everyday," Schnakenberg said. "It's one less thing to think about."

In the fast-moving world of tec, the idea is to show that your'e not wasting precious time on something as vain as fashion. Schnakenberg  says the uniform hasn't changed much but tech is attracting a lot more of the cool kids and they care about fashion.

After my lesson with Komissarouk, I went to South Park in San Francisco, a techie hub, and put myself to the test. I tried to guess what people did from the way they were dressed. Let's see if you can guess if the following men are: 

A) Engineers

B) Designers

C) Entrepreneurs

D) Product Manager/Biz

*Dan Romero

Judging from the hoodie and t-shirt, I pegged Dan as a programmer. The kicks made me think that maybe he could be a designer? I was wrong on both fronts, Dan is in sales at a start-up. But turns out, he meant to confuse me. Dan says he consciously dresses like an engineer to fit in and to win the trust of engineers. 

Pedro Jimenez

The professional but hip collared shirt and the stylish leather kicks made me think entrepreneur. Turns out I was right! In his last job, Pedro said he wore suits but decided to tone it down when he moved to San Francisco to open an office of his transit start-up.

Mark Kawano

This picture doesn't do Mark's outfit justice. He looks like he's wearing a black sweat shirt but it's definately not sports gear, it's designer. His kicks are stylish and his jeans crisp, dark denim. It's the engineer's outfit but with a little more flair and so I pegged him as a designer. Turns out I was right, or at least sort of. Mark is a designer but is also an entrepreneur and just started up his own company. 

Mateo Ortega

 T-shirt but no jeans. Cool hat but basic sneakers. As for the hat? That wasn't part of my lesson! However, the give away, the three wearables he's got on. Engineer!

Alexey Zakharou and Eduardo Perez

By now you can figure out what Alexey does, right? The hoodie, the jeans and sneakers. Eduardo was harder to figure out. He's got the button down but also the t-shirt. But the loafers? Turns out Eduardo is an engineer but said, "he doesn't like the uniform" and so intentionally chooses to dress differently from his team. 

* CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, we misspelled the last name of Dan Romero.  The text has been corrected.

As U.S. freezes, prices soar for natural gas

Tue, 2014-01-28 05:25

In parts of the Midwest, propane is double the usual price. Sam Sparks, who owns Miller Brothers Propane in Dewey Oklahoma, says his customers are getting hit by a double whammy:  They need more -- to combat super-low temperatures -- as prices are spiking.

“When they’re looking at four-dollar-a-gallon propane, that kind of takes their breath away,” he says.

He says he’s actually selling to them for less than his current wholesale price. And he’s advising them to just buy enough to get them over the hump, till prices come down again.  

He hopes. “I hope I’m not giving my customers bad advice,” he says.

Delivering smaller loads means extra work for his drivers, who cover a 50-mile radius. “Normally, we don’t like to run out and deliver just a hundred gallons,” he says. Three or four hundred is more the norm.

But making the extra runs to customers helps them out -- and it beats the alternative for him: Having to go out and refill his own supply when wholesale prices are so high.

“The trick for us is to try not to get our tanks full of this high-priced propane,” he says. 

The Propane Education and Research Council, an industry group, says there’s plenty of supply -- it’s just in the wrong places right now.

But there aren’t pipelines to run that surplus to the shortage areas, and the alternatives are pricey. “It costs a great deal of money to run propane in an over-the-road truck from one region of the country to another,” says the group’s president, Roy Willis.

A similar problem lies behind the super-high natural gas in the Northeast. Spot prices there -- the same-day price on the wholesale market -- have gone 18 times higher than in the Midwest, even though lots of gas is coming from the Marcellus Shale region in nearby Pennsylvania. 

“It’s not far away, but it’s not connected,” says Angelina LaRose, from the U.S. Energy Information Agency. 

She means that there aren’t enough pipelines connecting the Marcellus to the East Coast. 

Also, there’s no storage, says Jack Weixel, director of energy analysis at Bentek Energy. “There are no natural gas storage caverns east of the Hudson River,” he says. “Everyone on that side is effectively limited by what pipelines can carry to that market area.”

Getting 40 percent of the world's economy on the same page

Tue, 2014-01-28 05:15

If you haven’t heard of it yet, you’re likely to hear President Obama mention the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, in his State of the Union address tonight. Getting this global trade agreement signed is a big deal for the president, and an important part of his pivot to Asia. It covers 12 Asia-Pacific countries and 40 percent of the world’s economy.

But if you thought the fight over the North American Free Trade Agreement was bad 20 years ago, this one could be worse.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership has been called NAFTA on steroids. And NAFTA was already pretty brawny back in the day. So were the debates it produced.

“I think it’s going to be as challenging, or perhaps even more,” says Mireya Solis, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. She thinks the U.S. stands to gain a lot from the TPP, but she says, “NAFTA left deep scars in this country. You know, American trade politics were very much influenced by the NAFTA debate.”

The TPP pushes more than traditional hot button trade issues like labor and outsourcing. NAFTA didn’t really touch the internet. The TPP does. And during NAFTA, you didn’t have Wikileaks publishing drafts from closed-door talks, particularly on intellectual property.

Maira Sutton is with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She worries copyright protections in the TPP would empower internet service providers, “to police users’ internet activities. So therefore they could block or filter or even spy on users’ activities to supposedly enforce copyright,” she says.

The intellectual property leak, among others, also helped mobilize groups like Doctors Without Borders around patent protection. 

“Many of the generics that we currently use for the treatment of infectious diseases come in fact from Asia,” says Judit Rius, who is with the group’s access campaign, adding that the TPP would make it easier to extend pharmaceutical patents, decreasing access to cheaper generic drugs. Many generics come from India, which isn’t in the TPP now. But Rius says an agreement this big would create global norms for intellectual property.

“So the goal is not only to change the laws on the 12 countries that are negotiating, but really to change the laws in the whole Asia-Pacific region,” she says.

We don’t know what will be in the final text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But Brookings scholar Mireya Solis sees another hurdle that didn’t exist for NAFTA: Tea Party Republicans who like trade expansion, but don’t want to give the president discretion to shape it.

The president's options, without Congressional help

Tue, 2014-01-28 04:58

Tonight, President Obama delivers his State of the Union address. Income inequality is something the president has said he wants to tackle this year, but he has also acknowledged it is unlikely he is going to get much support from congress on anything.  So, what are President Obama’s options?

He couldn’t raise the minimum wage on his own, but Heather McGhee, who runs a liberal think tank called Demos, says the president is not powerless.

“He is, right, now, as the chief executive, the biggest boss of low-wage workers in the country,” McGhee explains. She is talking about federal contractors, and McGhee says President Obama could use an executive order to improve their pay.

Researchers like David Grusky, the director of Stanford University’s Center on Policy and Inequality, argue education is a way to level the playing field. He says the president wouldn’t need Congress to create a new scholarship program, “simply identifying these poor kids who have tremendous capacity and talent.”

Jared Bernstein, with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says the president would make greater strides with congress, but “with zero cooperation, it is much harder.”

He says another suggestion is “a rule change that the president could implement without congress that would significantly increase the number of people eligible for overtime pay.”

That would affect low-and-middle income workers who make a salary but aren’t automatically eligible for overtime.

The NSA loves Angry Birds

Mon, 2014-01-27 16:51

Courtesy of the New York Times, the Guardian, and, of course, Edward Snowden, we learned today that the National Security Agency really loves smart phones. There's a huge amount of personal data in some of them -- Google maps, for instance, which tells them about travel, location all of that.

But also on the list of apps they are interested in: Angry Birds.

What do they learn from Angry Birds? Seriously, somebody write and tell me.

If adults use their phones more than teens, then who's "addicted"?

Mon, 2014-01-27 16:30

According to the Pew Research Center on Technology and American Life, 91 percent of adults report owning a mobile phone compared to just 78 percent of teens. Not only that, the cell phones warming the pockets of adults are smarter and more high tech than the ones owned by teenagers like me.

What does it mean for all these mature people flush with technology? Well, according to a lot of young people I spoke with, teens are no longer the most “phone addicted” people in the house. Parents are.

When I interviewed my father, Jose Escobar, for this story, we were just seconds into the conversation when his cell phone vibrated with a message. So does he think he’s addicted?

I asked.

 “No,” he answered without pause.

But, when I ask him if he thinks I’m addicted: “Yeah, definitely,” he shot back. “You need to text less and you’re constantly reading what’s on Facebook. You need to take a break.

I think he needs to take a break.

Scott Campbell is a communications professor at the University of Michigan. He studies the way mobile devices affect people. Habit, says Campbell, is not about how much a person uses their cell phone, it’s about intentionality.

“Habit means that you’re not thinking about what you’re doing. That it’s an automatic kind of reaction. I think people use mobile technology in a more reflexive way, and I think this is still one of the reasons why people are still texting and driving when they know it is so dangerous,” Campbell said.

 Texting while driving. That’s what teens do right? Well, a 2012 survey found that adults admit to texting and driving even more than teens.

Jayme Burke is the parent of two boys. When Burke was a kid, she used to argue with her dad to get him to quit smoking, but now Burke says that her kids are on her to give up a different bad habit.

“My younger son will actually say to me, ‘Mom I don’t want you to end up dead,’ because he sees all the ads where they’ll show their very last text and then they’ll show the car crunched and the person dead,” said Burke. 

She says her son’s pleas make her think about how and when she uses her cell phone, but that sometimes, the gravitational pull of her device gets the best of her. Work emails are big part of Burke’s usage. Texting too. Sometimes, she admits, her kids compete for her attention.

“They’ll say look at me in the eye,” said Burke. “Then sometimes I’ll try to text and look at them, or text and take a break and look at them while I’m texting. It’s really awful, actually.”

The only way I could think to convince my own father that he uses the phone more than he thinks he does was to sit him down and take a cold, hard look at the numbers. To find out who was really addicted, I took the average from three months of phone records. It turns out my dad talks twice as much as I do, but I text way more.

The tiebreaker? Data. He used more than me. When I confronted him about the fact that he was on his phone more than me, he was surprised.

“Wow, I wonder why,” he said. Then he got it.

“Oh yeah, because I was watching boxing. Boxing on my phone. That’s probably why I used more.”

And with that, I became the undisputed champion of cellphone self-control.

A high-tech shopping spree: Is Google trying to take over the world?

Mon, 2014-01-27 13:55

Jan. 26, 2014: Google purchases artificial intelligence company DeepMind Technologies for (the rumored price of) $625 million. There’s not much information on what DeepMind is making, but according to The Guardian: "[their] technology would be built into Google's search systems, rather than becoming part of its fast-expanding robotics division. Google has bought eight robotics companies, including Bot & Dolly which made the computer-controlled cameras used in the film 'Gravity.'"

Jan. 13, 2014: Google buys Nest Labs, creators of internet-enabled thermostats and smoke alarms, for $3.2 billion. Though the two companies will remain separate, VentureBeat thinks Google wants to get involved in the "connected home, the notion that all of our appliances and gadgets will soon communicate with one another."

Dec. 10, 2013: Google buys robotics company Boston Dynamics to protect humankind from the inevitable robot uprising, or to help ship packages. You be the judge:

June 11, 2013: Google acquires Waze, a crowdsourced navigation app for smartphones, for $966 million. If you’ve noticed Google Maps better equipped to find a new route because the 405 freeway (or I-95, or the Beltway, or ...) is closed, again, you can thank Waze’s accident and construction reports.

June 4, 2012: Google buys Meebo, an instant messenger service, for $100 million. The service is now closed, and Meebo employees now focus on Google+.

Sep. 8, 2011: Google buys restaurant review company Zagat, for $125 million. The restaurant’s reviews and ratings are now embedded into Google’s search results, Google Maps and Google+ for free.

Aug. 15, 2011: Google purchases cell company Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion. The purchase includes Motorola’s portfolio of patents and phone manufacturing, but Motorola remains an independent company from Google and even pits their own Android smartphone against Google’s phones.

Unrest overseas ripples into U.S. economy

Mon, 2014-01-27 13:49

The bottom fell out of the emerging currency market – relatively speaking. Argentina made headlines, and other countries also had problems including Ukraine and Turkey.

“A lot of economies around the world, countries that were doing pretty good…have been running into some troubles in the last six months to a year,” says Tim Fernholz, a business reporter at Quartz. He says those problems all came to a head late last week.  

In some ways we--or rather, the Federal Reserve-- are to blame. As interest rates here rise, some expect that more and more money will come back to the United States, and to other developed economies. 

“People are worried.. that we're leaving these emerging economies outside without a coat,” Fernholz says.

Fernholz says we’re feeling a ripple effect because some of the biggest corporations in the U.S. – including those on the S&P 500 Stock Index – make half of their revenue from outside U.S. borders: “And if economic problems are happening overseas, their bottom line isn’t’ going to look so good. Their stock numbers are not going to look so good.”

Which is what we saw on Friday.  That tumbling stock market in turn means that things tied to the stock market, like your retirement account, probably also took a fall. 

Is grad school "professional suicide"?

Mon, 2014-01-27 13:10

One of the things people do when economies slowdown: Go back to school. The hope is, they'll pick up training for new skills along with their law degree or doctorate.

But PhD's don't come cheap, and in fact, consultant Karen Kelsky says getting a doctorate can cost you more than its worth. 

She runs a business that is in part about finding jobs for students with doctorates, and she's an anthropology professor herself.

Kelsky says when it comes to fields like engineering or medicine, funding remains strong and pay in the workforce is high. But for "soft sciences," like political science or anthropology, schools are investing less and less to support advanced degrees:

"It starts with the massive defunding of higher education in the United States. Basically, it has become a revenue-driven institution, and so departments and programs that don't generate revenue in the way that the sciences or engineering or business do, find themselves defunded. So, consequently, in the humanities and social sciences, a typical stipend will be about $15,000. Which - almost anywhere - is not enough to get by."

Kelsky says on top of that, many graduates finish school saddled with debt they can never pay off:

"In the humanities and the soft social sciences, debt can go anywhere from $0 to $250,000, and that's for fields like religious studies, sociology, women's studies and things like that."

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