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Those little Intel microchips were famous, somehow

Tue, 2014-08-05 10:10

In the early 2000s, Intel was named the most valuable manufacturing company in the world. 

Michael Malone, author of the book, "The Intel Trinity: How Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore and Andy Grove Built the World’s Most Important Company", told us "at one point, Intel was one of the best known brand names in the world, which is insane if you think about it... this is a company wasn’t selling to consumers, it was selling chips to go onto motherboards, to go into somebody else’s personal computer, to be sold at Costco."

Intel has since been overshadowed by newer tech companies. Malone says techology has become so pervasive, the  microprocessors fueling daily lives are taken for granted.

"For most of the 21st Century, it’s been all about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and apps. And we forget, because we are so used to them now, that all that stuff rests upon hardware," says Malone. "Without the hardware, devices, chips, and especially the microprocessors it all grinds to a halt."

States raise transportation taxes after federal cuts

Tue, 2014-08-05 03:00

On Tuesday, Missouri voters are headed to the ballot booth to decide on whether to increase the state’s sales tax. The additional revenue would be used to fund the maintenance and construction of roads and bridges.

The state of disrepair of the nation’s transportation infrastructure has been a known problem for quite a while now. What isn't known is who's going to pay to fix it.

Phil Oliff, who researches infrastructure issues for the Pew Charitable Trust, says traditionally, “states get a lot of money that they spend on highway and transit infrastructure from the federal government.” Most of that money comes from the Federal Highway Trust Fund, but the fund is running out of money, and Congress has been doling out funding in short-term increments. That's bad news for states, who need more certainty about their financial situation when they commit to long term projects. Many states are taking it upon themseves to raise the money independently.

That could mean tolls on roads and bridges. It could mean borrowing from the bond market. In Missouri, lawmakers are proposing a three-quarter-of-a-cent increase in the sales tax.

Tom Shrout, of the advocacy group Missourians for Better Transportation, says says the tax is unfair to locals.

“Big trucks passing through Missouri, they would be asked to pay nothing while a senior citizen who doesn’t use the roads much will be asked to pay more,” he points out.

As Missourians head to the polls, the Associated Press says nearly a quarter of the states have already instituted similar taxes, fees or fines to pay for infrastructure projects.  

PODCAST: Food stamp transparency

Tue, 2014-08-05 03:00

Last week was a pretty crummy stretch for stocks, and today doesn't look much better. So how is the stock market really doing? Plus, does the public have the right to know how much a retailer takes in through the federal food stamp program, or is it a trade secret? More on that debate. Also, Missouri voters are headed to the polls today to decide whether to increase sales tax. Money raised would be used to fund roads and bridges. We tell you why your state might be next.

Tackling urban blight with a paintbrush

Tue, 2014-08-05 02:00

Terri Still has lived in Camden, New Jersey since she was in second grade. But these days, as she walks around her neighborhood, she tries not to look around her to avoid seeing the blight that surrounds her. 

“It’s depressing seeing it all constantly,” she says. “You try not to think about it.” 

Across the street, Christopher Toepfer pokes around inside an abandoned warehouse. There are stacks of broken palettes and scattered food wrappers, evidence of squatters. The building used to house a porta-potty company, but it’s been vacant for several decades.

“We call [these] ‘abando-miniums’ in the vacant building business,” he says.

But outside, the warehouse is getting a facelift. A small crew is painting the exterior dove grey, covering up years of graffiti. They're employed by Toepfer’s nonprofit, The Neighborhood Foundation, and the warehouse is one of about 40 buildings the Foundation has boarded up and painted in Camden this summer. Across the country, they’ve done about 1,500 similar projects, focusing primarily on residential buildings in 21 different cities.

Local officials who have to deal with large tracts of vacant and abandoned buildings often resort to one of two options: fix 'em up or tear 'em down.

Toepfer represents middle ground. His foundation paints the boarded-up buildings to look as though they have real, working windows and doors. Occasionally the painters even draw plants or pets in the window.

“Sometimes, we even do facades of trees, like silhouettes of trees, to cover graffiti,” he says.

Once an urban area falls into decline, there is a spiral effect. Abandonded houses fall into disrepair and are often used by vagrants or criminals. That depresses the value of occupied homes and makes the neighborhood less desirable. Property values decline, the remaining residents sell up or move out, and landlords find it difficult to rent the housing stock. Those houses fall into disrepair, and the downcycle continues.

The idea is that a makeover, even one that’s just skin deep, can stop this spiral and stabilize a neighborhood. The Neighborhood Foundation charges $500 to paint and secure a house or $2,500 for a larger commercial building. It's a lot cheaper than a renovation, or even a demolition, which could cost $10,000 or $15,000.

It's not just that a paint job can have a beneficial economic effect; it can raise peoples' spirits, too.

I think when they fix things up, it gives people more encouragement,” says Terri Still, the Camden resident. “It makes them want to take pride in where they live.”

Beautification does work, agrees Susan Wachter, a professor of real estate and finance at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “Small investments can have large returns."

It’s a strategy realtors and developers have long used. 

“In the 'burbs, when you’re selling a property that hasn’t been lived in for a while, the first thing the realtor will say is 'mow the lawn',” says Wachter, adding that simple fix can boost property values as much as 20 percent.

 Of course, securing and painting a property isn’t a permanent solution — it’s a Band-Aid, literally plastering over the wounds of a city.

But hopefully, that Band-Aid gives it the chance to heal.

Wannabe tech cities need angel investors, too

Tue, 2014-08-05 02:00

The suburb of San Leandro sits just east of Oakland, California, within striking distance of San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Underneath the city lies a loop of ultrafast fiber optic cable known as Lit San Leandro. Data speeds through these cables about 2,000 times faster than a typical internet hookup. 

The cable exists because of one guy: Pat Kennedy.

Kennedy runs OSIsoft, a company based in San Leandro. A few years ago, he was looking to expand, but he wanted the kind of infrastructure he saw in towns like Palo Alto. So he put down $3 million of his own money to make it happen in his backyard.

“The reason I did it is that I’ve actually been a 40-year resident of San Leandro," Kennedy says.

It became clear to him that industrial cities like his were never going to be top picks for things like broadband or fiber. "We’re really going to suffer as a result,” Kennedy says.

Can broadband speed up the economic of industrial towns? 

San Leandro was already struggling. It used to be a manufacturing town, but those jobs dried up in the '70s and '80s.

At one time, there were more than 20,000 manufacturing jobs in San Leandro. In 2013, fewer than 7,000 of those remained. Industrial-zoned land, much of it now used for storage, makes up nearly a quarter of the city. A 2013 report calls these areas “neither memorable nor particularly pleasant to get around.” 

On the other hand, a presentation by City Manager Chris Zapata calls broadband “a laser cheetah with explosive power accelerating economic growth.”

Deborah Acosta, San Leandro’s new Chief Innovation Officer, frames the issue differently: “How do we re-energize this industrial space to actually become alive again?” Her job is to convince businesses that San Leandro is the place to be.

That starts with the bright red streaks running through her hair. They put people on notice, Acosta says.

“When they see my red hair, they’re going, ‘Holy smokes! Something’s different here, I think I need to pay attention,’” she says. 

Investment in fiber and infrastructure — now at more than $13 million — wouldn’t have happened if Pat Kennedy hadn’t put down that initial money, Acosta says.

Analyst Craig Settles says private investment, like Kennedy's, is one way for cities to get broadband.

“The idea of going to local businesses and saying ‘can you contribute to the network?’ is one of the more viable options, in my book,” Settles says. Local businesspeople have helped get broadband off the ground in places far away from tech centers, like Emporia, Kansas; Fredericton, New Brunswick; Keene, New York.

In San Leandro, Pat Kennedy’s investment has paid off with buzzing and whirring on the second floor of the West Gate shopping mall. The sound comes from 3-D printers, manufactured by Type A Machines.

Based in San Francisco, Type A moved its manufacturing operations to San Leandro earlier this year. They’re currently based above a Sports Authority at the mall, a massive building that was once a Dodge auto plant. If all goes well this year, Type A’s workforce here could more than double, to about 50.

Since San Leandro first installed broadband a couple of years ago, the initiative has created about 90 jobs. But Acosta and Kennedy think they’re on to something. They’re doubling down, and point to half a million square feet of office space going up, with those ultrafast connections.

Call center jobs are coming back to the U.S.

Tue, 2014-08-05 02:00

If you’ve ever called a customer service line, you’ve likely talked to someone in India, the Philippines, or Mexico. Now, some U.S. companies are bringing their call centers home and changing the way they do business.

Have you ever been stuck in a phone tree so long you just lost it and started ranting on Twitter?

“In a call center, somebody’s calling to talk to you. In social media, somebody is talking about you,” says Paul Stockford, research director at the National Association of Call Centers.

Stockford says the industry has been growing in the U.S. since 2008, and more than half of contact centers here now have social media programs.

Kymberlaine Banks is a social media program manager with Telvista, which runs contact centers in Mexico, but also in Texas and Virginia. Her "small but mighty" stateside social media crew monitors the web for complaints. 

“They’re reaching out to people who are saying, ‘You suck, you failed, you whatever,’" she says. "It is not a happy thing.” 

She says social media representatives need more writing and problem-solving skills than people who answer phones. It’s a different skill set because they also respond to positive comments.

“If someone says, ‘I love you,’ we say, ‘We love you, too,’” Banks says.

General Motors brought back a number of customer service jobs from Argentina last year.

Just don't call them "call center" jobs. Now, the catch phrase is "customer engagement."

Comcast expands low-income internet program

Tue, 2014-08-05 01:00

Comcast is expanding its "Internet Essentials" program, which lets low-income Americans apply to receive broadband internet for ten dollars a month. The move to draw attention to the program has been part of a campaign to convince regulators to approve its merger with Time Warner Cable. Comcast says, if approved, the merger would extend Internet Essentials to millions more low-income people.

Comcast is also announcing is that they're changing their eligibility requirements so that former customers who still owe payments on their bills will be able to use the program.

“If your bill to Comcast is more than a year old, you will be able to apply for Internet Essentials,” says Brian Fung, technology reporter for the Washington Post.

While Comcast has touted the 1.4 million Americans currently enrolled in the program, critics counter that up to 2.6 million households would be eligible for the program, were it not for the current enrollment criteria -- A household is eligible for Internet Essentials if it has a child eligible for free or reduced school lunches.

What the program does make clear, according to Fung, is that there is now an understanding that internet access, especially for poorer families with children, is essential. 

Why does popcorn at the movies cost so much?

Mon, 2014-08-04 13:50

Why do cinemas charge so much for popcorn? Wouldn't they make more money if they lowered the price because, presumably, many more people would purchase it for $4 instead of $7?

- Basil Utter, Maryland

This is a question with some easy answers and some surprisingly complicated ones.

First the easy — and incomplete — answer...

Because they can.

This is what we all intuitively assume, that theaters are shooting fish in a barrel by charging high prices to a captive audience. 

“They’re basically in a monopoly selling position,” says Russell Winer, chair of the marketing department at NYU’s Stern School of Business. “Since they don’t allow you, theoretically, to bring food into theaters, they can pretty much charge what they feel the market will bear.”

Indeed, they do.

In theory, they will charge a price for popcorn where the spread between what it costs them to make another box of popcorn, and what consumers will pay for that box of popcorn is at its highest level.

Movie theater owners aren’t residing in some dark turret behind the screens, stroking a cat and reveling in the injustice they are inflicting upon hapless moviegoers. Ask movie theater owners, and they’ll tell you they charge so much for concessions. . .

Because they must.

Jack Oberleitner, a 55-year veteran of movie theaters, is now a consultant. He quotes a friend whose family has been in the business since 1908, with a line he says summarizes the situation of theater owners: “We left the movie business and we’re now in the popcorn business."

Movie theaters don’t make much money from movies. Movie studios do.  

“The film industry will charge movie theaters upwards of 70 percent of the box office revenue,” Oberleitner says. Revenue sharing schemes change over the years – sometimes studios take a peak percentage from the first few weeks and then adjust downward, sometimes they take a peak percentage from the best few weeks regardless of when they occur – but the outcome is the same: Studios take far and away the biggest chunk of ticket proceeds.

On top of that, he says, studios place a lot of conditions on playing their movies.

“So they’ll say if you have 14 screens, for instance, we want the latest film from our company to show on three of those screens for the first three weeks. If you’re not getting people into those screens, well, sorry about your luck.”

Being forced to fill screens with movies nobody’s watching can be a revenue suck, but if the theater says no, the studio can turn around and say, "Fine that’s the last MGM or Warner Brothers or Disney movie you ever screen."

At the same time, costs like rent, air conditioning and heating for large spaces are significant. And every few years there’s some new amenity or technology no theater can do without: surround sound, stadium seating, digital and 3D projection systems. Each requires hefty investment that brings down profit margins.

Theaters could raise ticket prices, but with 70 percent of any increase going to studios, it isn't particularly appealing. Plus, price competition between theaters is fierce.

The one thing that does not have to be shared with studios: concessions.

While concessions account for only about 20 percent of gross revenues, they represent some 40 percent of theaters’ profits. Even with $10 tubs of popcorn, and profit margins on concessions of 85 percent, profit margins for a whole theater average around 4.3 percent for the industry, according to IbisWorld.

“I would say the '70s is when it first started to change,” says Oberleitner. “The quarter cup of popcorn increased to 50 cents, 75 cents and then $1. This all happened pretty rapidly through the course of the '70s, and by the time we hit the '80s it was in full gear completely.”

Which do you prefer: expensive concessions, or expensive movie tickets?

Some consumers are paying a lot for concessions, but on the other hand, this means that all consumers are paying less for movie tickets than they otherwise might. If you factor in inflation, admission prices are actually about the same as they were 40 years ago. Those $10 buckets of popcorn are subsidizing everyone’s tickets.

But any good movie has a twist, and in this case it falls under the second part of our question: If they lowered the price of the popcorn wouldn’t they increase sales and profits?

The immediate answer is no.

Popcorn is a tool to get you to pay more.

Simply put, it’s quite possible for the profit from a few moviegoers who pay an obscene amount for popcorn to be worth more than dozens of people who pay a reasonable price. You can also think about it this way: A monopolist has a sweet spot between price, demand, and cost that lets it maximize profits. There is nothing in economics that requires that sweet spot to be reasonable for most people. And, in fact, it is pretty much always higher than a situation where there is competition.

But high-priced popcorn also is a valuable tool. 

“Movie theaters use this to price discriminate across moviegoers,” says Ricard Gil, associate professor of economics at Johns Hopkins’ Carey School of Business. He says popcorn lets theaters charge different consumers different prices for going to the movies, which helps maximize profits.

“Different movie viewers have different willingness to pay for the experience of watching a movie. When you’re on a date, you know you’re gonna spend some money.”

From a theater’s perspective, it would be fantastic if the theater could find out who would pay a lot to see a movie and charge them extra. But theaters can’t stop everyone in line and look at their tax returns. So, instead, they offer something only the spenders will buy: Really overpriced popcorn.

Voilà:  Some people get charged extra for going to the movies.

This is, incidentally, the same principle by which lot of other products operate. Video game manufacturers, for example, will sell a console at cost or even at a loss, but then charge a high mark-up on video games. Some people will only buy one or two video games, and others will buy a ton. By setting a low barrier for getting a console, and then charging a ton for games, the firm can extract profit from all different kinds of people.

Coupons operate the same way. Some people are willing to pay full price because the idea of saving, organizing and coordinating coupons is too much of a bother. So the store captures them at the highest price. Others won’t pay those prices, but they are willing to save and look for coupons, so the store is able to capture them too.

Some people are complete coupon fanatics, who won’t pay a penny more than they have to, will spend hours accumulating discounts, and the store can get them in the door as well.

Economic jargon at your local theater: Mixed bundling.

Not only does the selling of high-priced concessions allow a theater to locate which consumers can pay more for a movie experience, it also allows theaters to zero in on those consumers and figure out who is willing to pay more for certain types and combinations of snacks, says Daniel Vincent, professor of economics at the University of Maryland in College Park.

They do this through what’s called “mixed bundling” in economic jargon. Bundling is where you combine one product with another – like the popcorn-soda combo. Mixed bundling is where you offer combos like that, but also let people buy products – popcorn and soda – individually.

Here’s how it works: The theater charges the highest price it possibly can for soda and popcorn individually. But it offers a slight discount on the combo.

Some people really just want a Coke and nothing else, and they’ll be willing to pay that price. Maybe they’re really wealthy, or maybe they’re allergic to popcorn. Vice versa, there are some people who love popcorn but would rather get free water than soda. The theater captures them no problem.

However, there are some other high value consumers who are willing to pay a lot, but not that much. “The guy who is on the fence, he sees the current monopoly price for Coke and he’s willing to buy that. He sees the monopoly price for popcorn and says, 'Ehhh, I’m not willing to buy that for that price.'”

By offering the combo at a slight discount, the theater captures that guy and all the people who are on the fence. They’re still paying an arm and a leg for popcorn and soda, but not quite as much as the people the theater captured who are willing to pay even crazier prices for an individual item.

“Selling combos has as its ultimate goal the role of forcing the population to separate into different groups of people,” says Vincent, so they can be charged different prices.

Maybe there’s just something about popcorn?

Gil has an additional thought about pricing and popcorn. It has to do with the popcorn itself: It’s super salty and buttery. Which means, you can’t really buy just popcorn. You’d die of thirst. So if you want popcorn, you kind of have to commit to a soda, too. Maybe possibly to something sweet, as well.

So all of a sudden, a consumer isn’t choosing between buying no snacks and maybe just one little thing. They’re choosing between buying no snacks, and buying an armful of concessions.

If the choice is go big or go home, there are suddenly two types of consumers.

“The consumers that want to go all out, and the consumers that are very price sensitive,” says Gil.

Perhaps, he supposes, it helps that most people see a movie either before dinner or after dinner, so they’re either very hungry or not hungry at all.

Either way, once a theater has found a price where it can get all or most of the all-out consumers buying popcorn and soda and candy, if it lowers that price... it won’t get many new takers. There just won’t be that many more all-out people left. To get everyone else, they’d have to hit rock bottom prices – which just aren’t worth it.

“Theaters realize this and price accordingly,” Gil says.

Why ask why

There are a quite a few reasons consumers pay so much for concessions at the movies. So if you find yourself staring at the board of concession prices and shaking your head, just remember that basically, this is how theaters make their money.

 You could also just remember to sneak your snacks in next time.

Special thanks to 'Voice of Hollywood' Ben Patrick Johnson for doing the voice-over in the audio version of this story.

The Scrabble dictionary is getting an #upgrade

Mon, 2014-08-04 13:50

Here's your lexicographic update for the week.

Merriam-Webster has released some of the new words for the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, due out next Monday. Standard rules apply: the word must be found in a standard dictionary, it can't require capitalization, it can't have hyphens or apostrophes, and it can't be an abbreviation.

"Bromance," "chillax," "hashtag," and "selfie" are just a few of the words that are now challenge-proof.

Now what about "synergy" or "deliverables"?

Municipal water systems are vulnerable

Mon, 2014-08-04 13:41

Toledo resident Lauren Birner's kitchen sink has looked a bit odd the past few days. Birner, who is 15 weeks pregnant, took extra precautions to keep herself from accidentally turning on the tap during the city's recent water ban. 

"I put plastic bags over the faucets because, without thinking, I would turn on the faucet, and think, 'Oh, wait!'" she says.

The ban was put in place Saturday and lifted Monday. Experts suspect that a big algae bloom on Lake Erie produced toxins that got into the water supply, affecting hundreds of thousands of people in Ohio's fourth-largest city.

Algae blooms have been growing on Lake Erie for years. The Ohio Sea Grant Research Lab told the Associated Press this year's bloom was smaller than in years past but it was pushed toward shore by wind and waves.

A number of factors make the algae flourish. Experts point to global warming and to fertilizer run-off from farm fields. "Algae blooms love fertilizer the same way wheat and corn love fertilizer," says Charles Fishman, author of "The Big Thirst," a book about water.

Fishman says when algae die, they produce a toxin, and that toxin appears to have gotten past Toledo's water treatment plant. Fishman fears the situation could happen on the other Great Lakes. That should put cities on guard, he says, especially if they rely on a single water source.

Fishman says the situation was not catastrophic in Toledo, but it could have been graver. "If this had happened in the middle of the week, it would've had a huge economic impact," he says. 

Experts say there are ways to mitigate problems tied to algal blooms, like improving water treatment facilities or getting farmers to grow crops that need less fertilizer, even if they're less lucrative. 

"A lot of farmers would see costs go up and revenues go down," says David Zetland, a water economist at Leiden University College in the Netherlands.

The state of Ohio has tried to address problem. Legislators passed a law this year requiring that farmers get training before using commercial fertilizers. 

But Alan Vicory, a principal in the water practice at Stantec Consulting in Cincinnati, says it's not clear what quantities of the fertilizer components nitrogen and phosphorous cause an algae bloom outbreak.

"We have been working on this as a community of scientists and engineers for many years, and it's very difficult," he says. "It's confounded our ability to tie all those things together to have any predictive capability as to an outbreak."

In Portugal, a 'bad bank' saves the day

Mon, 2014-08-04 13:41

A multi-billion dollar rescue is underway for a European bank, and global economy watchers are hopeful the fix will keep the problem from spreading beyond Portugal.

Banco Espirito Santo is getting chopped in two. Its toxic assets will be held in a so-called “bad bank,” a concept that drew attention during the worst of the global financial crisis.

The idea is that with bad loans and other toxic assets segregated from strong assets, the “good bank” can go on with the regular business of taking deposits and lending, without worries that customers will freak out and withdraw all their money, causing chaos.

When the bad bank tries to sell off the bad stuff, lots of money will be lost. But unlike previous bank bailouts, the burden doesn’t all land on taxpayers.

"The losses are gonna be borne by some of the creditors to that bank and the people that own stock in that bank, the shareholders," explains Matt Slaughter, associate dean at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. "That’s a good move."

Slaughter says banks will manage risk better, if they don’t assume taxpayers will ultimately pay the bills for their screw-ups.

Mark Garrison: The basic idea’s actually quite simple. Raj Bhala, who teaches international law at University of Kansas, gives us a visual aid.

Raj Bhala: If you were drawing it out on a blackboard, you would be drawing out good assets and putting a big circle around them and then you’d be drawing bad assets and putting a big circle around them. They would not be linked.

European bankers call this ring-fencing and they love to reference herding cattle. Kerry Cornelius runs a real cattle ranch and directs the Ranch Management Program at Texas Christian University. He says fencing plays a role, but EU officials seem a bit off with their terms.

Kerry Cornelius: I think that’s something that bankers probably came up or dreamed up on their own.

Linda Hooks: Regulators and analysts look for analogies and the fence analogy makes a lot of sense. You’re trying to contain a problem and keep it from growing any further.

Washington and Lee economics professor Linda Hooks says when a bad bank fences off or herds in or does whatever to toxic assets, the good bank can thrive. It goes on with regular business of taking deposits and lending and customers won’t freak out and pull all their money, causing chaos. When the bad bank tries to sell off the bad stuff, lots of money will be lost. But as Dartmouth business school associate dean Matt Slaughter points out, unlike previous bank bailouts, it doesn’t all land on taxpayers.

Matt Slaughter: The losses are gonna be borne by some of the creditors to that bank and the people that own stock in that bank, the shareholders. And that’s a good move actually, going forward.

Slaughter says banks will manage risk better, if they don’t assume taxpayers will pay for their screw-ups. I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

Can I ask you to blue sky that synergy?

Mon, 2014-08-04 12:45

"Last week in my email to you I synthesized our strategic direction as a productivity and platform company. Having a clear focus is the start of the journey, not the end. The more difficult steps are creating the organization and culture to bring our ambitions to life..."

This is an excerpt from a memo Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella put out last month, announcing major lay-offs at the company. Entitled "Starting to Evolve Our Organization and Culture", it got a lot of attention for its extreme use of business jargon.

But, as it turns out, using business jargon has some big advantages.

A new study from the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business found people who use business jargon are assumed to have a higher position within a company, and are seen as better leaders.

"What we found is that there’s something about abstraction that communicates that ‘I’m a big picture person,’" explains author  Cheryl Wakslak, Assistant Professor of Management and Organization at USC. "That’s what we expect powerful people to be like."

In fact, says Wakslak, people who don’t use management-speak and, instead, lay their ideas out in a concrete, detailed way, are perceived as less effective leaders. Wakslak says we see this in the reaction voters sometimes have to politicians who get too granular with their ideas. "You want to know that a leader’s on top of everything, that your politician knows these details. But when politicians start to talk in that way, they get labeled as wonky and they just don’t seem as effective."

"I remember when I first went to work a long time ago at a Xerox Research Center and I got a memo on the first day that said: 'Cascade this to your people and see what the pushback is,'" says Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the University of California Berkeley's School of Information. "I thought, you know, I’m not in Kansas anymore." Nunberg says business-speak really got going in the 1970s. "That was the moment when people started talking about corporate culture. That was when managers began to feel that workers could be motivated not just by their salaries and job security, but by a kind of language."

Language that made people feel like going to the office every day was important and epic, says Nunberg. "You gave people a special language to speak that suggested that the work experience was somehow different and grander than the experience of ordinary life. You had champions in the workplace. You make mission statements and you have a vision."

The rise of business-speak also came about just as executive salaries began rapidly outpacing line-worker pay. Jargon was a way for managers to differentiate themselves from people who were earning far less than they were. They began using it as a power play.

"Sitting in on board meetings and other things, you were at a disadvantage if you didn’t understand what they were saying," says entrepreneur and investor Ron Sturgeon. Sturgeon started out working on cars after high school and eventually built a huge auto salvage business, which he sold to Ford. Sturgeon hadn’t been to business school, and when he first started sitting in on big, corporate meetings, he was struck by the use of jargon. "If you’re in the meeting and you don’t know what the term is, then you’re definitely at a disadvantage," says Sturgeon. "And so the person would obviously have more power than you or seem more intellectual than you."

Sturgeon became fascinated with the jargon and wrote and published a dictionary of business jargon terms.

But jargon isn't always about power. Nunberg says business buzz-words are also ways for us to communicate larger issues happening around work and the place of work in our lives.

For example, now that flex-time has us working from our home-office, we sometimes have to unplug to achieve work-life balance. And women in the workplace are being encouraged to lean in and shatter the glass ceiling.

"Jargon arises very often in order to deal with new phenomena," says Nunberg. "We are working differently now, we have different relationships to our workplace and our co-workers and we need new language to describe that."

It’s even started creeping into popular culture. Weird Al Yankovic’s new album, Mandatory Fun, has a song called Mission Statement, that’s written entirely in business jargon.

In other words: At the end of the day, there are a lot of moving parts in today’s workplace. And in order to authentically describe the transformational change we’re seeing in our relationship with our jobs, we need terms that facilitate new levels of communication so that we can more effectively circle back to these big picture issues, and touch base with how to best thrive and create effective synergies in workplace 2.0. 

All of you. Excellent deliverables.

Luxury seats coming to an AMC theater near you

Mon, 2014-08-04 11:37

As movie ticket sales continue to decline, AMC has found a new way to attract moviegoers to its theaters.

The second largest movie chain plans to spend about $600 million to add luxury reclinable seats to 40 percent of theaters over the next five years. While this could mean up to 70 fewer seats per screen, AMC has seen an 80 percent increase in crowds at theaters that have undergone renovation. Wesley Morris, a staff writer for Grantland, says AMC hasn't raised the prices on these tickets yet.

"But they put a premium on that kind of movie going. You see it where the nicer theaters become this exclusive event. So they’ve all gone out to the suburbs… and so you got a whole class of movie goers that are stuck downtown with the crappy bedbug seats."

AMC plans to wait a year after revamping its theaters before increasing ticket prices. The average ticket price has been becoming more expensive every year, and with the added fee for luxury seats, it raises the question of who can actually afford these tickets.

“You can never get AMC to obviously sort of say, ‘Oh, well clearly we’ve got an upper class customer.’ But I think they would say that we are trying to appeal to an upper-echelon.” 

The push to protect student data

Mon, 2014-08-04 08:30

It’s summer. School is out and kids are more concerned with what they're wearing to the pool, than with history and algebra.

But that doesn't mean teachers and other educators are taking a break.

In fact,  lots of them are spending their summer breaks grappling with student data.  What to gather. How to use it. And how to protect it.

Data has never played a greater role in education, particularly as schools move to models of "personalized learning," or tailoring a child's education to meet his or her abilities.  

And while there are lots of upsides to having so much information on students, there are downsides as well.

Parents are concerned about privacy—especially after the  NSA revelations and the Target data breach. Parents are also worried that marketers could get a hold of their kids' information.

The U.S. Department of Education has jumped in.  It issued new guidance for schools and districts about how to keep parents informed about data collection.  

There’s also a new government website focused on the federal laws that cover how student data can be used.  

And this video highlighting The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act known as FERPA: 

 

Last week, U.S. Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced new federal legislation to protect student privacy.  They’ve called it the “Protecting Student Privacy Act of 2014.” 

Here are some highlights of the bill.   (And take note, it's  all about how data is shared--not about what's collected) 

   Security 

  • Requires educational agencies and schools to have security measures in place to keep student data confidential.
  • All parties to whom schools and agencies disclose data must have established security procedures to protect the data.
  • Any outside party obtaining access to records must destroy all copies, after the data has been used for the expressed purpose.

  Marketing

  • Outside parties can’t use the data to market to students.

 Transparency

  • Parents and students must be allowed to view records and request corrections of any data they believe is inaccurate.
  • Agencies and schools must keep track of who requests access to educational records.

 

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