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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 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."

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."

Who's Gideon?

Mon, 2014-01-27 12:45

They're as ubiquitous as tiny soaps and starchy towels -- those leather bound books hidden in the drawers of night stands in nearly every hotel in the country. And they have his name all over them.

Who is Gideon, and how did he get those Bibles in there?

I'd always wondered. The story starts in 1898 with a crowded hotel and two men weary enough to share a room with a stranger. John Nicholson and Samuel Hill were both traveling businessmen when they met in the lobby of the Central Hotel in Boscobel, Wis. There was just one vacancy with two beds, and in keeping with the times, the men decided to split it.

There were no plasma TVs or pay-per-view back then, of course, so once they checked in, the men had nothing to do but talk. After awhile, they hit on a topic they were both passionate about– their faith. By the end of the evening, the men made plans to create an evangelical association for Christian businessmen.

A year later, those men set up a meeting at a YMCA in Janesville, Wis., but were disheartened when only one other person showed up. That man was William Knights, and what he lacked in numbers he made up for in ideas. He suggested the group call themselves "The Gideons," based on a story in the Old Testament, of a man leading a band of untrained men to battlefield victory.

It took some ten years for the group to amass numbers, and most of the members were travelers just like its founders. The Gideons decided since they were already traveling the country, the best way to spread the good word was to put copies of the Bible in the hotel rooms they frequented. The first Gideon’s Bible was placed in a nightstand at the Superior Hotel in Superior, Mont. in 1908.

More than 100 years later, the group has ballooned to more than 300,000 members and along the way added "International" to its name. Throughout its run, Gideons International has managed to place more 1.8 billion Bibles in hotels in 196 countries. On average, the group says it distributes more than two copies of the Bible per second, and often holds a ceremony with new hoteliers, bequeathing the building with its first book.


Why do luxury hotels charge for Wi-Fi, but cheap hotels don't?

Mon, 2014-01-27 12:40


A question from listener Alison Najman has brought us to New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The lobby is enormous and elegant. There are staffers everywhere, a check-in desk, a concierge desk, a dining area. President Obama stays here. A room tonight goes for $399 -- it's not their nicest, but it's pretty lovely.

And Wi-Fi? That'll cost $19.95 per day. 

We head downtown to Hotel 17. The lobby is small and basic. Instead of a giant staff, there's just a guy. You can stay here tonight for $86, a very good deal in New York. 

So it's not the Waldorf. But the Wi-Fi? Free.


Toni Repetti, a hotel management professor at University of Nevada Las Vegas, says on one hand, it's simple: "The easy answer to that is because they can."

Luxury hotels can charge more because they know their customers will pay more. Jeff Beck, a former Marriott executive who teaches at Michigan State's business school, says it has to do with a scale economists call "price sensitivity."

"The type of people that are going to be staying [at a luxury hotel] are typically there on business, which generally means that someone else is paying for it," Beck says.

 If you're a business traveler who can stick your company with the bill, you're hardly price sensitive at all. As for the folks staying at fancy hotels for pleasure? Repetti says their wealth means they're not very price sensitive either.

"A $20 fee on a $400 room... is probably not a big deal when they're paying $400 for a room," Repetti says.

Folks at budget hotels, however, are definitely price sensitive. Managers have to keep Wi-Fi free just to compete.


Things are changing. The website HotelChatter has a long-running survey of hotel Wi-Fi. Managing editor Juliana Shalcross says nearly two-thirds of hotels offer it free, and that number's growing.

"When [guests] go to a hotel and they see that it's charging them for Wi-Fi, they get a little pissed off and I think they make that known," she says.

Hotels don't want angry customers in the age of online reviews and social media. Companies that give hotels a lot of business are complaining too. So many hotels are getting rid of Wi-Fi charges, which sounds great. But, travelers beware: Repetti points out they're doing something else, too.

"They also are increasing their room rates to make up for that. You may not see that, but they are increasing, even a little bit."

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Why would you hire the long-term unemployed? Why not?

Mon, 2014-01-27 12:36

After losing her job in July 2012, Robyn Swirling didn't hesitate. 

"I started looking and working my connections the day I got laid off," Swirling said.  

Still, she had no luck for a year. Sometimes, she could feel a creeping sense of doubt from potential employers.

"When you've been looking for awhile and interviewing places, and you've gotten several interviews, it certainly starts to make people wonder why you haven't gotten picked up by somebody," said Swirling.

"It's hard to look inside the mind of an employer, but I think most employers take the fact that someone has been out of work as a signal that they're a lower-quality employee," said Austin Nichols, a Senior Research Associate at the Urban Institute. "What research shows is that employers do discriminate against employees who are otherwise identical, but who have been out of work longer."

David DiSalvo, who writes about science and technology for Forbes, says when a hiring manager is conducting an interview, he or she is also acting as a risk assessor. Applicants who have been out of work for a long time set off alarm bells. They might need training to update their skills.

"When this person comes on board, we're going to have to invest X amount of money, time, [and] resources to ramp them up for the job," DiSalvo said, citing a familiar employer worry. Similarly, he said, some hiring managers worry that applicants who have been out of work for a long time have fallen into "Patterns of behavior that are not conducive to a hard working style," like rising early for work.

DiSalvo thinks that for President Obama's initiative to work, hiring managers will have to let go of those biases. Robyn Swirling has some advice of her own for hiring managers.

"People who are going to want to get back into a job are going to work really, really hard to keep that job and do well at it," Swirling said. 

Swirling finally landed a job in digital advocacy. A year later.

Google's start-up turn-ons: Intelligence, pushing limits and changing the world

Mon, 2014-01-27 12:01

Google is on a buying spree.

Its latest purchase is a mysterious London-based start-up called DeepMind Technologies — check out their website, that’s why we're calling it mysterious — but won’t say exactly how much it paid for the artificial intelligence company. DeepMind hasn’t launched any products publicly yet, but various technology publications say it could be as much as $500 billion. 

Which raises the question, what’s the magic formula for attracting Google’s attention?

Think of it this way: Google is the popular kid in high school and there are a whole bunch of start-ups that would love a long-term relationship with the big man on campus. How do they win Google’s affections?

Be scary-smart, according to Trip Chowdhry, an analyst with Global Equities Research. Chowdhry says that doesn’t mean only hiring 'out-of-the-box' thinkers — those are a dime-a-dozen in tech — Google wants “exponential thinkers."

"It’s a person who can think 10 years, 20 years, 100 years ahead," he says, "and then bring all the view of the future into the present.”

Apparently, DeepMind has plenty of exponential thinkers. The start-up's founders include artificial intelligence experts and neuroscientist Demis Hassabis, a 37-year-old video game designer, child prodigy in chess and a “world-class games player.”

DeepMind specializes in helping computers think more like humans, which is the other thing turning Google on right now. “The idea is to change the world by computing intelligence,” says Chowdhry.

Think about Google’s driverless cars, or its purchase last year of Boston Dynamics which makes robots for the military. Google also recently bought Nest Labs for $3.2 billion, which makes smart thermostats and smoke detectors for the home.

Silicon Valley serial-entrepreneur Steve Blank says Google is branching out, just like Apple did when it decided it was more than a computer company. “I think Google realizes that its entire eggs are in one basket, and smart companies don’t do that. Google certainly has the cash to buy and innovate its way out of that.”

Trip Chowdhry says if a tech start-up is pining for Google’s attention, all it has to do is “show Google it has the smarts and vision to help create new industries. Then push innovation to the limits.”

Piece of cake, guys. 

Trouble for the Common Core

Mon, 2014-01-27 12:00

The weekend saw yet another setback for the Common Core, new college and career-focused education standards adopted by most states. The board of the New York state teachers union has voted to withdraw support from the standards – at least as they’ve been implemented so far. It’s the latest in the drip, drip of bad news for the rollout.

When New York tested its students on the Common Core last year, more than two-thirds of them failed. Teachers say they didn’t have enough time to really teach the new math and English standards, and don’t want to be judged on the results until they’ve had that time. On Saturday New York State United Teachers' leadership voted “no confidence” in state education commissioner John King, and called for a three year moratorium on “high-stakes consequences from standardized testing.”

“This is a really big transition, and instead of actually doing it thoughtfully and preparing teachers, and preparing parents, and adjusting, revising, John King has put his foot on the accelerator of testing,” says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

With its 600,000 members, she says New York is the AFT’s largest state affiliate.

The vote is yet another setback for the Common Core. Teachers and parents don’t like the emphasis on testing. Conservatives don’t like the Obama Administration’s role in promoting the standards.

“What it is is another sign, [a] wakeup call, that we need to be really thoughtful about the implementation of the Common Core, and that we need to hear, very seriously, what the field is saying,” says Sonja Brookins Santelises with the Education Trust, which supports the standards.

Most states have put off new testing to give teachers more time to adjust, says Michael Petrilli with the conservative Fordham Institute. He also supports the standards, and says many teachers do too.

“The political threat on the right is much more serious,” Petrilli says. “There are many, many states, conservative states, where there are bills that have been introduced to pull the state out of the Common Core.”

“It’s going to be a big fight,” Petrilli says – one he hopes President Obama will stay out of in his State of the Union Address tomorrow night.

“He’s mentioned it two years running,” Petrilli says, “and it hasn’t helped.”

PODCAST: Emerging market jitters

Mon, 2014-01-27 08:14

Emerging markets are starting off 2014 in the worst place they've been in 5 years. Investors are fleeing after recent financial tumult in places like Argentina, Turkey, and Thailand. But that's not the only reason the stock market has hit a stumbling block.

The deadline to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act -- or face penalties -- is a little more than two months away now: March 31. A survey out today says lots of people don’t know that, highlighting just how much confusion there still is about the health care law.

Todd Dickson is trying something a bit unusual for a charter school founder. He’s recruiting students to Valor Collegiate Academy from working class neighborhoods, and Nashville’s wealthiest enclaves.

Google and Samsung make deal to share patents

Mon, 2014-01-27 08:04

Google and Samsung have announced a new licensing deal to share current and future patents over the next decade. The move is seen as a way to bolster both companies as they continue competing with chief rival, Apple.

To Florian Mueller, patent consultant and blogs at Foss Patents, the new deal isn’t much of a surprise. “It’s a peace treaty among friends, not a peace treaty among enemies,” he says.

He says after being ordered to pay Apple nearly $1 billion dollars for patent infringement last year, the deal won’t give Samsung any new legal protection. But it is good PR, especially right before a new trial is set to kick off against Apple in March?

“Samsung just wants to avoid, really strives to avoid the image and the reputation of an infringer who disrespects patent rights,” he says.

But Laurence Balter with Oracle Investment Research says this new deal is Samsung -- yet again -- borrowing from Apple’s, specifically the idea to connect all of its devices. 

“When you take a picture at your kid’s birthday party and it automatically synchs up to all your other devices, that’s the ecosystem. What Google and Samsung are trying to do is emulate that,” he says.

Balter says Samsung’s on-going litigation with Apple has pushed the Korean company to diversify.

He calls the deal with Google a no-brainer. 

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