Monday, June 14, 2010

A Gift of Wisdom for a Graduating Senior

BY: Barbara Kantrowitz
One professor's notes on success could help make the next four years a little easier

This is the time of year when many of us are getting ready for high school graduation parties – the last step before the empty nest. We’re anxious for our children as they head off on their own, usually for the first time. Will they make friends? Will they stay healthy? And will they really get what they need from the college experience?
The answers to those first two questions depend a lot on the individual student, but be reassured: by the time most graduate, they usually have at least a few pals and have managed to stay reasonably intact despite all-nighters and frat parties. The last question is a lot trickier. With the cost of college adding up to a huge amount of debt these days and a bleak job market for new grads, it’s especially critical to make the most of these years.

A new book by an Iowa professor offers some useful tips. Philip Freeman received his PhD from Harvard and now teaches classical languages at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. His book, Lecture Notes, offers an insider’s view of what it takes to succeed on campus. There’s lots of detailed practical advice (how to deal with advisers, how to pick a major) but Freeman says it really all boils down to three basic rules:
1. Go to Class: “Nothing in college is more important than showing up for your classes. And I don’t mean just at the beginning of the semester when you’re still excited about learning a new subject. I mean at the end of four months when your brain is dead and your body cries out for precious sleep.”

2. Read the Books: “You can’t do well in college without reading the books. And I don’t mean just perusing a book like you would a magazine article, but really working through material in an organized and productive way. Whether you’re doing calculus or Chinese poetry, you have to put your heart into it.”

3. Talk to Your Professors: “Professors are there to help you, but they only way we can do that if if we know you have a problem..”

As you look for graduation presents for the senior in your life, you’ll find lots of choices (including the perennial favorite Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Suess), put this slim volume on the list. It could be the one book that really makes a difference.

More Stories About: Empty Nest, Family, Teenagers, Barbara Kantrowitz, college success, Harvard University, Lecture Notes, Luther College, Philip Freeman• All Categories

Report: Employers to see 2011 medical costs jump

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Companies that offer employee health insurance expect another steep jump in medical costs next year, and more will ask workers to share a bigger chunk of the expense, according to a new PricewaterhouseCoopers report.

For the first time, most of the American workforce is expected to have health insurance deductibles of $400 or more, the consulting firm said in a report released to The Associated Press.

Deductibles are the annual amount a patient pays out of pocket for care before insurance coverage starts. They are generally separate from co-payments and coinsurance.

Two years ago, only 25 percent of companies participating in the annual survey said they asked employees to pay deductibles of $400 or more. That grew to 43 percent in 2010 and is expected to pass 50 percent next year.

Employees who are asked to pay more through things like higher deductibles help keep cost growth in check because they use less health care.

The health care reform law passed by Congress and then signed by President Obama in March has just started to unfold and will have little impact on costs next year, said Michael Thompson, a principal with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

"In general, it's a continuation of a fairly high rate of medical inflation," he said.

PricewaterhouseCoopers found that medical costs are expected to rise 9 percent next year. But this doesn't mean workers will see their monthly premiums jump by the same amount.

Employers typically try to soften the impact of a cost increase by absorbing some of it, changing insurance plan designs or asking employees to pay higher deductibles or a larger coinsurance percentage.

For instance, a medical cost increase of more than 9 percent was forecast for 2009. But the average annual premium rose only 5 percent for family coverage that year and stayed flat for single coverage, according to a separate study from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The 9 percent medical cost increase projected in 2011 is actually slightly smaller than the 9.5 percent jump PricewaterhouseCoopers is seeing this year. Thompson said several top-selling drugs will lose patent protection next year and become exposed to lower-cost generic competition. That will help temper the increase.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers report also found a steep drop in the percentage of employers that subsidize retiree health coverage. It said only 22 percent of employers with more than 5,000 workers subsidized retiree coverage after age 65 this year. That's down from 37 percent in 2009.

"It's a major cost and one that employers have for years now been moving away from," Thompson said.

PricewaterhouseCoopers compiled its report by analyzing e-mail survey results from 674 companies in 30 different industries across the country. Most of the companies participating had 1,000 employees or more. The firm also interviewed health plan executives and reviewed analyst reports.

Credits: AP associated press

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

'Smart' traffic lights could remotely stop vehicle engines -- IBM patent application

Speeding through a red light? Not a chance, according to IBM Corp.

The technology behemoth, known for its work with computers, is now trying its hand at traffic. The company recently filed a patent application for a system that could remotely stop and start vehicle engines at traffic signals in order to save fuel and prevent crashes.

The system would sense vehicles’ positions and send a “stop engine” notification – either by automatically turning off the engine or displaying an alert telling drivers to manually switch off power.

At intersections, railway crossings and other locations, the system could use anything from weight sensors to camera and GPS units to track vehicles. The technology could also be used to calculate when cars have been idling for too long and should be shut down.

Once the light turns green, the system may be able to time when drivers should crank up the ignition based on where they are in the line.

Drivers might also be able to sign up for a sort of service that would use Wi-Fi, cellular networks or satellite communications to tell inform them when to cut their engines.

The blogosphere is ablaze over the proposal: What about hackers? What about glitches? What happens when I need to get my pregnant wife to the hospital?

The patent application explains the rationale this way:

Vehicle fuel consumption is a major component of global energy consumption. With increasing vehicle usage, there may be more traffic and longer wait times at traffic signals (e.g., at a traffic intersection or a railway crossing). Fuel may be wasted when drivers keep their vehicles running while waiting for the traffic signal to turn "green" or waiting for a train to pass at a railway crossing. Most drivers may not switch off their engines in these situations. Drivers who do switch off their engines may do so inefficiently. For example, a driver may switch off the engine, only to start it up a short time later. In such cases, more fuel may be consumed in restarting the engine. Some traffic signals may have clocks that indicate remaining durations before the signals change. However, drivers in vehicles waiting at the back of the queue may not be able to view the clock.

Now, if only someone would do something about those stop signs.

By: Tiffany Hsu
Credit: The business and culture of our digital lives, from the L.A. Times, Technology Section

Devices turn cellphones into credit card processors

Card readers from such companies as Square and Intuit enable anyone to take plastic for payment, for a fee. For those who want the ability without the fees, PayPal Mobile has come up with an app.

"I don't have any cash on me" may no longer be a valid excuse with new credit card readers that can be used with mobile phones.

In a potential boon to street vendors, mom-and-pop shops and even those who lend a few bucks to a friend, several companies have rolled out ways to use cellphones to instantly process credit card payments.

Square, a brainchild of Twitter Inc. creator Jack Dorsey, enables anyone to accept credit cards using a tiny white attachment and software that can be downloaded to a smart phone.

"The future has arrived," Mayer Hawthorne, a singer and songwriter who used Square to sell his CDs and merchandise while on the road, wrote in a Twitter message to his fans.

The plastic card reader plugs into the headphone jack on an iPhone or Android-based phone and interfaces with the phone's software before the transaction is processed through Square's secure servers. Apps for the Palm Pre and BlackBerry are said to be in the pipeline.

After swiping the card through the reader, the buyer signs for the transaction by using finger strokes on the touch screen, then can type in an e-mail address where a digital receipt will be sent. Square charges a fee of 15 cents and 2.75% of the transaction amount to the person processing the credit card. That would amount to 42.5 cents for a $10 purchase.

"People are tickled by signing their names with their fingers," said Sue Moore, co-founder of Let's Be Frank, a hot dog vendor that sets up shop on Glendale Boulevard in Silver Lake every Thursday. The business recently began accepting credit cards for the first time using Square. "It's even easy to use for a numbnut like me."

Much as the way he launched Twitter, the social networking site that has grown to more than 100 million users, Dorsey is giving away the Square device. Anyone can sign up for an account at and the company will send the device in the mail.

A version of Square for the iPad is also available. It enables store owners input and track inventory and handle cash transactions, replacing pricey point-of-sale cash registers and terminals.

Those features will eventually make their way into the Square's cellphone software, Dorsey said.

Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea Inc. plans to begin using Square-enabled iPads for its mobile coffee carts, said Matt Riddle, the company's technology manager. If that works, Square could replace the chain's cash registers. "That's one thing we would love to pioneer in the coffee shop realm," Riddle said.

Traditional payment processing firms are also stepping up marketing of phone-powered payments.

VeriFone Systems Inc., the biggest manufacturer of credit card terminals, has introduced PayWare. The card swiper fits around an iPhone or iPod Touch.

Intuit Inc., maker of financial software Quicken and Mint, offers GoPayment. The system is designed for older cellphones and BlackBerry devices, and offers a pair of peripherals for wirelessly swiping cards and a belt buckle that can print paper receipts.

But both VeriFone's and Intuit's systems may appeal more to mid- to high-volume merchants, who require expensive hardware.

Although the Square gadget is small enough to fit in a pocket, it's not a requirement for taking payments. Users can manually punch in a credit card number, but the transaction fees are higher.

To avoid the credit card tolls entirely, PayPal Mobile has come up with an app that works on iPhone, Android and BlackBerry phones. With the app pulled up on both phones involved, the amount of the transaction is input on the payer's phone. Money changes hands by physically bumping the two phones together. Both users must be PayPal members with profiles tied to bank accounts or you get socked with fees that are higher than Square.

For start-ups such as Square, getting consumers to trust them with their banking information can be a challenge.

So Square said it has taken extra measures to protect personal information, including using a sophisticated encryption program.

By: Mark Milian, Los Angeles Times
May 31, 2010

Can Google be held legally responsible for bad directions?

“Use caution — This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths.”

Punch a pair of addresses into Google Maps and ask for walking directions between them, and Google will warn you of the above, noting that its walking directions are in beta.

And that’s because these walking directions (like many driving directions) aren’t always the best. But while bad driving directions are often just an inconvenience that may cost you a few extra minutes, tell someone to walk on the wrong road and you could very well be sending them into harm’s way.

That’s exactly what happened to a woman named Lauren Rosenberg last January, when she typed an address into her BlackBerry, asked for walking directions, and was ultimately led onto a busy highway with no sidewalks. She was promptly hit by a car and is now suing Google (and the driver of the car who ran her over) for six figures.

While the question of whether the driver is responsible for the incident is a matter of facts on the ground, the more interesting legal issue here is whether Google can be held responsible for sending Rosenberg onto that road to begin with.
Rosenberg says that the roadway she was directed to walk on “is not reasonably safe for pedestrians” and that she should never have been directed to walk along that street.

Take a look at the photo of it for yourself at the above link (scroll down about halfway). It’s not a thoroughfare I’d advise any pedestrian to spend time on, and God help you if you have to cross to the other side.

The case is a surprisingly tricky one. Yes, Rosenberg should have used common sense when venturing out on foot, but it’s arguable that anyone seeking directions like this probably doesn’t know anything about where they’re going. Could Rosenberg have known that a safer street was just a block away? Or might she have assumed that it could be even more dangerous? Should she have gone exploring in a foreign area to find a better path? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do think a jury could reasonably find that if a service is going to offer walking directions, that those directions should be as safe as possible — or else the service shouldn’t offer the directions to begin with.

It’s also worth noting that the disclaimer you get with Google's walking directions on the Web doesn’t show up on most portables.

What say ye? Who’s at fault here? Rosenberg? Google? Or both?

By: Christopher Null is a technology writer for Yahoo! News.

iPad idea came before iPhone

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. – Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs shared a secret with his audience at a technology conference outside Los Angeles Tuesday: The idea for the iPad came before the iPhone.

The idea to ditch the keyboard for what Jobs calls a multi-touch display came about in the early 2000s, although the company was working on a telephone at the time, he said. That's when a prototype came to him that used the device's now-famous scrolling mechanism.

"I thought, 'My God we can build a phone out of this,'" Jobs said at The Wall Street Journal's "D: All Things Digital" conference in Rancho Palos Verdes.

But the tablet product was put on the shelf, the iPhone went into development for several years before making its debut in 2007 and Apple started selling the iPad tablet computer in April.

Both products have taken on more of the personal computing tasks once handled by computers running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system and other programs.

That's helped Apple surpass Microsoft, its longtime nemesis, as the largest technology company in the world by market capitalization — a milestone it achieved last week.

"It's surreal," Jobs said Tuesday.

Although he acknowledged the popularity of the iPhone has caused network troubles at carrier AT&T, Jobs said the problems would have happened to any wireless phone company with that many iPhone and iPad users.

He said many places in the U.S. will have much better reception by the end of the summer. He did not rule out having the iPhone operate on other carriers in the future.

Ahead of a major software developers conference scheduled to begin June 7 in San Francisco, Jobs was characteristically tightlipped about what, if any, new features would be on new iPhone models.

As for the iPad's stunning popularity, Jobs said the device was beginning to erode the usefulness of the personal computer.

"We like to talk about the post PC era," he said. "I think we're embarked on that. Is it the iPad? Who knows? Will it happen next year or five years from now or seven years? Who knows?"

Credit: AP/ Associated Press

Buffett to testify before financial crisis panel

NEW YORK – Billionaire investor

Warren Buffett and the CEO of credit rating agency Moody's Corp. are scheduled to face questions Wednesday from a bipartisan panel probing the roots the financial crisis.

The congressionally chartered

Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission subpoenaed Buffett to appear at the New York hearing on the credibility of credit ratings and the investments made based on those ratings.

Rating agencies like Moody's,

Standard & Poor's and Fitch Ratings have been criticized for giving unrealistically high ratings to complex investments backed by risky mortgages and other assets. When homeowners started defaulting on their mortgages, the rating agencies downgraded billions of dollars of investments at once. That helped spark the financial crisis.

Buffett will appear alongside

Moody's Corp. CEO Raymond McDaniel. Berkshire Hathaway, which Buffett leads as chairman and CEO, is Moody's largest shareholder.

Despite his company's stake in Moody's, Buffett himself has said he never relies on credit ratings when making  investment decisions because he makes his own judgments on companies.

The FCIC issued its first subpoena in April to Moody's Corp., saying the company failed to provide documents it requested. FCIC chairman Phil Angelides said the company started to comply with the request after receiving the subpoena.

At Wednesday's hearing, the panel will probe how the agencies decide on their ratings, how those ratings contributed to the financial crisis and whether the agencies' business model is partly to blame.

One transaction that could come up is a Goldman Sachs deal called Abacus, a complex mortgage-related investment that later plunged in value. Both Moody's and Standard & Poor's gave the Abacus deal a AAA rating, the safest rating they offer.

The government has filed civil fraud charges against Goldman, alleging it failed to tell investors that one of its clients, hedge fund Paulson & Co., was betting against the securities.

Credit rating agencies came under fire in April from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which is also probing the causes of the financial crisis. The panel's chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, said the Senate's regulatory overhaul should curb the industry's inherent conflicts of interest that allow rating agencies to be paid by the banks whose investments they rate.

Banks generally want higher ratings to make the securities they offer more attractive to investors, and former executives have acknowledged that competition within the industry often led the agencies' analysts to rate high-risk securities as safe.

To tackle the conflict of interest problem, the Senate's version of the financial overhaul would end banks' ability to choose the agencies that rate their investments. An independent board, appointed by regulators, would choose the rating firms.

But critics of that plan point out that the agencies would still be paid by the banks whose products they rate. That means the ratings could be influenced by those banks.

Others have questioned whether regulators — who themselves missed warning signs leading to the crisis — should choose which agencies rate which financial products.

The FCIC will also hear testimony from several former Moody's executives at Wednesday's hearing.

The FCIC is a bipartisan group created by Congress to examine a range of issues surrounding the financial crisis. It is structured like the group that investigated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Credit: AP / Associated Press By: Stevenson Jacobs, business writer

FBI warns of mass-marketing scams

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

That's the advice authorities gave Tuesday to avoid getting scammed in mass-marketing fraud schemes proliferating throughout the globe.

The warning was issued by the FBI in Los Angeles in partnership with various other federal agencies and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as part of a "Multi-National Day of Action" aimed at mass-marketing fraud.

Authorities in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are also raising awareness about the problem this week.

The schemes, which often prey on the elderly and originate in foreign countries, involve variations of fake prize promotions, advance-fee loan rip-offs, fake lotteries, and credit card or loan scams.

Typically, people with poor or nonexistent credit are offered credit cards or loans for an advance fee.

One common scam known as the mystery shopper involves sending victims fake checks and asking them to deposit the money and then wire the funds to the scammer to evaluate money transfer services. The victims were ultimately sending their own money because while banks are required to make funds available within days, it can take several weeks before a check bounces.

"It's a scam a month," said Steven Martinez, FBI Assistant Director in Charge. "They cast their net widely and over a matter of years."

In the last six months, a federal task force along with other foreign law enforcement agencies have indicted 15 defendants from Canada and Riverside. In about the same time, the Department of Justice has brought charges against 80 defendants in 53 mass-marketing fraud cases across the nation, totaling about $500 million in losses.

Annually, the losses are estimated to be in the billions, according to the FBI.

"Fraud cannot be eradicated as long as there are greedy people," said Andre Birotte Jr., U.S. attorney for Los Angeles. "The persistent problem is fraud schemes that target the most vulnerable members of our society."

Frank Villela, who lives in the San Fernando Valley, fell victim to the lottery scam.

As is common in the scam, Villela received a call from someone pretending to be with a legitimate foreign lottery. He had won the prize, but in order to claim it, he would first need to send in $24.95 for a processing fee. After he sent that in, he then had to send in various amounts for customs fees or taxes.

When he questioned the scheme and threatened to call the FBI, the scammer even gave Villela the FBI's number, which turned out to be fake. The "agent" who answered told Villela that the scheme was legitimate and even provided him with a fake badge number.

Villela was about to wire $5,000 when a clerk at Western Union told Villela that the man he was wiring money to someone in the Philippines who was wanted by police.

"I don't know how I got fooled," said Villela, 78, who had been hoping to use the money to support his wife and three children. "I feel dumb. After sending so much money already, I thought I might as well send more."

By then, Villela had sent about $18,000.

Kathryn Wooten, 54, of Inglewood, lost about $11,000 in the same scheme. But she lost several thousand more when the bank froze her assets when she and her husband unknowingly tried to cash a fake check that the scammer had sent, telling her to send back the difference.

"My husband wanted to give up on life because he felt like he let me down and he let God down," Wooten said. "We were just normal working people, waiting for retirement."

Credits: Yahoo Online - By: C.J. Lin, Staff Writer

JFK; Bush; LBJ; Nixon