April 15, 2013 4:50 pm
Imagine you burned your arm with boiling water fresh from the stove, or your child was born with a clubfoot, or you got a deep cut at work. Now imagine you don’t have health insurance. But not just that, you don’t have access to the health care or surgery you need. You’re turned away entirely.
A new online crowd-sourcing venture known at Watsi, says the New York Times, is looking to give people with money a way to help those who are trapped in such medical circumstances by providing a portal for micro-loan donations. The organization is focusing on “low-cost, high-impact” treatments, says the Times.
The procedures range from relatively simple ones like fixing a broken limb to more complicated surgery — say, to remove an eye tumor. But the treatments generally have a high likelihood of success and don’t involve multiple operations or long-term care.
Watsi joins a slew of other recent websites designed to let people fund the individual projects or causes that strike a chord: Kickstarter and Indiegogo are home to products and creative projects, and Kiva works with micro-loans to entrepreneurs.
Unlike many existing charities where large portions of donations can go to administrative fees and overhead, Watsi says that the entire donation goes toward the surgery. They cover office expenses with money raised from donors.
As much as Watsi’s story is a tale of the new global economy, with people with money individually picking and choosing to fund what they feel is important, it’s also a testament to the power of the New York Times. Two days after the Times‘ profile of the non-profit, every single case Watsi had lined up is now fully-funded – for now.
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April 9, 2013 11:10 am
Hurricane Katrina brought flood waters, destruction and tragedy to New Orleans. But it has also facilitated an entrepreneurial renaissance. Within three years after Katrina, the rate of new start-up launches in the city doubled, the Atlantic reports, and NOLA currently ranks only behind Austin and suburban Washington, D.C., in the speed of its population growth.
Several factors account for these trends, the Atlantic explains:
- Katrina did bring devastation, but the storm also offered an opportunity to reinvent the city. The school system’s experiment with charter schools is one of the clearest and best-known examples: Since the storm, the share of students enrolled in charter schools has jumped from 30 to 68 percent, making New Orleans the only major city in the country in which the majority of public school students are enrolled in charter schools.
- New Orleans is also an incredibly cheap place to live compared to other major cities. This is a plus for startups struggling to get off the ground, since the cost of labor and office space are so low.
- A host of startups have managed to make it big in New Orleans. iSeatz, a company that allows users to book multiple legs of travel on one platform, jumped from gross bookings of $8 million in 2005 to $2 billion in 2013. Another tech company, Kickboard, which helps tracks students’ education progress, raised a $2 million round of funding in February.
Of course, not everything is easy in the Big Easy. Demand for programmers far outstrips supply regardless of whether a startup launches in New York, Boston or Seattle. But New Orleans particularly suffers from a shortage of programming talent. The Atlantic:
There is no getting around this central fact: The city isn’t merely miles behind San Jose and Austin in attracting the nation’s top talent. It’s behind the national average. The share of New Orleans young adults with a bachelor’s degree has increased from 23 to 26 percent since 2000. That’s not just below the average city, but also it’s growing slower than the average city.
But, as the Atlantic points out, entrepreneurs tend to flock. If New Orleans can gain some momentum, the industry might just decide to make the city a new hub.
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April 5, 2013 12:00 pm
“No one knows for certain how much of the planet’s private wealth is parked in tax havens,” says the CBC. “One estimate is that there’s $32 trillion stashed offshore; a more conservative calculation puts it at a minimum of $8 trillion. Either way, that means tens – if not hundreds – of billions of dollars in lost tax revenues for the world’s governments.”
A massive investigate project by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists saw reporters dig through 2.5 million files, revealing “the secrets of more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts, exposing hidden dealings of politicians, con men and the mega-rich the world over.”
The leaked files provide facts and figures — cash transfers, incorporation dates, links between companies and individuals — that illustrate how offshore financial secrecy has spread aggressively around the globe, allowing the wealthy and the well-connected to dodge taxes and fueling corruption and economic woes in rich and poor nations alike.
ICIJ’s investigation is an incredibly thorough look at the global tax game, one played by “the wife of Russia’s deputy prime minister,” “Indonesian billionaires with ties to the late dictator Suharto,” along with “American doctors and dentists and middle-class Greek villagers as well as families and associates of long-time despots, Wall Street swindlers, Eastern European and Indonesian billionaires, Russian corporate executives, international arms dealers and a sham-director-fronted company that the European Union has labeled as a cog in Iran’s nuclear-development program.”
Talk of tax havens, loopholes and secret bank accounts and international offices (not always illegal, mind you) comes up all the time when discussing how some extremely rich people or corporations avoid paying taxes. Perhaps you’re curious as to how this seemingly other world works. To that end, the CBC has put together a fun interactive that lets you walk through the steps of how to set up your own tax haven, everything from picking the kind of sham business you want, picking your favorite tax-friendly nation, and deciding whether to use your own name on the documents of one of a “nominee.”
No one is recommending that you actually do this. While holding money in offshore accounts, setting up businesses overseas and many of the other routes taken to hiding money from the tax collectors are not in themselves inherently illegal, moving money in and out of these holdings in ways that allow you to skirt taxes are, meaning that there’s little reason to go to all the effort if you just plan to keep things above board.
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March 26, 2013 12:30 pm
Most of psychology hasn’t ever seen Myers-Briggs test—the one that labels people with mysterious sets of letters like ESTJ, INFP, INTJ— as a good way to learn about people. But companies seem to have missed the boat on that. According to The Guardian, they rely on those four letters far more than they should.
Polling their readers, The Guardian uncovered many reports of companies using Myers-Briggs (MBTI, for short) in all sorts of ways. Some companies put it on their employees profiles. Others use the test for team-building. Some even use it during the interview process.
For those who preach the MBTI, this is a quite lucrative business. The Guardian says:
Training in the MBTI and its variations is typical for those in Human Resources etc. and can be quite expensive. The MBTI as an industry apparently makes $20 million a year. When you’ve spent so much time and money on learning something, of course you’re going to have a faith in it, even to the point of cognitive dissonance.
But as for accuracy and helpfulness, well, the MBTI fails that test. Here’s The Guardian again on just some of the weaknesses:
[T]he most obvious flaw is that the MBTI seems to rely exclusively on binary choices….For example, in the category of extrovert v introvert, you’re either one or the other; there is no middle ground. People don’t work this way, no normal person is either 100% extrovert or 100% introvert, just as people’s political views aren’t purely “communist” or “fascist”. Many who use the MBTI claim otherwise, despite the fact that Jung himself disagreed with this and statistical analysis reveals even data produced by the test shows a normal distribution rather than bimodal, refuting the either/or claims of the MBTI.
One obvious trait that the MBTI has in common with horoscopes is its tendency to describe each personality type using only positive words. Horoscopes are so popular, in part, because they virtually always tell people just what they want to hear, using phrases that most people generally like to believe are true, like “You have a lot of unused potential.” They’re also popular because they are presented as being personalized based on the person’s sign. This has been called the Forer Effect, after psychologist Bertram Forer who, in 1948, gave a personality test to his students and then gave each one a supposedly personalized analysis. The impressed students gave the analyses an average accuracy rating of 85%, and only then did Forer reveal that each had received an identical, generic report. Belief that a report is customized for us tends to improve our perception of the report’s accuracy.
Scientists who have tried to validate the test have come up short. One researcher at Indiana University tried to take a rigorous look at the MBTI in comparison to other psychological methods. His conclusion:
In summary, it appears that the MBTI does not conform to many of the basic standards expected of psychological tests. Many very specific predictions about the MBTI have not been confirmed or have been proved wrong. There is no obvious evidence that there are 16 unique categories in which all people can be placed. There is no evidence that scores generated by the MBTI reflect the stable and unchanging personality traits that are claimed to be measured. Finally, there is no evidence that the MBTI measures anything of value.
Ouch. Now, it’s not really that surprising that bosses use things that aren’t proven to work. Things like encouraging multi-tasking. But at The Guardian, Dean Burnett was surprised at just how common the MBTI seemed to be. Here’s his theory about why:
I personally feel it’s more to do with people’s tendency to go for anything that offers an easy solution. People will always go for the new fad diet, the alternative remedy, the five dollar wrinkle trick that makes dermatologists hate you for some reason. For all that it may be well-intended, the MBTI offers a variation on that. People are very complex, variable and unpredictable. Many users of the MBTI believe that a straightforward test can simplify them to the point where they can be managed, controlled and utilised to make them as efficient and productive as possible. It’s no wonder businesses are keen to embrace something like that; it would be the ideal tool if it were guaranteed to achieve this.
So the next time you see those four letters, whether in online dating or on the job, just know that they mean essentially nothing.
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March 25, 2013 1:39 pm
In 1998, Hank Eskin started a website called WheresGeorge.com, dedicated to tracking dollar bills across the United States. Members of this club are called Georgers. They stamp dollar bills with their website, then search for and track those bills as they travel across the United States.
At NPR, Stan Alcorn caught up with some of these trackers. He writes:
[T]ypical Georgers log in religiously to enter their dollars’ serial numbers and ZIP codes before they stamp and spend them. If one gets entered a second time, the Georger gets an email. That’s called a “hit.”
Robert Rothenberg was sitting at the table in Kabooz’s when he got a hit in New Jersey. He gets a lot of hits, since he’s entered nearly 100,000 bills into the website’s database.
“I have a hit streak going since July of 2010, every day since then. I’m trying to get to 1,000 days, which will be the end of the month,” Rothenberg says.
Now, what started as a quirky hobby has turned into a national bill hunt that’s useful for all sorts of people—like physicists. Dirk Brockmann, a physicist at Northwestern University, writes at his website about meeting a cabinet maker in Vermont who tipped him off to the site:
After the conference I decided to visit Dennis Derryberry, an old friend from college who lives within driving distance to Montreal in the green mountains of Vermont, where he works as a cabinet maker. After a few hours on the highway Dennis and his family welcomed me to their beautiful house in the woods. During this visit Dennis, one of the most witty individuals I have ever met, asked me one evening on his porch while we were having a beer, “So Dirk, what are you working on?” – “I’m interested in the patterns that underly human travel,” I replied, and told him about my efforts to better understand human mobility and our goal of developing more quantitative models for the spread of epidemics. “It’s just amazingly difficult to compile all this data,” I explained. Dennis paused a while and then inquired, “Do you know this website www.wheresgeorge.com?”
From there, Brockmann has used the bills to study how networks move move and change, infectious diseases and all sorts of other things. Eskin, for one, is surprised at both the popularity and the usefulness of his little project. And when Georgers get together, it still feels like a small club. Here’s NPR again:
At Kabooz’s Bar and Grill at New York’s Penn Station, Jennifer Fishinger is covering her table in stacks of ones. There are 500 $1 bills laid out.
At the next table over, David Henry has his stacks of cash in plastic bags. They’re paper-clipped $1 bills in groups of 10.
If only everyone else’s little hobbies could do the same amount for science.
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