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Wednesday
Apr232014

Drones, Phones and Mind Maps Make MIT List of Technology Breakthroughs

iStock/360/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Cool ideas to power the future: Drones for farmers, brain mapping for neuroscientists and super-private smartphones are among the 10 breakthrough technologies highlighted in the new annual list by MIT Technology Review.

The magazine’s rundown is a reminder that innovations will continue to change the way we live and, in many cases, offer improvements.

A new mind map, a decade in the works, “shows structures of the brain in far greater detail than ever before,” and gives neuroscientists new ways to look at the brain’s incredible complexity.

The magazine also reports on new efforts to build smartphones for the Snowden area. New models are being introduced with extra security and privacy that would make it far more difficult for eavesdroppers to monitor phone calls.

With growing populations, demand for food continues to rise. “Relatively cheap drones with advanced sensors and imaging capabilities are giving farmers new ways to increase yields and reduce crop damage,” says the Review.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Employment Outlook Brighter for College Grads

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It’s good to be a college graduate. Or, at the very least, it’s better than it was last year.

An update of the National Association of Colleges and Employers' job outlook finds that employers will hire 8.6 percent more graduates this spring, compared to the same time in 2013.

Employers that responded to the NACE survey indicated that they’re mostly looking for business, engineering and accounting majors with bachelor’s degrees. In fact, seven in ten companies specifically want business majors.

Grads who will likely struggle to find work will be those who got their degrees in health science and education although Andrea Koncz, employment information officer for NACE, points out that the preponderance of respondents were from the finance, insurance and real estate industries.

As for who can expect to earn the most with their bachelor’s degree, it's petroleum engineering majors with a starting salary of $95,300.

While companies expect to employ more grads in 2014, Koncz says the numbers are still on the flat side because the rate of increase is really no different from previous years.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Online 'Dating' Site for Dogs or Cats

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It’s like online dating -- except for people seeking dogs or cats or chinchillas or whatever else may be the perfect pet for them.

“It’s exactly like using Match.com,” says Darrell Lerner, who ought to know. Before he founded pet-finder site Allpaws (which currently has 82,960 pets awaiting adoption), Lerner co-founded SNAP Interactive, the developer of AYI (Are You Interested?), a dating application on Facebook with, he says, some 70 million installs.

Allpaws, says its website, “Takes online pet listing in a new and exciting direction by offering an online dating style interface complete with advanced search tools.” Those include some 30 different search filters, Lerner tells ABC News.

Adopters (we hesitate to call them “early adopters,” although the site launched only this past January) can search by type of pet, breed, location, gender, age, size or friskiness. You can search for a bird who’s great with children, a senior cat or a special-needs chinchilla.

The site lists over 49,000 dogs, over 31,000 cats, 1,208 rabbits and 272 horses -- not to mention 658 animals “small and furry,” 79 that hail from the barnyard and 238 slitherers and other assorted reptiles.

Meanwhile, PuppyFind.com, as its name implies, matches puppy-seekers with breeders. “We’re puppies-only,” says Mike Peters, head of business development.

Peters tells ABC News the site lists some 50,000 puppies (from 300 different breeds), some priced as high at $3,000 per pup. The site makes money by charging breeders a flat fee. It exists only to connect buyers and sellers. From there, it takes no further role in the transaction.

The site, says Peters, was the target of scammers some years ago -- people falsely claiming to be breeders, many doing business from overseas. They would list puppies for sale and collect the money. Then Fido would not be forthcoming. Such scammers, in their sales blurbs, would tell heart-tugging tales explaining why they had to sell their Dalmatians at fire-sale prices, he says. The cons were cousins to those now in circulation, for example, where a man trapped in the Cairo airport promises to send you a check for $1,000, if only you will wire $350 so he can get a new passport.

PuppyFind, Peters says, has since installed security software that makes such scams harder to perpetrate.

Miranda Furtado, 28, of Toronto, Canada, tells ABC she used PuppyFind last November. The self-described editor, guru and broadcaster -- founder of a website that delivers sports news to women (BabesDigBalls) -- says she had always wanted a French bulldog. She calls finding the right dog online a higher-risk proposition than online dating.

“With a puppy, you’re putting money down,” she explains. “I wasn’t even sure the dog would show up.”

But he did. And Elvis (so-named because he has a cleft lip) has since turned out to be “an amazing dog.”

His lip was not a defect in Furtado’s eyes, since it made him a cheaper buy than a Canadian bulldog would have been. “Here, they’re really expensive,” she explained.

Elvis is the best dog she has ever had, says Furtado. “I couldn’t be happier,” she says.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Hotel Industry Fighting Back Against Airbnb

Chris Weeks/Getty Images for Airbnb(NEW YORK) -- With hotel prices soaring nearly 20 percent in the last four years, websites such as Airbnb.com that offer short-term rentals, typically at a fraction of the price of hotels, are booming.

For homeowners like Gaston and Alexas de los Reyes, it’s a way to earn a little extra money. Through Airbnb, they rent out a studio in their Philadelphia home.

“It’s very reliable and significant source of income for us,” Alexa de los Reyes said.

For travelers, it’s a way to save money. In New York City, a one-night stay in a one-bedroom, one-bath apartment runs as low as $100 through Airbnb. A hotel room in Times Square, on the other hand, could cost as much as $700 a night.

Now some lawmakers in cities like New York and San Francisco are crying foul, suggesting these types of rentals in their towns are basically “illegal hotels.”

New York’s attorney general faced off with Airbnb in court Tuesday, alleging that many of the rentals in New York City are illegal and that they cost the state tens of millions of dollars in unpaid sales taxes.

Airbnb calls the case a “government-sponsored fishing expedition” and says it is “proud to stand up for our hosts who share their homes and against this over-broad [case].”

Hotels are also joining the fight against Airbnb.

“These illegal facilities are impinging on available housing stock, lost revenue for the city and potential job losses for the tourism industry,” a spokesperson for the Hotel Association of New York told ABC News.

 


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr222014

Bill Ackman’s Secret Deal for Herbalife Whistleblower

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Rubenstein Communications(NEW YORK) -- In his year-long campaign against the embattled Herbalife company, Wall Street hedge fund manager Bill Ackman secretly promised a disgruntled former company executive as much as $3.6 million over 10 years if he lost his job after providing information to government investigators and the media.

Ackman’s firm so far has paid the whistleblower $80,000 under the arrangement, according to the former Herbalife executive’s lawyer.

“It was the right thing to do,” Ackman told ABC News.

The hedge fund run by the prominent Wall Street investor, known for his “short” positions, stands to make $1 billion if the price of Herbalife’s stock collapses as a result of his allegations the company is a fraud, a charge the company strongly denies.

The agreement between Ackman and the former executive, Giovanni Bohorquez, was signed in June 2013 but required both sides to keep it confidential.

Two months later, the New York Times published a critical article about an alleged problem in 2011 at an Herbalife manufacturing plant based on internal documents provided by a person described only as a “former employee, who was granted anonymity out of fear of retribution from the company.” The article said the former employee’s legal bills were being paid by Ackman.

Herbalife says the former employee is Bohorquez and that any alleged manufacturing problems were quickly and safely resolved.

In December, after extensive discussions with his attorney, Bohorquez agreed to be interviewed on camera by ABC News for a report about his experience inside the Herbalife executive offices.

During the on-camera interview, which Ackman’s public relations team helped to arrange and which Bohorquez’s attorney attended, Bohorquez flatly denied he was being paid anything by Ackman or receiving any benefit other than his travel expenses and lawyers’ fees and legal costs.

“I’m not getting a benefit,” he said.

Asked last week why he did not disclose the additional arrangement with Ackman during the interview, Bohorquez said his answers were truthful because he had not invoked the provisions at the time and so had not yet collected any money.

“I didn’t tell you because I was not looking at using it,” he said.

His lawyer, Stephen D. Alexander, said ABC News did not ask “the right questions” and should have assumed there was more to the indemnification arrangement for Ackman to cover legal costs than Bohorquez said.

“We described the fact that he was indemnified for litigation,” Alexander said, but added, “We never told you, I admit, about the terms of the indemnification agreement.”

Bohorquez, who left Herbalife in 2011, said he lost his new job at a chain of laundromats before the ABC News interview due to the stress of being a whistleblower. He said he began collecting the $20,000 monthly payments under his arrangement with Ackman a few weeks after the ABC News interview because his wife had also lost her job.

“This opportunity to do justice to the things that I saw came up, and Pershing Square [Ackman's hedge fund] indemnified me from what would happen if I were to lose my job,” Bohorquez said.

Ackman said he thought Bohorquez and his lawyer had disclosed the deal.

“He should disclose it, absolutely. Absolutely,” said Ackman.

But Ackman’s own public relations team also failed to reveal the secret arrangement prior to the interview.

Bohorquez’s lawyer, Alexander, finally revealed the secret arrangement to ABC News in March after a New York Times story raised questions about financial ties between Ackman and others speaking publicly against Herbalife.

Ackman said he agreed to the deal after Bohorquez balked at going public because he feared his disclosures could make it difficult for him to find work at an executive level.

“Giovanni could not afford to take the company on. We thought his story was important,” Ackman told ABC News. “Being a whistleblower is a very dangerous thing to do if you want to get a job."

Bohorquez is one of the few insiders to ever talk critically about Herbalife.

Under the terms of the generous deal, a copy of which was provided by Ackman, Bohorquez was entitled to receive as much as $250,000 a year for 10 years if he lost his then-current job at a national chain of laundromats as a result of his “disclosures” to the media or the government.

The contract provides a five-percent raise every year, and $500,000 more if he loses out on possible public offerings from his then-employer. If he finds a new job that pays him less than $250,000 a year, Pershing will make up the difference. Taken together, the total value to Bohorquez over 10 years could be as much $3.61 million.

The deal requires Bohorquez to actively look for work and to be truthful in all of his statements about Herbalife to the media and government.

“You should judge for yourself whether Giovanni is an honest man or not,” Ackman said. “I think Giovanni will be viewed as a hero.”

Ackman acknowledges spending more than $20 million in a lobbying and media campaign against Herbalife.

“I will pursue Herbalife to the end of the earth,” he told ABC News.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr222014

Assessing the Damage from the Heartbleed Bug

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Internet didn’t stay broken-hearted from the Heartbleed bug for long.

Heartbleed, which even has its own logo, helped raise awareness about online security, and as a result, it appears many sites have now patched security flaws and prompted users to change their passwords.

The bug exploits a flaw in Open SSL software that leaves private information, such as passwords and credit card information, up for grabs on sites that aren’t protected.

Sucuri Security of Menifee, Calif., did an analysis of websites ranked by Internet traffic company Alexa last week and found that the top-ranked 1,000 websites were all patched.

Of the top one million websites, Sucuri found that 20,320 -- 2 percent -- were still vulnerable, according to the company’s blog.

San Diego-based security firm Websense reported similar findings and said that in a scan of 50,000 top-ranked websites, at least 800 were still vulnerable to Heartbleed.

Mark McCurley, senior information security adviser at Identity Theft 911, said Lastpass.com/heartbleed can help you check to see if a site is vulnerable. You can also ask the company or website if they have fixed potential flaws, then update to a strong password, using numbers, upper case, lower case and symbols, McCurley said.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr222014

Stocks Climb as S&P 500 Rises for Sixth Straight Session

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Wall Street trading climbed higher Tuesday, getting a boost from pharmaceutical companies.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 65 points at 16,514.37. The Nasdaq Composite gained nearly 40 points at 4,161.46, and the S&P 500 ended the session up 8 points at 1,879.55, marking gains for a sixth straight session.

News of mergers in the pharmaceutical industry lifted stocks, with Botox maker Allergan surging following an announcement from Valeant Pharmaceuticals that said it teamed up with activist investor Bill Ackman to make a bid for the company. Meanwhile, Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis claims a number of multibillion-dollar deals will boost its profitability, but the changes will affect an estimated 15,000 employees.  

After the bell, AT&T reported first-quarter earnings that barely beat estimates, joined by McDonald's, which announced lower profits.

Home sales fell in March to the lowest level since 2012, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr222014

Limited Supply Responsible for Drop in March Home Sales

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Home sales fell in March to the lowest level since 2012 thanks to a limited supply of homes and relatively higher prices, according to the National Association of Realtors.
 
In a positive sign, first time home buyers made up 30 percent of home sales. This is still below historical standards, but the highest in a year.
 
What the housing market now needs is more home construction.
 
A combination of a lack of loan availability and a shortage of labor is among the reasons holding back new construction, says NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun.
 
Yun says that a lack of migrant workers is among the reasons for the shortage. During the boom years a lot of migrant workers were on construction sites, but during the bust many of them left.  And now home builders say they are having a hard time finding those same sorts of workers.
 
We may also want to keep in mind that March was very cold in much of the country, and that weather likely had an impact as well.
 
Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr222014

Hotel Prices Up 250% for Kentucky Derby Weekend

Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Big hats, big race and even bigger hotel prices. That's according to Trivago.com, a travel website that's tracking prices at Lexington, Ky., hotels over Kentucky Derby weekend.

Those prices are tracking high -- an average of $423 per night. That's a 247 percent increase as compared to the following weekend, when rates fall back to a much more reasonable $122 per night.

In other words, be prepared to pay up for a place to sleep off all those mint juleps.

But paying up doesn't seem to be a problem: Trivago reports it has less than 8 percent hotel availability in Lexington on Friday, May 2 and 11 percent on Saturday, May 3. The race is on May 3 and marks the 140th running of the race.

Skyrocketing hotel rates around major sporting events are not unusual. Super Bowl hotel rates were, at one point, up as much as 550 percent.

But there is a bit of good news: Rates for a room in Lexington on Derby weekend are 7 percent less expensive than they were last year on the same weekend.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr222014

Aereo Case at the Supreme Court: What’s at Stake?

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Supreme Court hears a case Tuesday pitting every major broadcasting company against a start-up technology company -- Aereo Inc. -- that allows subscribers to record and watch live TV broadcast programs over the Internet.

Aereo charges a monthly subscription fee for the service, but it does not have any license from copyright-holders to record or transmit their programs.

Here’s what Paul Clement, the powerhouse lawyer hired by the broadcasters (including ABC) says: “Aereo has built an entire business around the unauthorized exploitation of broadcasters’ copyrighted content.”

But David C. Frederick, a lawyer for Aereo, says the company has designed its technology to comply with copyright law.

“Because the performance embodied in each transmission from Aereo’s equipment -- the user’s playing of her recording -- is available only to the individual user who created that recording, the performance is private, not public,” Frederick said.

Aereo operates in New York City and other cities including Boston and Atlanta.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio