Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Here’s What Your Part Of America Eats On Thanksgiving

Going deeper, the Southeast is the definitive home of canned cranberry sauce; respondents from the region are 50 percent more likely to pick that over the homemade variety. The Middle Atlantic states disproportionately have cauliflower as a side — 17 percent in the region versus 9 percent nationwide — while Texas and central Southern states see cornbread as far more necessary than the rest of the country, with 40 percent of respondents from those regions having it at dinner, compared with only 28 percent of the nation.
The Southeast prefers their carbs in the form of mac and cheese — 35 percent of respondents in that region include the dish on their Thanksgiving menu versus 20 percent of the country overall. Meanwhile, New England is losing its mind over squash, with 56 percent demanding it on their table, compared with only 18 percent of the nation as a whole. This is, by far, the most confusing finding of this whole pursuit. Did Gronk endorse squash or something?
What about dessert? Every region enjoys pumpkin pie. But beyond that, there are three Americas: The America that disproportionately has apple pie (New England and the Middle Atlantic), the America that has pecan pie and sweet potato pie (the assorted South), and the America that consumes cherry pie (the Midwest and West).
Still, after dessert, the nation unites around that most American of traditions: buying shit. With little variation among regions, a solid 23 percent of respondents said they would shop Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day, a great way to leave the family behind a little early.
Another way to ditch the party early: leave after dinner to hang out with high school friends. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they’ve done that. So it might be worth checking out Facebook ahead of time to see which of your old associates don’t have kids yet. stumbleupon

Friday, November 13, 2015

Missy Elliott's Return Is Everything We Crave

It's been a decade since rapper Missy Elliott released an album, and three years since her last single. When she turned up for a surprise performance during this year's Super Bowl Halftime Show, fans went wild. Now, they have even more reason to celebrate.
Today, Elliott released a new song and video called "WTF (Where They From)," featuring a verse from Pharrell, some eye-popping visuals and the rapper herself in top form. NPR Music critic Ann Powers spoke with All Things Considered about why it's good to have Elliott back.
"Missy is a unique figure in the history of pop music, and particularly in the video age. She's known for these incredibly inventive, very kinetic clips that feature her in outrageous outfits doing dance moves that just dazzle you — and, of course, rhyming like nobody's business as well."

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Could Your Social Media Footprint Step On Your Credit History?

In December 1912, financier John Pierpont "J.P." Morgan testified in Washington before the Bank and Currency Committee of the House of Representatives investigating Wall Street's workings of the time.
The fascinating record produced from the testimony called him the "uncrowned king of finance" and recounted this exchange between Morgan and the committee's lawyer, Samuel Untermyer:
Untermyer: "Is not commercial credit based primarily upon money or property?"
Morgan: "No, sir, the first thing is character."
Untermyer: "Before money or property?"
Morgan: "Before money or anything else. Money cannot buy it."
Further on, Morgan also produces this financial proverb material: "A man I do not trust could not get money from me on all the bonds in Christendom."
A century later, this memory has found new life in a growing number of stories about alternative ways of calculating credit scores, apparently promoted by the co-founder of a startup called Lenddo.
It's a modern-day iteration of the idea of character as a commercial value: companies going online to try to figure out your financial potential from posts and connections from Facebook, Twitter and, yes, LinkedIn (professional contacts there are "especially revealing of an applicant's 'character and capacity' to repay," another creditworthiness startup founder told the Economist, in 2013).
The latest wave of coverage comes from a story in the Financial Times about FICO, the credit scoring company, headlined: "Being 'wasted' on Facebook may damage your credit score."
The FT says FICO is developing a way to price loans to "millions of people who have historically been off the grid" and so the firm is "looking at data on a spectrum" from credit card repayment history to information volunteered on Facebook or other social media.
"If you look at how many times a person says 'wasted' in their profile, it has some value in predicting whether they're going to repay their debt," FICO CEO Will Lansing is quoted in the FT as saying. "It's not much, but it's more than zero."
If you get the impression that FICO might use your Web posts to dock your credit scores, you're not alone. But here's a clarification from FICO spokeswoman Christina Goethe:
"The headline about social media posts created a misperception. FICO is not utilizing Facebook data, or any other type of social media data, in calculating FICO Scores. Mr. Lansing was talking generally about the fact that different types of data have different levels of predictive value."
What FICO is doing is piloting a new type of score, called FICO Score XD, which would add telecom and utility bills (from another credit reporting company Equifax) and property and public records (from LexisNexis) to its calculations to score people who can't be scored otherwise, for instance those without a credit history.
Goethe, in an email, explains how it works:
"FICO Score XD is currently designed to only score consumers that are not scorable with traditional credit data. The algorithm checks to determine if a traditional FICO Score can be generated first, and if it can, the traditional score is returned to the lender. If it cannot, FICO Score XD provides a second chance to get approved. The goal of FICO Score XD is to expand access to credit."
OK, but what if FICO, or Experian, or Equifax, or TransUnion, or their smaller rivals do decide to take social media data into account in building your file, and not just to prevent fraud? Their consumer reports can be used not just for loan and credit card decisions, but also hiring, insurance and housing.
Knowledge Is Power
The first thing to know is this: You have to be told if information from your file has been used against you.
Bob Schoshinski is an assistant director in the privacy and identity protection division at the Federal Trade Commission. He says if your consumer credit data causes a bank, an insurer or landlord to reject your application or give you worse terms than you could have gotten, they have to give you what's called an "adverse action notice."
It's the kind of notice, Schoshinski says, that explains: We rejected your application or gave you a worse deal because of your credit report or score, and here's where we got the report or score and here are the major factors that determined our decision.
Employers who want to peek in your background through a credit or consumer report have to give you even more of a heads-up with a "pre-adverse action notice," Schoshinski says, in case potential hires want to dispute anything on their report before a decision has been made.
And that's another thing you can do under the Fair Credit Reporting Act: Make sure that your information is correct, wherever it may have been collected. Consumer reporting agencies must investigate disputed information and then correct or delete things that are wrong, incomplete or unverifiable.
"Generally speaking the FCRA is neutral as to what kind of data a credit reporting agency, or a lender, or an employer uses," including social media, Schoshinski says. "You have to have procedures that assure a maximum possible accuracy of the information you're providing."
The FCRA also prohibits credit reports from including negative stuff that's more than 7 years old (for instance, arrests) and leaves no room for shady uses of credit reports: If a bank, insurer, employer or landlord doesn't acknowledge that their decision stemmed from a credit report, "then they're violating the law," Schoshinski says.
When You're Found Online Directly
Things get murkier when the social media data is collected not by consumer reporting companies, but banks/employers/property owners/insurers themselves. Those instances are not overseen by the FCRA and are guided by other anti-discrimination laws and ethics standards (for example, fair housing laws), whose relationships with social media are still getting sorted out, too.
NPR's Yuki Noguchi has delved into the thorny issue of employers sleuthing on social media accounts of potential new hires. She found hazy rules of what hiring folks can do with the information the a job seeker makes publicly available, especially given that discrimination can be hard to pinpoint when it's based on intangible and sometimes subconscious impacts of things like scanning a Facebook page.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took on the topic in March 2014, issuing a recap press release with this note from panelists' observations: "To the extent that employers conduct a social media background check [to identify and recruit good candidates], it is better to have either a third party or a designated person within the company who does not make hiring decisions do the check, and only use publicly available information."
Spokeswoman Kimberly Smith-Brown says that workshop remains the EEOC's latest formal action on the topic of social media.
The FTC's Schoshinski says: "Our main concern is about consent. If someone wants that information to be out there and wants to put information out about themselves, through social media or otherwise, then that shouldn't be a concern.
"But if there's information that someone either doesn't know is going to be put out there or hasn't been told if they enter information here, it's going to be shared with thousands if not millions of people, then that can become a problem." npr

happy halloween from a great pair of new york boobs :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Toxicity of mercury hot spots can be reduced with application of activated carbon, researchers discover

Hot spots of mercury pollution in aquatic sediments and soils can contaminate local food webs and threaten ecosystems, but cleaning them up can be expensive and destructive. Researchers from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and University of Maryland, Baltimore County have found a new low-cost, nonhazardous way to reduce the risk of exposure: using charcoal to trap it in the soil.
Researcher Upal Ghosh spreads SediMite, a mixture containing activated carbon, onto a marsh. An activated carbon mixture, like this one, can make mercury stick to it instead of seeping into water or the food web. The alternative—digging up the soil—could devastate the ecosystem. (Photo by Cynthia Gilmour, SERC)

Mercury-contaminated “Superfund sites” contain some of the highest levels of mercury pollution in the U.S., a legacy of the many industrial uses of liquid mercury. But despite the threat, there are few available technologies to decrease the risk, short of digging up the sediments and burying them in landfills—an expensive process that can cause significant ecological damage.
In a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, Cynthia Gilmour (SERC), Upal Ghosh (UMBC) and their colleagues show that adding activated carbon, a form of charcoal processed to increase its ability to bind chemicals, can significantly reduce mercury exposure in these highly contaminated sites. With funding and support from several industry and federal partners, the team tested the technology in the laboratory with mercury-contaminated sediments from four locations: a river, a freshwater lake and two brackish creeks. To reduce the harm from mercury, the sorbents also had to decrease the amount of methylmercury taken up by worms.
“Methylmercury is more toxic and more easily passed up food webs than inorganic mercury,” said Gilmour, the lead author on the study. “Unfortunately, methylmercury is produced from mercury contamination by natural bacteria. To make contaminated sites safe again, we need to reduce the amount of methylmercury that gets into animals.”
Added at only 5 percent of the mass of surface sediments, activated carbon reduced methylmercury uptake by sediment-dwelling worms by up to 90 percent. “This technology provides a new approach for remediation of mercury-contaminated soils—one that minimizes damage to contaminated ecosystems, and may significantly reduce costs relative to digging or dredging,” said Ghosh, co-author on the study. Activated carbon can be spread on the surface of a contaminated sediment or soil, without physical disturbance, and left in place to mix into the sediment surface. Called “in-situ remediation,” the use of sorbents like activated carbon has been proven to reduce the uptake of several other toxic pollutants. However, this is the first time activated carbon had been tested for mercury-contaminated soils.
The research group is now testing its effectiveness in the field at several Superfund sites across the country. If successful in the field, this approach of treating soil with activated carbon may be able to reduce the risk of mercury exposure in polluted sites and subsequent contamination of food webs. –Kristen Minogue, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center  smithsonian