• And you thought the Yo app was goofy

    The stunning rise of the Yo app – which does nothing but make a friend’s phone utter the vacuous phrase – has cast a spotlight on one of the sillier niches in the multi-billion dollar app industry. There are more goofy, silly and downright absurd apps and services than ever, as every Tom, Dick and Harry with a bad idea can turn to fundraising sites including Kickstarter and IndieGoGo to pump themselves up.

    With thanks to Techcrunch, Valleywag and a subreddit with an unprintable name, here are 10 of the most ridiculous apps and services vying for your dollars recently. Not all have been funded, of course; technology projects don’t have a great track record of winning financial backing. On Kickstarter, for example, only 33% of projects in the tech category successfully reached their fundraising goals, 13th out of the site’s 15 funding categories (dance and theater projects have the highest success rate).

    1. One crazy service that opened its doors in June, only to shutter a week later,

    Read More »from And you thought the Yo app was goofy
  • If Washington is doing anything right, that’s news to ordinary Americans.

    Government approval ratings have hit new all-time lows, according to Gallup, which has been measuring the standing of big institutions since the 1970s. The percentage of Americans saying they have confidence in Congress has dropped to the earthworm level of 7%, the lowest in the history of the poll. The Supreme Court registered its own all-time low of 30%. The presidency, with a confidence rating of 29%, is at the lowest level since Barack Obama took office in 2009, though it was lower in 2007 and 2008, the last two years of George W. Bush’s second term.

    Government approval ratings typically drop during recessions, since more people feel worse off and some of them blame the government. Approval ratings usually bounce back during recoveries, as people have less to complain about. That makes the current levels of dissatisfaction unusual, as Lauren Lyster and I discuss in the video above.

    The last recession

    Read More »from The real reason Americans are disgusted with government
  • Facebook continues to give users reasons to dislike the tech giant. Over the weekend news broke that the social media site had manipulated the news feeds of nearly 700,000 users without their knowledge.

    It undertook an experiment in 2012 to test the notion that users feel bad when they see lots of positive news from their "friends." The experiment involved reducing the number of positive news feeds for some and reducing the number of negative news feed for others. The study found that the more positive the news feeds a user received, the more positive their postings became, and vice versa.

    Related: Facebook: What’s not to like?

    The results were published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Then on Sunday the experiment's lead researcher Adam Kramer posted an apology for the experiment on his Facebook page, publicizing the news:

    "Having written and designed this experiment myself, I can tell you that our goal was

    Read More »from What Facebook did to outrage users
  • An astounding 70% of college seniors had student loan debt in 2012. According to a study by the Institute for College Access and Success, the average student loan debt for a 2012 graduate was about $30,000. And it's about to go up.

    Every year for the past 30 years college tuition and fees have been rising anywhere from 2 to 5%. Four-year public college and universities now cost an average $9,000 a year, including room and board, for in-state residents and private nonprofit colleges cost an average $41,000, according to The College Board.

    This September students will not only be paying more for school than they paid last year, but they will also be charged higher rates for new loans.

    As of July 1, Stafford loans will carry a 4.66% rate for undergraduates and 6.21% for graduate students. PLUS loans, used by parents and graduate students, will charge 7.21%. All these rates are set as a differential above the 10-year Treasury note.

    For perspective, consider that 30-year fixed rate

    Read More »from Think college is out of reach now? Just wait.
  • No part of the economy has dished out a stronger head fake than housing. In the first half of 2013, home prices bounced back, sales rose and it looked like the bust was firmly over. But since then, rising mortgage rates have spooked buyers, sales have trailed off and the ranks of renters have swelled.

    So when will the false starts cease and the housing market recover for real? “Several challenges still remain,” Daniel McCue of Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Research tells me in the video above. “Sales and construction levels are up but still at depressed levels historically.”

    Harvard’s Joint Center just published its annual overview of the housing market, which highlights several things that still must happen for housing to fully recover. A healthy housing market is vital to the economy because it generates spending not just on homes but on furniture, appliances and many other key categories of goods and services. If the housing market is sputtering, the overall economy

    Read More »from Here’s when housing will recover — for real
  • Americans are preparing to celebrate Independence Day, and most of the world is fixated on Brazil as the World Cup tournament field tightens.

    Yet market attention might soon swivel toward Europe, with a full economic calendar set for the days ahead. Next week's activity comes amid concerns that economic lethargy could displace investor optimism about a return to growth and the effectiveness of central-bank stimulus efforts in the region.

    The European Commission Friday reported an unexpected decline in household and business economic sentiment, and inflation in the euro zone has stubbornly remained below 1% since the fall, keeping big-picture fears of deflation nearby. The European economy nudged ahead by 0.2% in the first quarter, down from 0.3% the prior period, and now higher oil prices and skittishness over Russia and Ukraine are serving as the unanticipated threats of the moment.  As Reuters quoted Christoph Weil, economist at Commerzbank: "The good news from the euro zone is

    Read More »from Economic risks in Europe may trump soccer drama next week
  • The most recent data out of China, including PMI and industrial profits, were consistent with the broader truth: The world's second-largest economy has clearly downshifted but isn't heading for a 'hard landing' -- at least not anytime soon.

    Dan Gross, editor and columnist at The Daily Beast, recently returned from a trip to China and joined me in the accompanying video to explain why hardcore China bears are likely to remain frustrated.

    "They have a lot of problems," he says, citing suffocating air pollution, a burgeoning credit bubble and "bubblicious activity" in cities like Wuhan, where Gross describes seeing "row upon row of apartment buildings and office buildings you could see through."

    But "the idea of collapse is far-fetched," he continues, citing several macro trends.

    While China's "ghost-town" phenomenon has been well documented, less discussed is the future of those cities. "In four or five years they'll be filled with people," Gross says, noting China continues to move

    Read More »from China collapse scenario "far-fetched," Gross says: "They seem to be powering through"
  • A stagnant economy has undoubtedly put a lot of financial stress on the middle class. And that is bumming out America’s 1 percenters. “Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society,” entrepreneur Nick Hanauer wrote recently in Politico, in an open letter to “my fellow zillionaires.”

    Hanauer — an early investor in Amazon (AMZN) who says he has been involved with more than 30 startups — cites the well-documented rise in income inequality during the past 30 years as the ultimate cause of a Mad Maxian dystopia he envisions. "If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us," he writes. "One day, somebody sets himself on fire, then thousands of people are in the streets, and before you know it, the country is burning. And then there's no time for us to get to the airport and jump on our Gulfstream Vs and fly to New Zealand."

    He’s not the only wealthy worrier. Venture capitalist Tom Perkins

    Read More »from The rich can stop worrying about a middle-class revolution
  • The rise and fall of the shopping mall

    One of the most iconic pieces of Americana, the shopping mall, isn’t really American at all. In fact, the first mall was created by an Austrian refugee who wanted to recreate an American version of downtown Vienna.

    Victor Gruen escaped to America from Nazi Austria in 1938 with, “an architect’s degree, eight dollars, and no English.” By the late 1940s, World War II was over and the American economy was in full swing. Suburban sprawl and consumerism were the new normal, and this bothered Gruen. “[Strip malls are] avenues of horror… flanked by the greatest collection of vulgarity—billboards, motels, gas stations, shanties, car lots, miscellaneous industrial equipment, hot dog stands, wayside stores—ever collected by mankind,” he wrote.

    Gruen conveived of a central, indoor shopping location that would allow Americans to get out of their cars and socialize. He envisioned a crop of apartment towers popping up around the mall, the creation of an urban downtown within the suburbs - that's not

    Read More »from The rise and fall of the shopping mall
  • Big data is even bigger than you think. Hospital organizations are now using personal data on current and prospective patients to market their services. So if your credit card transactions reveal a predilection for fast food or cigarettes, you may be hearing from your healthcare provider.

    Bloomberg reports that two major nonprofit hospital organizations -- Carolinas HealthCare System and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center -- are adopting such programs.

    Carolinas HealthCare System, which operates more than 900 facilities including hospitals, nursing homes and physician offices, is collecting data on individuals' credit card transactions, and then feeding that into predictive models to score an individual's health care risks. It plans to pass that information on to doctors and nurses so they can contact high-risk patients before they get sick.

    University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which has more than 20 hospitals in the Keystone state, is collecting demographic and household

    Read More »from Big data, big brother and now big doctor

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