Monthly Archives: July 2015
Is it time for American students to start learning a second language fluently? Quite a few people would say “yes” — not to learn French or German, but to learn the universal coding languages of website developers everywhere.
Even President Obama has expressed his approval and excitement over “coding bootcamps,” as Wired reported, because they can give students a “ticket into the middle class.” Unlike regional languages, coding languages like HTML and CSS are understood and used around the world; they’re useful in nearly every profession, and they are undoubtedly the building blocks of the future as it becomes digitalized.
But there’s just one problem: these bootcamps cost money. A lot of money.
In fact, according to Wired, the average respectable coding school can charge “upwards of $10,000 and often require people to take an extended period of time off of work.”
Considering that tuition for the average public college cost just over $9,000 in the 2014-2015 academic year, even a young adult with a college savings fund may find it difficult to learn coding. Instead of being inclusive programs for Americans of all socioeconomic groups, it seems that these schools have made it difficult — if not impossible — for poorer Americans to enroll.
Affirm, a lending startup company, hopes to change that. Affirm raised $275 million in funding this past spring, according to Tech Crunch, and it has begun partnering with coding bootcamps in order to offer student loans for those wishing to learn how to code.
The loans are offered with 12-, 15-, or 18-month terms and have interest rates between 6-20%. Similar to traditional student loans, students don’t have to start repaying their debt for the first six months after they take out the loan, making it possible to attend a coding program and find a job before making any payments.
Student loans are traditionally limited to students attending four-year universities, but by modeling the lending service after these loans, a startup company like Affirm can provide similar financial support for a coding program, which may be just as valuable as a traditional college degree.
According to data from Course Report, coding bootcamps are expected to rake in about $170 million this year in revenue and teach more than 16,000 students.
The E-cig, or vaping, industry has grown drastically in the last decade, and the statistics are astonishing. In 2015, the vaping market reported a $2.5 billion in sales that didn’t exist ten years ago. An estimated four million Americans are now vaping, and a reported 6,000 new vaping shops opened in the last year alone.
Today, the consumer has about 466 e-cig brands and more than 7,700 flavors to choose from. The most popular flavors among vape users are fruit flavors — preferred by 31% of adults surveyed. This, however, has one worrisome side effect — the vape pens are very attractive to minors, and because the industry is so new, legislation hasn’t caught up their use.
Rosa DeLauro, a Democratic representative in the third district of Connecticut, is aiming to change that. In a comment for CTpost.com, DeLauro said: “We cannot afford a setback in the progress we have made limiting tobacco use. Consumers need to understand the possible health consequences of using e-cigarettes and the need to keep these toxic nicotine delivery devices out of our children’s hands.”
DeLauro is aiming to introduce legislation that would require verification that the customer is over 18 before allowing them to purchase vaping products online. Connecticut banned the sale of vaping materials to people under 18 last year, but this bill would ban the shipment of vaping products through USPS, and require the same age verification process as tobacco for online purchases.
This news comes amid a larger backlash against minors using vape pens. Last week, Ferrara Candy filed a formal complaint against the company TrinitySun Inc. for trademark infringement, claiming their flavor “Fruit Stripe” used the branding of the well-known Fruit Stripe gum to sell vaping products.
After sending several cease-and-desist letters, TrinitySun changed the name of their flavor to “striped gum,” but that wasn’t enough for Ferrara, according to an article on Consumerist. Ferrara stated in the complaint, “If parents thought Ferrara Candy was trying to use its famous candy brands to hook children into nicotine products, it would dramatically and irreparably harm Ferrara Candy and its FRUIT STRIPE trademark.”
Parents who want to keep their kids away from vaping would do well to talk to their children about it, and keep the products out of sight so as not to set a bad example, just as they would for tobacco use. The FDA proposed legislation to ban the sale of e-cigs to minors at a federal level in 2014, and several states have passed their own legislation doing the same already — among them Maryland, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Utah, Tennessee, Colorado, Wisconsin, and New Jersey.
Around the country, police departments and public health officials are scrambling to deal with the aftereffects of methamphetamine production. Not only do impromptu meth labs act as magnets for criminal activity, but they often explode or leak dangerous chemical fumes. However, experts say the danger doesn’t end just because manufacturers move on or police shut down an illicit lab. In most cases, meth production leaves dangerous chemical residue behind in the buildings where it’s made.
In Ionia County, Michigan, the Ionia County Health Department reports that of 42 condemned buildings in the area, 21 were closed because of dangerous contamination. Health Department Officer Ken Bowen says there are strict legal criteria a former meth lab location must meet before it can be re-occupied.
“Meth is made with a combination of what is basically poisonous chemicals,” Bowen said. “The residue found in homes is dangerous, especially for children.”
Carpets are especially prone to contamination, and pose a particular risk to young children who crawl and spend time on the floor. Even under normal conditions, the average residential carpet absorbs an entire pound of dirt and dust, and more than 20,000 mites can live in a single ounce of carpet dust. In meth labs, commercial carpet cleaning professionals say, carpet fibers can act as sponges, sucking up dangerous levels of highly toxic chemicals.
Jose Mazzuca was the operations manager for Meth Lab Cleanup Company, which contracts with the Drug Enforcement Agency and helps clean sites all over the country. He says too often meth labs are never even reported to the police, because homeowners are afraid their property value will plummet, while landlords don’t want to lose out on revenue. Plus, a decontamination can cost upwards of $10,000.
A new method for producing meth, known as the “Shake and Bake” method, allows cooks to produce the addictive drug in a single soda bottle. Ingredients like battery acid, cleaning products, and gasoline are mixed together, and often the chemical cocktail explodes.
“The rule of thumb is law enforcement finds one in 10 meth labs,” Mazzuca said.
Is a bad winter to blame for homeowners insurance hikes in Massachusetts?
That’s what homeowners and their insurance companies are saying after record-setting storms and snowfall left damage throughout the state. Massachusetts residents have now complained of a 9% rate increase on their homeowners policies, bringing the average cost of a policy in the state to about $1,150.
The state’s Division of Insurance approved the 8.9% increase for the largest insurer in Massachusetts, Mapfre USA Corp., which will take effect on August 1.
Last year, that increase was only 2.3%, affecting around 214,000 homeowners in the state.
Customers of Safety Insurance Co., which protects about 150,000 homeowners, will see a 9.1% increase on their home policies in December.
For the most part, the increases stem from the extreme weather and the damage it did to roofs, walls, and other parts of houses.
One homeowner’s damage was so bad that he needs ceilings, walls, and floors replaced throughout his home. Worse, however, is that his insurance company will only pay about one-tenth the true price of the repairs.
Most insurers, though, paid an average of $100,000 per claim. These were largely due to ice dams, according to the Boston Globe, which is caused by snow on roofs melting then freezing again, preventing proper drainage.
As one insurer explained, it’s common for companies to look at weather trends over periods of several years before deciding on their rates. This differs from car insurance, which may use something like the age of the driver if over 70 or under 25 as a factor in determining premiums.
But is snow entirely to blame for the insurance hikes?
Even in Texas, homeowners are seeing increases between 7% and 8%, especially in the Dallas area. While Texans in metropolitan areas may have homes similar to those found in Massachusetts, they also might need farmers home insurance policies in more rural areas.
The highest rates in Dallas-area zip codes were found in Arlington: $1,754 premiums for a home insured for $150,000. Plano’s cost was lower but was still around $1,400.
The most expensive insurer in the state was State Farm Insurance, usually offering the highest or second-highest premiums out of 33 total insurers.
As for Massachusetts residents, the governor says he will look into it, but that the rates are likely to hold.
Legal marijuana is catching on, according to NPR, and that means that business is flourishing in the states that have legalized it for either recreational or medicinal use. Yet the industry isn’t being shaped by public policy so much as the other way around.
Part of that growth stems from the revenue that marijuana businesses are seeing, especially in states where cannabis is 100% legalized. Washington state made $260 million in sales in 2014, which netted $65 million in taxes; Colorado saw revenues of $700 million last year.
If all 50 states were to legalize marijuana fully, according to one estimate, they could make about $3 billion collectively in taxes.
All that money can buy some serious influence where public policy is concerned.
Other states are poised to join in, especially with the medical marijuana industry. In New Hampshire, Gov. Maggie Hassan has approved a bill that would let doctors prescribe cannabis for more illnesses, and New York will begin granting business licenses and possibly offering other cannabis business resources for medical marijuana growers this month.
Visitors to the Cannabis Business Summit in Colorado noted that even politicians are seeing potential for the industry. Presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul even raised money for the industry at a private fundraiser, becoming the first-ever presidential candidate to do so.
Mason Tyvert, communications director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said at the business summit that this is no mistake. “Four years ago you had to chase down the presidential candidates and really nag them to talk about marijuana,” he said.
But that’s changed as the industry has expanded so rapidly over the past couple of years. Now candidates are answering questions about cannabis rather than dodging them, Tyvert said, and the issue is no longer one that can be ignored.
“You have business owners. You’ve got employees. You got a base of tax revenue,” Tyvert explained. “You really have to start treating this like any other legal industry.”
Over the last few decades, soccer has become one of the most popular sports for children and teens — but with this rise has come a parallel increase in the number of concussions and injuries seen young athletes.
Concussions, in particular, are becoming especially concerning to doctors and the public alike. Studies have shown that kids who receive concussions while playing youth soccer will suffer the consequences of these concussions — including memory loss, depression, and more — long after they stop playing.
Believing that heading the ball — the practice of hitting the ball with one’s head to send it down the field — is the cause behind these concussions, a growing number of parents and doctors are calling for youth soccer organizations to ban the move for players 14 and under.
However, while it might be easy to blame concussions and other brain trauma on this move, new research shows that it might actually be rough play, not heading the ball, that’s leaving so many youth players concussed.
According to a July 14 Washington Post article, the research, conducted at the University of Colorado, reveals that 68.8% of boys’ soccer concussions and 51.3% of girls’ soccer concussions are a result of contact with another player. Heading the ball, in contrast, is responsible for roughly 25% of player concussions.
“Previous researchers discussing the safety and risk of soccer heading may have been asking the wrong question,” the researchers, whose work was published in JAMA Pediatrics, wrote. In fact, they argued, the “ball striking the head during heading has less of a role in soccer concussions than the athlete-athlete contact that occurs during contested or challenged heading opportunities.”
While still relatively rare — girls saw about five concussions per 10,000 games and practices, versus almost three per 10,000 for boys — there’s no denying that a childhood concussion can be devastating for years afterward. Because children’s brains and necks are much more vulnerable than adults’, it’s much easier for a child to receive permanent neurological damage on the soccer field.
The rate of concussion among youth soccer players becomes even more concerning when one considers the fact that soccer is the second most popular youth sport in the country. In 2014, more than three million boys and girls were registered on the U.S. Youth Soccer Annual Registration of Players.
The only way to keep this problem under control is to ensure the rules of soccer are enforced at all times in youth soccer leagues, said Bob Colgate, sports medicine director for the National Federation of State High School Associations. Additionally, youth soccer leaders and coaches must take renewed action toward keeping fighting and reckless play off the soccer field.
“Players, coaches, game officials and spectators must work together to model and demonstrate sportsmanship and fair play, to minimize risk and maximize participation,” Colgate explained.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that U.S. office buildings are seeing an increase in tenants. An extra 8.2 million square feet of office space was rented in the second quarter, making it one of the strongest periods since the recession. These sales showed an office vacancy rate of 16.6%, down from the 2010 peak of 17.6%, with a 3.2% rise in average square foot price.
Finding office space is still a tricky task for most. The market growth is still dragging, and employers are occupying 36 million fewer square feet than they were in 2007. Analysts believe that one of the factors causing the gap is that employers are accessing more private offices, denser spaces, and offices with larger cubicles for more relaxed layouts. Reis economist Ryan Severino commented:
“I don’t think we’re in the clear yet, but we are definitely heading in the right direction,” said Reis economist Ryan Severino. “It has taken a little bit longer than usual to get back to where we’d like to be….For the next 12 to 18 months or so, it’s definitely going to be a little bit dicey there.”
With almost 28 million small businesses in the U.S., it’s possible that many businesses have been migrating towards home or digital offices. Higher market prices and increasing digital enterprise may not help with trying to clear that vacant space, but despite these factors, job growth is still increasing.
Fox hunting has sparked quite the political debate in England, with protests happening throughout London to try and sway the minds of politicians. Prime Minister David Cameron is in discussions with his administration to loosen the ban on the sport through a vote.
Fox hunting, in which groups of hunters take a pack of hounds out to track down and kill foxes, is a centuries-old sport in England. It has been a divisive topic between hunters and animal rights activists. On one hand, people believe it to be a form of pest control and a rural pastime. But animal rights supporters say it is a cruel sport for the rich.
Though the vote has been tabled for now due to the protests and almost certain defeat of the bill, the issue itself is far from over. The proposed vote led to protests throughout the country, reopening the divide.
“The government has backed down,” said protester Brian May, the guitarist in rock band Queen. But, he cautioned, “we have not yet won the war. There’s no room for complacency.”
Other celebrities, including Ricky Gervais, Sadie Frost, and Paul McCartney echoed May’s statement. McCartney commented, “bringing back ‘cruel and unnecessary’ hunting would cost Cameron support.”
The Scottish National Party, which previously agreed to only vote on issues affecting Scotland, said that they would oppose the motion. They say Cameron and the British government is out of line and not aware enough of British opinion on this issue, and they wanted to “remind the government of how slender their majority is.”
England originally banned fox hunting in 2004, after hunters clashed with police in riots outside the Parliament. Hunting — which is more popular in countries in America, where 38 million hunt and fish — has been a subject of division in England for numerous proposals in the past decade. This particular decision, along with other votes scheduled this week, has been postponed until September at the earliest.
Heroin use, addiction and overdose has surged throughout the U.S. over the last decade — and the drug’s resurgence is closely linked with the country’s ongoing prescription drug epidemic, federal health officials announced on Tuesday, July 7.
According to the LA Times, new data revealed that nearly 2.6 out of every 1,000 Americans aged 12 and over used heroin between 2011 and 2013. While that number may seem insignificant, it’s a stunning 63% increase in heroin use since the years 2002 to 2004.
The rate of heroin abuse and dependence rose 90% during the same time period, the study, conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), revealed.
Even more troublingly, deaths resulting from heroin overdose nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013. In 2013, 8,257 Americans died from heroin overdose.
All told, more than half a million people across the country used heroin in 2013 — an increase of more than 150% since 2007.
While lower-class men in urban areas continue to be the hardest-hit group in the heroin epidemic, use of the drug rose across all demographics. Young adults aged 18 to 25 continue to be the most dominant group of heroin users. Women and people with higher incomes are more likely to use heroin today, as well — two groups that have also been at the center of the rise in prescription drug abuse.
While heroin — also called diacetylmorphine or diamorphine — dates back as far as 1874, when a British chemist working for Bayer A.G. first synthesized the drug as an allegedly non-addictive pain reliever, use of this drug has waxed and waned over the last 150 years or so.
Throughout the last decade, heroin has become more available and more affordable, which has resulted in the upswing in use. Heroin is now up to five times cheaper than many prescription opiates such as morphine, making it an attractive alternative for people with prescription drug addiction, Quartz reported.
“As a doctor who started my career taking care of patients with HIV and other complications from injection drugs, it’s heartbreaking to see injection drug use making a comeback in the U.S.,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, said in a statement.
While there’s certainly no easy solution for this epidemic, Frieden called for more severe crackdowns on heroin manufacture and sale, and improved treatment options for people with opiate addictions, as well as widespread reform in the way opioid painkillers are prescribed.
Anonymous Discussions and Instant Tele-Appointments — How India’s Newest Mobile App Is Changing Healthcare
A New Delhi startup company called Lybrate, at just a year and a half old, recently announced that it raised a substantial $10.2 million in funding.
For U.S. startup companies in the tech industry, this funding may not seem like much. But for Lybrate, and for the millions of Indian people it could serve, $10.2 million is enough to create a mobile app powerful enough to save lives.
The app itself is a mashup of informal communication, similar to what you might find on a free social media website, and professional medical opinions coming from legitimate doctors and medical experts across the country. The app is open for doctors to join — for free — and TechCrunch and Business Standard both report that Lybrate claims to have 80,000 doctors already connected to the service.
International Business Times explains that the app primarily helps Indian patients find doctors — which is certainly a useful aspect of the app for millions of Indians living in rural areas with limited connections to the medical community.
But perhaps more importantly, the app also allows patients to talk anonymously with medical professionals through a secure platform when they’re seeking second opinions, and they can also schedule phone or video calls with doctors through the service (for a fee).
This particular aspect of Lybrate’s service is likely to be an invaluable resource for India, considering that many of the most serious — and the most preventable — medical conditions are still too taboo to discuss openly and in person.
A U.S. study recently found that telepsychiatry appointments were far less likely to be cancelled or result in a no-show, compared to appointments in a brick-and-mortar office building; the rate of no-shows were 4.2% and 7.8%, respectively.
Health experts have every reason to believe that the same trends will appear in India with legitimate medical apps that promise anonymity and secure digital communication — and perhaps the results will be even more astounding, since many Indians don’t even reach out to make the appointment in the first place.
It may take a while to see the full effects of medical app services like Lybrate, but it’s very likely that the app will change India’s healthcare industry for the better.