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March 3 2015 5:07 PM

Virginia’s Sweet Briar College Has a $94 Million Endowment. Why Is It Closing?

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

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Sweet Briar College, located near Lynchburg, Virginia, will close "as a result of insurmountable financial challenges," the school said in a press release.*

Sweet Briar administrators cited several trends that informed the decision to close, including the declining number of female students interested in women-only colleges and the dwindling number of students overall interested in small, rural liberal arts colleges.

Last year, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that small, private U.S. colleges were in a "death spiral" in light of dropping enrollment rates. This decline comes amid competition from cheaper online colleges and community colleges, which are enticing to students in a job market that's weaker than it once was.

Several colleges similar to Sweet Briar have recently made changes to survive financially, according to Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed. But each choice has come with its own trade-offs. Jaschik highlights two other women's colleges in Virginia:

Mary Baldwin College has embarked on a plan to preserve its identity as a residential undergraduate liberal arts college by creating new colleges of education and health professions. College leaders say this approach will make the women's residential college financially sustainable, but many professors fear that the institution's liberal arts ideals are being compromised.

Randolph-Macon Woman's College, meanwhile, renamed itself Randolph College and in 2007 started enrolling men. As has been the case at many women's colleges making that decision, some alumnae objected.

According to the Sweet Briar statement, "In March 2014, the College began a strategic planning initiative to examine opportunities for Sweet Briar to attract and retain a larger number of qualified students and determine if any fundraising possibilities might exist to support these opportunities. Unfortunately, the planning initiative did not yield any viable paths forward because of financial constraints."

Speaking with IHE, Sweet Briar College President James F. Jones Jr. lamented the closing of the college as a part of a broader change in "the diversity of American higher education."

"The landscape is changing and becoming more vanilla," Jones said.

As Jaschik notes, Sweet Briar's closing is not unique, especially given the financial burdens many schools have faced since 2008. But, Jaschik writes, "the move is unusual in that Sweet Briar still has a $94 million endowment, regional accreditation and some well-respected programs."

Shutting the school now—as opposed to when Sweet Briar runs out of funds—will allow the college to offer help to its students and faculty as they transition out after the semester.

"We have moral and legal obligations to our students and faculties and to our staff and to our alumnae. If you take up this decision too late, you won't be able to meet those obligations," Sweet Briar College board of directors chairman Paul G. Rice told IHE.

Here's how Sweet Briar plans to offer support, according to IHE:

While all employees will lose their jobs, the college hopes to offer severance and other support. Students (including those accepted for enrollment in the fall) will receive help transferring. This semester will be the last one at the college, but it will remain officially open through the summer so that students can earn credit elsewhere and transfer it back to Sweet Briar to leave either with degrees or more credit toward degrees.

Sweet Briar announced on its Facebook page that it has already expedited transfer arrangements with four local colleges.

*Correction, March 4, 2015: This article originally misspelled Lynchburg, Virginia.

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March 2 2015 12:57 PM

Ford's Latest Experiment Is a Smartbike That Connects to iPhones

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

Ford's big news at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this year was its connected bicycle experiment.

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Yes: A car company, building a pushbike.

The plans center around two foldable bikes: the MoDe:Me, built in partnership with manufacturer Dahon, which is designed for urban commuters to zip through city traffic; and the MoDe:Pro, designed in-house, and intended for commercial use by delivery drivers, electricians, and so on.

Both work with a prototype iPhone 6 app called the MoDe:Link, which enables the bike to offer functions such as: vibrating navigation on the handlebars to let the rider know when to turn; "smart routing" which also builds in public transport information, weather, and charging station locations; a sensor that automatically fires up the electric pedal assistance when a rider's heart rate reaches a certain level; and compatibility with Ford's SYNC system when the e-bike is stowed in a car.

They're neat products and you can immediately see how useful they would be for people who want to zip around the city in as little time as possible. But still: Why Ford?

Ford's vice president of research and advanced engineering, Ken Washington, told Business Insider it builds into the company's wider "Smart Mobility Plan," launched at CES last month, which has seen the company commit to launching 25 experiments this year in the areas of connectivity, mobility, the customer experience, autonomous vehicles, and big data. He added that Ford is "no longer counting" how many experiments it is running but instead wants to spark a culture of innovation and experimentation within the company.

It's a bit like Google's famous "moon shots"—not all of these will become consumer products—but the initiative offers the company the chance to think about the idea of mobility beyond its day-to-day car-related business challenges.

The bike experiment isn't just a novelty prototype: It's also a way to collect data in a way Ford hasn't done before, gathering research about how bikes are used in urban areas through a sensor box on the frame. A Ford representative on its Mobile World Congress stand told Business Insider he did not know of any other company—bicycle manufacturers or automakers—that are conducting this kind of experiment right now.

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Here's the kind of data Ford receives when one of its smartbikes is out on the road (except this one was stationary at Ford's MWC stand.)

Business Insider

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And here's what the MoDe:Me e-bike looks like in a real-life (albeit indoor) setting.

Business Insider

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And this is the little box that collects all the data and serves the vibrating directions.

Ford via Business Insider

Feb. 28 2015 10:00 AM

Snapchat’s Ambitious Plan to Become More Powerful Than TV

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

The most popular TV show of fall 2014 was NBC's broadcast of Sunday Night Football. It averaged 21 million viewers per week. The strongest cable show was AMC's The Walking Dead. Its midseason finale, in November, reached 14.8 million people. Big numbers, right? Try this one: 24.79 million.

That is the number of people who, on the evening of Jan. 26, and during the next 24 hours, watched a video broadcast on their phones depicting the sights and sounds of New York's “Snowpocalypse.” Unlike Sunday Night Football and The Walking Dead, the camera operators for the Snowpocalpyse broadcast were not professionals. They were mostly teens or adults in their 20s, shooting videos and photos with their phones, often photos and videos of their faces. They were Snapchat users.

Feb. 27 2015 12:26 AM

The Two Women Behind The Dress Definitively Reveal Its Color

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Two women are behind the viral dress that has everyone confused. Here's what they told us.

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The picture was initially posted on Tumblr by a 21-year-old singer named Caitlin McNeill who lives on the tiny Scottish island of Colonsay.

In a telephone conversation with Business Insider on Thursday evening, McNeill explained that the picture was a dress was worn to her friends' wedding. In the photo, some people see the dress as white and gold while others see it as blue and black

The dress was worn by the bride's mother. McNeill and her friends first realized there was something different about the dress when the mother sent her daughter the now-famous photo.

"What happened was two of my close friends were actually getting married and the mother of the bride took a photo of the dress to send to her daughter," McNeill explained. "When my friend showed the dress to her fiancee, they disagreed on the color."

The bride then posted the picture on Facebook and her friends continued to debate the color of the dress. 

"All of our friends disagreed," McNeill said.

After seeing the Facebook thread, McNeill decided to share the picture on a fan page she has on Tumblr dedicated to a woman named Sarah Weichel. That's where the dress went viral.

Weichel is a talent manager who represents several YouTubers including Hannah Hart.

Weichel told Business Insider her phone began blowing up on Thursday after McNeill's post started going viral. 

"The crazy thing is, I actually have nothing to do with the post. It's literally just a fan account of me, so my name and my photos are all over the account," Weichel said. "I actually don't have anything to do with it. ... But I have been getting a ton of phone calls and emails tonight."

The situation was even weirder for Weichel because her client, Hart, was just announced as the star of a new television series on Thursday.

"Between that announcement and the dress thing my phone has been going crazy with congratulations and 'What the hell is happening?'" Weichel said.

For Weichel, there's no question about what color the dress is. 

"Black and blue of course!" she said. 

Weichel put Business Insider in touch with McNeill who said one of the oddest parts of the experience has been watching celebrities share her picture.

"I thought my followers on Tumblr would maybe have a good reaction, but I never would have considered that Taylor Swift and Mindy Kaling would be tweeting about it," McNeill said.

Out of all the celebrities who became interested in her post, McNeill would like to meet Swift.

"Oh my god," she said when we asked about Swift. "That would be something."

McNeill plays guitar and sings in a band named Canach that plays what she described as "traditional Scottish folky music." Her band played at the wedding. She actually saw the dress and told us definitively what color it really is.

"I got to the wedding and the mother was wearing the dress," McNeill said. "Obviously it was blue and black." 

Feb. 26 2015 4:29 PM

Convince Millennials to Pay for Tinder? Please.

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Morgan Stanley isn't crazy about Tinder, the dating app that allows users to approve or reject potential mates by swiping left or right. A big reason why is that the app's user base is young people, and young people don't like paying for dating apps.

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"First, given the young age of the target demo and frequent unwillingness to pay monthly recurring fees for social services, we believe Tinder will not have much success monetizing with a high-cost recurring monthly subscription offering," Morgan Stanley wrote in a note to clients on Wednesday.

The firm added:

The challenge with freemium (charging for re-swipes, undos, read-receipts) is that a very small percentage of single people have shown an interest in paying for online dating. We think Tinder's 'casual dating' offering will see a similarly low take-up rate of willing payers ... In our models, we assume that 5–6 percent of Tinder users become paying members.

Tinder is set to launch a paid version of its app in March.

In a note to clients on Wednesday, Morgan Stanley initiated research coverage on IAC/InterActive, Barry Diller's internet and media company that owns more than half of Tinder, and said the stock's upside was not what some bullish analysts think it could be.

The firm wrote that the market saw Tinder as under-monetized—meaning there was a huge opportunity to sell more ads or get people using the app to pay, either through a subscription or in-app purchases—and that the growth of Tinder would power IAC shares higher.

In Morgan Stanley's view, IAC's Tinder stake provides the stock with no upside. The firm has an "Underweight" rating on shares and thinks they can fall 29 percent from current levels.

The firm acknowledges, however, that Tinder's user growth has been explosive, rising at a compounded annual growth rate of 125 percent over the past two years to reach 55 million.

But there might not be as much of an untapped market as other analysts expect.

Morgan Stanley writes that Tinder has already reached 40 percent of its core addressable market in the U.S., and while it sees the app having 111 million users by 2018, its growth rate will fall to 8 percent.

The firm also thinks Tinder could have a repeat user problem:

We view Tinder's unique 'casual dating' use case being primarily aimed at single people from 18-34. While there could be some growth in older demos, we think it will be limited ... We also believe there are limits to the percentage of single people who will become active Tinder users and repeating 'casual daters.' And in our view, Tinder is reaching those limits in the U.S. and Europe (30 percent–40 percent).

Feb. 25 2015 5:37 PM

When It Comes to Greece's Massive Tax-Evasion Problem, Don't Blame the Super Rich

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

Greece's reform plans have been released, and one of the big things the new government wants to tackle is the country's endemic tax avoidance and evasion.

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Despite recent headlines suggesting the super-wealthy were the main offenders, there is an amazing academic paper that shows just how much Greece's upper-middle-class professionals are dodging taxes. 

Thanks to Twitter's Pseudoerasmus for bringing this to our attention in his longer and excellent blog on Greece's long-term problems. Here is a section from the 2012 University of Chicago paper:

On average, self-employed Greeks spend 82 percent of their monthly reported income servicing debt. To put this number in perspective, the standard practice in consumer finance (in the United States as well as Greece) is to never lend to borrowers such that loan payments are greater than 30 percent of monthly income. And that is the upper limit...

A number of banks in southern Europe told us point blank that they have adaptation formulas to adjust clients' reported income to the bank's best estimate of true income, and furthermore, that these adjustments are specific to occupations ... Take the examples of lawyers, doctors, financial services, and accountants. In all of these occupations, the self-employed are paying over 100% of their reported income flows to debt servicing on consumer loans.

You read that right: More than 100 percent of the self-reported income of Greece's professional classes is going toward paying off consumer debts. Not, we suspect, because they have massive unbearable repayments to make, but because they're colossally underreporting their income. About a third of Greeks are self-employed, nearly twice the European average and the highest rate in the EU.

A lot has been made of tackling Greece's oligarch tax evaders, but there has been less discussion about cracking down on the white-collar, high-income professional classes that are really rinsing their country's tax system. If Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis wants to be successful in cracking down on tax evasion, these are the people he needs to put the screws on.

Here's a chart below for the professions. In at least five sectors, including doctors and accountants, self-employed people are supposedly paying more than they earn on debt repayments every month:

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Feb. 24 2015 4:15 PM

Out of This World? Plumbing the Depths of Super Mario’s Physics.

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Nintendo's Mario series is the best-selling video game franchise in history. And with moves like Mario's, it's no mystery why so many people enjoy navigating the little Italian plumber through his fantasy world of princesses, castles, and magical mushrooms. But there's a fundamental flaw in the game: In our universe, Mario World physically couldn't exist.

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This tiny yet surprising flaw in the game was recently discovered by the PBS video series Space Time, which used some simple math and basic physics to determine what kind of planet Mario lives on. At first you might think Mario can jump so high because he is on a planet that is smaller than Earth and, therefore, that has lower gravity.

The moon, for example, has about one-sixth Earth's gravity, which means you can jump six times higher on the moon than on Earth using the same leg power. But that's not the full story.

Super Mario

The crucial detail is not how high Mario jumps but how fast he falls. Although you can jump six times higher on the moon, it would take six times longer to fall back to the ground than it would on Earth. If Mario fell that slowly, it would make for some pretty boring gameplay.

Because Mario moves relatively quickly through the air, he must be on a planet that has pretty strong gravity. You can easily calculate how strong the gravity in Mario World is with two simple parameters: how high Mario jumps, and how long it takes Mario to fall to the ground.

By crudely measuring these factors, Gabe from Space Time determined that in the Mario World game on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System from 1991, Mario jumps about 2¼ times his own height and takes approximately 0.3 seconds to fall to the ground.

After crunching the numbers, Gabe calculates that Mario is on a world whose gravity is eight times as strong as Earth's. Keep in mind that most humans can't withstand anything stronger than five times Earth's gravity before passing out.

To put this into better perspective: If you weigh 150 pounds on Earth, you would weigh 1,200 pounds on Mario's planet.

So how does Mario jump so high with all of those pounds weighing him down? Pure leg strength, Gabe concludes. He must do a lot of dead lifts off screen.

In fact, if Mario were on Earth, his strength would allow him to jump more than 90 feet off the ground. To achieve that kind of height, he would have a lift off speed of more than 50 miles-per-hour.

Now, Mario's jumping ability slightly varies between different games, so the G-value will also vary. But, in general, people have found that this value is between five and 10 times Earth's gravity — stronger than anything we experience on a daily basis. You might reach five G's when you're speeding through a 360-degree loop on a roller coaster.

There's no planet in our solar system that even comes close to the kind of gravity on Mario's many worlds. Jupiter, the largest planet orbiting our sun, has about 2.5 times Earth's gravity. So, if you weighed 150 pounds on Earth, you would weigh weigh 355 pounds on Jupiter. That's not even close to the gravity on Mario World.

While Mario might not be in our solar system, there's a possibility he might be outside of it—in another star system far from Earth. Because of our search for exoplanets outside of our solar system, we know that there are plenty of weird planets out there. But are they weird enough?

Through NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, we've found more than 1,800 planets orbiting stars other than the sun, thousands of light years from Earth. Could one of them have conditions similar to those on Mario World?

First, Mario clearly lives on a rocky planet with an atmosphere similar to Earth's. But it also has eight times the gravity of Earth—is such a planet possible?

Unfortunately, a planet like this doesn't seem likely to exist in our universe because of how we think large planets form. In order to have a lot of gravity the planet must have a lot of mass, and the exoplanets that even get close to large enough seem to be gas giants, like Jupiter and Saturn, with no ground to speak of.

Even the planet with the strongest gravity known so far is around four G's — about half the gravity that Gabe calculated on Mario World. So, as Earthlike as his world may appear on screen, there's no planet in the universe that would give us moves like Mario.

Check out the PBS video below:

Feb. 23 2015 12:27 PM

Moscow’s Shiny, Empty Finance District Tells You Everything You Need to Know About Russia’s Financial Crisis  

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

Moscow's financial district is a little like the Russian government's international stature: on the surface gleaming and new and perhaps even a little intimidating. But scratch just below the surface and it's mostly empty, with a lot of money wasted.

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The Moskva City complex contains Europe's tallest building, Mercury City Tower. London's Shard comes in second place, but Moskva City also contains the next three tallest. It's just a shame that most of them are half-empty.

There's a great report in CityMetric on this: The real estate consultancy Blackwood says a dismal 45 percent of the district is vacant, up from a third just a few months ago when the New York Times wrote about it. That's not the worst of it. Offices are still being built, so the vacancy rate doesn't seem likely to go down anytime soon.

At the end of last year the Times called the district "a $12 billion reminder of the nation's economic woes."

Russia's economic crisis is hitting its financial centre hard. Banks have been particularly damaged by the crumbling ruble and the sudden slump in oil prices. And that slump is coming at the worst possible time, when there are more buildings being completed than ever. Six are meant to be completed this year, followed by another two in 2016.

The government first started planning the district in the early 1990s, when Russian was just emerging from the Soviet system, but the first building was not finished until 2001. Last year the Times report listed the other firms moving in, suggesting that the area was barely even a financial center anymore: 58 percent of new entrants aren't financial firms.

City, the management company for the development in the neighborhood, says financial services companies are no longer the majority of its new tenants. Of the new Russian occupants signing leases this year, 58 percent were nonfinancial companies as well as local small and midsize businesses, like High Level Hostel, according to the management company.

New buildings are also being repurposed at the development stage. One low-rise will become a 6,000-seat movie theater. In finished towers, various nonfinancial ventures are renting space. One company sells Cambodian citizenship to Russians wanting a second passport. A culinary school and restaurant are opening.

Maybe there is time for Moskva City yet. After all, in 1991—10 years after it began—London's Canary Wharf didn't look like such a great project. The usually reliably conservative Times of London called it "an ill-conceived act of Tory social engineering."

Feb. 19 2015 1:29 PM

AmEx Users Should Expect Higher Fees, Fewer Rewards

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

Get ready to get rid of your American Express card. 

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News broke Thursday that the credit-card company lost an antitrust lawsuit over whether it could stop merchants from asking customers to use other credit cards. Other credit-card companies, particularly Visa and Mastercard, typically charge merchants that accept their credit cards lower fees than AmEx does.

The higher fees that AmEx charges merchants allow AmEx to offer better rewards to the customers who use its cards, so Thursday's ruling means cardholders' rewards are likely to worsen over time.

In addition to losing the antitrust lawsuit, AmEx also just lost two lucrative partnerships, first with Costco, and then with JetBlue. It also announced 4,000 job cuts in January.

None of these things would necessarily force the company to cut its high merchant fees. However, this lawsuit means restaurants and shops are free to ask customers to use other credit cards (this is in addition to the many that already refuse to accept AmEx).

That will put pressure on AmEx to lower its fees to be more competitive with Visa and Mastercard. Lower fees most likely mean fewer rewards for consumers, and, for American Express card members, potentially higher annual fees. 

So if rewards got you to sign up for an AmEx, you might as well apply for that Visa card today.

Feb. 18 2015 2:00 PM

Hungary Just Signed on to Russia’s Bid to Redraw Europe’s Gas Map

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

Last month, Russia announced that it would shift all its flows of natural gas to Europe via Turkey, instead of Ukraine, in an effort to counter its decreasing influence over the European gas market.

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"Our European partners have been informed of this and now their task is to create the necessary gas transport infrastructure from the Greek and Turkish border," Alexei Miller, head of the Russian state oil giant Gazprom, said in a statement.

And now Hungary, a European Union (and NATO) member, has bolstered Moscow's push to redraw the European gas map.

"It would be a good investment for Hungary if it makes sure that Turkish gas goes through Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia to Hungary," Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said after negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Budapest on Tuesday.

screenshot 2015-02-18 09.18.15

Russia Today via Business Insider

The Moscow Times reports that a deal hasn't been signed and that the price of gas hasn't been disclosed. Nevertheless, Orbán said the agreement had been made in principle, and Putin seemed to agree.

"If they don't hinder us, then in essence we could realize part of the former South Stream project via Turkey," Putin said, referring to the European Commission.

The move makes economic sense to Budapest because Russia is Hungary's biggest trading partner outside the EU and supplies most of its gas. Politically, it's the latest win for Putin near Ukraine's borders and a blow to a unified European response to Russian aggression.

"We are convinced that locking Russia out of Europe is not rational," Orbán said. "Whoever thinks that Europe can be competitive, that the European economy can be competitive without economic cooperation with Russia, whoever thinks that energy security can exist in Europe without the energy that comes from Russia, is chasing ghosts."

Furthermore, the countries prospectively involved in the pipeline plan have increasingly cozy relationships with Putin. (The canceled South Stream pipeline had been slated to pass through both Serbia and Macedonia, which are not in the EU.)

Last February, Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov told Russian media "the partnership with the Russian Federation is crucial for us" because the South Stream pipeline was "expected to provide the country's energy stability in the coming decades."

"The only thing I love more than Russia is Serbia," Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said on a visit to Moscow in December. 

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Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic with Putin during a military parade in October in Belgrade to mark 70 years since the city's liberation by the Red Army.

REUTERS/Vasily Maximov

And geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer recently noted that the signals from the new government in Greece, including comments by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras regarding sanctions over Ukraine, "as well as his meeting with the Russian ambassador to Greece within hours of taking office—demonstrate that he is willing to engage differently with Moscow."

Politics in Europe are the top global risk for 2015, and Putin's emerging gas plan is making the situation even more difficult for EU leaders.

Elena Holodny contributed to this report

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