TIME space travel

Watch: SpaceX Rocket Detonated Mid-Flight During Test

A SpaceX rocket detonated automatically when a problem was detected during a test flight

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A SpaceX rocket exploded over McGregor, Texas during a test flight Friday, though no one was injured in the incident.

A problem was detected during a test of a three-engine version of SpaceX’s F9R vehicle, the company said, and the flight’s termination system then automatically self-destructed, bringing the mission to a sudden end.

“Today’s test was particularly complex, pushing the limits of the vehicle further than any previous test,” SpaceX said in a statement.

SpaceX is a space transport company founded by PayPal founder and Tesla executive Elon Musk. The company has been working closely with NASA, and its Dragon capsule has been used to send unmanned resupply missions to the International Space Station.

SpaceX’s F9R rocket is reusable, and could make spaceflight 100 times cheaper, Musk has said, NBC reports.

Musk said in a Twitter post that there were no “near injuries” in the explosion.

 

TIME technology

4 Ways Tim Cook Has Changed Apple As CEO

Apple Hosts Its Worldwide Developers Conference
Apple CEO Tim Cook walks off stage after speaking during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference at the Moscone West center on June 2, 2014 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

When Steve Jobs stepped down as Apple’s CEO on August 24, 2011, the company’s future was anything but certain. The tech giant had become the most valuable company in the world just weeks before, thanks to a decade’s worth of wildly successful new products like the iPod, iPhone and iPad. The disruptive devices were credited almost exclusively to Jobs’ genius, and consumers as well as Wall Street analysts wondered whether Tim Cook, his soft-spoken successor, could guide Apple even higher.

Fast forward three years and Cook has proved his doubters wrong. This week, he got quite the anniversary gift when Apple’s stock reached an all-time high, largely because of strong recent earnings reports and anticipation of the iPhone 6, rumored to be announced this fall. Apple’s new share price high is a sign investors are buying into Cook’s vision for the companys’ future, which looks different from Jobs’s.

Here’s a look at four ways Apple has changed during the Era of Cook.

Only Cook Could Go to China

Jobs famously never visited China during his tenure as Apple CEO—that was Cook’s job, who served as the company’s chief operating officer before Jobs stepped down. As CEO, Cook has taken a more hands-on approach in the world’s most populous country, visiting China multiple times to meet with government officials and survey Apple’s factories there. Even more important than the trips is the deal Cook inked last year with China Mobile, the world’s largest wireless carrier, to carry the iPhone. His focus on the country has paid off handsomely. China is now Apple’s fastest-growing sales market by far, generating $5.9 billion in revenue in the most recent quarter.

“There is no doubt [Cook] recognizes the fact that China will become Apple’s number one market,” Thomas Husson, an analyst at Forrester, said in an email to TIME.

Goosing Apple’s Stock Through Share Buybacks

Investors have long clamored for Apple to make better use of its massive $160 billion cash hoard. Jobs ignored a suggestion by Warren Buffet to launch a share buyback program, but Cook has launched a massive share repurchase plan to reclaim $90 billion in company stock. Such programs make investors happy by putting cash in their pockets, while also improving a company’s financial optics by boosting its earnings per share. The share repurchase plan, which was expanded earlier this year, has helped Apple stock rally in recent months after tumbling from an all-time high in September 2012. In fact, the company’s 25% gain in stock price since purchasing $18 billion of its shares in the first quarter of the year was the best return ever following a share buyback, according to Bloomberg.

Diversifying Apple’s Core Products

Part of Apple’s financial success stems from the fact that it manufactures a relatively small slate of products that sell on a massive scale. Cook has deviated somewhat from this strategy by introducing variants on the iPad (the iPad Mini) and the iPhone (the iPhone 5c) that serve as smaller cheaper alternatives to Apple’s flagship devices. Apple doesn’t break out the sales of individual products within the iPad and iPhone lines, but according to mobile marketing firm Fiksu, the iPad Mini was the second most-used iPad as of April. More impressive than the sales is the fact that Cook has been able to keep Apple’s margins impressively high while adding new production costs.

“Jobs did a lot of the heavy lifting developing home run products such as the iPad and iPhone,” says Bill Kreher, an equity analyst at Edward Jones. “Cook has been able to extend the reach of those products, improving profitability.”

Increasing Apple’s Acquisitions and Partnerships

Apple made few acquisitions in the Jobs era, and they were generally small. Cook, on the other hand, has bought up 23 companies since taking the reins, according to Crunchbase. No buyout caused more waves than Apple’s $3 billion purchase of Beats Electronics, which was either a smart acqui-hire of Beats’ music and marketing maestros or proof that Apple has lost its creative spark, depending on your perspective. The purchase mainly showed that Cook isn’t afraid to seek help from outside his Cupertino headquarters. For more evidence, consider Apple’s recently announced partnership with former nemesis IBM to bring a suite of enterprise apps to iOS.

Make no mistake—investors are still clamoring for Cook to release a new product disruptive as the iPhone or the iPad. Rumors persist that Apple will eventually launch an iWatch, or perhaps a pay-TV service to compete with cable. For now, though, with iPhone sales climbing ever higher and investors’ pockets being lined through a share buyback, Wall Street seems content with Apple’s trajectory.

“You have Steve Jobs, who was the innovator, the visionary, says Kreher, “and you have Tim Cook, who is a good steward of the business and is an excellent executor.”

TIME

Goldman Paying $3.15B Over US Mortgage Bond Claims

(WASHINGTON) — Goldman Sachs has agreed to pay $3.15 billion to resolve claims that it misled U.S. mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac about risky mortgage securities it sold them before the housing market collapsed in 2007.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie and Freddie, announced the settlement Friday with the Wall Street powerhouse.

New York-based Goldman Sachs sold the securities to the companies between 2005 and 2007.

“We are pleased to have resolved these matters,” said Goldman Sachs Group Inc. general counsel executive Gregory Palm in a statement.

The settlement is the latest federal government settlement over actions related to the financial crisis that struck in 2008. The crisis, triggered by vast sales of risky mortgage securities, plunged the economy into the deepest recession since the 1930s.

TIME

This Startup Thinks Pictures of Onions Can Reveal Changes in the Economy

Fruit and vegetables are common items photographed with the Premise app to help measure inflation

It’s probably every teenager’s dream to get paid for snapping iPhone pictures. Instead of selfies, though, David Soloff is seeking pictures of fruit carts, health clinics and remotely located schools. His startup is hoping to leverage the vast proliferation of smartphones—and our insatiable desire to take photos with them—in order to bring real-time economic data to the masses.

The new company, called Premise, tracks economic indicators by enlisting armies of local residents to record data about their communities, like the price of oranges at a local market or the physical condition of a local health clinic, via an Android app. Premise pays the photo-takers up to 15 cents for each “observation,” which can be a picture or other data point. The company aggregates all the individual observations to derive broader insights about inflation and consumption shifts in different countries, then sells the data to financial institutions.

Premise’s aim is to provide important economic metrics faster than government agencies, which often only release data in weekly or monthly intervals. The company is currently gathering data in 50 countries across four continents, including Argentina, China and the United States.

“What people experience in their day-to-day lives is frequently really, really different from what the official government or news bureau or stats-gathering agencies tell them about their lives,” says Soloff, Premise’s CEO. “By the time those official numbers come out, the world’s probably changed a lot.”

Soloff points to countries like Argentina — where Premise and a variety of economists have projected inflation to be increasing much faster than the government says it is — as an example of a place where private data sources can be more reliable than official figures. In other countries, such as India, where onion prices leapt 190% in 2013, food prices are incredibly volatile and government-released figures can’t keep up with the rapid changes.

“Almost certainly, in a lot of countries, the government is lying about price changes,” says Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution. “It would be useful to know, to ordinary people and to businesses, what the real inflation is.”

How does Premise ensure that its figures are accurate? To devise its economic models, the company has brought on advisors whom Soloff calls the “adult supervision.” Among them are Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist and Alan Krueger, the former chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. To guarantee that data are collected accurately on the ground, Premise vets local residents by giving them test assignments, then evaluating their performance before committing their observations to the official dataset. The company recruits new workers via social media, online job boards and college campuses.

“It’s not an open cast call,” Soloff says. “These are students or people on the way to jobs or people who are doing the weekly shopping for their families at the market.”

0_Task lists
The Premise app assigns users tasks to complete in order to feed the company’s massive data set.

So far, Bloomberg and Standard Charter Bank have signed on to receive Premise’s data, in addition to other financial institutions that Soloff declined to disclose. The company is currently unprofitable, but it has raised $16.5 million in venture funding from bigtime backers like Google Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz.

Soloff isn’t the most likely man to head a high-tech San Francisco data firm. He studied Near Eastern linguistics as an undergrad at Columbia University and has a master’s in history from the University of California, Berkley. But Soloff believes his humanities background gives him an edge in Silicon Valley.

“I’ve always been interested in systems, how things work,” he says. “Language systems, social systems, finalcial markets have always fascinated me.”

It also helps that Soloff had a two-year stint as a quantitative analyst at a Wall Street investment bank and co-founded Metamarkets, an analytics tool used for programmatic online advertising.

Soloff’s long-term goal is to expand the scope of Premise into a real-time financial pulse that can provide immediate economic data to not only wealthy investment institutions but also regular citizens. Other platforms have similar aims — the Billion Prices Project, started by a pair of MIT professors, gathers online price listings from more than 70 countries to predict inflation trends from around the world. Such initiatives “have a real value to consumers and businesses,” the Brookings Institution’s Burtless says.

But the devil is in the data, of course. Some economists question whether locally recruited residents can reliably document data for an entire community or country.

“Surveys are of no value unless we can be assured by some means that they are representative of the underlying population,” Barry Bosworth, another economist at the Brookings Institution, said in an email. “The survey will reflect all the biases of the reporter who decides what prices to report. We may use the Internet more in the future to collect data but it will have to be used with some structure to assure that the individual quotes are representative of an even larger underlying population.”

Premise spokesperson Sara Blask said in an email that the company’s contributors capture observations at predetermined locations and intervals to assure that the sample is indeed accurate. “In this sense we are the opposite of crowdsourcing,” she said.

Premise’s dataset should grow more robust and useful as it racks up more observations.

In five years’ time, Soloff envisions millions of people around the world submitting photos and other information to Premise. He believes such a cascade of data could help keep governments more honest in the future. “Rather than relying on the official story, so to speak, [people] have an alternative read that’s generated by the citizens just like them,” he says. “We don’t need to tell them what’s happening—it’s the opposite.”

TIME Rumors

Don’t Count the iPhone 6’s September 9 Debut Out Yet

The new iPhone line reportedly had a backlight engineering problem that goofed up the assembly process earlier this summer.

Reuters is reporting that Apple may be having difficulty prepping a sufficient number of screens for the next iPhone. Apple is expected to unveil the new line at media event on September 9. The problem, says Reuters, involves a “key” component that’s disrupting the production of the line’s new screens, rumored to be larger than the iPhone 5’s current four inches, and possibly come in two sizes.

More specifically, Reuters’s supply chain sources say the problem is with the backlight configuration in the new phones. Apple wanted to reduce the material used for the backlight from two layers to one in hopes of thinning the phones, says Reuters. But without that second layer, the phones apparently weren’t bright enough, which forced the parts back to engineering and held up the assembly process earlier this summer. That’s now impacting the number of screens Apple’s been able to produce in the ramp up to the unveiling, according to Reuters’ sources.

How many phones amounts to a sufficient number at launch anyway? I have no idea, nor does Reuters, but the news site defangs the issue somewhat by pointing out that its sources indicated the “hiccup” may or may not make it harder for you to get one of the new phones at launch or delay the phones outright. Thus we’re left to mull the possibility that there could be a launch availability problem, but with absolutely no idea of its magnitude, on a scale that runs from “catastrophic” to “irrelevant.”

Short of actually delaying the debut, which seems unlikely at this point–rumors of a September 9 event bubbled up just a few weeks ago, well after the June/July timeframe referred to in the Reuters piece–it’s unlikely we’ll know whether this story impacted the phones’ arrival. Availability issues have been a major part of every new iPhone launch, and a certain amount of scarcity–so long as Apple’s able to ramp up production to meet or surpass its fiscal projections in the long run–isn’t the worst problem to have. Sony’s PlayStation 4, for instance, which Sony claims was plagued by supply issues from launch, has gone on to sell 10 million units worldwide, a record-breaking figure even Sony can’t explain.

TIME Companies

Here’s How Much Banks Have Paid Out Since the Financial Crisis

Bank of America's new settlement with the Justice Department is among the largest

The Bank of America deal announced Thursday, the government’s largest-ever settlement with a single company, means the nation’s second-biggest bank will shell out $16.65 billion over allegations that it knowingly sold toxic mortgages to investors.

The landmark agreement is a win for the government—particularly the Department of Justice, which spearheaded the probe—after drawing criticism for its sometimes weak response to the financial crisis in 2008. The sum surpasses Bank of America’s entire profits last year and is significantly higher than the $13 billion it offered during negotiations in July.

But the deal also caps a string of settlements that the Justice Department and other regulators have imposed on banks in the wake of the recession. Since the crisis, the six largest banks by assets have paid more than $123.5 billion in settlements over faulty mortgages, according to previous data from SNL Financial and incorporating the latest settlement. Authorities have forced the banks to pay the majority of that amount, and more deals are likely: Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo are both reportedly on deck.

Here are seven of the largest government settlements:

$25 Billion
Wells Fargo, J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Ally Financial
February 2012

In what President Barack Obama called a “landmark” settlement, five of the nation’s largest banks agreed to a $25 billion settlement with 49 states and the feds to end an investigation into faulty foreclosure practices (Oklahoma reached a separate deal). Most funds were directed toward mortgage relief.

$16.65 Billion
Bank of America
August 2014

The settlement announced on Aug. 21 includes $7 billion for consumer relief, such as mortgage modification and forgiveness, and $9.65 billion in cash. But the deal doesn’t absolve the Charlotte-based bank of future criminal claims or claims by individuals.Bank of America has paid more than $60 billion in losses and legal settlements spawning from troubled mortgages—the most of any bank.

$13 Billion
J.P. Morgan Chase
November 2013

The largest U.S. lender agreed to what was then a record-setting settlement with the Justice Department over its role in the sale of the mortgages. “JPMorgan was not the only financial institution during this period to knowingly bundle toxic loans and sell them to unsuspecting investors, but that is no excuse for the firm’s behavior,” Holder said at the time.

$11.6 billion
Bank of America
January 2013

The bank, which acquired the mortgage lender Countrywide Financial in 2008, agreed to a $11.6 billion settlement over claims that it and Countrywide improperly sold mortgages to Fannie Mae.

$9.5 billion
Bank of America
March 2014

Ahead of the Justice Department settlement, Bank of America agreed to pay $9.3 billion to settle additional allegations that it sold faulty mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

$9.3 Billion
Thirteen Banks
February 2013

Federal regulators finalized a deal with thirteen lenders — including the three largest — for faulty processing of foreclosures. The sum allowed for borrowers who went through foreclosure to access up to $125,000.

$7 Billion
Citigroup
July 2014

Citigroup, the third-largest bank, and the Justice Department announced the deal in July amid allegations that the company misled investors about the mortgage-backed securities. The settlement, which included about $2.5 billion for consumer relief, surprised some analysts by its size, but was a harbinger of what was in store for Bank of America in the coming weeks.

TIME

This Berry Is Causing A Super-Food War Between America and Canada

A fruit picker holds a quart basket of Saskatoon berries at G&S Orchards in Walworth, N.Y. on June 26, 2013 .
A fruit picker holds a quart basket of Saskatoon berries at G&S Orchards in Walworth, N.Y. on June 26, 2013 . Jim Ochterski—AP

Americans haven't warmed to the name. How about "juneberry" instead?

“One berry, two berry, pick me a…Saskatoon berry?!” The name of this little-known purple fruit doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. No marketer’s dream here. And now some Canadians who have long cultivated the tiny super-food are crying foul over a quiet U.S.-led push to re-brand it: from saskatoon to juneberry. And there’s no truce in sight.

Thanks to its powerful anti-oxidant properties and to the entrepreneurial efforts of a handful of commercial growers, this under-the-radar berry has garnered a new wave of interest in parts of the U.S. Some think this delicious fruit–it tastes like a mixture of cherries, almonds and grapes– could be on its way to hit the super-fruit jackpot, a market which altogether will be worth $10 billion by 2017, predicts research firm Euromonitor International.

If only Americans could pronounce its name. Or spell it. (Canadians, of course, have no diction problems since the name is derived from the city in the Saskatchewan province, Saskatoon.)

Jim Fang, saskatoon berry expert and professor—he fittingly hails from the University of Saskatchewan—is in the midst of establishing the fruit’s precise health effects, which compare to those of the blueberry, the superfruit darling of the past. His prediction: “The saskatoon berry will be offered as an alternative to the blueberry.” The two fruits even look alike.

But Canadian cultivators are a few steps ahead of their southern counterparts: Growers there scooped up 575 tons of the berry last year — dwarfing the United States’ production which is estimated at four tons — and have just begun a promising harvest that will span August.

And the fruit is so popular in Canada it has even shaped the country’s geography. Stroll the streets of Saskatoon, population 200,000, and you’ll run into a 4-meter tall bronze sculpture capturing the city’s berry-driven founding myth. It depicts a Native American chief pointing to the town’s future location while an explorer to his side dubs it the saskatoon, named after the berry long-known by the indigenous population. Canadians kept the moniker.

Yet, many Americans haven’t taken to the name. Maybe because we’re still grappling with the acai berry pronunciation.

“There are certain things that Canadians and Americans do differently and names on things happen to be one of those,” says Jim Ochterski, agriculture issues leader at Cornell University’s Cooperative Extension. The institution has championed the berry stateside by introducing it to cultivators. “We decided to predominantly call them juneberries.”

When a berry is in a pickle

Some Canadians are offended by the name change — to the extent Canadians can get offended.

Sandra Purdy, president of the Saskatoon Berry Council of Canada, the trade group representing the industry, is the de facto saskatoon berry queen of Canada. At a time when funding was flowing to Silicon Valley tech start-ups, she pitched the project of building a saskatoon business empire on the television show “Dragon’s Den,” the Canadian equivalent of “The Apprentice.” An equity firm eventually took the bait and Purdy’s company, Prairie Berries, has grown into one of the largest saskatoon berry producers in Canada.

Purdy says she felt “slighted” when, earlier this summer, she received an email from Cornell’s Cooperative Extension suggesting that Canadian growers use juneberry instead of saskatoon berry “to help overall marketing of the berry.”

“That won’t happen,” she said, “Especially given that they got those plants from Saskatchewan and our Canadian-grown berries.”

The berry is such a source of pride in Canada that it drives a few thousand enthusiasts each year to gather in the town of Mortlach, Saskatchewan, for the Saskatoon Berry Festival — a get together that centers around gobbling the berry in large quantities. (A recent slogan of the gathering: “2,500 people with purple teeth can’t be wrong…”)

One berry, two countries

Still, Americans are indebted to Canadians when it comes to this tongue-tying fruit.

When Cornell Cooperative Extension began growing juneberry in 2010, it brought in its plants from Canada, where a domesticated cultivar grows more berries per bush than any of its cousins across North America.

But Ochterski and his group from Cornell Cooperative Extension followed the money trail. When their market research revealed that Canada’s saskatoon berries seduced the palate of U.S. consumers, but the name didn’t resonate nearly as well as ‘juneberry’ did, which is what the variety found in the Northeast is called, they switched.

“It’s not the Canadian name but it’s the name that seems to sell,” says Ochterski.

It’s not a unanimous stance, however. “I just think ‘saskatoon’ has a sexier name to it than a ‘juneberry,’” says Steve Fouch, one of the founders of a group of growers in Michigan assembled under the Saskatoon Berry Institute of North America.

True to their reputation, Canadians have striven for a compromise. The packages of frozen berries Purdy exports to the U.S. were originally only labeled as ‘saskatoon berries.’ Prairie Berries now offers to its U.S. customers adding, ‘aka june berry’ – but “only… if the customer we are selling to specifically requests us to label it as such,” said Purdy.

Upon hearing about the disagreement, Faye Campbell, the village administrator in Mortlach, Canada where the Saskatoon Berry Festival took place earlier this month, attempts to reach a middle ground. “I guess we might have to change the name of the festival?” she said. “Or not?”

TIME Map

This Map Shows When 2 People Play the Same Song at the Same Time

Spotify Serendipity

Created by the company's first media artist in residence

The music-streaming service Spotify unveiled an online map called “Serendipity” on Thursday that shows when people in different cities are listening to the same song at the exact same time — or at least within a tenth of a second of each other — regardless of the city, timezone or hemisphere.

The project, based on real-time data, was created by interactive artist Kyle McDonald, the company’s first media artist in residence.

“There are so many ways we’re connected to each other, but sometimes we forget, or we just can’t see it,” McDonald said on Spotify’s blog. “In person, it’s easy to see the features we share, or when we share stories in online discussions. But we’re also connected in more ephemeral ways, and we can extract these relationships with new tools. Even though listening to music can be a very private experience, I wanted to see how often this experience is shared.”

Check out Serendipity here.

TIME

Family Dollar Rejects Dollar General Offer

Family Dollar has cited antitrust issues

MATTHEWS, N.C. (AP) — Family Dollar is rebuffing Dollar General’s takeover bid, citing antitrust issues. The discounter’s board remains supportive of its existing deal with Dollar Tree.

Family Dollar Stores Inc. Chairman and CEO Howard Levine said in a statement Thursday that its board and advisers reviewed Dollar General Corp.’s offer and determined it wasn’t likely to be completed on the terms proposed.

On Monday Dollar General — the nation’s biggest dollar-store chain — offered about $8.95 billion for Family Dollar. The company said at the time that it believed it could quickly address any antitrust issues and was willing to divest up to 700 of its stores in order to get the necessary approvals.

Last month Family Dollar agreed to an $8.5 billion deal with Dollar Tree Inc.

TIME russia

Russia Is Closing McDonald’s Restaurants Over Health Violations

The oldest of Moscow's McDonald's outlets, which was opened on Jan. 31, 1990, is closed on Thursday, Aug. 21.
The oldest of Moscow's McDonald's outlets, which was opened on Jan. 31, 1990, is closed on Thursday, Aug. 21. Alexander Zemlianichenko—AP

But the crackdown comes amid tit-for-tat sanctions between Russia and the West

Russian regulators are targeting McDonald’s restaurants in a crackdown that authorities say is a matter of food safety.

But the closure of several Russian McDonald’s restaurants and unscheduled checks of several others comes on the heels of tit-for-tat sanctions between Russia and Western countries over the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Earlier this month, Russian authorities banned a wide array of food imports from the United States, the European Union and several other countries after Western powers enacted economic sanctions against Moscow.

According to Reuters, the Russian state food safety agency temporarily shuttered four restaurants on Wednesday, including the world’s busiest McDonald’s store in Moscow’s Pushkin Square, citing breaches of sanitary rules. On Thursday, the agency said it was conducting checks on other outlets across the country.

The agency has denied that its actions are politically motivated, according to Reuters.

“We are aware of what is going on. We have always been and are now open to any checks,” a spokesperson for McDonald’s in Russia told Reuters. The chain operates 438 restaurants in the country.

[Reuters]

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