TODAY

– January 29, 2015

Will Google bring good fortune to Credit Karma?

(AP) — Google is betting that good things will happen to Credit Karma, an online service that provides consumers with free copies of the credit scores that define their financial reputations.

Credit Karma is getting Google Inc.'s endorsement and expertise as part of an $85 million investment announced Wednesday.

About half of the money is coming from Google Capital, the Internet company's recently created vehicle for investing in maturing startups. The remaining funds are being provided by Tiger Global and two of Credit Karma's earlier investors — Ribbit Capital and Susquehanna Growth Equity.

With the latest infusion, Credit Karma has now raised $118.5 million since the San Francisco startup launched its service in 2008.

Credit Karma plans to use the incoming money to more than double its current workforce of 110 employees and introduce more products "that are going to be disruptive," CEO Ken Lin said.

Without providing specifics, Lin said Credit Karma's next product will be unveiled in about two months and will offer free access to a service that consumers traditionally have had to pay to get.

Credit Karma already has made it easier to obtain a free snapshot of the personal credit scores that determine loan rates and borrowing limits. The scores, based on the loan-payment histories compiled by major credit-rating agencies, traditionally have been only provided when people apply for a loan or sign up for other financial services that eventually charge fees.

Everyone who sets up an account at Credit Karma can get free looks at their credit scores once a week. Credit Karma obtains its main credit score through TransUnion, one of the three major U.S. credit-rating agencies along with Experian and Equifax. The service also lists a score based on another formula used by all three agencies and another number that most auto and home insurers rely upon to evaluate how likely their prospective policyholders are to file a claim.

The free insights are attracting a steadily growing audience. Nearly 21 million people have set up free accounts on Credit Karma, up from about 9 million a year ago, Lin said.

Credit Karma doesn't store the Social Security numbers required to open an account, but it does create financial profiles of its users to tailor the marketing pitches that bring in most of its revenue. Virtually all the ads are for credit cards, loans and other financial services.

Google also analyzes personal data to determine which ads to show users of its services, but Lin said Credit Karma isn't sharing any information about its members with Google.

Credit Karma plans to draw upon Google's knowledge about marketing and expanding online services to accommodate larger audiences. David Lawee, a Google Capital partner, is joining Credit Karma's board of directors.

This is Google Capital's third major investment in the past month. Online education service Renaissance Learning received $40 million, and online real estate site Auctions.com got $50 million. Last year, Google Capital was among the investors that backed online polling site SurveyMonkey and online loan broker LendingClub.

Google Capital is aiming to invest about $300 million this year. It's an offshoot of Google Ventures, a fund that the company set up five years ago to invest in startups during their early stages. Google Ventures so far has invested in 225 companies, including home-device maker Nest Labs, which is now wholly owned by Google Inc. after being bought for $3.2 billion earlier this year.

How often do you shop at Sierra Vista Mall in Clovis?

Blogs

gordonwebstergordonwebster Gordon Webster - Publisher
gordonwebstergordonwebster Gabriel Dillard - Managing Editor

Latest Local News

Written on 01/29/2015, 9:59 am by BERNARD CONDON, 
JONATHAN FAHEY, AP Business Writers
(AP) — The plunge in oil has crushed the Russian ruble, erased $80 billion from Exxon Mobil's market value and pushed Venezuela to the brink of economic...
Written on 01/29/2015, 9:51 am by ANICK JESDANUN, AP Technology Writer
(AP) — SpongeBob fans rejoice: Nickelodeon is the latest cable channel to plan a stand-alone Internet offering. What's not yet known is whether this offering will be the same channel as what cable and satellite TV subscribers now get. It's possible the service will have just supplemental content or archives of past shows when it launches in March. That would make it similar to a $4-a-month online offering for "Sesame Street." Nickelodeon owner Viacom Inc. will announce details, including the price and the name of the service, next month. Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman said the new service "will target the fast-growing mobile market (and) will be very attractive for parents and children." The company announced the service Thursday during a conference call to discuss the company's quarterly earnings report. HBO and Showtime are among the other channels planning stand-alone Internet offerings as more people ditch their cable or satellite TV service. CBS already has a $6-a-month service that includes live television for those who live in 14 markets with CBS-owned stations. Major sports leagues also offer live games online, though often with blackouts of hometown teams. Meanwhile, Dish Network Corp. and Sony Corp. will soon launch Internet-only packages of television channels that used to require a cable or satellite subscription. The Dish offering, called Sling TV, will start at $20 a month and have channels from The Walt Disney Co., Scripps Networks Interactive Inc. and Time Warner Inc.'s Turner. The channels include ESPN and CNN. Sony's PlayStation Vue will have unspecified channels from Viacom, Scripps, Discovery Communications Inc., CBS Corp., 21st Century Fox Inc. and Comcast Corp.'s NBCUniversal. Sony hasn't announced the price for its service, which will initially be limited to owners of PlayStation game consoles. These offerings make it easier for households to drop their traditional pay-TV service and piece together their own package of video services. Households that do this won't necessarily save money, though: The price for Internet access will likely go up when separated from a bundle, and these subscriptions add up in cost. But it's a good option for those who watch few channels live and don't mind waiting for shows to appear on Netflix and other streaming services. It also allows households to downgrade to a cheaper cable or satellite TV package and supplement that with specific channels they want.
Written on 01/29/2015, 8:57 am by MAE ANDERSON, AP Technology Writer
(AP) — Chinese e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba's Group reported adjusted fourth-quarter earnings that beat expectations as its user base continued to grow and shoppers bought more on mobile phones. Its revenue surged 40 percent during quarter that included the holiday season but analysts were expecting more. That sent shares down 10 percent in morning trading. The news comes as the company, which went public in September in the U.S. in the biggest IPO ever, is facing a critical report from Chinese regulators that it is failing to do enough to prevent fake goods from being sold on its websites. Alibaba said the report is unfair and it is preparing a formal complaint. In the October to December quarter, net income fell 28 percent to 5.84 billion yuan ($957 million), or 37 cents per share, from 8.27 billion yuan a year ago. Excluding one-time stock option and other costs, earnings totaled 81 cents per share. That beat analyst expectations of 75 cents per share, according to a survey by FactSet. But revenue during the crucial holiday quarter was disappointing. Although revenue climbed to 26.18 billion yuan ($4.22 billion) from 18.75 billion yuan, it fell short of expectations for $4.44 billion. Alibaba's users increased use of its platforms like Taobao Marketplace and Tmall.com on their mobile phones. Annual active buyers rose 45 percent in 2014 to 334 million, while mobile monthly active users rose 95 percent in 2014 from 136 million to 265 million. Addressing the Chinese report In a call with analysts on Thursday, the vice chairman Joe Tsai said the company believed the report is flawed and unfairly targeted Alibaba. Some analysts have said Alibaba should have disclosed that meeting in its IPO filing, but Tsai said that the meeting with regulators in July was one of many regular meetings "in the normal course of business," rather than a formally announced investigation. "We believe the flawed approach taken in the report, and the tactic of releasing a so-called 'White Paper' specifically targeting us, was so unfair that we felt compelled to take the extraordinary step of preparing a formal complaint to the SAIC," he said. He also said that the SAIC, a Chinese government regulator, has removed the report from its Web site. Tsai said the company was devoting more resources to the "fight against fakes" but said it had more work to do. "In the global e-commerce marketplace there will always be people who seek to conduct illicit activities, and like all global companies in our industry, we must continue to do everything we can to stop these activities." Shares fell $9.90, or 10.6 percent to $88.55 in morning trading. Based on Alibaba's closing price on Tuesday before the Chinese white paper was announced, Alibaba has a market capitalization of about $264.41 billion. But the 4.5 percent share decline on Wednesday and the 10 percent drop so far today shaved about $38 billion of that value.
Written on 01/29/2015, 8:55 am by COREY WILLIAMS, Associated Press
(AP) — Chris Mathews' crew showed up this month to demolish one of the thousands of vacant homes destined for demolition as part of Detroit's grand plan to bulldoze its way to prosperity when a call from his office stopped them in their tracks: Someone was living there. A middle-aged woman who watched the crew tear away the home's warped wooden steps the day before had called their company, Adamo Demolition, to point out she was living on the second floor, despite no power, heat or gas and a flooded basement. "It was like a swimming pool. We would never have thought anybody was upstairs," said Mathews, noting that the incident cost his crew time because the demolition wasn't called off until after they had shown up with their equipment. As Detroit carries out its plan to tear down tens of thousands of homes to combat blight and tailor the city to fit its population, which has dwindled to about a third the size of its 1950s peak, it will have to deal with an unknown number of squatters. Since the city doesn't allow occupied properties to be demolished, police must be summoned to remove squatters who won't leave homes voluntarily, which can take weeks or months. That makes them a complication of sorts for the recovery of the city, which emerged in December from the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Clearing away as many vacant houses as quickly as possible is a priority. Drug dealers often set up shop in them, bodies turn up in them and some houses have been sites of sexual assaults. But for some of the approximately 16,000 homeless people in Detroit, the structures offer safety and shelter. Michele McCray calls them "abandonminiums." McCray, 58, has been homeless for much of her adult life, yet she has had her pick of vacant houses to live in over the years. "You look for one that's decent, already fixed up," McCray said from a homeless shelter where she stays when it's too cold to hunker down in a house without heat and other utilities. "The first thing you do is cut the grass ... because the neighbors want to know who you are and what's going on over here. You have to maintain the property. Paint the place up, keep it looking good." She sees it as a community service. "A lot of people leave the door open because they want somebody to move in there," McCray said. "When you got somebody that's living in a place ... that keeps people from coming in, tearing the place up, stealing the fixtures. It cuts down on people starting places on fires, stealing your furnace." A survey completed last year determined that more than 40,000 structures needed to be torn down. Another 38,000 had indications of blight and could be up for demolition. Squatters aside, the city will not stop its fight against blight, said Craig Fahle, a spokesman for the Detroit Land Bank Authority, the agency overseeing the project. "Illegal occupancy is an issue, but there is plenty of work to do with homes that are not occupied," he said. About 10 percent of the houses Adamo goes out to demolish have squatters or evidence of squatters, according to Mathews. Tiffany Tilley, a real estate agent, said about 20 to 30 percent of the more than 100 properties she has shown have had signs that someone had been squatting in them. "When you're in the kitchen you might see food with plastic utensils in open jars," Tilley said. "There was an incident or two when there were feces stored in a bedroom in a bucket." Squatters make it more difficult to show and sell properties, she said, referencing an east side house shown to investors about a month ago. "We didn't go past the kitchen," said Tilley, 38. "It was evident someone had been in there or was still in there. There is always a risk of danger when you're dealing with someone who is squatting. I don't want to take that chance." Latisha Johnson wants vacant houses in her East English Village neighborhood to be occupied, but not by squatters. She sees people living in houses that don't belong to them as part of Detroit's blight problem. Johnson, a block captain and former leader of the neighborhood association, calls Detroit's squatting "an epidemic." "I don't personally believe that any squatter is a good squatter," she said. "You don't know exactly what is going on in that house. You don't know if they are tearing up that house. The person has no responsibility and will not be held responsible for anything that occurs at that house."
Written on 01/29/2015, 8:53 am by 
JOAN LOWY, Associated Press
(AP) — The chances of dying in a crash in a late-model car or light truck fell by more than a third over three years, and nine car models had zero deaths per million registered vehicles, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The study, which examined fatalities involving 2011 model year vehicles, looked at how many fatalities occurred in a particular model over the course of a year of operation, expressed as a rate per million registered vehicle years. It found there was an average of 28 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years through the 2012 calendar year, down from 48 deaths for 2008 models through 2009. Improved vehicle designs and safety technology have a lot to do with the reduced risk, the institute said. But a weak economy that led to reductions in driving may also have played a role, it said. "This is a huge improvement in just three years, even considering the economy's influence," says David Zuby, the institute's executive vice president and chief research officer. "We know from our vehicle ratings program that crash test performance has been getting steadily better. These latest death rates provide new confirmation that real-world outcomes are improving too." But the gap between safest and riskiest models remains wide. Three 2011 models had rates exceeding 100 deaths per million registered vehicle years. The riskiest models also were mostly lower-priced, small cars, while the safest models were all mid-sized or large vehicles. The nine models with zero deaths were: Audi A4 four-wheel drive, a midsized luxury car; Honda Odyssey, a minivan; Kia Sorento two-wheel drive, a mid-sized SUV; the Lexus RX 350 four-wheel drive, a midsized luxury SUV; Mercedes-Benz GL-Class four-wheel drive, a large luxury SUV; Subaru Legacy four-wheel drive, a 4-door midsized car; Toyota Highlander hybrid, a four-wheel drive midsized SUV; Toyota Sequoia, a four-wheel drive large SUV, and Volvo XC90, a four-wheel drive luxury midsized SUV. The vehicles with the highest death rates were the Kia Rio, a 4-door mini car, 149 deaths per million registered vehicles; Nissan Versa, a small 4-door sedan, 130 deaths, and Hyundai Accent, a 4-door mini car, 120 deaths. The institute has published death rates by make and model periodically since 1989, at first for cars only and later for all passenger vehicles. The rates include only driver deaths because the presence of passengers is unknown. Although the latest numbers reflect 2011 models, the study included data from earlier-model year vehicles as far back as 2008 if the vehicles weren't substantially redesigned before 2011. Including older, equivalent vehicles increases the exposure and thus the accuracy of the results, the institute said. To be included, a vehicle must have had at least 100,000 registered vehicle years of exposure during 2009-12, or at least 20 deaths.
Written on 01/29/2015, 8:17 am by MARTIN CRUTSINGER, AP Economics Writer
(AP) — The Federal Reserve's outlook for the U.S. economy is steadily brightening. Yet the Fed will be "patient" in raising interest rates from record lows. That was the dual message the central bank sent Wednesday in a statement it issued after its latest policy meeting. Why is no rate hike likely soon? The main reason, the Fed suggested in its statement, is that inflation remains well below the central bank's target rate. And it said the pressures holding down inflation — mainly plunging oil prices — have intensified. The Fed said it thinks inflation will decline further before eventually reaching the central bank's 2 percent target rate. The Fed sketched a bullish picture of the economy — with a strengthening job market, lower unemployment, rising consumer spending and higher household purchasing power fueled by lower energy prices. Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics, said the statement suggested that the Fed "is still taking the view that the collapse in oil prices is a net positive for the economy." The Fed's statement also made clear that policymakers still think the impact of low oil prices on inflation will prove temporary, Ashworth said The statement was approved on a 10-0 vote. On Wall Street, stocks fell after the Fed's statement was issued in mid-afternoon, though prices were also pressured by the continued fall in oil prices. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 195 points, or 1.1 percent. And the yield on the 10-year Treasury note touched 1.70 percent, the lowest level this year. It edged back up to 1.72 percent late in the day, compared with 1.82 percent late Wednesday. The Fed's emphasis on low inflation could affect when it decides to raise its key short-term rate from near zero. Many economists have forecast a rate hike in June, but some have pushed back their predicted timetable. The Fed's statement did not explicitly mention the weakening global economy. But it did say the Fed planned to take "international developments" into account in determining when to start raising rates. The Fed operates with two key mandates: Maximizing employment and keeping prices rising at a moderate pace of 2 percent. The U.S. economy's steady growth and improving job market would normally argue for a move to begin raising rates to prevent high inflation. The Fed has kept its benchmark rate near zero since 2008 to encourage borrowing, spending and investment and support the recovery from the Great Recession. The Fed's key rate affects rates on many consumer and business loans. But the concerns about global economic weakness and low inflation have raised doubts about when the Fed's first rate increase will occur. A growing number of economists say the date could slip to September or even later. Economists at Morgan Stanley this week pushed back their forecast for the first rake hike to March 2016 because of the factors holding inflation down. Some economists said the Fed's references to both stronger growth and lower inflation largely offset each other. That suggests that the Fed sees little pressure to raise rates soon. "This is a wash, from a policy perspective," said Michael Gregory, an economist at BMO Capital Markets. At the same time, Gregory said the Fed's mention of weakening economies overseas shows it is increasingly concerned about the strengthening U.S. dollar. A rising dollar makes imports less expensive and holds down U.S. inflation. For that reason, Gregory expects the Fed to put off a rate hike until September. Chair Janet Yellen said last month that by using the word "patient," the Fed intended to signal that there would be no rate increase for at least two meetings. That would mean that if officials want to signal that a rate hike is coming in June, they would need to alter the "patient" wording at their next meeting in mid-March. A complicating factor is the European Central Bank's new plan to flood its sputtering economy with more than 1 trillion euros. That money should keep the eurozone's interest rates ultra-low and could lead some investors to buy higher-yielding U.S. Treasurys. That would further strengthen the dollar and could push U.S. inflation further below the Fed's 2 percent target. Growth in China, the world's second largest economy, is slowing, too. By contrast, the U.S. economy added nearly 3 million jobs added last year, enough to cut the unemployment rate to 5.6 percent. That is just above the Fed's goal of 5.2 percent to 5.5 percent unemployment. Still, Yellen and other Fed officials have pointed to other factors — such as weak pay growth and a still-high number of part-time workers who can't find full-time jobs — as evidence that more must be done to achieve a healthy job market. U.S. prices rose just 1.2 percent in the 12 months that ended in November, according to the Fed's preferred gauge of inflation. When inflation is too low, consumer spending — and economic growth — can slow as people delay purchases on the assumption that the same or lower prices will be available later. The biggest fear is deflation — a broad decline in prices and income that can further restrain spending and even tip an economy into recession.
Written on 01/29/2015, 8:14 am by CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, AP Economics Writer
(AP) — The number of people seeking unemployment aid plunged last week to the lowest level in almost 15 years, a sign hiring will likely remain healthy. Weekly applications dropped 43,000 to a seasonally adjusted 265,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That is the lowest level since April 2000. It is also the biggest decline in two years. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell 8,250 to 298,500. The latest drop may have been exaggerated by the federal holiday, which likely slowed the processing of some claims. Still, applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the sharp decline means companies are probably cutting fewer jobs. The four-week average has fallen 11 percent in the past year. At the same time, hiring has picked up. Employers added almost 3 million jobs last year, the most since 1999. Strong economic growth has encouraged companies to add more workers. "This is good news," said Jennifer Lee, an economist at BMO Capital Markets. "But it was also a holiday-shortened week so there could be a special factor perhaps artificially deflating the number. A partial reversal next week ... should still show an improving labor market." Last week included the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, when state unemployment offices were closed. That could have delayed the processing of some applications, a Labor Department spokesman said. The unemployed can apply for benefits online, though they are typically less likely to do so on a holiday. That suggests applications could rise next week. Some of the drop also reflects the end of seasonal layoffs of temporary employees hired by retailers and restaurants for the winter holidays. Those layoffs caused a spike in applications in early January. They reached a seven-month high of 317,000 three weeks ago. The government tries to adjust for such seasonal patterns but isn't always able to do so perfectly. Applications have been near or below 300,000 since September. That suggests companies are confident enough in the economy to hold onto their staffs. Last year's robust hiring means that more Americans are earning paychecks than a year ago. That should boost consumer spending and help power faster economic growth this year. Most economists forecast growth will top 3 percent in 2015 for the first time in a decade. Yet wage growth has lagged hiring. Average wages increased only 1.7 percent in 2014. That's down from 1.9 percent in 2013 and much lower than the 3.5 percent to 4 percent that is consistent with a healthy economy.
Written on 01/29/2015, 8:12 am by CANDICE CHOI, AP Food Industry Writer
(AP) — Hershey has a sudden hankering for protein, with plans to add jerky to its lineup. The maker of sugar-high inducing treats like Reese's, Kit Kat and Twizzlers says it's buying Krave Jerky for an undisclosed sum. Krave, based in Sonoma, California, positions itself as a premium jerky with no artificial ingredients and comes in flavors like black cherry barbecue, basil citrus and lemon garlic. Michele Buck, president of Hershey North America, said in a phone interview with The Associated Press that the company plans to continue expanding its offerings across the "snacking continuum" through acquisitions and in-house development. While The Hershey Co. is already strong player in sweet treats, the Krave deal is intended to give it a foothold in snacks people see as healthy fuel. The push to expand beyond impulsive sweets comes as Americans' addiction to snacking grows. Rather than sticking to three meals a day, people are increasingly grazing on smaller bites around the clock. The trend has prompted Dunkin' Donuts to position its fried-chicken sandwiches as snacks, and Taco Bell to introduce a "Happier Hour" for people looking for a late afternoon pick-me-up. In the packaged food universe, the nation's snacking habit is blurring the lines between what qualifies as an indulgence versus nourishing fuel, prompting food makers to market snacks with nutritional benefits like fiber. Protein in particular has become a desirable ingredient, which in turn has helped boost jerky sales. "We know consumers have an interest in portable and protein-based nutrition," Buck said. Last year, jerky sales in the U.S. totaled $1.41 billion, according IRI, a Chicago-based market researcher. That's up 13 percent from 2013 and 22 percent from 2012. Meanwhile, Hershey on Thursday reported fourth-quarter sales and profit that missed Wall Street expectations and lowered its earnings and revenue outlook for the year. In a note to investors, J.P. Morgan analyst Ken Goldman wrote that the Krave deal "perhaps indicates that Hershey is less enamored of candy's growth potential than it previously was." He noted that indulgent snacks like chocolates and cookies generally underperformed categories like trail mixes, nuts and meat snacks. Jon Sebastiani, who founded Krave in 2009, sees even more growth potential for the jerky market by improving the category's image. As such, Krave notes that its products do not contain nitrates or artificial flavors, and that they're lower in salt and cholesterol than competing jerkies. "It's very inviting to a female consumer," Sebastiani said. Sebastiani, who will continue to lead the unit and report to Buck, said sales for Krave Jerky have been growing at triple digit rates. Last year, he said sales totaled $36 million. The company's offerings are expanding, too. Capitalizing on the desire for protein, Sebastiani said Krave plans to launch a "meat bar" later this year to compete with granola bars found near supermarket checkout aisles. As for any potential pairings between Krave and Hershey products, Buck said there are no plans but didn't rule out the possibility. "Who knows what will come down the pike?" she said.
Written on 01/29/2015, 8:05 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — A measles outbreak whose spread originated at Disneyland has grown to 95 cases. The California Department of Public Health tells the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday that 79 of those in infections are in California and 52 of them can be linked directly to Disney Parks. The rest are in Michigan, Arizona, Utah, Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Nebraska and Mexico. The new overall figure shows eight more cases than the 87 confirmed earlier this week. Measles has been spreading since an outbreak linked to Southern California's Disney parks last month. Most of those infected were not vaccinated officials have urged people to get the measles shot. The U.S. experienced a record number of measles cases last year, with 644 infections from 27 states despite being largely eliminated in 2000.
Written on 01/29/2015, 7:56 am by LISA LEFF, Associated Press
(AP) — Charles H. Townes, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who helped create the laser that would revolutionize everything from medicine to manufacturing, has died. He was 99. Townes had been in poor health before his death on the way to an Oakland hospital Tuesday, officials at the University of California, Berkeley, said. "Charlie Townes had an enormous impact on physics and society in general," Steven Boggs, the chairman of the physics department at Berkeley, said Wednesday. The invention he's known for paved the way for other scientific discoveries, but also has a huge array of applications today: DVD players, gun sights, printers, computer networks, metal cutters, tattoo removal and vision correction are just some of the tools and technologies that rely on lasers. "I realized there would be many applications for the laser," Townes told Esquire magazine in 2001, "but it never occurred to me we'd get such power from it." Townes was also known for his strong spiritual faith. A devoted member of the United Church of Christ, Townes drew praise and skepticism later in his career with a series of speeches and essays investigating the similarities between science and religion. "Science tries to understand what our universe is like and how it works, including us humans," Townes wrote in 2005 upon being awarded the Templeton Prize for his contributions in "affirming life's spiritual dimension." "My own view is that, while science and religion may seem different, they have many similarities, and should interact and enlighten each other," he wrote. Townes was a faculty member at Columbia University when he did most of the work that would make him one of three scientists to share the 1964 Nobel Prize in physics for research leading to the creation of the laser. The others were Russian physicists Aleksandr M. Prokhorov and Nicolai G. Basov. Townes' research, the basis of which he often said came to him like a religious revelation, applied the microwave technique used in wartime radar research to the study of spectroscopy, the dispersion of an object's light into its component colors. He envisioned that would provide a new window into the structure of atoms and molecules and a new basis for controlling electromagnetic waves. His insights eventually led to the first laser. Born on July 28, 1915, in Greenville, S.C., to Baptist parents who embraced an open-minded interpretation of theology, Townes found his calling during his sophomore year at Furman University and went on to earn a master's degree from Duke University in physics and a doctorate at the California Institute of Technology. He married his wife, Frances Hildreth Townes, in 1941, and during World War II designed radar bombing systems for Bell Laboratories. Three years after he joined the Columbia faculty in 1948, Townes had his inspiration for the laser's predecessor, the maser, while sitting on a park bench in Washington, waiting for a restaurant to open for breakfast. Scientists were stumped about ways to make waves shorter, but in the tranquil morning hours the solution suddenly appeared to Townes, a moment he famously compared to a religious revelation. Townes scribbled a theory on scrap paper about using microwave energy to stoke molecules to move fast enough to create a shorter wave. In 1954, that theory was realized when Townes and his students developed the maser (microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation). Demonstrating that masers could be made to operate in optical and infrared capacities, Townes and his brother-in-law, the late Stanford professor Arthur L. Schawlow, jointly published a theory in 1958 on the feasibility of optical and infrared masers, or lasers. A laser controls the way that energized atoms release photons, or light particles. Today, they perform tasks ranging from cutting metal to vision correction and tattoo removal, but its inventors say they didn't foresee any of that. "I realized there would be many applications for the laser," Townes told Esquire magazine in 2001, "but it never occurred to me we'd get such power from it." Others built the first working lasers, but Townes shared the Nobel Prize in 1964 with the two Russians for his work leading to its creation. "I feel that very rarely have I done any work in my life," he told Esquire. "I have a good time. I'm exploring. I'm playing a game, solving puzzles, and having fun, and for some reason people have been willing to pay me for it. Officially, I was supposed to retire years ago, but retire from what? Why stop having a good time?" Townes was named a full professor at Columbia in 1950 and later served as chairman of the university's physics department. He was appointed provost and physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1961, and in 1967 he joined the faculty at Berkeley. In 1966, he published an article entitled "The Convergence of Science and Religion" in the IBM journal THINK. The difference between science and religion "are largely superficial," he wrote, "the two become almost indistinguishable if we look at the real nature of each." In an era when many scientists steadfastly avoided ties to religion, the views expressed in the piece were seen as blasphemy by people in both communities. Over the years, he wrote and spoke often on the subject, and in 2005, he won the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities. The award, billed as the world's richest religion prize, was worth more than $1.5 million, and past recipients have included Mother Teresa. "Many people don't realize that science basically involves assumptions and faith. But nothing is absolutely proved," Townes said at the time. "Wonderful things in both science and religion come from our efforts based on observations, thoughtful assumptions, faith and logic." Townes lived in Berkeley and is survived by his wife and four daughters, Linda Rosenwein, Ellen Townes-Anderson, Carla Kessler, and Holly Townes.  

Latest State News

Written on 01/29/2015, 8:05 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — A measles outbreak whose spread...
Written on 01/29/2015, 7:56 am by LISA LEFF, Associated Press
(AP) — Charles H. Townes, the Nobel...
Written on 01/29/2015, 7:51 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — NASA has scrubbed the launch of...
Written on 01/28/2015, 3:18 pm by FENIT NIRAPPIL, Associated Press
(AP) — California health officials on...

Latest National News

Written on 01/29/2015, 9:59 am by BERNARD CONDON, 
JONATHAN FAHEY, AP Business Writers
(AP) — The plunge in oil has crushed...
Written on 01/29/2015, 9:51 am by ANICK JESDANUN, AP Technology Writer
(AP) — SpongeBob fans rejoice:...
Written on 01/29/2015, 8:57 am by MAE ANDERSON, AP Technology Writer
(AP) — Chinese e-commerce powerhouse...
Written on 01/29/2015, 8:55 am by COREY WILLIAMS, Associated Press
(AP) — Chris Mathews' crew showed up...