National News

Ballerina Misty Copeland counts herself lucky

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2016-06-30 11:20

Update: Misty Copeland was promoted Tuesday, June 30 to principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater. She's the first-ever African-American woman to hold that title.

 

Age starting dance: 13

Height: 5 feet 2 inches

Bust: "Bigger than most"

At least, that's how ballerina Misty Copeland describes her numbers-defying career in dance. A soloist with the American Ballet Theater in New York, Copeland recently explained how she doesn't really fit into the traditional model for ballet, but still made it work.

“All of those numbers, they just don’t add up to create a classical dancer,” she says. "No matter what, I'm going to be who I am."

Listen to the full conversation from our live show in New York City in the audio player above.

Tesla is disrupting more than just the car business

Marketplace - American Public Media - Sat, 2016-02-06 16:01

Tesla Motors is building the world's biggest battery factory just outside of Reno, Nevada. The company is calling it the “gigafactory,” and when it’s up and running in 2016 it’s expected to make Tesla’s electric cars much more affordable. 

“In a single factory we're doubling the worldwide capacity to manufacture lithium-ion batteries,” says J.B. Straubel, Tesla's chief technology officer. 

That's significant enough. But the company also plans to develop batteries for use with solar-power generation – giving Tesla a shot at challenging public utilities as an energy source, Straubel says.

“At the price points that we're expecting to achieve with the gigafactory ... we see a market that is well in excess of the production capability of the factory,” says Straubel.

The market for batteries is an offshoot of the booming business for solar panels, particularly in states such as California, where solar is becoming commonplace.

“We sign up approximately one new customer every minute of the workday," says Will Craven, director of public affairs at California-based SolarCity.

Much of the excess energy harnessed by solar panels is returned to the power grid, Cravens says. This means homeowners and businesses may earn a credit from their power companies, but have no say over when and how that energy is used.

The partnership with SolarCity will use rooftop solar panels fitted with Tesla’s battery packs to allow customers to keep that energy in-house. That means they can use it however, and whenever, they want. The concept puts Tesla in direct competition with utility companies.

“Stationary storage, or backup storage, is really being considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of renewable electricity generation,” says Ben Kallo, an analyst with the Robert W. Baird financial services firm.

Kallo points out that the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources makes them less reliable because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine.  But with the ability to store that energy, renewable energy sources can compete head-to-head with utility companies for customers.

“There are still many utilities out there who kind of have their head stuck in the sand and just hope that this goes away. What we're seeing is really building momentum,” Kallo says.

Forward-minded utilities might look at Tesla’s business model as an opportunity, he says.  Energy-storage technology could be used to build capacity in their existing grids, and also build new infrastructure for battery-powered cars and homes.

 

Russia Finally Launches Supplies To ISS After Earlier Failures

NPR News - 55 min 53 sec ago

The liftoff of the Soyuz Progress 60P was a relief to astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station after two previous resupply missions — one Russian and one American — failed.

» E-Mail This

New Nation, New Cuisine: The First Cookbook To Tackle 'American Food'

NPR News - 1 hour 16 min ago

The first American cookbook, published in 1796, promised local food and a kind of socioculinary equality.

» E-Mail This

Peruvian Sisters Can Turn A Gourd Into An $800 Objet D'art

NPR News - 1 hour 16 min ago

They can spend up to two months on a single gourd, creating scenes that tell a story. Think of it as a graphic gourd novel.

» E-Mail This

What's holding back wearable tech?

Personal health and wellness technologies are projected to be a $5 billion business this year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association

Even President Barack Obama wears a wearable wellness device — a Fitbit — on occasion.

But, as it turns out, wearable technologies have a big obstacle to overcome: sensors — the miniaturized devices that measure things like speed and motion.

They are technically called MEMS, or microelectromechanical systems. We are most familiar with them in the forms of the accelerometers and gyroscopes that help smartphones and tablets keep track of motion. This is how we play games on our smartphones by just tilting and moving them, and how wearable wrist trackers count up our steps. 

"The sensor market today is being driven by mobile technology," Charlene Marini, vice president of marketing of embedded segments at ARM, said earlier this year, in an interview with Marketplace at the Consumer Electronics Show. "There's a huge volume, of course, in mobile.  And so mobile technology is being reused in things like wearables."

That reuse has had its limits. In wearable devices, current MEMS sensors have not been able to keep up with some of the rigors imposed on them. For example, they have not been as power efficient as needed.

They also do not perform all the functions that wearable device designers dream up. 

"A lot of these wearables end up in a sock drawer," says Karen Lightman, executive director of the MEMS Industry Group. "After you watch your steps for one week you're like, 'Yeah, I get it. I understand. I need to walk more. OK, that's not helpful.'" 

But what if you could track more than just your steps or your heart rate? There are efforts to do that by addressing the shortcomings of current MEMS sensors in key ways: building new sensors, creating software that better operates those sensors in more rigorous conditions, and better understanding the data coming out of current sensors.

The Chicago-based startup Rithmio is taking the latter approach. You can see the function of a program they've created in the video below:

Rithmio co-founder Adam Tilton is working on a program that can track all exercises by learning the unique patterns of movement from each exercise, as performed by each individual user. In a demonstration, he showed how Rithmio's program could recognize a new weight-training exercise within four repetitions, consistently, in multiple attempts.

"So, if you give me 10 seconds of motion-sensing data, I'll tell you whether the user did 10 jumping-jacks, or five bicep curls or whatever," Tilton says. 

Tilton could make his program even more accurate, if he had more sensors — ones embedded in clothes. But put those clothes in a washing machine, and the sensors would be ruined. Current sensors can't be washed.

"There's still issues with respect to interoperability. There's still issues with respect to energy and ... power management," says Lightman. "And for wearables that's a big deal." That's because consumers will want wearable devices (even smart shoes and T-shirts) that don't need recharging too often. 

There's a race to overcome these limits. Recently, Samsung came out with a new all-in-one chip that's more energy-efficient and has better communication. Intel has announced a similar chip.

Merini says sensors for wearables are quickly evolving, and within a few years there will be a "greater use of new types of sensors, that might not be applicable to phones. For instance, body type sensors, heart rate sensors, etc."

Mehran Mehregany, an engineering professor at Case Western Reserve University, is keeping track of technological advancements in wearable sensors. He says there are efforts to improve sensor technology so that they can measure not just our external activities and surroundings, but also what's happening inside our bodies.

"For example, it would be fantastic to do long-term, non-intrusive blood glucose monitoring," Mehregany says. "The sensor technology is not there to be able to do that type of measurement reliably."

Mehregany also points to accurate, reliable blood pressure monitoring, which he says is the "Holy Grail" for wearable sensors. Right now, MEMS sensors for consumer-grade wearable gadgets still can't reliably perform that measurement either, Mehregany says. 

But, he predicts that in 25 years, sensors will measure many vital signs and will be embedded in us, acting like a biological black box. Just as black boxes today keep track of the mechanics of an airplane.

Philadelphia: the largest city to legalize Airbnb

Philadelphia has legalized Airbnb and agreed to tax rentals booked through the site. The city is preparing itself for two huge events — The 2016 Democratic National Convention a year from now. But first up, the pope’s visit.

According to Philadelphia’s tourism bureau, more than 1.5 million visitors are expected to descend on the city for the Papal event.

Philadelphia has 15,849 hotel rooms. That might not be enough. And when there aren’t enough hotel rooms, prices go way up. Georgios Zervas, marketing professor at Boston University, has studied this. “If people want to be in Philly when the pope is visiting, and prices are extremely high,” Zervas says. "Then they might decide not to visit the city at all.”

Which would explain why the city would legalize and tax Airbnb rentals. But how many people even know that in a lot of cities, Airbnb still isn’t legal? Well, if you’re someone wanting to rent out your place you could look at Airbnb’s “Terms of Service."

It clearly states it’s up to you to check. But if you’re like most people: “We scroll to the bottom, click on agree, and move on,” says Cait Lamberton, who teaches marketing at the University of Pittsburgh. Usually at this point in the transaction, people intending to rent out some space are going to do it, Lamberton says.

“You know they’ve probably taken some pictures, they’ve probably written a description, they’re probably thinking about the rate they should charge,” she says.

In other words the legality of the transaction is kind of an afterthought.

Walmart brings greeters back to the front door

If you’re planning on shopping at a Wal-Mart on this holiday, you may encounter a throwback from the company’s past. The Wal-Mart greeter is making a comeback at the front of some stores. In about 300 of its 4,500 stores, the company is testing a new program to cut down on theft.

“A few years ago, greeters were moved from the front door entrance to what’s called ‘action alley,’ which is over by the self-checkout area,” says Wal-Mart spokesman Brian Nick. Now the company is experimenting with moving them back, to greet customers as they walk in and let would-be shoplifters know someone is watching.

“They serve a twofold function,” says Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at Retail Systems Research. “Ideally they make you feel welcome and, theoretically, they nip a few basis points off of shrink.”

“Shrink” is the industry term for merchandise lost to shoplifting, employee theft, and vendor fraud. It cost retailers an estimated $44 billion last year, according to a new survey by University of Florida criminology professor Richard Hollinger.  

Wal-Mart greeters will sometimes check receipts at the door. In other stores, the company is adding “asset protection” specialists in bright yellow vests.

How Personal Should A Personal Assistant Get? Google And Apple Disagree

NPR News - 3 hours 16 min ago

When you're buying a smartphone, chances are you don't dig too deeply into the personal assistant. Google aims to change that — and in the process, it's testing our appetite for privacy in a big way.

» E-Mail This

REELZ TV Network Will Air Miss USA Pageant

NPR News - Thu, 2015-07-02 16:30

After two TV networks, Univision and NBC, dropped broadcasts of Miss USA and Miss Universe – pageants which Trump co-owns – a different network will broadcast the programming, according to The AP

» E-Mail This

Investigators Say Weather Caused Mount Zion AME Church To Burn

NPR News - Thu, 2015-07-02 16:08

The State Law Enforcement Division says that there was no evidence of criminal intent at the church in Greeleyville, S.C., on Tuesday. Thunderstorms had passed through the area that night.

» E-Mail This

White House: We Have A Beef With GMO Regulations

NPR News - Thu, 2015-07-02 14:13

The White House has ordered a review of the government's system for regulating products of biotechnology, including genetically modified crops. That system has been controversial from the start.

» E-Mail This

Virginia's Pamunkey Tribe Granted Federal Recognition

NPR News - Thu, 2015-07-02 14:07

The Native Americans had contact with earliest English settlers and included Pocahontas among their members.

» E-Mail This

Small Donors Fueled Sanders' $15 Million Fundraising Haul

NPR News - Thu, 2015-07-02 13:38

The Sanders campaign said its average contribution was $33.51, but reliance on small donors cuts both ways.

» E-Mail This

Yes, There Really Is A Town In Liberia Called 'Smell No Taste'

NPR News - Thu, 2015-07-02 13:34

It's the place where a teenager died of Ebola this week. And like all unusual geographic names, it's got a story behind it.

» E-Mail This

Maria Leaves Sesame Street After 44 Years On The Block

NPR News - Thu, 2015-07-02 13:31

Sonia Manzano's acting career began when she was in the original cast of Godspell – a musical which began as a student production on campus, according to the Associated Press.

» E-Mail This

New Rules Could Create A New Class Of Overtime Workers

NPR News - Thu, 2015-07-02 13:24

The president's proposal would make 5 million more Americans eligible for overtime pay. But the changes don't mean that employers will pay more.

» E-Mail This

Richard Nixon 'wanted to be a good prince'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-07-02 12:56

Nobody includes Richard Nixon on their list of the country’s best presidents, but Nixon had a lasting impact both politically and economically. Author Evan Thomas looks at the psyche of this anxious introvert and takes readers deep into Nixon’s mind in his latest book "Being Nixon: A Man Divided."

“Nixon's become kind of a cartoon to us. We think he's wicked and evil. I just didn't believe that,” says Thomas. “He wanted to be a good person. Late at night, he would take his yellow pad — his aides called his yellow pad his best friend, because he liked being alone with his yellow pad — and he would write notes to himself about who he wanted to be.”

Nixon aimed to be compassionate, joyful, generous … all of which he was not, or at least not often.

“Nixon was an intellectual, he really was. He read deeply and widely, but mostly about international affairs," he says. “For some reason, he neglected economics to his grief, and actually to the grief of all of us, because the stupidest thing he did was wage and price controls, which had a real cost.”

Nixon may have failed as a president in many ways, especially for breaking the Constitution, Thomas says, but he did make a lasting impact in other regards, such as opening up China, expanding Social Security benefits for the disabled, the Clean Air Act, arms control of the Soviets. Nixon was an activist … clever and Machiavellian.

“Machiavelli wanted to be a good prince. Nixon wanted to be a good prince. He wasn’t always a good prince, but he wanted to be.”

Read an excerpt from "Being Nixon":

 

Black-owned banks are dying. Here's why it matters.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-07-02 12:54

Just three years ago, Chicago had four black-owned banks. Now there are two, and regulators have told one of them — Illinois Service Federal Savings and Loan— to raise more capital or risk a shutdown. The decline is part of a national trend. Unlike the more-segregated days when these banks were founded, African-American customers can now take their business elsewhere.

However, black-owned banks provide a link to a proud history— and, research says, they may do something a lot more important.

At its height, in the 1920s, '30s and '40s, the South Side’s Bronzeville neighborhood was Chicago’s version of Harlem.

“Bronzeville used to be known as the Black Metropolis,” says chef and entrepreneur Clifford Rome at his new restaurant, Peach’s, across the street from Illinois Service.

“You had all these pioneers who put their businesses on the South Side of Chicago. So you could go to the butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker, right?” he says. “You had these great banks, you had all these entertainers.”

For example, pianist Earl Hines — who started playing in Bronzeville with Louis Armstrong in the 1920s —  spent the '30s playing national broadcasts from 39th Street. By the middle of that decade, a local teenager named Nat Cole — later nicknamed “King” — started getting some notice.

“Having all that meant you didn’t have to go anywhere else,” Rome says.

Nor did Bronzeville residents have the opportunity to go anywhere else. Segregation was in full force, and white-owned banks did not cross the color line to make loans.

That’s where Illinois Service Federal came in. As the bank’s CEO, Norman Williams, tells the story: “We were started in 1934 by 13 African-American men with $7,000.”

One of those 13 founders was his father.

“The bank grew very slowly,” Williams says. “Its mission was simply to provide home loans and help people open savings accounts.”

Today, with around $110 million in assets, the bank still has deeply loyal customers— like Clifford Rome. In addition to Peach’s, he runs a catering business, an art gallery and another restaurant on King Drive — and Rome says he has kept multiple accounts with Illinois Service for years.

He recalls his first visit to the bank. “Once I walked in the doors, it’s like a throwback,” he says, laughing. The bank’s current headquarters looked ultra-modern when it was built almost 50 years ago. “But it has this unique quality. It feels community.”

Rome says he banks with Illinois Service for the same reason he uses the dry cleaner next door and the bakery down the street: to support neighborhood institutions.

“You need a community bank — you do,” he says. “Even if that community bank doesn’t have the bandwidth to do everything larger banks do. It’s here.”

However, the financial crisis and the recession hit banks like Illinois Service especially hard. African-Americans, like Norman Williams’s borrowers, were more likely than others to lose their jobs. And miss mortgage payments.

“People didn’t abandon their home — they just got behind,” he says. “Good, decent people, but…” thanks in part to new banking regulations, their problems became Illinois Service’s problems. And that’s why regulators have the bank in their sights.

John Taylor, who runs the Community Reinvestment Coalition, sees community banks like Illinois Service disappearing all over the country.

“That’s really the challenge,” he says. “Disappearing with them is the personal commitment of boards of directors to make sure that those communities, those neighborhoods, prosper."

Taylor believes the issue here is not losing black banks but losing community banks. “The local is more key than the race of the bank president,” he says.

However, research shows that race plays a role too.

For a study published last year in a journal from Oxford University Press, a team of researchers from Rutgers, Brigham Young and Utah State universities sent “mystery shoppers” into about 80 banks. They posed as small business owners looking for a loan. They all had the same story and the same outfit — and were even selected to be equally tall and good looking — but some were black, some were white and some were Latino.

As one of the researchers, Rutgers business professor Jerome Williams, puts it: “We found significant differences.”

The study found bank officers asked tougher questions of minority applicants. For instance, they wanted to see more years of financial records.

The mystery shoppers also used hidden cameras.  According to the study, everybody who saw the tapes agreed: bank officers were just nicer to white applicants.

With white applicants, Williams says, “There was a lot of bantering, interaction, jokes — being very, very friendly.”

With the black and Latino mystery shoppers, not so much.

It led to a simple conclusion. For black and Latino entrepreneurs looking for a bank loan, “The playing field is not level,” Williams says. “There’s already a mark against you in terms of your background in applying for a loan.”

In that context, banks like Illinois Service seem even more important.

CEO Norman Williams says he is looking for community-minded investors, and thinks he’ll make it. “But it’s certainly something that does keep me up at night,” he says. “I do think how much good we could do, how much work needs to be done on the South Side of Chicago.”

Right now, he needs about $7 million in new capital to keep Illinois Service doing that work.

Univision plans its IPO

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-07-02 12:47

We direct your attention now to Securities and Exchange Commission form S-1, officially titled a Registration Statement Under the Securities Act of 1933, filed today by Univision Holdings. The country's biggest Spanish-language broadcaster is going public. No word yet on how many shares it'll offer or what those shares might cost.

But experts say Univision is at the top of its game. It's often beating the big networks during prime time among the coveted 18- to 34-year-old demographic. It's got local television stations at the top of their markets.

"Their numbers are up, their advertising rates are up, they're just doing a great job with the Latino community," says Alex Nogales, CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

And the Latino community is a community that advertisers want. Moody's analyst Carl Salas says Univision viewers are in "the perfect demographic." It's a demographic that's growing, that's young. And, Salas says, "the consumer spending represented by Hispanics is only increasing over time."

By some estimates, the spending power of the Latino community in the United States is around $1.5 trillion.

Angeline Close Scheinbaum, at marketing professor at the University of Texas at Austin, thinks the very public fight between Donald Trump and Univision could be an important part of the IPO story. 

The decision by Univision to sever ties with Trump after he insulted Mexican immigrants, Scheinbaum says, allowed Univision to show potential investors its values. "From a consumer psychology lens, I think this couldn't have been better."

It's the sort of brand awareness that would be tough to buy.

Pages