National News

How reading on screens is rewiring our brains

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-04 02:00

Dr. Maryanne Wolf says that reading isn't something we're born to do — it's something we train our brain to do.

Wolf is the director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University, and the author of "Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain." She says we rewire parts of our brain and build new circuits as we learn to read.

But something interesting is happening as we use new technology for the process of reading: The circuits we're building in our brain are different than those we build when we read books. And some of the implications are worrisome for our ability for deep thought.

Following other discussions for this week's series on technology and reading education, Wolf joins us to talk about reading, new tech and their impact on the brain.

Click the media player above to hear Dr. Maryanne Wolf in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

The jobs report: strong, steady job growth takes hold

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-04 02:00

The U.S. Labor Department's monthly employment report for August is expected to show some improvement in the job market from July. The consensus among economists is for 230,000 jobs to have been added to private and public-sector payrolls, and for the unemployment rate to have declined 0.1 percent to 6.1 percent.

The trend is now stable and well-established after five years of labor-market improvement that only came in fits and starts, says economist Gary Burtless at the Brookings Institution.

Burtless points out that private businesses have been adding more than 200,000 jobs per month.

“In the last six months, the government has joined the party,” Burtless said. “Public employment is now rising again, although very slowly. As long as these jobs reports continue, I think everyone should be heartened.”

Burtless and other economists are discouraged by anemic wage growth, though. In the years since the recession ended, paychecks for most Americans have just barely kept pace with inflation.

Economist Elise Gould at the Economic Policy Institute says that shows there’s still significant slack in the labor market. Employers don’t have to offer higher pay to attract and retain workers, and workers don’t have much bargaining power.

“Workers are really not seeing the growing productivity, the growing economy, in higher wages,” Gould said.

Americans face food insecurity despite economic growth

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-09-04 02:00

The number of American households suffering from food insecurity is down from its peak in 2011, the USDA said in a report released this week.

The decline was a modest 2.7 percent — bringing the number down to 17.5 million households where access to enough food for healthy and active living (how the USDA defines food security) was inconsistent or not dependable.

The report also said the number of households with severe food insecurity, including one member of the household who is going hungry, remained unchanged at almost 7 million. One out of five of these homes include children.

While researchers report that parents often shield their children from hunger, in 360,000 households, food availability was so poor that children were also affected.

“In these households, with very low food security among children, parents reported that children were hungry, but they just didn’t have enough money for food or that children were skipping meals, and in the most extreme situations going the whole day without eating,” says Alisha Coleman-Jensen, co-author of the USDA study.

Nevertheless, the number of extreme food instability households dropped from 1.2 to 0.9 percent.

Households with food instability are not evenly spread out around the country. There are more of them in urban and rural areas, and fewer in the suburbs. Southern states are hit hardest, while North Dakota, which is in the middle of an oil boom, has the lowest rate at 8.7 percent.

The nationwide numbers are grim, despite the fact that the economy has been improving, albeit modestly, and unemployment is decreasing. Coleman-Jensen says when researchers took into account employment, income and other factors, the most significant barrier for improved food security in the U.S. appeared to be inflation in food costs.

Graphic courtesy of USDA Economic Research Service.

“In certain categories, like proteins and dairy, they’ve been incurring double-digit inflation. You also have increasing demand for select commodities around the world, and that’s likely to keep an overall upward pressure on costs,” says Erin Lash, a consumer products analyst with the Chicago-based research firm MorningStar.

Lash says droughts are also partly to blame for higher food prices in certain categories. For example, beef prices rose 10 percent last year, and pork prices rose as much as 7.5 percent. Both meats will likely see price increases this year as well, as consumers feel the effects of a drought in Texas and Oklahoma, and a Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus that killed 7 million piglets last year.

In 2015, the USDA predicts food prices overall will see more normal levels of inflation, around 2 to 3 percent. But USDA co-author Coleman-Jensen says it is too early to predict whether that will significantly improve America’s household food security problem.

Gentlemen, Preschool Is Calling

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-04 00:41

New York City is scrambling to make good on its promise to provide preschool for all. That means hiring roughly 1,000 new teachers. But few will likely be men.

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The Myth Of The Private Naked Selfie

NPR News - Thu, 2014-09-04 00:40

When hackers steal credit card numbers, the banks and major retailers pay. When they steal personal photos from an Apple account, the user shoulders the cost and can't take back the images.

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Dead Chickens, A Tiny Motor And The Story Of Alibaba

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-03 23:33

Alibaba is the biggest e-commerce company in the world. It may also save the lives of a few chickens in northern California.

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CBS's Thursday Night Football: An Ambitious Alliance With A Lot At Stake

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-03 23:32

On Sept. 11, CBS and the NFL will debut Thursday Night Football games. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says it's a sure bet that two of the world's biggest corporations have a lot riding on.

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Ferguson Police Tactics Draw Justice Department Investigation

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-03 17:41

The department will launch an inquiry into the city's police force, with a focus on looking for a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing.

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Bloomberg Will Return To Running His Media Company In Surprise Move

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-03 16:55

The former New York mayor replaces his former city hall deputy Daniel L. Doctoroff, who chose to leave after Bloomberg re-engaged at the firm and began once again adding input on day-to-day decisions.

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State governments experiment with cloud computing

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-03 15:15

From the outside, Cheyenne, Wyoming’s Green House Data center looks fairly nondescript, just another boring building in a corporate office park.

But get past security and it feels like something out of "The Matrix" — a long white hallway leads to row after row of blinking servers. They’re extremely well protected, says staff engineer Courtney Thompson:

"Laser grid-based systems on penetrations on the outside of our walls. Kevlar bullet-proofing anywhere there is a window. We like to show people we go to the nth degree to make sure our clients' data is secure.”

The clients that use Green House Data’s cloud hosting services include New Belgium Brewing Company, the National Outdoor Leadership School, and now, the state of Wyoming.

“We are getting higher quality servers, higher quality data protection,” says Wyoming Chief Information Officer Flint Waters. “So it’s more economical for us, but it’s also far more bang for the buck.”

Waters is leading the transition of most of the state’s data from state-owned servers to the cloud — space on the Internet rented from big data companies, like a giant version of Dropbox or Google Drive. Pennsylvania is also moving government data to the cloud.

Waters says there are lots of benefits: He gets access to the very best IT professionals, and the state only has to pay for the storage it needs. He says there’s no way Wyoming can compete with companies that manage data for a living.

“When it comes time to put together a bunch of new trucks for our fleet, we don’t say, ‘Let’s put together a factory and assemble trucks.’ We look at GM, Ford, Chrysler. And this is a very similar paradigm,” Waters says.

While many states are looking into the cloud, a nationwide survey last year found that most are worried it could violate privacy laws. Waters says he understands the concern, but it is silly to think that government-owned servers are any safer.

“Folks say, 'It’s more secure because I control the server.' Well, yeah, but I can pick it up and walk out to my car with it. And that citizen data isn’t secure anymore.”

Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Lee Tien isn’t convinced. “If you are controlling your own data center, you have the control that matches your responsibility,” he says. “When you move into the cloud, something could go wrong.”

Tien points to an example out of California as a reason to worry. School kids in that state use a cloud service called Google Apps for Education. But last spring, it came out that Google had been clandestinely mining their emails for ad research.

Tien says governments need to be good stewards of their citizens’ data. "There is a tendency for there not to be whole lot of public oversight over these kinds of decisions, even when they can be quite fateful for everyone involved.”

For small governments, navigating the world of cloud computing can be confusing. Thankfully, there is Australia.

“Australia has always been a country where the citizens have valued their privacy," says John Sheridan, Australia’s information minister.

The Australian government is moving a lot of information onto the cloud, too, and last year it came out with one of the most extensive guides to data privacy out there.

Sheridan says government cloud computing contracts need to be able to hold private companies accountable. “We need to look at their security. So we don’t want someone hacking our websites or doing those sorts of things.”

And, Sheridan says, if there is a hack, governments need to be sure they know about it, and know how it’ll be fixed.

In Cheyenne, Courtney Thompson would be one of those fixers if something went wrong. Pointing at the banks of humming servers, he says Wyoming is just the beginning for states heading to the cloud.

“Massive data centers like this, they’re the future of computing."

'We Will Emerge From This Ordeal,' Slain Journalist's Family Says

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-03 14:04

The remarks by Steven Sotloff's family come a day after the Islamic State group released a video that showed a militant beheading the freelance journalist.

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Perdue Says Its Hatching Chicks Are Off Antibiotics

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-03 13:40

Perdue Farms, one of the country's largest suppliers of chicken meat, says its hatcheries are working better now without antibiotics. Public health advocates call it "a big step" forward.

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Colorful snippets from the Fed's 'Beige Book'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-03 13:27

I actually enjoy reading about "The Beige Book," the Federal Reserve's regular look at regional slices of the American economy.

I know this makes me sound incredibly dull, but bear with me.

The latest installment came out today, and so we know (thanks to The Wall Street Journal):

-  Theme-park attendance in and around the Atlanta region was soft, because family vacations were delayed due to snow-day makeups at the end of the school year.

- Aerospace manufacturers near San Francisco are worried about titanium supplies, because of sanctions on Russia.

- A mildew outbreak in North Dakota may reduce sunflower yields. My personal favorite.

C'mon... fascinating, right?

Under Armour makes its fashion move

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-03 13:25

How do you add more than $590 million to the value of your company in just one day? Hire Gisele Bundchen

That’s what Under Armour has done. The athletic apparel company has been aggressively marketing itself — it even tried to steal away one of Nike’s most popular endorsers, NBA star Kevin Durant (he stayed with Nike).

Under Armour has traditionally appealed to male jocks, but it’s trying to broaden its customer base to include more women. For a company that started out in the mid-'90s catering to male football players, Under Armour has come a long way. Its sales rose 34 percent in the second quarter, and the company is on track to pull in $3 billion in revenue this year.

That’s still peanuts compared to Nike, but Under Armour is flexing its marketing muscle. A host of celebrity athletes have signed on to endorse its products, including ski racer Lindsey Vonn and ballerina Misty Copeland. “The fact that they’re willing to put money behind these celebrities signals to others that, yeah, we’re going to be playing against the big guys,” says Amna Kirmani, a business professor at the University of Maryland.

Kirmani says Under Armour has always had a good reputation among serious athletes, but now the company needs to broaden its appeal with “everyday individuals.”  That includes people who may never step foot near a gym. Matt Saler, director of sports marketing at IMRE,  says active sportswear is becoming more of a mainstream fashion trend.  “Under Armour’s really at the forefront of it with Nike and their competitors. They’ve really established their place in the category as one of the leaders.” 

Celebrity photo hack puts a cloud over Apple

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-03 13:24

This is the view from Apple headquarters this week:

[<a href="//storify.com/Marketplace/response-to-celebrity-nude-photo-hacks" target="_blank">View the story "Response to Celebrity Nude Photo Hacks" on Storify</a>]

Twitter was full of celebrities tweeting about how they felt violated when nude photos from their iCloud accounts were posted online after they were apparently hacked

The story led to speculation about weaknesses in iCloud security, and all this less than a week before a major announcement from Apple, likely the unveiling of an iPhone 6.

“It’s a hit to Apple,” says Colin Gillis, a senior technology analyst at BGC Financial. He says Apple should be looking forward, and presenting consumers with new security tools like biometrics — requiring a fingerprint instead of just a password to access accounts.

“They will offer you solutions that you’ll have, you know, extended on new iPhones to help prevent these types of things," Gillis says.

So, just buy a new iPhone and everything will be fine, right? 

Not quite, because the celebrity nude photo dump is so much more personal than a credit card data breach.

“It’s like someone, you know, going through your personal trash," says Jeff Howe, head of the media innovation program at Northeastern University. "I think it absolutely engenders a sense of violation.”

That could make consumers more wary of sharing personal stuff online. Could something like that happen to our data in the cloud?

Cathy Boyle, a senior mobile analyst at eMarketer, said she's definitely noticed more wariness from consumers.

“But I think if you tell them that if you share a certain amount of your information with us in exchange for something valuable, then people seem to be more accepting of sharing their information,” she says.

So companies would have to offer us a discount or special treatment for our online data.  Otherwise, hey — stay off my cloud. 

You Can Buy Happiness, If It's An Experience

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-03 13:20

Experiences tend to make people happier than material possessions, research shows. And looking forward to an experience like a concert can feel much better than awaiting the latest smartphone release.

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CVS Quits Cigarettes, Adjusting To New Health Care Landscape

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-03 12:55

CVS has changed its corporate name from CVS Caremark to CVS Health. On the very same day, the company has also fulfilled a promise it made earlier this year: No more cigarettes on its store shelves.

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Residents Worry Urban Drilling Will Turn Downtowns Into Oil Towns

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-03 12:42

Drilling for oil and gas in rural and suburban areas isn't new. But energy extraction companies are now moving into more densely populated areas, raising a new set of concerns for city residents.

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Sen. Kaine: Strikes On Islamic State Must Be Approved By Congress

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-03 12:42

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., discusses the need for President Obama to seek Congressional approval before moving ahead with military actions against the Islamic State.

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