National News

Tech IRL: Work it harder, make it better (with an app)

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-09-05 13:22

Fitness Apps are popular, really popular. But they have their own set of challenges, and what are these Apps doing with all your data?   Marketplace Tech’s Ben Johnson and Lizzie O’Leary work out a few fitness apps like One Hundred Pushups, and explore their challenges.  

Weekend brunch: Apple starts making the rules and economic pickles

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-09-05 13:22

This week, Lizzie O'Leary sits down for brunch with Nicolas Carlson from Business Insider and Reuters' Ben Walsh to discuss business news and the news of last week and what's on their plate this week (get it?).   Topics:   Tim Cook Says Apple to Add Security Alerts for iCloud Users Our Economic Pickle Single Women Irked by Pinterest Push Toward Altar

What Ebola costs one community

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-09-05 13:22

The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the worst on record, more than 3,500 people have contracted the illness, and more than 2,000 have died.

The outbreak has also meant profound changes to everyday life. Curfews, containment zones, and a near halt to agriculture have occurred, stalling the region's economy.

Balmed Holdings buys and sells cocoa, coffee, and cashews with local farmers in Sierra Leone. 

Medgar Brown, the CEO of Balmed Holdings, joined us over the phone from Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, to tell us how Ebola is affecting his community.

My money story: Writer Joey Slamon

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-09-05 13:22

Every week, we invite someone to tell us their story about money. This week, Los Angeles-based writer Joey Slamon tells us a story about the emotions money can create.

I’d like to say I don’t care about money. I’d love to be one of those cool, free-spirited hippies who lives with only what they can carry in their knapsacks or squeeze onto their rickshaws.

But the truth is, I love money.

Not because I love spending it, quite the opposite. I’m actually quite a hoarder with my money. No, I love money because of the emotional attachments I’ve developed for it. To me, money is a way of showing how much you care about someone. How much you spend on their birthday or Christmas present is a direct correlation with how much you care for them.

And it’s my grandmother’s fault.

I was born in 1982 and for 4 short, wonderful years, I was my grandmother’s favorite. My grandma (or Sito, as we called her) had three children but only one son, my father. And in the Syrian culture, men reign supreme. Maybe not even the Syrian culture anymore, but definitely the old-school mentality my Sito had. Women were to serve men and men were to provide.

And since my father was a doctor, well, you could burn your retinas on the pride she beamed.

So to be the only child of her only son, well, I was set. It was a given that I’d be her favorite grandchild and life was good ... until my brother was born. Everyone loves my brother more than me, to this day. But from the second he was born, it was clear that with my Sito, I was old news. Her son had a son and she couldn’t have loved him more.

It’s hard when you’re a child of around six to realize someone doesn’t love you as much as they love someone else. Especially when that “someone” is your own grandmother. And that “someone else” was this annoying, attention grabbing thing that kind of looked like me. But I wasn’t worried. Surely she’d have to see I was the superior grandchild and more deserving of her love and praise than my stupid brother who couldn’t even stand up on his own. But my efforts went unnoticed.

There is photographic proof of my grandmother’s love of my brother over me.

In every photo of the three of us, she’s practically pushing me out of frame so she can make room for her more loved grandson. This happened for years. One morning while visiting her in Pennsylvania, with my family she made a huge breakfast and there were three dishes on the dining room table. After coming back with a run with my father, I was starving and sat down at one of the place settings. You know what my Sito said? “Oh are you hungry? There’s cereal in the pantry.” He had made breakfast for my father, my brother and herself, so she could be surrounded by the ones she truly loved. I stood in the kitchen with my mother while we quietly ate old Wheetabix and my mother promised me a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts later to make up for it.

But it didn’t matter.

I knew that deep down she loved me as much as she loved my brother. I knew this for a fact because every Christmas, we’d each get a crisp $50 bill from my Sito. My other grandmother wrote checks, but my Sito sent cash. As a child with no allowance, seeing that much money at once was mind blowing. To this day I get a special feeling when seeing a $50. My Sito could pretend that she loved my brother more than me once a year when we made the trip to see her, she could dote over him and all but ignore me at her house in front of our family members, but here was cold hard proof that at the end of the day, my brother and I were the same. Each deserving of the same fifty dollar bill.

When she passed away years later, we were looking through some of her old belongings, and that’s when I saw it: The ledger. My Sito ran a cigarette and candy shop (which was a thing in the 70s) and was always a meticulous accountant. I never saw her pay for anything without writing down the exact amount to be officially recorded later. And going through her old money ledger, my heart welled with pride. This woman, who did so much for everyone around her, managed to stay independent even after the loss of her husband due to her meticulous finances. Good for her! To hell with men! We can be just as smart and capable with money! I vowed then and there to be as diligent with my own finances as an ode to my Sito, to run my own life and never let anyone tell me I was “less than."

And then I saw it: December 15th, 1997 – the entries for Christmas presents for her grandchildren. My brother’s name – Matthew – and next to it, $50. And then my name:

Joey - $25.

I was shocked and immediately went to my mother, hoping she would explain it away as a mistake. That my Sito obviously loved us both the same and there was no way she would give my brother double what she had given me. That I hadn’t been living a lie for the past 17 years and that the secret confirmation I had that my grandma loved me just as much as my brother was simply recorded wrong in the ledger.

A new way to apply to college: video

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-09-05 13:05

The postcard-perfect campus of Goucher College, in Baltimore, Maryland, might seem out-of-reach to students from low-income families, or those with iffy grades on their transcripts. New president José Antonio Bowen wants to change that.

"There are tens of thousands of high school seniors each year that do not apply to any selective liberal arts college, like Goucher College," he says, "despite the fact that they have great SATs and they have transcripts and they would get in."

To attract more of those students, Goucher introduced a new way to apply to the college — by making a video. On the college's website, a clip explaining the concept shows a student tearing up a transcript.

"That's it," he says. "No test scores, no transcripts."

Here's how their new system works: Students fill out a brief application, send two samples of their work from high school and submit a short video introducing themselves. Production value doesn't matter, Bowen says.

"You can use your phone, you can tell us who you are, and be admitted to college," he says. "That's a simple, straightforward message that I hope will resonate with lots of 18-year-olds."

Colleges are in fierce competition for those 18-year-olds. After a big boom, the number of high school seniors is shrinking in the Midwest and Northeast.

"The demographics are getting more challenging," says David Strauss, a higher education consultant with Art & Science Group. Students and families are worried about costs, and many are questioning the value of a liberal arts degree. "All of this adds up to a need for institutions to compete ever more effectively against each other for the students they need," he says.

Goucher isn't the only school experimenting with alternatives to the traditional application. Last year Bard College introduced an essay-only admissions exam, meant to attract talented students whose grades or test scores might not reflect their potential. Just 40 out of 6,000 applicants went that route, but nearly half of them got in.

There aren't enough teachers with coding skills

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-09-05 13:01

The looming shortage of coders and programmers in the tech industry has been well-documented. There are about a million (er, give or take) digital job openings predicted in the next decade, which has some schools mandating coding class. But where are the teachers?

“We need to train students today to have the skills that we don’t have,” says Ravi Gupta, founder of RePublic Charter Schools in Nashville. “But we don’t have enough people who have the skills to teach it.”

Schools around the world are trying to respond to tech entrepreneurs, who have been calling for required programming classes. Apple Founder Steve Jobs famously said in 1995 that everyone should learn how to program a computer. Now many people are echoing him, from President Obama to rappers like



There are several programs designed for kids to teach themselves how to code. But for schools that take the project to the classroom, good luck finding a coding teacher.

Gupta’s schools in Nashville decided to require coding this year, but when he started looking for teachers, he basically found none.

“We all knew that our students needed the skills, but none of us knew how to tackle the challenge,” he says. “So we started teaching ourselves as we teach our students. Not because that’s the ideal situation, but because it is the only way.”

In an echo-filled classroom, Ryan York leads a one-month crash course for a group of teachers who know almost nothing about coding, even though that’s what they will be teaching this year. Day one is animating a cartoon fish.

The teachers hunched over laptops are learning a fairly rudimentary coding language called Scratch, developed by MIT. They’ll work up to projects like building an on-screen piano.

“I’m getting there,” says Ben Keil, one of those hired to teach coding. He admits it may be a long first year.

“I actually roomed with two computer science guys in college and watched them through the whole process,” he said. “In hindsight now, I wish I had done a little more learning from them along the way.”

School leaders are spinning the lack of experience as a potential plus: Teachers can identify with their students because they’re just a few steps ahead.

“This is something where you are learning alongside with your students,” York says. “And that’s a beautiful model that’s at the heart of programming. But it also means there’s a lot more preparation on the front end.”

Around the world, schools are dealing with this circular problem in which kids need to learn coding, but teachers can’t teach it. England’s primary schools have mandated programming classes, but a recent survey finds teachers don’t think they’re ready, calling the preparation “chaotic.”

And when a teacher does master an in-demand skill like coding, will they actually stay in the classroom? Or will they be poached by the higher-paying tech industry?

“We have definitely had that happen,” says Mike Palmer, who runs a teacher training program based in St. Louis called Code Red. 

One newly minted coding teacher recently left for greener pastures.

“We basically trained her up to be a coder. She ended up self-training a little bit more, and she ended up getting a job in the private sector,” he says. “I don’t know if that’s us doing our job too well or not, but it’s happened.”

The potential for high turnover is a problem that, at this point, Nashville’s coding education pioneers say they’d be happy to have.  

Perhaps, Palmer says, it’s further proof that coding is a skill worth teaching to every student.

The Changing Face Of West Africa Has Fueled The Ebola Crisis

NPR News - Fri, 2014-09-05 12:59

Population growth, the cutting down of forests and increased mobility all contribute to the current crisis. "The virus hasn't changed," says one infectious disease expert. "Africa has changed."

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Charter Plane Carrying Americans Ordered To Land In Iran

NPR News - Fri, 2014-09-05 12:43

A senior State Department official says the flight from Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan was rerouted because of a "bureaucratic issue." The State Department says the plane has now landed in Dubai.

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Stinky T-Shirt? Bacteria Love Polyester In A Special Way

NPR News - Fri, 2014-09-05 12:23

Why does that sleek polyester T-shirt reek after 10 minutes, while the old-school cotton stays relatively sweet? Polyester attracts very different microbes, which may account for that special stink.

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Will Al-Qaida Find Followers In India?

NPR News - Fri, 2014-09-05 12:21

The Islamist group has established a new franchise in a country with 176 million Muslims. But al-Qaida could find it hard to recruit in India, according to many analysts.

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Manliness In Music: The XY Hits The Hi-Fi

NPR News - Fri, 2014-09-05 12:20

There's no shortage of songs about what it means to be a man. But what makes some music sound "manly" — and what attracts men to play and listen to certain genres of music? The answers are changing.

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A Disappointing Jobs Report May Mask Economy's Strength

NPR News - Fri, 2014-09-05 12:19

The latest labor report indicates a slowdown in job growth, but many economists aren't buying it. They say other data paint a stronger picture, but the jobs numbers may delay higher interest rates.

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Ukraine Cease-Fire Brings End To 5 Months Of Violence

NPR News - Fri, 2014-09-05 12:08

After almost five months of conflict, the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists have signed a truce to end the fighting. More than 2,600 people have died in the violence between the two sides, and hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes.

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At NATO Summit, U.S. And Europe Ready New Sanctions Against Russia

NPR News - Fri, 2014-09-05 12:08

President Obama and other NATO leaders are returning from Wales, after two days there spent discussing the future of the organization. The summit touched on topics that ranged from Ukraine to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

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Murder Charges Dredge Memories Of Dark Era In Chile

NPR News - Fri, 2014-09-05 12:08

Three more people have been charged in connection with the 1973 murder of Chilean folk singer Victor Jara. Luis Andres Henao, Chile correspondent for the Associated Press, explains the situation.

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Health Officials Hope To Speed Up Possible Ebola Cures

NPR News - Fri, 2014-09-05 12:08

The World Health Organization is holding a special meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss how to fast-track the development of experimental therapies and vaccines to combat the Ebola outbreak.

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The Path To Setting A Wrongly Convicted Prisoner Free

NPR News - Fri, 2014-09-05 12:08

Half-brothers Henry McCollum and Leon Brown were convicted of rape and murder in 1983. This week, they've been exonerated, after DNA analysis implicated someone else. To learn more about the case, and the work that went into their exoneration, Audie Cornish speaks with Kendra Montgomery-Blinn, the executive director of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission.

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Turboprop Plane With Unresponsive Pilot Crashes Off Jamaican Coast

NPR News - Fri, 2014-09-05 12:04

The private plane left Rochester, N.Y. at 8:45 a.m. EDT and lost contact with air traffic controllers at 10 a.m. EDT. Fighter jets intercepted it, but broke off when the plane entered Cuban airspace.

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A Coming-Out Party For The Humble Pawpaw, Native Fruit Darling

NPR News - Fri, 2014-09-05 11:59

Ever seen a pawpaw in the supermarket? Didn't think so. Chris Chmiel wants to change that by growing and promoting the mangolike fruit. He also helped organize the upcoming Ohio Pawpaw Festival.

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Grunge and heroin chic: the '90s fashion reboot

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-09-05 11:38

Everybody who's anybody in the rarefied world of high fashion is in New York City. Fashion Week is upon us once again.

While the runway shows, lavish parties, and air kisses are a mainstay, fashion hasn't consistently been ground for avant-garde experimentation, says Maureen Callahan. She has has long covered the industry as a reporter and editor at the New York Post and has written a book called "Champagne Supernovas: Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen and the '90's Renegades Who Remade Fashion".

Why did you pick these three people to anchor your book?

Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs and Alexander McQueen epitomized the revolution that took place in fashion in the '90s. And they remain as culturally relevant today as they were 20 years ago. 

The odd one out, it seems, is Marc Jacobs. By the time this book starts he's already won a big fashion award, he's a VP at Perry Ellis. He doesn't seem to need much of a boost, and yet he engineers the move toward grunge fashion. 

On the surface of it, it does seem that Marc Jacobs is the odd one out. It's easy to see why. He is the most famous, impactful, influential designer — I think ever. But he, like Kate and McQueen, has a dark origin story. The grunge collection, which today is rightly regarded as the most seminal American collection of the 1990s, was, at the time, a colossal failure.  The critics loathed it. The buyers did not know what to do with it. The editors hated it. And the girls he was designing for thought it was a highly cynical co-option of their authentic, organic culture. They thought Marc Jacobs killed it. 

Early on in this book you talk about how what rock'n'roll was to the '50s, drugs to the '60s, film to the '70s and modern art to the '80s, fashion was to the '90s. What is fashion today? 

What you see now, and this is a legacy of the '90s, is a democratization of fashion that's unprecedented. A lot of that has to do with technology -the idea that you can go to H&M and buy something days after it was shown on a high fashion runway for a fraction of the price, and then throw it away when it's no longer on-trend. But you also have the rise of street style blogs. Any girl can be shot by a photographer, put up online, and that can be an aspirational image for anyone. Fashion now is far more open than it ever has been. Bloggers are seated front row at shows alongside Anna Wintour. 

For all that accessibility though, that high-end stuff is out of reach for over 90 percent of the population. 

It absolutely is. Say you see a piece in Vogue that you would love, but it's that or your rent. You wait two to three weeks. Some High Street chain, be it Zara or Topshop or H&M will knock it off. 

Two to three weeks? That speed? That's insane. 

It becomes this poisonous feedback loop. The pressure on high-end designers to keep producing is incredible for exactly this reason. You have to create newer and more product to convince women that they absolutely need to buy this to be on-trend. Every designer worth their salt, from Marc Jacobs to Tom Ford to Nicolas Ghesquiere has said the production schedule is crazy, completely inhumane, and unnecessary.