National News

Messaging apps: Skype has competition. Facebook too.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-14 13:06

Today, a Japanese e-commerce giant called Rakuten bought a messaging app called Viber for $900 million. It's one of several apps for smartphones that provide free texting and even voice calls, including WhatsApp and Line.

In the U.S. it might not seem clear why any of them could be worth $900 million. But they're huge in countries like China, where one called WeChat dominates. 

Julie Ask, principal analyst at Forrester Research, explains why: They’re awesome.

"I would say to anyone who wants to understand what the craze is all about: Go download something like WeChat," she says. "Get four or five of your friends to do it, and play with it for a week. You’ll be totally hooked. The feature set is so much richer than messaging on a mobile phone. There’s so much more you can do with it."

Sending videos, pictures, cute little stickers—anything you can imagine, to anyone you want, most of it for free. It basically replaces your voice plan, your texting plan, and half of Facebook.

The apps have e-commerce sites, too. With apps built on top of WeChat, in China you can use it to order dinner. Or a taxi.

"These apps aren’t apps," Ask says. "They’re platforms."

It makes sense for a retailer like Rakuten to want in on that business, says Adib Ghubril, research director at the tech consulting firm Gartner.

"Retailers want to understand their customers better," he says, "and part of understanding them better is to get them talking."

In other words: What if Amazon knew you as well as Facebook does? 

Viber has 300 million users, so that’s a big head start. Altimeter Group founder Charlene Li thinks Rakuten just picked up a major asset.

"They instantly bought access to 300 million people," she says. 

That’s not as many as Facebook, but it’s growing fast. And Facebook couldn’t be purchased for $900 million. 

Author Of Book Yanked In India Says Move Has Backfired

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 13:00

Penguin Books, India, withdrew Wendy Doniger's The Hindus: An Alternate History after a Hindu group's court challenge. The group said the book denigrated Hinduism. Doniger defended the publisher but said the Indian law that makes offending religious sentiment a crime should be changed.

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Two Rounds Down, Syria Peace Talks Have Unfinished Business

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 13:00

In Geneva, Syrian government and opposition representatives are wrapping up a second round of peace talks. There have been no signs of progress at the peace conference, but international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi says he's planning to hold another round. Meanwhile, he'll be traveling to New York City to brief the U.N. Security Council.

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With New Rules, Pot Business Gets A Little Less Hazy For Banks

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 13:00

Ever since Colorado and Washington legalized pot, banks have been in an awkward position. Would a bank risk being targeted by federal prosecutors for doing business with people whose primary business is selling marijuana? On Friday, the Treasury Department eased the confusion by releasing new guidelines for the banking industry.

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NFL Bullying Report Yields Details Of Dolphins 'Harassment'

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 13:00

Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis talks to host Robert Siegel about the latest developments in the Dolphins bullying investigation. Carried out by attorney Ted Wells on behalf of the National Football League, the investigation found a "pattern of harassment" on the team, including texts and voicemail abuse targeting Jonathan Martin.

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Head First In Sochi, An American Takes Second

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 13:00

American skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace took silver in Sochi on Friday. The medal was the first for the U.S. in the event since the Salt Lake City games in 2002, when Americans got the gold and silver.

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Drought Politics Grip California's Central Valley

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 13:00

California's drought is reigniting a political debate about how to manage the state's limited water resources and who should take priority.

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Boehner Fights Back Against Tea Party, Again

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 13:00

The gulf between GOP House leaders and Tea Party-aligned conservatives is growing ever wider. Speaker John Boehner says even Mother Teresa couldn't deliver 218 GOP votes, given the party's current divisions.

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Feds Clear Banks To Do Business With Budding Pot Industry

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 12:56

The departments of Treasury and Justice signal that banks can work with the legal marijuana industry without fearing prosecution for such crimes as money laundering.

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Under Armour's speed skating #SochiFail

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-14 12:37

Under Armour shares were off almost two and a half percent today after the Wall Street Journal reported that "people familiar with the U.S. Speedskating team were blaming Under Armour suits for American skater's poor performance."

Not what you might call an ideal product placement.

What happens at Netflix when House of Cards goes live

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-14 12:06

The new world of Internet TV is really geeky.

I spent some time in the Netflix War Room last night, as the company debuted the new season of its smash hit TV series, House of Cards. The war room is a conference room with big table in the middle. And as we approached midnight, a bunch of engineers were couched over their laptops.

Jeremy Edberg, Netflix’s Reliability Architect, was one of them.

"So when the clock hits 12, the first thing I’m going to be doing is looking at our dashboards to see if anybody is playing the show," Edberg said.

If nobody is playing House of Cards, that means there’s a problem. Unlike traditional TV, we use hundreds of different devices to go online. And last night, the engineers were there to make sure that House of Cards would play on every one of them.

"We’ve probably got sitting around the room an X-Box, a Play Station, Nintendo, Apple devices, Android devices and a couple of different TVs from our partner manufacturers," Edberg said.

The engineers can tell, in real time, how many people are streaming the show on these devices, where they are, and who’s binging. Edberg said the last time House of Cards launched, the engineers figured out that the entire season was about 13 hours.

"And we looked to [see]  if anybody was finishing in that amount of time," Edberg said. "And there was one person who finished with just three minutes longer than there is content. So basically, three total minutes of break in roughly 13 hours."

That’s right, of its 40 million subscribers around the world, Netflix was able the find the one super binger. Netflix spokesman Joris Evers said Netflix knows everything about your viewing habits.

"We monitor what you watch, how often you watch things," Evers said. "Does a movie have a happy ending, what’s the level of romance, what's the level of violence, is it a cerebral kind of movie or is it light and funny?"

Evers said Netflix uses this data when it decides on which original program to buy.

"House of Cards was obviously a big bet for Netflix," Joris said. "But it was a calculated bet because we knew Netflix members like political dramas, that they like serialized dramas. That they are fans of Kevin Spacey, that they like David Fincher."

Netflix’s move into original programming is all about taking viewers from other media companies, especially HBO, said Brad Adgate, an analyst at Horizon Media.

He says Netflix has more subscribers than HBO, but when it comes to making money, Netflix is David to HBO’s Goliath. But Adgate says, Netflix does have its slingshot.

"I think right now Netflix does have a competitive advantage over HBO because of the analytics," Adgate said.

Networks like HBO still rely, on large part, on Nielsen data. But the information Netflix gets is much more textured, granular... and valuable.

"And I think that’s where television and streaming video is headed - but I think right now streaming video is in the lead," Adgate said. That said, he added, it’s just a matter of time before HBO and other premium channels catch up.

President Obama calls California drought plan 'climate resilience'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-14 12:06

President Obama met with farmers today in Fresno, California. He's promised to help them deal with the drought that plagues the region. Short of making it rain, though, there's not a whole lot the federal government can do to help farmers who don't have enough water.

What Obama is promising is money. Some is for disaster relief, but the big-ticket proposal is a $1 billion Climate Resilience Fund, which he has included in his 2015 budget.

So what is "climate resilience"?

When floods devastated much of Northern Colorado this past fall, several waste water treatment plants were closed. Just how quickly they were able to get back online is a perfect example of climate resilience. It's a community's ability to recover from a natural disaster.

"Drought in California, hurricanes on the eastern seaboard, wildfires in the Rocky Mountain region," all of these disasters, says Elizabeth Albright, an assistant professor of environmental policy at Duke, will intensify in the future. The president's proposed climate resilience fund would provide money to help regions bounce back quicker from these disasters.

The fund would also support research.

"One of the most important things we can do is try to get a better understanding of the magnitude of floods, hurricanes and droughts that we might face," says Glen MacDonald, director of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA.

One of the keys to creating resilience is being able to accurately predict just how bad a disaster will be. For example, scientists are coming up with new ways to study aquifers -- natural underground reservoirs -- to better predict the severity of future droughts.

"We can actually measure the loss of ground water through satellites," says Dr. Juliet Christian Smith, with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Using satellites, scientists looked at the Ogallala aquifer in the Midwest. They found that depletion of the aquifer is changing the gravitational pull of the earth, "because we are extracting ground water at such a great rate," says Christian-Smith.

In addition to research and disaster preparedness, the proposed $1 billion would also fund new technologies to build more climate resilient infrastructure.

WATCH: A Death-Defying Climb To The Top Of Shanghai Tower

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 12:01

Two daredevils, one from Russia, the other from the Ukraine, sneak onto the construction site at the as-yet-unfinished world's second-tallest building and climb to the top.

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Polish your pick up lines, it's International Flirting Week

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-14 11:45

Here’s an extended look at what’s coming up next week:

  • On Monday, we start the week off right with a holiday. Light some birthday candles for the nation’s first president, George Washington. Did you know he built and operated a whiskey distillery at Mount Vernon? Inspiring. Well, you do have a three-day weekend ahead of you… What else are you going to do? U.S. markets are closed.
  • On Tuesday, we celebrate Pluto. It was discovered on February 18, 1930. Once thought to be the farthest planet from the sun, it’s been reclassified as a dwarf planet.
  • On Wednesday, we get data on newly-constructed homes from the Commerce Department. Also, the Labor Department releases the Producer Price Index. Both look at January.
  • President Washington signed legislation on February 20, 1792 creating the U.S. Post Office. And people started mailing love letters to each other all over the country.
  • On Friday the National Association of Realtors reports on sales of existing homes last month.
  • And finally, pile on the mascara. It’s International Flirting Week. A whole week to bat your eyes. 

What We Learned From Our Month-Long Exploration Of #XCultureLove

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 11:39

We dive into four themes we saw during our month-long exploration of how race plays out in the dating world.

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Weekly Wrap: Settling beer bets

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-14 11:35

Congress passed a budget and reached a debt ceiling agreement, surprising host Kai Ryssdal. Who had at least one beer riding on the question.

In today's end-of-the-week conversation with Nela Richardson of Bloomberg Government and Cardiff Garcia of Financial Times, the three reflected on:

The debt-ceiling deal:

"Amazingly enough, the politically smart thing to do also happened to be the right thing to do...I always breathe a sigh of relief when this happens." -- Cardiff Garcia

Janet Yellen's first days:

"I thought stylisitcally, she was great. More confident than Bernanke was when he started his term." -- Cardiff Garcia

What's ahead for Yellen + more bets:

"I think she has a few surprises in store for us" -- Nela Richardson

"Wanna bet?" -- Kai Ryssdal

Seasonal adjustments:

"We've had winters for as long as I can remember." -- Nela Richardson

Pandora uses data on your musical taste to lure political advertisers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-02-14 11:06

In the past, Pandora used two factors to infer how a listener would vote: the listener's zip code, and the voting habits of people in that zip code.

Now, according to Pandora spokesperson Heidi Browning, they will add data on listener music tastes. It may sound like shaky science, but researchers have seen a correlation between the types of artists a person listens to and how he or she votes. 

In 2012, Brian Whitman, the founder and CTO of The Echo Nest, a music intelligence platform, tracked what people listened to. Here are his findings.

Artists whose fans are most likely Republicans: 

  1. Kenny Chesney
  2. George Strait
  3. Reba McEntire
  4. Tim McGraw
  5. Jason Aldean
  6. Blake Shelton
  7. Shania Twain
  8. Kelly Clarkson 
  9. Pink Floyd 
  10. Elvis Presley

Artists whose fans are most likely Democrats:

  1. Rihanna
  2. Jay-Z
  3. Madonna
  4. Lady Gaga 
  5. Katy Perry 
  6. Snoop Dogg
  7. Chris Brown
  8. Usher
  9. Eminem
  10. Bob Marley

And then, there are artists that aren't really predictors. They attract both Republicans and Democrats. Six of the ten, says Whitman, are metal bands:

  1. The Beatles
  2. Marilyn Manson
  3. The Rolling Stones
  4. Johnny Cash
  5. Pantera
  6. Alice in Chains
  7. Paradise Lost
  8. Moonspell
  9. Fleetwood Mac
  10. Tiamat 

Research from The Echo Nest

Match Game: Which Couples Go Together?

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 10:59

Go ahead and guess which individuals are paired up. Surprised? Intrigued? Have your own story? We asked members of the #xculturelove group to submit photos of themselves and share reactions they've heard about their interracial relationship.

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At Iranian Colleges, Some See Brighter Future In Another Country

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 10:37

President Hassan Rouhani is promising more opportunities for young Iranians. NPR's Peter Kenyon found that many college students like his rhetoric, but don't want to wait and see if it becomes reality.

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Even From Space, Near-Record Ice On Great Lakes Is Chilling

NPR News - Fri, 2014-02-14 10:30

This winter's extra-cold temperatures mean that nearly 90 percent of the five lakes' total surface area is covered with ice. That's approaching the record high of nearly 95 percent, set in February 1979. Satellite images help tell the story.

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