"Get smarter in just 90 minutes a week!"
That sounds like the subject line of a piece of spam email pushing dubious pills. That said, I am offering (completely free of charge) a regimen that is guaranteed to leave you smarter about the economy we live in.
It's about the queue, people.
Next time you can do it when no one else is looking, take a peek at your queue. Your Netflix queue. Your list of Amazon Prime bookmarks. The videos on your wish list on iTunes. Look, I don't care if you are fixing to put the bag of popcorn in the microwave and settle down for an hour and twenty-five minutes of "The Nut Job," that's your right.
What I am saying is that I have figured out a way to make sure that my media consumption isn't a complete waste of brain cells by making one small alteration to my queue.
At least once a week, whether I am in the mood or not, I watch a feature-length documentary film. The documentary that first got me hooked on the form was Errol Morris' "The Thin Blue Line," (1998) about a miscarriage of justice in Texas. A good doc can teach so much about how the world works. Given my work, I often gravitate toward docs about the failures and promise of economics and business.
Take Alex Gibney's Oscar-nominated documentary from 2006, "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room." That film rocked, both in its approachable analysis of a complex subject and it rocked, literally. The ironic soundtrack included Tom Waits' "God's Away on Business" and a Marilyn Manson version of "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)."
So what was in my personal queue for a recent weekend? Well, only two of the greatest documentaries of all time. I call it my Mongolian double-feature: "Genghis Blues," about a visually-impaired blues man from San Francisco who learns the Tuvan language before he travels to Mongolia to compete a throat singing contest. And then there's "The Story of the Weeping Camel," about a weeping camel. Really, it's fabulous.
And what does this have to do with the marketplace of jobs, business and economics?
That is covered by the third doc for the weekend viewing: "Detropia," the story of how parts of Detroit have become a wasteland and the heroes trying to bring the city back to life.
Check back in later, and I'll let you know whether you may want to consider sticking it in your queue.
Tom Jenkinson, aka Squarepusher, is known for pushing the limits of electronic music.
His latest EP goes beyond electronic sounds and into the territory of electronic musicians: robots that play instruments.
He first encountered the musical machinery last year when Japanese researchers introduced him to the Z-Machine robots: a 78-fingered guitarist, a percussionist utilizing 22 drums, and a lightning speed keyboardist. Jenkinson was immediately impressed by the robots' capabilities.
He also discovered that in spite of their incredible abilities, they are not limitless. In fact, Jenkinson even had fun playing with pushing the guitar robot too far:
"There are elements in the recording where I’ve actually deliberately pushed it too far, because you can then start to get these very strange, random, idiosyncratic...barrage of noise that I find really fascinating and quite interesting."
Ultimately, though, Jenkinson wanted to find out if robot musicians could make emotional music. While he is reluctant to say whether or not he succeeded, he's fairly certain that the album went a long way in providing an answer:
"I find technology fascinating in it’s own right, but my criteria for releasing a piece of music is that it has something above and beyond that. It has an element which can’t be written down, it can’t be quantified."
When you ask someone about their favorite piece of music, the conversation gets personal. Everyone feels music differently -- that's what makes it human.
It's why music and technology, at least to some people, seem like a mismatch. Machines are cold. Music is not.
Here's the thing: We use technology to make music all the time. No, I do not count the auto-tuned antics of Glee tracks released on iTunes. I'm talking about musicians using technology to compose, create, and record music. It's a relationship that gets deeper and more complex all the time. The place where music and technology cross paths is a fascinating intersection.
All this week, we'll talk to musicians for whom tech is an integral part of their process. From Squarepusher, who wrote an entire EP of music played by robot musicians, to Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs, who turns herself into a one-woman percussion instrument using loops and drum machines. We'll also talk to prolific film composer John Powell about his recording process for film, and electronic musician/composer Dan Deacon about why the computer is the biggest diva he's ever worked with (and why it has a right to be). DJ Rekha, credited with bringing Bhangra music to America, talks about the technology involved in being a DJ, and how it has evolved over time.
These are musicians and performers at the top of their game who constantly ask themselves how technology can help them be better at what they do, but also wonder how far is too far when it comes to letting machines take over. Each of these guests have funny and insightful comments to offer.
So plug in your keytar, boot up your computer, and let's get to playing with machines.
Going into midterm elections, this key demographic poses a big challenge for Democrats: getting their most reliable female supporters to become more reliable voters.
Even where there is peace, there is distrust, as the country divides along ethnic lines. In the government-controlled capital, members of the Nuer ethnic group are seeking protection in a U.N. camp.
Brain training has become a multimillion-dollar industry. But if you want to improve your memory, don't waste your time and money on brain games. You'd be better off learning how to quilt.
Maybe it's true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. People are judging your personality from the first word you speak, scientists say. Try it yourself with our quiz.
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The Cathedral of St. John the Divine held its 16th annual ceremony to bless the city's bikes and cyclists on Saturday. Some come for God's help; others are just hoping for "a little extra mojo."
A 77-year-old pilot was killed when his vintage biplane crashed on a runway Sunday. He was performing an upside down stunt at a Northern California air show.
Officials are trying to protect fire-prone areas by targeting the grasses, brush and trees that fires feed off of. But until recently, conditions for controlled burning have been too dangerous.
Just about every bite of meat that a Pittsburgh chef served in 2013 was raised in Pennsylvania. He learned from his locavore experiment that diners prefer prime cuts of beef over sausage and offal.
Nine performers were seriously injured Sunday when a support apparatus failed at a show by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Rhode Island.
"My belief in marriage is undiminished by the reality of divorcing someone I have loved for a very long time," Bishop Gene Robinson says.
Gerry Adams, the leader of the mostly Catholic party Sinn Fein, was held by police for several days of questioning about a 1970s murder case.
Taking over a steep street in Bristol, England, the Park and Slide is a nearly 300-foot-long water slide. Hundreds of people rode the one-day attraction Sunday.
While House Speaker John Boehner is almost certain to win re-election in his suburban Cincinnati district, his prospects of being re-elected as speaker are far less clear.
Urging the release of separatists detained during Friday's unrest that left dozens dead, more than 100 pro-Russia activists surrounded a police station in the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa.
We asked: "who or what got you engaged in politics?" The answers from NPR's audience have been heartfelt and personal.
Darth Vader walks the Earth today. By that, we mean he's walking all over the place. Fans of the sci-fi franchise are celebrating Star Wars Day — or May 4 for the less geek-inclined.