National News

Is this the most elaborate Easter egg ever?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-03 02:00

The Easter egg—as in the the hidden message in computer programs or video games—got pretty interesting as the sixth season of the animated series Archer unraveled. The show’s creators plotted an elaborate Easter egg, thanks to lead motion designer Mark Paterson, who hid around 40 clues for an internet journey that superfans slowly but faithfully decrypted.  

If you’re wondering how complicated can it really get: the list of clues included a so-called HEX code, which led to a URL, which led to a weird YouTube video and then a craigslist advertisement and it goes on.

This isn’t the first time Archer’s creators tried something like this. They have planted jokes and hidden messages in previous episodes, but they were usually isolated; independent of each other.

“This time I wanted to do something that connected them all together so there was some kind of trail,” said Mark Paterson. “So it would constantly keep it going. They had to go from one to the next and maybe come back to the episode to get the next clue.”

Although he planned most of it ahead of time, he also kept adding to it, deepening the trail and making it more complicated.

“I spent a weekend adding in about 30 to 40 additional steps,” said Paterson.  

One of the most complex clues involved a spectrogram, which, Paterson explained, is “a way of encoding or hiding the message within the audio data.”

Basically, it’s something visual that’s in the audio data but you cannot see it in waveform.

“Most audio programs would show you the waveform by default,” said Paterson. “You have to go the extra step to find the spectrogram.”

But who could possibly succeed at this without some help?

“The nice thing about Archer is the fans are ... always looking out for this kind of thing,” said Paterson. “I was banking on them knowing to be looking for stuff. They have previously shown that they have found stuff.”

Bonus: Click below to hear Casey Willis, the show's co-Executive Producer, in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

The economics of arcade claw games

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-03 01:59
126,000

That's how many U.S. jobs were added in March, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics's jobs report released on Friday. The unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.5 percent.

$64,432

Another bummer from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: average household income dropped for the second year in a row to $64,432. The Washington Post's Wonkblog notes the richest fifth of Americans saw their income rise by 0.9 percent before taxes, while the poorest fifth lost 3.5 percent.

$11.5 billion

That's the total costs of deferred maintenance for the National Parks Service. Of that figure, $850 million is attributed to the National Mall and Memorial Parks. Which means monuments like the Jefferson Memorial will have to wait on repairs such as a new ceiling.

4 percent

The portion of homes in Cuba with Internet access, one potential hurtle in Airbnb's recent expansion there, Bloomberg reported. There are about 1,000 listings up now, with more surely on the way. Airbnb is one of the first American companies to have a presence in Cuba since the U.S. reestablished diplomatic ties there.

1 in 23

The number of wins an arcade claw machine would have to allow to give the owner 50 percent profits. Vox looked into just how rigged those games are, finding that most machines let the owner adjust how often a claw grabs at stuffed animals with their full strength, tightly managing wins and losses.

40 clues

That's about how many hidden clues lead motion designer Mark Paterson hid in a single episode of FX's Archer. The Easter egg hunt led viewers on an epic internet journey, which included a so-called HEX code, which led to a URL, which led to a weird YouTube video and then a craigslist advertisement ... the list goes on. 

Silicon Tally: $19.99 problems, but low-def aint one

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-03 01:30

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, we're joined by Aminatou Sow, co-founder of Tech LadyMafia and co-host of the podcast, Call Your Girlfriend.

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The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same As 'Mad Men' Winds Down

NPR News - Fri, 2015-04-03 01:05

AMC's award-winning drama Mad Men returns for its final seven episodes Sunday. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says these last few installments explore how little people change, even in tumultuous times.

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What to look for in the jobs report, in four charts

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-03 01:00

On Friday, the Labor Department reports on job creation and unemployment for March.

The consensus among economists: The economy added approximately 250,000 jobs and the unemployment rate held steady at 5.5 percent. This would represent a modest pull-back from February, when 295,000 jobs were added and the unemployment rate fell. 

However, several anomalous factors could throw a wrench into March's employment figures, like severe winter weather, a West Coast port strike and the rapidly strengthening U.S. dollar and plummeting oil prices.

Here are four things to look for in the March jobs report (click on each chart for more detailed information):

As the unemployment rate falls, are more people coming back into the labor force to try to find jobs?

Labor-force participation — that is, the percentage of adults working or looking for work — hasn't been this low since the late 1970s. If people are entering the labor market after schooling, or coming back after they got discouraged in the recession, that's a sign of deepening economic strength.

Are average hourly wages rising more than inflation? Are they rising at all?

Wages have been stuck for years, even as the unemployment rate has declined. Lower unemployment should theoretically make employers scramble to hire new workers, and offer more pay to get and keep them.

If employers don't raise wages, it may mean there's more "slack" (more competition for jobs) in the labor market than 5.5 percent unemployment suggests. It could be people waiting in the wings to come back into the labor market and people working part-time who want full-time work.

Are more people who say they can only find part-time work but need more hours to support themselves, finally landing full-time jobs?

This would indicate a tightening labor market. 

Is the rate of long-term unemployment, which is still historically high after the Great Recession, gradually coming down?

If so, we may dodge a Europe-like problem of persistent long-term unemployment lasting years. 

The National Park Service's $11.5 billion repair bill

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-04-03 00:40

Washington, D.C.’s famed cherry blossoms are beginning to bloom, and with them they will bring 1.5 million tourists to the narrow path around the Tidal Basin, beside the Jefferson Memorial.

But the National Park Service, which administers the Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin as part of its National Mall and Memorial Parks (NMMP) zone, has $11.5 billion on its backlog of deferred maintenance costs. Of that figure, $850 million is slated for the NMMP. So while the Jefferson Memorial may look good from afar, when you get closer you can see that it's falling apart.

“If you look up you can see the portion of the ceiling of the portico has fallen,” said Sean Kenneally, acting deputy superintendent for the National Mall & Memorial Parks. “Fortunately, no one was injured.”

But somebody might have been —a heavy piece of marble falling 50 feet onto a tourist would have generated headlines, and the system is still waiting on a replacement roof. Water, leaking through the 20+ year old roof, runs through the spaces in the monument’s marble, dissolving grout and leaving ugly black stains on the ceiling.

There are plenty of other blackened spots that look like the spot where the marble fell. Until money is appropriated for a new roof however, there’s just a fence and a plan to install a net.

The Lincoln Memorial also needs a new roof, but it’s harder to see the damage—only one of the Alabama marble ceiling panels is missing (There’s a piece of plywood instead). Otherwise, Honest Abe’s house looks pretty good.

Sean Gormley of Rye Neck, N.Y., was visiting Washington and suggested that philanthropic money be used to meet part of the $11.5 billion repair bill. “We already pay enough taxes here, whether it be our federal taxes, real estate taxes, et cetera,” Gormley said. “Things get built up, moths and rust do decay; I tell ya, it’ll crumble one day.”

Craig Obey, the senior vice president of the National Parks Conservation Association, said that the federal neglect of the National Park Service’s funding is a bipartisan problem that has grown more severe in the past 30 years.

“I think the parks have been dealing with less for quite a while, they’ve been asked to do more with less and we are at the point where they’re able to do less with less,” Obey said.

And indeed, the “less” is lessening, Obey said, “because the Park Service gets about between $200 and $300 million less than they need each year just to keep it even, not even to begin reducing it.”

Obey said National Parks aren’t just rock formations that sit in the desert. Most of them are east of the Mississippi and historic, not natural. People go on vacations, drive cars, flush toilets, ask for directions, climb stairs. While it is true that all this takes a toll on the infrastructure of our parks, they also generate economic activity: about $37 billion each and every year.

March Employment Report Expected To Show Continued Job Growth

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-02 23:44

Over the past year, the economy has added more than 200,000 jobs each month. That level of job creation hasn't happened since a 13-month run that began in 1994.

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2 New York Women Arrested Over Bomb Plot

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-02 15:50

Prosecutors said the two women intended to use a homemade bomb for an attack. One of the women once wrote a poem published in an al-Qaida magazine.

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Nixon's 'Western White House' Up For Sale

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-02 14:16

Hom Sotheby's International has listed the 5.45-acre oceanfront estate for $75 million. President Nixon bought the property early in his presidency, and lived there after resigning from office.

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China, the economy and Xi Jinping's strategy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-02 14:13

Few economies in the world are more closely watched than China’s. It is the second-largest and fastest-growing economy, so there's a lot of attention being paid to who 's running things. Chinese President Xi Jinping is the most authoritarian leader the country has seen since since Mao Zedong.

Jinping is making a clear effort to accumulate all of the formal structures of power in China. He is the head of the party, the head of the military and the head of the state. He has taken control of the police and the courts, and he even runs all of the most important committees on foreign affairs and government restructuring.

Although Jinping is taking over every structure of power in the country, he polls pretty well because of his anti-corruption campaign and patriotism.

"His success, failure and legacy will rest on his ability to re-engineer the Chinese economy for a new chapter," says Evan Osnos, who wrote about Jinping’s rise to power for the New Yorker. "So that it’s driven more by entrepreneurship [and] innovation, and less than by, simply, infrastructure and exports."

In order to do that, Jinping has to win some pretty big political fights, which is why he is accumulating power so fast and so brutally.

While many people who watch China from the outside see an economic force and growth, Jinping sees a serious corruption problem, environmental pollution and unrest. He feels like it is up to him to rescue the communist party from this series of threats.

Americans Support Iran Talks, But Doubt They'll Prevent A Weapon

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-02 13:57

President Obama said "solid majorities support a diplomatic resolution" with Iran. That's true to an extent. When you scratch beneath the surface, it's more complicated.

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Mourning The Matzo: Iconic N.Y. Factory To Leave Former Jewish Hub

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-02 13:47

It's the end of an era: After nearly a century, the Streit's matzo factory is leaving Manhattan's Lower East Side. This Passover will be its last there. Streit's plans to move to a new factory.

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Drug-Resistant Food Poisoning Lands In The U.S.

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-02 12:52

Travelers are bringing a nasty bacterial disease to the U.S. and spreading it to others. The bacteria cause bad diarrhea and are tough to treat because they're resistant to the top antibiotic.

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Alabama Man To Be Released After 30 Year On Death Row

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-02 12:42

Anthony Ray Hinton was convicted in the 1985 murders of two fast-food employees based almost exclusively on ballistics evidence that has since been deemed unreliable.

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Local Volunteer Groups Lead Effort To Help Ukraine's Displaced Citizens

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-02 12:37

People fleeing the fighting in the separatist cities of Donetsk and Luhansk are big burden for Ukraine's financially strained government, but Kharkiv residents are stepping up to help.

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The Iranian Nuclear Deal: It Isn't Just About The Nukes

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-02 12:33

President Obama has sought a less hostile relationship with Iran since entering. The nuclear framework agreement points to the possibility of broader cooperation that could reorder the Middle East.

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CGI brings Paul Walker back to life in 'Furious 7'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-02 12:30

Paul Walker’s unexpected death in November 2013 didn't keep Universal Pictures from finishing the seventh film in the "Fast & Furious" franchise. The star of "Furious 7," who passed away halfway through filming, was digitally reanimated using cutting-edge technology.

“If you have enough time and you have enough money ... and you have the talented visual effects artists, they can do pretty much anything," says Carolyn Giardina, who wrote about Paul Walker and other attempts at a digital actor in the Hollywood Reporter.

A few examples:

  • When Oliver Reed died while making "Gladiator," the filmmakers created a digital map of his face, put it on a body double and re-animated his mouth.
  • “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is one of the first times we saw a very realistic CG actor or facial performance. Digital effects changed Brad Pitt's age throughout the film.
  • Visual effects companies are already creating fully digital actors to perform stunts, often for safety.

Studios have started regularly taking digital scans at the beginning of production to keep for safety and for archival purposes. This raises questions about privacy and the posthumous exploitation of a celebrity’s image.

Some actors are safeguarding themselves from this trend. For instance, Robin Williams restricted the use of his likeness for 25 years after his death, so he won’t be appearing in any ads or performing stand-up as a hologram anytime soon.

Iran Talks: In Tehran, Blaring Horns, Chants, Cheers

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-02 12:29

The public reaction so far in the Iranian capital to the preliminary agreement Iran and six world powers have reached on the Islamic republic's nuclear program has been positive.

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If You Know Where The Missing $6 Million Is, Please Tell Sierra Leone

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-02 12:28

Funds allocated to fight Ebola have vanished into thin air. That kind of funny money business happens all too often when disaster strikes and donations roll in.

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How Congress Is Reacting To The Iran Framework

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-02 12:16

President Obama says he welcomes a "robust debate" on the Iran framework from Congress and the American people. He's already getting one.

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