National News

You've Got Mail, And It Smells Like 18th Century Paris

NPR News - Mon, 2014-01-27 13:36

The oPhone device (the "o" is for olfactory) will be able to send and receive whiffs of preprogrammed aromas remotely. Created by a Harvard professor, it's intended to add the sense of smell to the way we communicate.

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State Of The Union Invitation List: Who Makes The Cut

NPR News - Mon, 2014-01-27 13:29

Guests who get an invitation to the annual State of the Union address tend to reflect the personal and political aims of the president. Some have won notice during important news events that define the times — like the Boston Marathon bombing.

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For Taiwanese News Animators, Funny Videos Are Serious Work

NPR News - Mon, 2014-01-27 13:15

The studio responsible for bizarre viral videos featuring 3-D animations of the news is more serious than you'd think. Go behind the scenes at the Taipei-based Next Media Animation to find out why this fast-moving — and controversial — company says it's charting the future of news.

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California Bar Rejects Stephen Glass, Ex-Writer Who Fabricated Stories

NPR News - Mon, 2014-01-27 13:12

The court was unconvinced that Glass had changed his ways. Glass, the court said, failed to prove that he was of good moral character as the law requires.

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Is grad school "professional suicide"?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-01-27 13:10

One of the things people do when economies slowdown: Go back to school. The hope is, they'll pick up training for new skills along with their law degree or doctorate.

But PhD's don't come cheap, and in fact, consultant Karen Kelsky says getting a doctorate can cost you more than its worth. 

She runs a business that is in part about finding jobs for students with doctorates, and she's an anthropology professor herself.

Kelsky says when it comes to fields like engineering or medicine, funding remains strong and pay in the workforce is high. But for "soft sciences," like political science or anthropology, schools are investing less and less to support advanced degrees:

"It starts with the massive defunding of higher education in the United States. Basically, it has become a revenue-driven institution, and so departments and programs that don't generate revenue in the way that the sciences or engineering or business do, find themselves defunded. So, consequently, in the humanities and social sciences, a typical stipend will be about $15,000. Which - almost anywhere - is not enough to get by."

Kelsky says on top of that, many graduates finish school saddled with debt they can never pay off:

"In the humanities and the soft social sciences, debt can go anywhere from $0 to $250,000, and that's for fields like religious studies, sociology, women's studies and things like that."

Is grad school "professional suicide"?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-01-27 13:10

One of the things people do when economies slowdown: Go back to school. The hope is, they'll pick up training for new skills along with their law degree or doctorate.

But PhD's don't come cheap, and in fact, consultant Karen Kelsky says getting a doctorate can cost you more than its worth. 

She runs a business that is in part about finding jobs for students with doctorates, and she's an anthropology professor herself.

Kelsky says when it comes to fields like engineering or medicine, funding remains strong and pay in the workforce is high. But for "soft sciences," like political science or anthropology, schools are investing less and less to support advanced degrees:

"It starts with the massive defunding of higher education in the United States. Basically, it has become a revenue-driven institution, and so departments and programs that don't generate revenue in the way that the sciences or engineering or business do, find themselves defunded. So, consequently, in the humanities and social sciences, a typical stipend will be about $15,000. Which - almost anywhere - is not enough to get by."

Kelsky says on top of that, many graduates finish school saddled with debt they can never pay off:

"In the humanities and the soft social sciences, debt can go anywhere from $0 to $250,000, and that's for fields like religious studies, sociology, women's studies and things like that."

The Doctor At The Heart Of The U.S.-Pakistan Rift

NPR News - Mon, 2014-01-27 13:00

Prickly relations between the U.S. and Islamabad are becoming even thornier because of one issue: the case of Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden in 2011. Afridi is seen as a hero by many Americans, but that didn't deter Pakistan from jailing him for alleged militant ties. The U.S. Congress is withholding $33 million in aid to Pakistan until the doctor is freed. But Afridi's lawyer fears this tactic will antagonize Islamabad. He urgently wants Afridi freed, warning that the doctor is at severe risk of being killed by fellow prisoners.

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No Surprises: Egyptian Military Endorses Its Chief For President

NPR News - Mon, 2014-01-27 13:00

Out of Cairo on Monday came new indications that Egypt's military chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, will run for president in an election expected within the next three months. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Egypt's highest military body, disseminated a message praising Sisi and endorsing him for a presidential bid.

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In Ukraine, Protesters Declare Corruption The Problem

NPR News - Mon, 2014-01-27 13:00

Attempts by Ukraine's president to quell anti-government protests — including an offer to install opposition leaders in a reshuffled cabinet — seem to have failed. The protests grew over the weekend and spread beyond the capital, Kiev. The protestors say they are determined to force the president's resignation and end what they call a corrupt and dictatorial regime.

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On Different Frequencies, Two Sides Of Syrian Media Clash

NPR News - Mon, 2014-01-27 13:00

For the first time, the Syrian peace conference brought the rival sides together, while Syria's competing media delegations faced off at even closer range. Pro-government and pro-rebel journalists reported on the same events for the first time, side by side. They sparred, traded insults and even threw some punches in a media war that is as hot as the fighting on the ground.

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At Syria Talks, Sides Meet In Person — But Don't See Eye To Eye

NPR News - Mon, 2014-01-27 13:00

At the Syrian peace talks, government and opposition representatives held their first face-to-face discussion about a political transition — but by the end of the day, UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi had no progress to report. He urged both sides to focus on the desperate humanitarian situation facing Syrians in several besieged cities.

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Alleged Gang Rape In India Draws Spotlight On Village Justice

NPR News - Mon, 2014-01-27 13:00

Allegations that a young woman in India was gang-raped on the orders of an informal "Village Council" have sparked outrage across India. The woman was apparently punished for having relations with a man from outside her community. Critics have called for a crackdown on village councils, saying that they are based in a traditional and outdated concept of morality and that they undermine India's established law.

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The President Hopes For State Of The Union To Be A Big Reset Button

NPR News - Mon, 2014-01-27 13:00

The political world is gearing up for President Obama's State of the Union on Tuesday night, an address in which the president gets to outline his priorities for the coming year. With tens of millions of people watching on TV and — the administration hopes — on their cell phones and tablets, the speech offers the chance to reframe the terms of many of the difficult issues that have so far dogged the president's second term.

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The Middle Class Took Off 100 Years Ago ... Thanks To Henry Ford?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-01-27 13:00

In January 1914, Henry Ford started paying his auto workers a remarkable $5 a day. Doubling the average wage helped assure a stable workforce and likely boosted sales since the workers could now afford to buy the cars they were making. It laid the foundation for an economy driven by consumer demand.

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Spoiler Alert? 'Madden NFL 25' Predicts Super Bowl Outcome

NPR News - Mon, 2014-01-27 12:48

EA Sports' Madden game franchise is 8-2 in recent Super Bowl predictions. The game maker is predicting a thriller on Sunday — and happy Denver fans next Monday.

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Who's Gideon?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-01-27 12:45

They're as ubiquitous as tiny soaps and starchy towels -- those leather bound books hidden in the drawers of night stands in nearly every hotel in the country. And they have his name all over them.

Who is Gideon, and how did he get those Bibles in there?

I'd always wondered. The story starts in 1898 with a crowded hotel and two men weary enough to share a room with a stranger. John Nicholson and Samuel Hill were both traveling businessmen when they met in the lobby of the Central Hotel in Boscobel, Wis. There was just one vacancy with two beds, and in keeping with the times, the men decided to split it.

There were no plasma TVs or pay-per-view back then, of course, so once they checked in, the men had nothing to do but talk. After awhile, they hit on a topic they were both passionate about– their faith. By the end of the evening, the men made plans to create an evangelical association for Christian businessmen.

A year later, those men set up a meeting at a YMCA in Janesville, Wis., but were disheartened when only one other person showed up. That man was William Knights, and what he lacked in numbers he made up for in ideas. He suggested the group call themselves "The Gideons," based on a story in the Old Testament, of a man leading a band of untrained men to battlefield victory.

It took some ten years for the group to amass numbers, and most of the members were travelers just like its founders. The Gideons decided since they were already traveling the country, the best way to spread the good word was to put copies of the Bible in the hotel rooms they frequented. The first Gideon’s Bible was placed in a nightstand at the Superior Hotel in Superior, Mont. in 1908.

More than 100 years later, the group has ballooned to more than 300,000 members and along the way added "International" to its name. Throughout its run, Gideons International has managed to place more 1.8 billion Bibles in hotels in 196 countries. On average, the group says it distributes more than two copies of the Bible per second, and often holds a ceremony with new hoteliers, bequeathing the building with its first book.

 

Why do luxury hotels charge for Wi-Fi, but cheap hotels don't?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-01-27 12:40

MORE MONEY, FEWER AMENITIES?

A question from listener Alison Najman has brought us to New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The lobby is enormous and elegant. There are staffers everywhere, a check-in desk, a concierge desk, a dining area. President Obama stays here. A room tonight goes for $399 -- it's not their nicest, but it's pretty lovely.

And Wi-Fi? That'll cost $19.95 per day. 

We head downtown to Hotel 17. The lobby is small and basic. Instead of a giant staff, there's just a guy. You can stay here tonight for $86, a very good deal in New York. 

So it's not the Waldorf. But the Wi-Fi? Free.

HOW DOES THAT WORK?

Toni Repetti, a hotel management professor at University of Nevada Las Vegas, says on one hand, it's simple: "The easy answer to that is because they can."

Luxury hotels can charge more because they know their customers will pay more. Jeff Beck, a former Marriott executive who teaches at Michigan State's business school, says it has to do with a scale economists call "price sensitivity."

"The type of people that are going to be staying [at a luxury hotel] are typically there on business, which generally means that someone else is paying for it," Beck says.

 If you're a business traveler who can stick your company with the bill, you're hardly price sensitive at all. As for the folks staying at fancy hotels for pleasure? Repetti says their wealth means they're not very price sensitive either.

"A $20 fee on a $400 room... is probably not a big deal when they're paying $400 for a room," Repetti says.

Folks at budget hotels, however, are definitely price sensitive. Managers have to keep Wi-Fi free just to compete.

SO... STEAL THE FREE INTENRET AT STARBUCKS?

Things are changing. The website HotelChatter has a long-running survey of hotel Wi-Fi. Managing editor Juliana Shalcross says nearly two-thirds of hotels offer it free, and that number's growing.

"When [guests] go to a hotel and they see that it's charging them for Wi-Fi, they get a little pissed off and I think they make that known," she says.

Hotels don't want angry customers in the age of online reviews and social media. Companies that give hotels a lot of business are complaining too. So many hotels are getting rid of Wi-Fi charges, which sounds great. But, travelers beware: Repetti points out they're doing something else, too.

"They also are increasing their room rates to make up for that. You may not see that, but they are increasing, even a little bit."

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Why would you hire the long-term unemployed? Why not?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-01-27 12:36

After losing her job in July 2012, Robyn Swirling didn't hesitate. 

"I started looking and working my connections the day I got laid off," Swirling said.  

Still, she had no luck for a year. Sometimes, she could feel a creeping sense of doubt from potential employers.

"When you've been looking for awhile and interviewing places, and you've gotten several interviews, it certainly starts to make people wonder why you haven't gotten picked up by somebody," said Swirling.

"It's hard to look inside the mind of an employer, but I think most employers take the fact that someone has been out of work as a signal that they're a lower-quality employee," said Austin Nichols, a Senior Research Associate at the Urban Institute. "What research shows is that employers do discriminate against employees who are otherwise identical, but who have been out of work longer."

David DiSalvo, who writes about science and technology for Forbes, says when a hiring manager is conducting an interview, he or she is also acting as a risk assessor. Applicants who have been out of work for a long time set off alarm bells. They might need training to update their skills.

"When this person comes on board, we're going to have to invest X amount of money, time, [and] resources to ramp them up for the job," DiSalvo said, citing a familiar employer worry. Similarly, he said, some hiring managers worry that applicants who have been out of work for a long time have fallen into "Patterns of behavior that are not conducive to a hard working style," like rising early for work.

DiSalvo thinks that for President Obama's initiative to work, hiring managers will have to let go of those biases. Robyn Swirling has some advice of her own for hiring managers.

"People who are going to want to get back into a job are going to work really, really hard to keep that job and do well at it," Swirling said. 

Swirling finally landed a job in digital advocacy. A year later.

Google's start-up turn-ons: Intelligence, pushing limits and changing the world

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-01-27 12:01

Google is on a buying spree.

Its latest purchase is a mysterious London-based start-up called DeepMind Technologies — check out their website, that’s why we're calling it mysterious — but won’t say exactly how much it paid for the artificial intelligence company. DeepMind hasn’t launched any products publicly yet, but various technology publications say it could be as much as $500 billion. 

Which raises the question, what’s the magic formula for attracting Google’s attention?

Think of it this way: Google is the popular kid in high school and there are a whole bunch of start-ups that would love a long-term relationship with the big man on campus. How do they win Google’s affections?

Be scary-smart, according to Trip Chowdhry, an analyst with Global Equities Research. Chowdhry says that doesn’t mean only hiring 'out-of-the-box' thinkers — those are a dime-a-dozen in tech — Google wants “exponential thinkers."

"It’s a person who can think 10 years, 20 years, 100 years ahead," he says, "and then bring all the view of the future into the present.”

Apparently, DeepMind has plenty of exponential thinkers. The start-up's founders include artificial intelligence experts and neuroscientist Demis Hassabis, a 37-year-old video game designer, child prodigy in chess and a “world-class games player.”

DeepMind specializes in helping computers think more like humans, which is the other thing turning Google on right now. “The idea is to change the world by computing intelligence,” says Chowdhry.

Think about Google’s driverless cars, or its purchase last year of Boston Dynamics which makes robots for the military. Google also recently bought Nest Labs for $3.2 billion, which makes smart thermostats and smoke detectors for the home.

Silicon Valley serial-entrepreneur Steve Blank says Google is branching out, just like Apple did when it decided it was more than a computer company. “I think Google realizes that its entire eggs are in one basket, and smart companies don’t do that. Google certainly has the cash to buy and innovate its way out of that.”

Trip Chowdhry says if a tech start-up is pining for Google’s attention, all it has to do is “show Google it has the smarts and vision to help create new industries. Then push innovation to the limits.”

Piece of cake, guys. 

Trouble for the Common Core

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-01-27 12:00

The weekend saw yet another setback for the Common Core, new college and career-focused education standards adopted by most states. The board of the New York state teachers union has voted to withdraw support from the standards – at least as they’ve been implemented so far. It’s the latest in the drip, drip of bad news for the rollout.

When New York tested its students on the Common Core last year, more than two-thirds of them failed. Teachers say they didn’t have enough time to really teach the new math and English standards, and don’t want to be judged on the results until they’ve had that time. On Saturday New York State United Teachers' leadership voted “no confidence” in state education commissioner John King, and called for a three year moratorium on “high-stakes consequences from standardized testing.”

“This is a really big transition, and instead of actually doing it thoughtfully and preparing teachers, and preparing parents, and adjusting, revising, John King has put his foot on the accelerator of testing,” says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

With its 600,000 members, she says New York is the AFT’s largest state affiliate.

The vote is yet another setback for the Common Core. Teachers and parents don’t like the emphasis on testing. Conservatives don’t like the Obama Administration’s role in promoting the standards.

“What it is is another sign, [a] wakeup call, that we need to be really thoughtful about the implementation of the Common Core, and that we need to hear, very seriously, what the field is saying,” says Sonja Brookins Santelises with the Education Trust, which supports the standards.

Most states have put off new testing to give teachers more time to adjust, says Michael Petrilli with the conservative Fordham Institute. He also supports the standards, and says many teachers do too.

“The political threat on the right is much more serious,” Petrilli says. “There are many, many states, conservative states, where there are bills that have been introduced to pull the state out of the Common Core.”

“It’s going to be a big fight,” Petrilli says – one he hopes President Obama will stay out of in his State of the Union Address tomorrow night.

“He’s mentioned it two years running,” Petrilli says, “and it hasn’t helped.”

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