National News

'The Flash' And 'Gotham' Succeed By Taking Comic Book Stories Seriously

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-07 12:20

As The CW's new superhero series The Flash debuts tonight, NPR TV critic Eric Deggans notes the best new broadcast dramas of the fall season are based on comic book stories.

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LED Lights Shine In Nobel Prize; Now How About Your Home?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-07 12:20

The time has never been better to invest in LED lighting, with the price of LED bulbs — which use the Nobel-winning blue LEDs — now below $10 each.

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After Clogging The Streets, Hong Kong Protests Dwindle

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-07 12:10

The demonstrators still have widespread support, but many students have returned to class and businesses have grown weary of daily disruptions that have hampered their operations.

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The first electric cars weren't 'manly' enough

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-07 11:59

Today's energy world continues to be dominated by fossil fuels in cars, in planes and in power plants. One reason is that crude oil used as a transportation fuel packs an awful lot of energy in a tiny package. It's a concept known as "energy density," and it helps us understand why crude became king over time.

In the last four centuries, humans have gone through several so-called "energy transitions." Each step up has involved a superior product in terms of energy density – in other words, concentrated energy in smaller and smaller packages.

Let's start in 16th and 17th century Holland. The Dutch burned something called peat, which is moss, very dead moss. Peat played a big role in human development, says historian John McNeill of Georgetown University.

"They burned it in energy-intensive industries," he said. "Beer brewing. Glass making. Sugar refining."

Peat, though, doesn't burn as long or as hot as what came later: Coal.

In the late 18th and 19th centuries, coal-powered steam engines took ships and trains farther. Coal also brought new industrial possibilities, like turning iron ore into steel.

"Coal has an energy density [worth] a couple of multiples of wood, charcoal, peat," McNeil said." You can't, for example, do metallurgical work with a peat flame. You can't get it hot enough. Coal, you can.

Then, oil was found. Once again, the new fuel offered a higher energy payload for its size and weight. Ever since, oil-based gasoline and jet fuel have dominated much of our energy lives.

Because of carbon pollution, of course, some car drivers instead are driving on electric batteries, which by energy density, are an inferior product. But history shows technology doesn't always equal destiny.

Let's go to 1900. The Old Car Festival at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan is America's longest-running antique car show.

There are plenty of gas-powered cars from that era. There's also a 1902 car that runs on steam... 


..and an electric car from 1903...

Yes, electric cars go back that far, and they are so quiet you can't hear them over the noise of the festival.

So why did electric vehicles lose out a century ago? It's probably not for the reasons you'd think.

Curator Matt Anderson of the Ford Museum says electrics weren't manly enough for the times.

"Electrics were thought to be the ideal 'women's car,' if you will," he said. "You don't have to crank it, so it doesn't require as much physical strength to get it running and operating. They're much cleaner than a gasoline automobile, they don't emit the kind of fumes or exhaust we associate with those cars."

Which sounds great. Except consumers back then didn't want that. They wanted a messy adventure machine.

"It made noise, it broke down," David Kirsch, an automotive historian at the University of Maryland, said of the gas-powered car.

"It was relatively easy to fix," he said. "So a man could take his girlfriend out into the woods and do what they will. And if he were very lucky the vehicle might break in a way that he could fix it."

Masculinity, displayed.

Kirsch's point is that culture becomes an important wild-card in technology history. It was back then, and could be going forward in ways we can't predict.

Today, with car sharing, Uber, Zipcar-ing and more automated driving, the nature of travel is slowly changing. Like a century ago, new people are placing new bets on rival fuels. And energy density may not necessarily be the deciding factor this time, either.

Why you may not know if your data has been hacked

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-07 11:52

The latest data breach was a big one. Hackers got into JPMorgan’s computer network, and the bank says that has put 76 million households and 7 million small businesses at risk. 

Because it is a public company, JPMorgan is required by law to tell federal regulators about anything that could affect its share price, and that is what it did. JPMorgan notified the Securities and Exchange Commission last Thursday. But other companies don’t have to notify the government when their servers get hit.

When it comes to data breaches, the U.S. has a confusing patchwork of laws. It may surprise you there is no overarching federal law.

“From the very beginning of digital technologies and the Internet, the federal government took the view of 'keep its hands off,'” says Fred H. Cate, who heads the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University.

So, the states stepped in. California was the first to pass a data breach notification law. It has been on the books there since 2003. Forty-six states followed, along with Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, and each one has a different law with different requirements.

“I think that everyone assumed that once you got a bunch of conflicting state laws, congress would step in and provide some clarity by providing a single federal law,” says Cate.

That hasn’t happened. Proposals have been held up in Congress, and an executive order President Barack Obama signed last year is voluntary.

Tina Ayiotis, who teaches law at The George Washington University, says after a string of high-profile attacks at Home Depot, Target and JPMorgan, we are starting to suffer from “breach fatigue.”

“At this point, the pain is not enough to really make it so that it becomes a priority,” she says.

What could change that, says David W. Opderbeck, a professor at Seton Hall University School of Law, is a cyber-attack on infrastructure, “like a power grid or a water supply, or the markets shut down for a few days.”

“When that kind of thing happens, then maybe we’ll see some action,” he says.

Until then, the action continues to be at the state level, keeping lawyers, consultants and compliance officers busy, and consumers confused.

'Twin Peaks' is just the latest cult TV comeback

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-07 11:20

Not to be outdone by Netflix's latest volley in the Screen Wars, Showtime gave its own surprise announcement Monday. The network will air new episodes of "Twin Peaks" in 2016, a full 25 years after ABC pulled the plug.

The move is unusual in some ways — typically only war horses like "Dallas" come back back after that long of a break — but it's far from the first cult hit to get a second chance on a new network. In fact, with the rise of premium channels and streaming services, it has become a low-risk way attract an audience — albeit with mixed success. Here are four more recent revivals and how they did.

Arrested Development

Probably the highest-profile resurrection on this list, if only because the fourth season of "Arrested Development" become the "Detox" of groundbreaking sitcoms. Before Fox canceled the show, its characters dropped references to HBO, Showtime and a potential movie. The rumors churned for seven years before Netflix released 15 new episodes all at once in 2013.

The new "Arrested Development" played with the binge-able format by focusing on one or two characters per episode and slowly revealing the plot as their storylines intersected. Some critics loved this puzzle box style of storytelling, but others were lukewarm, even calling the season a "noble failure." But that hasn't stopped even more speculation about a fifth season.

Friday Night Lights

After successfully adapting the nonfiction book "Friday Night Lights" into a movie, Peter Berg developed a TV version that would let him explore more ideas left out of the movie. But after a successful first season and a panned, shark-jumping second, the show was on the chopping block at NBC.

DirecTV swooped in, offering to help bankroll more episodes, which would air first on satellite, then later on broadcast. NBC agreed, and the show bounced back for three more critically-acclaimed seasons. DirecTV also brought back the Glenn Close legal drama "Damages," but only "Friday Night Lights" has gone down as an all-time classic.

The Killing

Against all odds, "The Killing" was actually brought back from cancellation twice. After huge success with "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad," AMC tried adapting the Danish series "Forbrydelsen" in 2011. The dreary crime drama started strong but lost viewers quickly, limping into a second season before being canceled.

After renegotiating contracts, AMC resurrected the show for a third season last summer before canceling it again. Netflix picked "The Killing" back up for an abbreviated final season in August, but most critics weren't interested by then. The streaming service did something similar with Cartoon Network's "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" this spring, giving the show a send-off after Lucasfilm's sale ended the series abruptly.

Why education tech needs to get student privacy right

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-07 11:14

Like everything else these days, education runs on data. Our kids data.

Every digital move they make in school, on homework websites, and apps can be tracked. And it's not always clear where that information is going or how companies are using it.

Parents want better protections; the multi-billion dollar education technology industry wants to keep growing.

So today some big name ed-tech providers announced a voluntary privacy pledge.  It says ed tech companies won't sell a kid's data. They won't use it to target specific ads to specific kids.

"We are aware that policy makers and education leaders and parents are looking at this issue," said  Mark Schneiderman with the Software & Information Industry Association, "this is the industry effort to show that industry is aware of those questions."

At least part of the industry.

Microsoft, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Amplify and several other companies have signed the pledge. Notably absent on the list are classroom giants like Google, Apple and Pearson.  
"Thankfully for Houghton Mifflin, we’ve been 100% in alignment with the pledge and all the different parts inside the pledge document," said Bill Bowman, Vice President of Information Security for the education company.

Same story for Amplify—and the rest of the pledges.  They’re already doing all these things.

So what’s the point?

"You can look at this glass half full,  or glass half empty," said Joni Lupovitz, Vice President of Policy for the advocacy group Common Sense Media.

She says its good for an industry to adopt a list of best practices. It might pressure ed-tech companies that aren’t protecting student data to do more.

There's also the glass half empty bit. "A lot of this they will be required to do under California law," said Lupovitz "And, it's a private pledge, it doesn’t have the same teeth or enforcement."

Lupovitz the industry needs the trust of parents and teachers.

It’s the only way to keep the booming industry booming and bring the real promise of tech to the classroom.


"Twin Peaks" returns to a TV landscape it helped create

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-07 11:14

It’s been almost 25 years since Americans first saw the opening credits to "Twin Peaks," David Lynch’s strange and violent TV series set in a small town in a Pacific Northwest forest. It debuted on ABC in 1990 and captured a staggering audience. More than 34 million viewers tuned in to watch Special Agent Dale Cooper search for Laura Palmer's killer.

Now Showtime has announced it will produce a third season of "Twin Peaks" in 2016. Creators David Lynch and Mark Frost will pick up the story 25 years later.

After "Twin Peaks" ended, Lynch followed it up with the feature film "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me." The opening credits appear in front of TV static until  someone smashes the screen with an ax.

“Some people took that as David Lynch saying, 'I’m never going back to TV,'” says Greil Marcus, a critic who wrote about "Twin Peaks."

Back in 1991, Lynch worked in a television industry wildly different than it is today.

“People would look you right in the eye and say, 'I don’t watch television.' And that was supposed to be shorthand for 'I’m too smart to watch television,'” says Los Angeles Times critic Mary McNamara.  

"Twin Peaks" helped change that. Lynch was a highly regarded filmmaker, and the huge audience he attracted watched TV in a new way.

“When 'Twin Peaks' originally aired, it created — in a lot of respects — the concept of watching a television show closely and analyzing it for clues,” says Indiewire TV editor Liz Shannon Miller.

The show found a new audience in young people on Netflix, making a revival more attractive to studios. And "Twin Peaks" had planted a seed.

“A show like 'True Detective' would obviously never exist without David Lynch moving into television,” Marcus says.

Because it's airing on Showtime, Lynch is free from many of the constraints he faced in the '90s.  Showtime says it’s giving Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost carte blanche. That seed that Lynch planted has grown into a Lynchian forest of new TV shows with dark themes and mysteries that aren't always revealed.  Now Lynch will return to the forest.


Eating Comfort Foods May Not Be So Comforting After All

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-07 11:04

It's tempting to seek out the mac and cheese or a pint of ice cream after a terrible, horrible, no good day. But fresh research suggests such comfort foods might not be mood boosters after all.

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