National News

Last Of The Navajo 'Code Talkers' Dies At 93

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 10:54

Chester Nez, one of 29 Navajo men who used their native language to secure U.S. military communications during World War II, died of kidney failure on Wednesday.

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This summer's most boring read

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 10:41

There's a new book out today, but it's not exactly the hottest of summer reads.

It's commonly called "The Beige Book", but its formal name is "Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions." Sound exciting?

The Beige Book is a Federal Reserve report that compiles information from local banks and businesses in different districts of the country.

But New York Times Washington Correspondent Binyamin Applebaum says its contents are so dull, they spawned the very idea of the book in the first place back in 1970:

“The head of The Fed was bored of listening to the regional reserve presidents show up at meetings and read long, prepared speeches about how things were going in California and Kansas City and Chicago, and he basically said, ‘Enough! I don’t want to listen to this stuff anymore. I want you all to submit it before the meeting and we’ll make a nice fancy book and distribute it. And anyone who is interested can read it.”

The book’s original cover was actually red, and it was only distributed within The Fed. Until Paul Volker took over the reigns as Fed Chair and came up with an idea:

“Volker had a problem,” Applebaum says. “He was engaged in this big war on inflation and he was trying to drive inflation down. It was making people unhappy, unemployment was high, the economy was not doing that well, Congress was breathing down his neck and they wanted more information about what he was doing. They wanted him to explain what’s going on inside the Fed, and he didn’t want to do that. So he came up with an idea. He said, ‘Hey, we’ll give you this book we’ve been publishing for 13 years at that point. You can have it. Maybe you’ll like to read it. No one around here reads it, but it’s all yours.”

How can you make a book you don’t want people to read even more boring?

“The Fed actually gave it a beige cover to make the point that it was pretty boring,” Applebaum says. “It’s no accident.”

Applebaum says it worked so well that Congress considered changing the cover colors of some of its other reports from green and blue to beige as well.

Where all those digital cookies came from

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 10:19

I’m at work, taking a little web surfing break. I check out vacation rentals on Airbnb, I update my Netflix queue, I glance over a New York Times article. Then I go to Marketplace’s website. That five-minute break was a lucrative one for data brokers: 53 companies are now tracking me, from just those four sites, most using cookies (the top cookie host, by far, was Marketplace itself, 25! trackers hitchhiking on our URL). 

But the cookie wasn’t always the sinister character it is today.

 "The cookie was invented shortly after HTML itself was invented, in the early to mid 1990s," says Aram Sinnreich, a professor of media at Rutgers University and author of "The Piracy Crusade." Sinnreich says the cookie was created because websites needed to tell advertisers how many visitors they got, and they needed a way to tell the difference between 10 different people visiting their site and one person visiting their site 10 times.

"The easiest way to accomplish this without getting internet users themselves to install a bunch of clunky software," he says, "was to just drop a little piece of code without their knowledge or consent onto their computers, so that the next time they visited, you’d be able to read that code and recognize that they were the same person."

Then websites started using cookies to interact more seamlessly with consumers. 

"It was about consumer convenience," says Ryan Calo, a professor of internet and privacy law at the University of Washington. "The idea is that you drop a little file on a person’s computer and then you know them again when you see them."

You have cookies to thank for being auto-logged onto your email, having Amazon remember what you put in your virtual shopping cart last week and having Google remember that you like the mountain landscape background.

Cookies made the internet faster, more convenient and more personal. Consumers and cookies had a sweet, uncomplicated relationship.

"I think the turning point in all this is when ad networks really started to take off," says Gabriel Weinberg, the founder of non-tracking search engine DuckDuckGo. "What the ad network realized is they could drop a cookie and then track you across many different sites and, in essence, build a profile about your browsing habits."

The once-sweet and humble cookie became the linchpin of the $16 billion data mining industry. Those little, innocent files that were making the internet easier to use were spying on us.

But… maybe not for long. For the most part, cookies don’t work on mobile devices. And now companies like Facebook and Google have found a way to replace the cookie.

"If you’ve ever been to a website, and it’s said, 'Log in with your username and password or log in with  Facebook,' you’ve seen that technology in action," Sinnreich says. 

If you log in the regular way, you’re in cookie-land, but if you log in with Facebook, Google or Twitter, those companies get all of your web surfing information.

"That puts Facebook in a really, really powerful position to really pick up where the cookie left off," Sinnreich says. He says that technology will likely put a handful of companies in control of most of our data.

So…the cookie’s life as the internet’s tracker of choice is crumbling, but that doesn’t mean it’s going away. "We will see tracking move to other fields," Ryan Calo says. "And basically what will be left will be the kinds of uses of cookies for which they were originally developed."

Like remembering what was in your Amazon shopping cart; logging you into your email and remembering the mountain landscape theme you like Google to have.

And consumers’ relationship with the cookie can become uncomplicated once again…. More or less.

"Back to the original cookie… like your grandmother used to make," Calo says.

Hydroponic Tomatoes May One Day Be Tastier Than Ones Grown Outside

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 08:39

Advances in greenhouse technology have made growing flavorful tomatoes year-round easier. And scientists say climate change may soon make it harder to grow delicious tomatoes outdoors in fields.

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Move Over, Kate Middleton, For Spain's 'Middle-Class Queen'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 08:31

The granddaughter of a taxi driver, Letizia Ortiz is an ex-TV anchor and a divorcee, and will be the first commoner ever to grace the Spanish throne. She's also more popular than her in-laws.

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NRA Retracts Statement Calling Open Carry Rallies 'Downright Weird'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 08:31

Recent remarks about carrying rifles in public reflected the opinion of a staffer, rather than the organization, the National Rifle Association says.

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The Thai Protest That's Straight From 'The Hunger Games'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 08:25

The silent, three-finger salute from the smash movie and book series has been catching fire among demonstrators in a country where the military has banned most every form of protest.

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Tea Party Still Packs A Punch: How It Happened In Mississippi

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 07:53

Political observers declared the Tea Party dead in May after it lost every major GOP primary it contested. Sen. Thad Cochran's performance against his Tea Party rival makes that judgment seem rash.

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The UN says, "Raise your voice, not the sea level"

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 07:48

From the Marketplace Datebook, here's a look at what's coming up Thursday, June 5:

In Washington, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee discusses developments in Ukraine.

Did consumers hit the malls over Memorial Day weekend? Chain-stores are scheduled to release sales figures for May.

Performance artist and musician Laurie Anderson turns 67.

The Great American Brass Band Festival, a 25 year tradition, gets underway in Danville, Kentucky.

And the United Nations marks World Environment Day with the theme "Raise Your Voice, Not the Sea Level."

PODCAST: Implementing Chip and PIN; 25th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 07:26

More on Mel Watt, the man behind the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and overseer of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Plus, with Sam's Club offering the country's first Chip and PIN credit cards, a look at the barriers to switching to the more secure technology. Last up, on the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, a conversation about the blue collar workers who joined the protests and why they were there in the first place.

Tilting Delaware Bridge Stays Closed, Disrupting Interstate Travel

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 07:15

The I-495 bridge in Wilmington, Del., usually carries 90,000 vehicles per day. But it's empty now, as engineers try to discover what's causing eight support pillars to lean.

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Should There Be A University Of Politics?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 07:11

Other countries provide formal training for people who want to be national leaders. Why not the U.S.?

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Job-seeking grads embrace the obvious

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 07:07

Here's some shocking news: San Francisco is tech central for recent grads;  New York has finance nailed and DC is the top spot for budding policy wonks. That's according to LinkedIn, which has mined its own data and put together the top 10 cities for new graduates. But not everything in the survey is painfully obvious.  

  • Minneapolis/St. Paul is a magnet for corporate types, who can stand the cold. Target, General Mills and Cargill are all head-quartered there  
  • The Twin Cities and Chicago attract more graduates than San Francisco. 
  • Bangalore is the Silicon Valley of India, with lots of homegrown students flocking there for tech jobs. 

Read the full survey above.

The day I realized a taxi medallion costs $1 million

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 06:55

This happened more recently than I'd like to admit — the day I realized that a New York City taxi cab medallion costs $1 million. 

I was in the newsroom reading about the fight between yellow cab drivers and their new green cousins roaming the outer-boroughs. The story, from last June, was that yellow taxi drivers disliked the fact that green cab medallions were first sold for a mere $1,500. Quite a price differential from the yellow cabs, of course.

I grew up in the country, but for as long as I can remember my city family has been in the taxi business. So on hearing this fact my first thought was, "Woah, my uncle has $2 million on wheels." My second thought was, "the city absolutely had to lower the cost of a green medallion. How could an immigrant just starting out possibly purchase a $1 million taxi cab now?"

New York is the kind of place that is always in danger of becoming a city of 'haves' and 'have-nots.' Unless we're careful — unless we purposely create opportunities for those willing to capitalize on them — the pace of this city can leave people behind.

It's impossible to think about this and not think about growing income inequality on a national or global scale — and what kind of measures we as a society need to take to ensure things don't get worse.

If you do a quick Craiglist search you can see that green medallions can go for around $15,000 now. It's a tough buy for someone starting with nothing, but not an impossible dream.

And ideally, New York is a city of possible dreams.

Germany Opens Formal Inquiry Into Tapping Of Merkel's Phone

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 06:26

Germany's top federal prosecutor has opened an investigation that won't focus on wide spying activities attributed to the U.S. National Security Agency.

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While more secure, Chip and PIN technology is costly

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 06:19
Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 09:03 Scott Olson/Getty Images

A shopping cart sits in the parking lot of a Sam's Club store

Sam’s Club, the warehouse chain owned by Walmart, is unveiling credit cards with chip-enabled safety technology. In fact, they’re declaring themselves the first mass retailer to do so in the U.S. The cards will be co-branded with MasterCard.

Chip and PIN technology is more secure than the magnetic strip on the back of many cards. Target learned that the hard way when it was hacked last year.

Carl Howe, vice president of research and data sciences at Yankee Group, says the biggest obstacle to adopting chip-enabled technology in the U.S. has been cost, including the price tag for overhauling all those point of sale devices where we swipe our cards now.

“Those are expensive devices -- a few thousand dollars each -- and they have a lot of them,” he says. “And there’s all the backend programming that’s required for it too. So this is not a small move, it takes a lot of infrastructure to make this work.”

Still, credit card companies want all retailers to follow Sam’s Club’s lead and adopt the technology by late 2015. 

Marketplace Morning Report for Wednesday June 4, 2014by Kate DavidsonPodcast Title While more secure, Chip and PIN technology is costlyStory Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

While more secure, Chip and PIN technology is costly

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 06:03

Sam’s Club, the warehouse chain owned by Walmart, is unveiling credit cards with chip-enabled safety technology. In fact, they’re declaring themselves the first mass retailer to do so in the U.S. The cards will be co-branded with MasterCard.

Chip and PIN technology is more secure than the magnetic strip on the back of many cards. Target learned that the hard way when it was hacked last year.

Carl Howe, vice president of research and data sciences at Yankee Group, says the biggest obstacle to adopting chip-enabled technology in the U.S. has been cost, including the price tag for overhauling all those point of sale devices where we swipe our cards now.

“Those are expensive devices -- a few thousand dollars each -- and they have a lot of them,” he says. “And there’s all the backend programming that’s required for it too. So this is not a small move, it takes a lot of infrastructure to make this work.”

Still, credit card companies want all retailers to follow Sam’s Club’s lead and adopt the technology by late 2015. 

An Inability To Connect With Horses Isn't Why Racing Is Failing

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 05:58

There is a perception that Americans would rather play slot machines and watch car racing because those things are more relatable than horses. NPR's Laurel Dalrymple doesn't think that is true.

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For New College Grads, Finding Mental Health Care Can Be Tough

NPR News - Wed, 2014-06-04 05:50

Finding and paying for a psychologist or psychiatrist can be difficult at any age. But young adults just making their way in the world face particular challenges.

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​The best starter-coding language? How about English?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-06-04 05:25

Douglas Kiang was tired of having the same types of students in his computer-science class year after year: socially awkward boys.

"I used to only get one or two girls who'd take course," said Kiang, who teaches computer science at Punahou School on Oahu.  

So Kiang took a page from his wife’s teaching manual--she’s a 6th-grade teacher--and gave something called interactive fiction a try.

Think of the famous "Choose Your Own Adventure" book series, where the reader decides what the protagonist does next,  jumping to a new page with each decision.

In online interactive fiction, readers must tell the computer program what they want to do next.  There are common commands that work in most programs, like “put,” “feel,” “take” and “open,” as well as custom commands for different stories.

What does interactive fiction have to do with coding?  Everything, says Kiang,  who has  a Master's Degree in Technology, Innovation, and Education from Harvard.

"One of the core concepts we try to teach is abstraction -- the idea that you take a large idea and break it down into smaller pieces," Kiang said.

To create a story in interactive fiction, you have to figure out how to give the reader a bunch of understandable decisions to make that will allow her to navigate through the story and understand it.  

The same thought process applies to coding.  Say you are building an app to play blackjack: you would need to figure out how to create the card, how to allow the user to hit or stand, how to deal the cards, and a bunch of other tasks.

Kiang has had success with the approach.  Students who have started with interactive fiction more easily pick up actual coding languages, he says.

For technophobes, interactive fiction also has the benefit of being surprisingly low-tech.  It’s nothing but text.  You can see (and play) one of Kiang's student's stories below (hint: try walking south, east or west to start with).

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