National News

3 Times Rand Paul Got 'Testy' This Week

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-09 12:03

Days into his campaign, Paul is pouncing on the mainstream media and Democrats, though he insists his short temper is "pretty equal opportunity."

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Is It Time For A Warning Label On Sugar-Loaded Drinks?

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-09 11:52

New legislation in California and New York proposes a label for for sugary beverages. The label looks like the warning on cigarette packages, but the beverage industry has called it "misleading."

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Cultural Revolution-Meets-Aliens: Chinese Writer Takes On Sci-Fi

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-09 11:50

Chinese novels have dwelt mainly on the past and present. Liu Cixin is starting to change that. His science-packed, futuristic best-sellers explore the cosmos, and offers commentary on current events.

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PG&E Hit With $1.6 Billion Penalty For 2010 Calif. Pipeline Explosion

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-09 11:42

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. was ordered to pay the fine — the largest ever charged a public utility — for the San Bruno explosion and fire that killed 8 people.

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Medical Schools Reboot For 21st Century

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-09 11:35

Medicine has changed a lot in the past 100 years. But medical training has stayed much the same. Many schools are now retooling — focusing on teamwork — to train a different kind of doctor.

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Here's what you need to know about the Apple Watch

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-09 11:17

Presales for the Apple Watch started Friday, and anticipation is running high. It's Apple's first brand-new product line since the iPad, and like the iPad, the smart watch has potential to bring a niche product into the mainstream.

Apple lent a few models to members of the media, and a torrent of reviews came in last week. Most talked about the device's potential, noting that the first iteration comes with major compromises. New York Times tech columnist Farhad Manjoo, praised the device while noting it's not for everyone, writing that Apple is "on to something."

We've pored over this week's major reviews and found these key takeaways:

It's worth the steep learning curve

Though the Watch in inextricably linked to the iPhone, it's not like having an iPhone strapped to your wrist.

The Watch takes some of the iPhone's swipes and taps, but also adds a side dial — the "digital crown" — for scrolling and zooming, as well as a side button. You can also press the screen to activate other functions, a feature called "force touch," and you navigate the software differently than on the iPhone.

All of this adds up to a steep learning curve — maybe too steep, if you haven't mastered your iPhone yet. Most reviewers said it took at least a day of regular use to figure it all out, but the new interfaces were smooth after that. Apple is also offering prospective Watch buyers a one-on-one tour of the device.

The Watch is stuck in Apple's walled garden

You need an iPhone 5 or later to use the Watch, because it relies on your phone for just about everything. It's constantly communicating with the phone via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so your directions, calls and messages travel back and forth from your pocket or bag. That can lead to performance issues.

Committing to technology that's a little slow to respond to you is dicey at best, especially when it's supposed to step in for your phone," Nilay Patel writes in the Verge. "If the Watch is slow, I'm going to pull out my phone. But if I keep pulling out my phone, I'll never use the Watch."

It's a bigger problem with third-party apps. There aren't tons available yet, and many act as little more than remotes for their counterpart application on your phone. Without the phone, the Apple Watch basically bricks, becoming, well, a watch. 

"Over the weekend, my iPhone 6 ran out of battery before the Apple Watch did, and it was a couple of hours before I could charge my phone again," Bonnie Cha in her review of third-party Watch apps in Re/Code. "During that down period, I could only use the Apple Watch to get the time and view existing messages and calendar appointments."

All of this is bound to improve over time, but it limits the Watch's potential at launch.

Notifications, notifications, notifications

Just about everyone dinged the Watch for sending too many notifications out of the box, notifications that feel all the more urgent when they're coming to your wrist.

Most people have grown used to glancing at their phones while talking to others, and the Watch is supposed to cut down on that and keep users in the moment. But how does that play out when glancing at your watch can be considered so rude? 

"[Using the Watch] calls for new rules of etiquette, or at least new tolerance." Geoffrey A. Fowler writes in the Wall Street Journal. "Is it appropriate to peek at a wrist alert during a meeting with your boss? What about on a date?"

In the Times, Manjoo wrote that the stream of notifications on his Watch kept him from getting lost in his phone and improved his (and others') day as a result, but only after he'd done the work of really pruning the Watch's settings.

The new features are good... mostly

Besides the obvious hardware differences, Apple is using the Watch to explore new territory.

The first is health tracking, which most reviews noted is limited but solid. The Watch keeps track of how long you're seated, moving and working out. The latter is mostly tied to heart rate, meaning weightlifters and yogis might not get as much out of it.

"I have no idea if this will have any lasting impact on my health," Joshua Topolsky writes in Bloomberg. "But I think Apple's beautiful and frictionless approach to teaching people about exercise habits is a leap in the right direction."

The other much-touted new feature is messaging, which Apple has expanded considerably for Watch users. You can draw a little picture to send to a friend, share your pulse or animate a small set of emoji. Most reviewers wrote this off as a novelty, and the Verge called the animations "nightmare fuel."

Overall, the Watch, like many first-generation Apple products, seems to be the first step in a much bigger sea change in tech. Every review I read seemed to be writing with an eye toward what's to come, and Apple is sure to refine the Watch more after people buy this model in droves starting April 24.

Dear World, Your Grade For Educating Your Children is...

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-09 11:09

Some people say a new UNESCO report is grounds for an F: 58 million kids still aren't in primary school. But maybe a better grade is A for effort — significant progress has been made.

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Learning how the Germans learn

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-09 11:00

WGBH's "On Campus" producer Mallory Noe-Payne traveled to Germany with reporter Kirk Carapezza, where they visited a handful of cities and universities for a recent series of stories — that also aired on Marketplace — about higher education in the country.

Here's a behind-the-scenes look at Mallory's photo journal of their travels recording on the road.

We arrived in Cologne at the beginning of February, just before the end of the semester.

Universities in Germany work on a different timetable, with a winter semester and summer semester, instead of fall and spring.

Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH

As soon as we landed, we met up with a group of Americans who are studying in Germany. They meet regularly to "cafe-hop" on Sundays. The particular Sunday we were there was actually Super Bowl Sunday, and we laughed at the irony of a group of American college students sipping their espressos and eating pastries, instead of drinking Bud Light and chowing down on chips and dip.

Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH

For a radio story, you're constantly thinking about getting natural sound, or background noise, to help give listeners a sense of place. Here's Kirk Carapezza making sure we have the sound of the espresso machine in case we wanted it:

Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH

Unlike American universities, the University of Cologne doesn't have any staff dedicated to giving tours. Still, the school provided us with a Ph.D. student who was happy to show us around. Valerija Schwarz was actually born in Russia, but has lived in Germany since she was young.

Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH

I graduated from a large state school, and the facilities, classrooms and cafeterias at the University of Cologne felt very similar to Virginia Tech: large, spare and clean. Architecturally, the school felt very modern — no ivy-covered brick buildings.

Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH

We asked Valerija to show us the university gift shop and she laughed. While there were some T-shirts for sale, we didn't see any students wearing one, and there weren't any bumper stickers either.

Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH

We also visited the University of Heidelberg, about a two hour drive south of Cologne on the Autobahn. The library there was beautiful, but dead silent. I cringed every time my camera shutter clicked. American Rachael Smith told us she hated studying in German libraries because of how quiet they are.

Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH

In our first story, you can hear the University of Cologne's symphony play. They were performing their end-of-semester concert. Every pew in the large church where they performed was filled.

Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH

Perhaps my favorite part of our trip was the time we got to spend with families in their homes. Everyone was so welcoming and accommodating, even as we followed them around with a microphone and camera. We spent one evening with the Park-Kim family in Essen, Germany — talking to parents Jane and Johaness as they made dinner for their three children and put them to bed. They three kids are young, which makes it difficult to interview in quiet. So, I handed over the role of journalist and played babysitter for an hour so Kirk could interview Jane and Johaness in peace.

Even though their children are still young, Jane Park and Johaness Kim are already planning for their future: They just don't know yet if that will be American colleges or German ones. You can hear their story here.

Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH

Jay Malone showed us around the old town of Siegen, where he lived when he attended the university there. Unfortunately, his favorite schnitzel place had closed. That night we ate Italian — what a shame.

Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH

Interviewing children for the radio can be tough. Throw a translator into the mix and things get even harder. The day we visited this elementary school in Essen, the class was just beginning a lesson on the history of the bicycle. They would soon be taking a test, a sort of driver's license for a bike.

Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH

Touring Bayer's chemical production factory in Leverkusen felt like entering a man's world. I was the only woman among the group of men that traveled from room-to-room.

That observation held true among the apprentices as well. I only saw one young female participating in Bayer's vocational training. Recruiters there told me they struggle each year to convince young women to apply for the training program.

Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH

For more about German higher education and how it compares to the system in America, you can read the stories Mallory and Kirk worked on here: Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.

Uber Launches Cash-Only Rickshaw Service In Indian Capital

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-09 10:42

Passengers can hail the popular three-wheeled vehicles using an Uber app. Fares are set by the state.

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Janice Min pulls the curtain on Hollywood

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-09 10:37

The Hollywood Reporter, a trade magazine for the entertainment industry, was on its last legs in 2010 when Janice Min joined the team as editorial director.

Since then, Min has transformed the daily entertainment trade paper into a weekly glossy with longform pieces and photo galleries, as well as revamped the website. Her bosses must have really liked her work, because last year, they promoted her to Co-President and Chief Creative Officer. The title change coincided with the addition of Billboard Magazine to her portfolio as well.

“I was at the mindset, at the time when we were doing this, that Hollywood was such a strange place, in that you had this incredibly visual industry with storytellers,” Min says.  “Everyone in the world is fascinated by Hollywood, yet the press that covered Hollywood was nowhere. It wasn’t keeping up with that conversation at all.”

Min can also be partly credited with that fascination. Before moving to The Hollywood Reporter, Min was the editor at Us Weekly. Her time there, from 2003 to 2009, coincides with the rise of reality television — something Us Weekly was quick to capitalize on. Min notes that Us Weekly was the first publication to put "The Bachelor" on the cover.

“I mean, now you can fast-forward ten years and say, ‘Oh my god, these are the things that have destroyed society,'” Min jokes.  

When she moved to The Hollywood Reporter, some critics worried Min might remake the 85-year-old publication in Us Weekly’s image. That hasn’t been the case, but there are, perhaps, hints of it.

“When I left Us Weekly, they did a going away video for me. And Kim Kardashian, who was sort of a nobody, was just becoming a somebody. They got her to say in the video something funny, something like, ‘Thanks for making my A-S-S a star,’” remembers Min.  Fast-forward to a recent issue of The Hollywood Reporter which included the story, “From Jennifer Lopez to Kim Kardashian: How Butts Stole The Spotlight From Boobs.” It describes the influence of the larger derriere on everything from plastic surgery to red carpet styling.

With Min as editorial director, The Hollywood Reporter is thriving. Circulation for the weekly is only at 70,000 households, but the demographic is high-profile. Min’s plans include growing the brand’s digital influence through video, podcasts, and more.   

Min credits her success at the Hollywood Reporter, and what her bosses are hoping she’ll do for Billboard, with her ability to observe the industry as an outsider.

“I noticed this right away in New York… the Wall Street factor in New York. You have a whole community of people whose one goal in life is to make money," Min says. "In Hollywood, you have a whole group of people whose goal in life is to make money, but along the way they’d like to be critically acclaimed. They’d like to be thought of as smart people, intelligent people… funny. They want to create something that they are proud of on their way to making that money.”

Janice Min pulls the curtain on Hollywood

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-09 10:37

The Hollywood Reporter, a trade magazine for the entertainment industry, was on its last legs in 2010 when Janice Min joined the team as editorial director.

Since then, Min has transformed the daily entertainment trade paper into a weekly glossy with longform pieces and photo galleries, as well as revamped the website. Her bosses must have really liked her work, because last year, they promoted her to Co-President and Chief Creative Officer. The title change coincided with the addition of Billboard Magazine to her portfolio as well.

“I was at the mindset, at the time when we were doing this, that Hollywood was such a strange place, in that you had this incredibly visual industry with storytellers,” Min says.  “Everyone in the world is fascinated by Hollywood, yet the press that covered Hollywood was nowhere. It wasn’t keeping up with that conversation at all.”

Min can also be partly credited with that fascination. Before moving to The Hollywood Reporter, Min was the editor at Us Weekly. Her time there, from 2003 to 2009, coincides with the rise of reality television — something Us Weekly was quick to capitalize on. Min notes that Us Weekly was the first publication to put "The Bachelor" on the cover.

“I mean, now you can fast-forward ten years and say, ‘Oh my god, these are the things that have destroyed society,'” Min jokes.  

When she moved to The Hollywood Reporter, some critics worried Min might remake the 85-year-old publication in Us Weekly’s image. That hasn’t been the case, but there are, perhaps, hints of it.

“When I left Us Weekly, they did a going away video for me. And Kim Kardashian, who was sort of a nobody, was just becoming a somebody. They got her to say in the video something funny, something like, ‘Thanks for making my A-S-S a star,’” remembers Min.  Fast-forward to a recent issue of The Hollywood Reporter which included the story, “From Jennifer Lopez to Kim Kardashian: How Butts Stole The Spotlight From Boobs.” It describes the influence of the larger derriere on everything from plastic surgery to red carpet styling.

With Min as editorial director, The Hollywood Reporter is thriving. Circulation for the weekly is only at 70,000 households, but the demographic is high-profile. Min’s plans include growing the brand’s digital influence through video, podcasts, and more.   

Min credits her success at the Hollywood Reporter, and what her bosses are hoping she’ll do for Billboard, with her ability to observe the industry as an outsider.

“I noticed this right away in New York… the Wall Street factor in New York. You have a whole community of people whose one goal in life is to make money," Min says. "In Hollywood, you have a whole group of people whose goal in life is to make money, but along the way they’d like to be critically acclaimed. They’d like to be thought of as smart people, intelligent people… funny. They want to create something that they are proud of on their way to making that money.”

'I'm With Stupid' T-Shirt Trips Up Ecuador's President

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-09 10:08

Politicians have basic rules about photo ops. This week, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa learned one more: don't get on the wrong side of an "I'm With Stupid" T-shirt.

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Why your cell phone battery life still stinks

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-09 09:43

The reviews for the Apple Watch have been mixed so far. One of the big complaints: battery life.

And it's not just an Apple problem. The batteries that power most of our devices, from smart phones to laptops, are lithium ion batteries. Compared with Alkaline batteries that pop into TV remotes and flashlights, lithium ion batteries are fairly bulky, charge slowly, and drain relatively fast as they struggle to keep up with all the computing power that tech firms have stuffed into our devices. 

Lots of people are working to improve batteries, including Astro Teller, who recently spoke with Marketplace Tech's Ben Johnson. Teller is the guy who heads up Google X, where his title is the Google-esque "Captain of Moonshots."

Johnson asked Teller about one thing that would make a dramatic difference, among the array of R&D projects underway at Google X. No big surprise given our subject matter: batteries topped the list. But in true Moonshot Captain fashion, his goal is more than incremental improvement. 

"A ten-times increase in the weight-oriented density of batteries would enable so many other moonshots, if we can find a great idea. We just haven't found one yet," Teller said. 

So, why haven't scientists and tech leaders found one yet? Unlike computing power, which doubles every 18 months or so, following Moore's Law, batteries are slower to change. 

The short answer there, Johnson says, is chemistry. There is no equivalent to Moore's Law in the world of battery chemistry. In fact, improving the battery is even less methodical than you'd think, according to Matthew Norden at MNL Partners, which also explores leaps in technological change. 

"That's more dark art. It's not quite a witch around a cauldron, but it's close," Norden says. 

Even so, the wizards at Stanford have a study out with some promising findings. Researchers made an aluminum smartphone battery that charges in — no joke — one minute. But Johnson warns it doesn't last too long. 

The key characteristics to improve the device battery are safety, speed, and cost. 

"That's the holy grail," Johnson says. "Once we get a battery that has all of those things, then we will truly be in the future."

For now, we're stuck with two out of three. 

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