National News

Blood Test For Ebola Doesn't Catch Infection Early

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 12:20

A highly sensitive blood test for Ebola exists, so why isn't it being used to test all returning health workers from West Africa? Because the virus isn't in the blood in the first stages of infection.

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Haunted houses make scary money

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-28 12:15

Americans plan to spend about $7 billion dollars on Halloween this fall. A good chunk of that change will be spent at spooky attractions.

The creep-out factor starts at the entrance to Dark Hour Haunted House’s Halloween Show in Plano, Texas, as a 9-foot-tall furry bat sneaks up on a woman buying tickets.  In a dark corner, an animatronic witch tells a scary story and stirs a steaming cauldron.

More than one in five Americans plans to visit a spooky attraction this year, according to the National Retail Federation. They’re looking for an adrenaline rush.

“It’s easy to scare one person,” says Allen Hopps, the artistic director at Dark Hour. “When you have to scare 10,000 people, or 20,000 people, that gets very hard.”

Hopps tries to make Dark Hour different by not relying on the standard themes – think movies like "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "The Hills Have Eyes."

“Haunted houses will always have a redneck, cannibal and inbred theme,” he says. “That’s the easiest and cheapest to do because all your costumes are thrift stores, all of your makeup is blood and dirt, and you’re covered. So you’re going to see that everywhere.”

So instead of chainsaw sounds and clowns, Dark Hour has tunnels that spin as you walk through, and werewolves with fangs that glow.

It’s unnerving.

Hopps also mixes in the quiet buzzing sound of bees to add to the creepy music.

“Scaring people has become a global industry,” says Larry Kirchner. He builds terror attractions across the world, including Creepyworld -- the largest haunted attraction in the Midwest. On a good year, his creations bring in around $4 million to $5 million dollars.

Kirchner designed his first haunted house in 4th grade. Back then cold spaghetti for guts and peeled grapes for eyeballs would do. Today, he says there are high-tech ghost tours, paintball zombie attacks, even extreme haunts where actors tie you up and pretend to torture you.

“Halloween used to be this holiday where you would carve a pumpkin, watch a horror movie and go trick or treating,” Kirchner says, “Now you’ve got everyone trying to exploit it.”

And, in the past, a 10-minute adventure was just fine, visitors today expect a haunted house to be a full evening’s entertainment.

At Dark Hour in Texas, the maze takes nearly 40 minutes to walk through. And after you’re done, you get a music performance: Zombies, on stage, performing Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

Now that’s scary.

 

To Make Bread, Watch The Dough, Not The Recipe

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 12:15

One man's quest for the perfect loaf took him to Paris, Berlin, California and Kansas. What he learned can't easily be captured in words. It's a feeling in your fingers that comes from experience.

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Obama: Ebola Policies Should Support Health Care Workers On Front Lines

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 11:52

The U.S. policies, said Obama, should be crafted to avoid discouraging workers from going overseas to help curb Ebola outbreaks.

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Michael Lewis: Wall Street is "lost"

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-28 11:23

Wall Street today is lost and searching for its role, according to author Michael Lewis.

"Technology has created a world that's very hostile to intermediaries in most industries. And Wall Street has fought to preserve its position as an intermediary where it's really not necessary in a lot of cases," he says. "It's actually, probably, in decline."

Lewis — perhaps best known for two books later adapted to film, "Moneyball" and "The Blind Side" — used to be a financial trader. He left after three years and wrote a tell-all, his first book, "Liar's Poker." 

Twenty five years later, the book has been reissued. And while he's continued his deep look at finance with his recent book "Flash Boys," it's strange how the world Lewis depicted in the late '80s feels oddly familiar. 

Listen to the full interview in the player above or read the transcript, which has been edited for clarity.

Kai Ryssdal: This book was not received the way you thought it would be... you thought it would be a cautionary tale.

Michael Lewis: It had the opposite effect of what I expected. I didn't think of it as a moralistic tale about Wall Street ... but I did think that for someone who had some other idea of what to do with their lives, it would demystify it, and maybe they could go on and do what they were supposed to do.

Instead, I swear after six months, I had a thousand letters from kids saying, "I'm a junior at Ohio State and I've read your how-to book about how to get ahead on Wall Street. Is there anything you left out? Because you made me even more interested in doing it."

KR: And you know why, right? Because you talk about making money come out of a telephone.

ML: Not only do I make money come out of a telephone, but I clearly have no idea what I'm doing. The combination is like catnip for a male in college. He has no idea what he can do, he has no sense of himself in the marketplace, and then there's this thing... they give you lots of money even though you don't know what you're doing? It created a stampede.

 

KR: And you say "male" intentionally because at the time this book was written, females in this business were few and very far between.

ML: True. I would say that even now, [women are] kept far from the risk taking. It's still a very male-dominated business. At the time, yes, my training program at Salomon Brothers was 85 to 90 percent guys.

KR: And very fraternity house-like, I mean, the description of some of the guys sitting in the back row of that training class throwing spitballs. 

It was considered normal and acceptable to order a stripper up on the trading floor. 

KR: It seems like very little has changed. The essence of what happens on Wall Street, 25 years later, seems sort of to be the same.

ML: There's a timelessness about it isn't there? There are a couple of things that I think are a little different, but it's by degree, not kind. I think that the street has gotten much, much better at disguising what it does because it's gotten so much more complicated. All of a sudden, you're looking at a truly opaque black box when you're looking at something that used to be as simple as the stock market. 

The other thing is this idea of "too big to fail." That did not exist when I wrote the book. There was a sense that even my firm, Salomon Brothers, could fail. And now, if you're in the equivalent of Salomen Brothers today, you're in a place that, basically, you sense, won't be allowed to fail.

KR: You say that these guys are working harder at establishing a public persona, but I wonder if that doesn't lend itself to a real difference, actually, between Wall Street then and now. Wall Street then was sleazy, with strippers on the trading floor, as you said. Now, it just seems a little sinister, because we're supposed to believe that they're out for the common good.

ML: I think there has been much more attention paid to how things seem, rather than how things are, then there was then. There are phalanxes of corporate PR people. People inside these firms, no way are they going to talk to a journalist. You've got a much slicker corporate exterior now and a much more careful presentation of self. 

One of the things that was kind of lovely about the world I described in Salomen Brothers in the '80s was that the people kind of were how they seemed. There wasn't a lot of hypocrisy. You might approve or disapprove of the gambling and the strippers on the trading floor. But there was a certain integrity to it [laughs].

KR: And what is it now? What is Wall Street now?

ML: Lost. It has a very unclear sense of its purpose in the world. Technology has created a world that's very hostile to intermediaries in most industries.  And Wall Street has fought to preserve its position as an intermediary where it's really not necessary in a lot of cases. It's sort of like clawing to preserve its revenues and its profits at a time when it's actually, probably, in decline. 

KR: Do you re-read your own writing at all?

ML: It's funny you ask, I got on the plane coming to New York the other day, and I thought, I gotta re-read this thing. I've never re-read it.

I opened it and thought, "I'm so bored with myself. I can't do this. I just can't."

The only other time I'd done this, I put it on my lap when the paperback came out in 1990, to re-read it before I went on my paperback tour. And the guy in the seat next to me saw it and said, "I read that. Cynical bastard." I put it away and didn't read it then.

So I have not actually re-read it, but I vaguely remember what happened to me [laughs].

Should Twitter have to measure up to Facebook?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-28 11:00

If "A Tale of Two Cities"were written today and Charles Dickens chose social networkers, instead of cities, as his subject, the opening line might go a little something like this:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of metrics.

“If you are a social network, the two most important metrics for you are your user base and the level of engagement of the users,” says Shaym Patil, Vice President of equity research at Wedbush.

The value that Wall Street places on a social network like Twitter or Facebook is primarily based on its MAU’s, or  monthly active users--the more active users, the more potential for ad revenue.  This is why when Twitter announced its third quarter earnings  Monday, its stock took a hit.  

Investors are worried that Twitter’s user base isn't growing fast enough. It’s not anywhere near the gold standard of social media companies, Facebook. Twitter’s active user base is about one fifth of Facebook’s

But Nathan Eagle,  CEO of Jana, a mobile marketing platform, is skeptical of the one metric fits all approach. “Twitter and Facebook have different models and they are going after different things,” says Eagle.

Twitter, for example, doesn't just sell ads. It has a whole suite of developer tools it sells to companies like Jana. It offers tools for detecting crashes and monetizing, for example.

These are parts of Twitter’s business model that aren't reflected in the MAU numbers. As a result, Nathan Eagle thinks Twitter should have its own more sophisticated metric for assessing its value.  “MAU’s are at least a proxy for success,”  But says Eagle, “I do think that we will come up with more nuanced metrics.”

Until that more nuanced metric arrives, the almighty MAU will likely reign supreme. Or, as Dickens said, Twitter and Facebook will continue to live, “for good or evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

 

 

 

CNN takes the Empire State Building

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-28 11:00

CNN announced its election night plans Tuesday: the network will take over the Empire State Building to display U.S. Senate vote results.

As results come in, a vertical LED-illuminated "meter" atop the spire of the building will ascend in either red or blue.

Once a meter reaches the top of the spire, that party will take control of the Senate.

Who will win? Apparently CNN will decide.

 

 

What the end of Quantitative Easing will and won't mean

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-28 11:00

Quantitative easing – it’s fun and accessible and all the cool kids are talking about it, right?

“Believe it or not, I tend to try not to talk about Quantitative Easing at cocktail parties,” says Ann Owen, an economics professor at Hamilton College. “But just a real brief explanation is that it’s a way for the [Federal Reserve] to increase the money supply by buying bonds.”

The Fed generally has two focus areas: employment and inflation. Historically, a main tool to keep each in check has been setting interest rates through its Federal Funds Rate. But back in 2008, the Fed decided it needed something more and QE was born.

Six years later, the Fed is widely expected to announce the end of QE after its Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee meetings Tuesday and Wednesday.

Owen says while ending QE may sound like a giant leap, it's actually a relatively small step because the Fed now has a balance sheet worth over $4 trillion.

“That’s money that in the banking system and will hopefully finds its way into the economy, says Michelle Girard is the chief U.S. economist with RBS. “As long as those reserves aren’t taken back out, through asset sales or other methods of shrinking the balance sheet, then the reserves that have already been created are still able to boost economic growth.”

Think of the Fed as a jogger who’s not slowing down or speeding up, but keeping the same pace – and there’s still a long road ahead.

The economy is clearly in a better place than it was when QE started.

But Morris Davis, a professor at Rutgers University and a former economist at the Federal Reserve Board, says he’s skeptical about how much of that is due to the bond-buying program.

“We can debate its effectiveness and we should debate its effectiveness,” he says. “But going forward, we’re going to see a lot more of this, actually, by Central Banks all around the world and I think we’ll point back to this episode as having led the pack.”

After QE, the Fed still has its more traditional tool – interest rates. Davis says it’ll probably be a while before the Fed feels comfortable enough to start raising its Federal Funds Rate in any meaningful way. 

As Great Barrier Reef Ails, Australia Scrambles To Save It

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 10:55

One Australian report estimated the reef had lost more than half its coral since 1985. The government is considering a new 35-year plan to rescue the reef, but some say it falls short.

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Why Does Saudi Arabia Seem So Comfortable With Falling Oil Prices?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 10:15

Normally, the "central banker of oil" would slow production to push up prices. Not so now. Some say it's a geopolitical tactic aimed at Russia and Iran; others say it's just protecting market share.

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American Volunteers In Liberia Are Anti-Quarantine

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 10:03

They fear that the threat of isolating a returning health worker for 21 days will cause a drop in the number of volunteers at a time when more medical staff is needed to quash the outbreak.

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Thieves Tunnel Into Indian Bank Vault — From Across The Street

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 09:47

When a bank in northern India opened for business Monday, the staff was surprised to find the strongroom breached from underground. Local media say the crime resembles a movie plot.

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The numbers for October 28, 2014

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-28 09:04

Six years and $3 trillion later, quantitative easing is coming to an end. The Federal Reserve is expected to make an announcement following a tw0-day meeting in Washington this week. The Washington Post has an interesting history of the bond-buying "experiment," noting QE was originally intended as a one-time injection into the economy, but has been used to stimulate growth in many areas.

As we await official word from Fed Chair Janet Yellen on the policy, here are some other stories we're reading — and numbers we're watching — Tuesday:

3.5 million

That's how many customers have had their Internet speed slowed down more than 25 million times by AT&T since fall 2011, according to a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission Tuesday. Many of these customers are heavy data users with unlimited plans, which AT&T no longer offers, Reuters reported. The FTC called the throttling "deceptive," with some customers' speeds slowed up to 90 percent.

300 million

The number of people using Alibaba's payment system, Alipay. Alibaba founder Jack Ma, fresh off a massive IPO, is set to meet with Apple CEO Tim Cook this week to talk about potential partnerships, the Wall Street Journal reported. Apple just launched its own mobile payment system last week. 

25

The number of times per second new RFID chips installed in NFL players' shoulder pads transmit their location. The new sensors allow for near-real-time motion tracking and player data of unparalleled depth, the Verge reported. The league is experimenting with these "next-gen stats" in games this year, with an eye toward putting more sensors on all players and, eventually, the ball.

9

The number of movies Marvel Studios announced through 2019 at an event in Los Angeles Tuesday. It's a shot across the bow at DC Comics' similarly huge plan, announced earlier this month, for ten new films through 2020. 

A Family's Fall Harvest Blooms In 'A Kitchen In France'

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 09:03

Since moving her large family from a Paris apartment to a historic farmhouse in the French countryside, author Mimi Thorisson has found a way to merge the best of the different worlds she has known.

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Happy Birthday To Google Doodle Honoree Dr. Jonas Salk!

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 08:51

On the 100th anniversary of the polio pioneer's birth, Google takes note with a doodle. As the world gears up to fight Ebola, it's a good time to remember one of the heroes of a 1950s epidemic.

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The Many, Many Secret Lives Of Teachers

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 07:53

What do teachers do outside the classroom? We've gotten hundreds of responses to that question. To list a few: They officiate at weddings, run nonprofits and Jazzercise.

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Insurers May Cover Costly Hepatitis C Drugs Only For The Very Ill

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 07:20

Many insurers are restricting access to new drugs that are easier to take and that promise higher cure rates because the price tags can run $95,000 or more.

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Pope Says God Not 'A Magician, With A Magic Wand'

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 07:18

Speaking at an assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Francis also affirmed that evolution and the Big Bang are consistent with a creator.

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Australia Blocks New Visas From West Africa Over Ebola Outbreak

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 07:09

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says Australia's steps to keep Ebola from crossing its borders include "temporarily suspending our immigration program, including our humanitarian program."

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The 21-year-old who owns a factory in China

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-28 07:02

Alex Shlaferman was 11 years old when he made $10,000 by selling DVDs that taught viewers how to levitate. At the age of 16, he founded his company, Vante Toys. His venture has been so successful that he now owns his own manufacturing company in China.

Vante Toys is headquartered in Brooklyn, New York.

"I create products for the mass market," says Shlaferman. "My specialty is products that are under like 20 bucks, that’s what I’m good at. I don’t understand luxury goods or high-end fashion; I understand products that sell for like ten, twenty bucks."

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