National News

Blackberry's not dead yet

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-22 13:30

Blackberries used to be a permanent fixture on the hip of many professionals, but in recent years, lots of those users have ditched the “crack berry” in favor of iPhone or Android devices. Vultures have circled over the company as a few of its new smart phones flopped.  

But despite the ongoing death watch, Blackberry is still alive and will likely debut two new phones this week: The Classic and the Passport.

However, it’s not trying to reclaim its old status, says Charles Golvin, the founder and principle analyst of Abelian Research.

“It would be a mistake to think about Blackberry as a competitor to Apple and the iPhone or other Android-based device manufacturers,” says Golvin. “They’re not focused on consumers, they’re focused on businesses.”

Blackberry’s target is “the hard-core email user who’s in a regulated industry where the keyboard is really the value-added differentiator,” explains Bryan Prohm, an analyst who covers Blackberry for Cowen and Company.

These phones are meant to attract government, finance, and legal users, plus IT managers who will be tempted by Blackberry's security and device management software.

The devices are a way to get people to use Blackberry’s software – the company’s real focus these days.

So is this makeover enough to shoo away the vultures?

“The way I see it is, it’s a reinvention in progress,” says Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester Research. “There’s still lots of challenges before we know whether [Blackberry] will survive. So I haven’t written them off, but they really aren’t competitive anymore in the consumer handset market.”

The company, which declined to comment for this story, has stabilized its financials in recent quarters. But Apple is also chasing corporate clients. It announced a new partnership with IBM recently, with its eye on a similar business prize.

Could Gotham improve Fox ratings?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-22 13:30

Fox's ratings are in free fall. Last season, the network averaged about half the viewers of CBS. Without big football games to shore up its ratings, the network is looking for a hit. 

"I think it’s very important," says Horizon Media Research Director Brad Adgate. " Television is still a hit driven business and they need a hit."

One potential bright spot in the darkness is "Gotham", a dramatic Batman prequel. The Television Critics Association has named it the season's "most promising series." "It's exciting. It's a little scary," says TCA treasurer and TV critic Jacqueline Cutler. "I will be absolutely gobsmacked if this is not Fox's huge hit of the year."

But critics have been gobsmacked before, and Fox needs more than a critical darling. The network has struggled since the heyday of American Idol, which regularly helped FOX come from behind to lead with the coveted 18-to-49-year-old demographic. "They did that [for] eight straight seasons, which is unprecedented in the annals of television," Adgate says. "You know, they can’t rely on that anymore."

It's a particularly tall order at a time when network television as a whole, is losing ground to cable television. "Network TV at this point is less than a third of the national TV advertising market. Cable is two times bigger," says Brian Wieser, media analyst at Pivotal Research. 

"In that context a decline in ratings at Fox shouldn't be that surprising."

So Fox is betting big on "Gotham", and entering the market for superheroes while the getting is good. The CW found enough success with another DC show, "Arrow", that it's doubling down this season with a lighter spin-off about the Flash. But the CW generally gets lower ratings than other broadcast networks, and a smash there — "Arrow" usually pulls in around 3 or 4 million viewers — just won't hold up on the big four.

The Marvel series "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." was a solid hit for ABC, but couldn't hold onto the nearly 12 million who tuned in for its massive debut. ABC brought the show back and added another, "Agent Carter". But in all, the field is going to be a lot more crowded. NBC also has a DC show, "Constantine" on Friday nights this fall, and juggernaut CBS just ordered a "Supergirl" series.

Gotham premieres tonight at 8 p.m. eastern, but with Hulu and DVR, analysts say we won’t know the real ratings for another week.

Spilling the beans on Starbucks' coffee-beer

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-22 13:30

I love coffee. I love beer. But I'm not sure how big of a market there's going to be for a coffee drink that tastes like beer. 

This weekend, Starbucks workers took to Reddit to talk about the Dark Barrel Latte, which is, I suppose, supposed to remind one of stout. Like coffee-flavored stouts, but the other way around? 

It's also going to have caramel, chocolate and whipped cream. So really, it's not even coffee.

And yes, I am a purist.

You could be the life on Mars. Yes, you.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-22 13:17

Suddenly, everyone seems to be going to Mars.

NASA's MAVEN satellite has just begun orbiting the Red Planet and studying its atmosphere, and a craft launched by the Indian space agency is due to arrive in the Martian orbit this Wednesday. Meanwhile, various private sector organizations are planning something far more ambitious: the first manned landings on Mars.  One of them – the Dutch-based Mars One project – says it’s on course for blast off with a four person crew within a decade.

You might think that Mars One’s biggest problem would be recruitment. The Mars visitors face a seven month long journey to a bitterly cold, dusty wasteland that has no oxygen and not much water. And then there’s the matter of the return journey: There isn’t one. The cost of bringing the crew back would be so prohibitive that this is to be a one-way trip. These are not so much Mars visitors as settlers or colonizers.

Nevertheless, an astonishing 200,000 people applied to join the mission. This figure has been winnowed down to a more modest 705 who are now being more closely assessed.

Twenty-one year-old Ryan McDonald – a physics student at Oxford University – is one of the (so-far) successful applicants . He can hardly wait for lift-off.

"I’m going there because I want to live on Mars, spend my life there – because that’s how I think I can achieve the most for humanity," he says.

"My main motivation is the example of the Apollo mission. It was the generation that was inspired by the moon landings that went on and gave us things like the internet, iPhones, advanced technology which immeasurably improves our lives and we’re so dependent on these days. A manned landing on Mars could have a similar effect. So I want to give a new generation their Apollo moment."

McDonald is unfazed by the prospect of never returning to Planet Earth. The same goes for 34-year-old school lab technician Alison Rigby – another Martian "candidate."

"It’s happened throughout human history,” Rigby says. “People have traveled across the planet with no hope of returning to where they came from. So I would belong to the next generation of these pioneers."

Bryan Versteeg and Mars One/ www.mars-one.com

Rigby – who has a master’s degree in chemistry – finds the idea of spending the rest of her life in a bio-dome examining the chemistry of another planet "enticing."

The man behind the Mars One mission – Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp – claims his inspiration for the project comes from the Olympics.  Lansdorp, who made his money from a wind energy firm, says what caught his eye about the London Games was the revenue from sponsorship and broadcasting rights: $4 billion for only three weeks of broadcasting.

"That was because the world was watching," says Lansdorp “The world would certainly want to watch the first Mars Landing. We will raise the $6 billion we need for the project by selling the media rights.”

A subsidiary of the Dutch company that created the Big Brother TV franchise has already snapped up the broadcasting rights to the Mars One final crew selection process.
But Dave Wade – an underwriter at the Lloyds insurance market in London who specializes in insuring commercial space projects – is skeptical about the viability of the Mars One project. First of all, he believes it would cost a lot more than $6 billion: “ More like $100 billion,” he says. And he can see a problem with the those broadcasting rights – a conflict between the demands of interplanetary travel and reality TV.

Bryan Versteeg and Mars One/ www.mars-one.com

“The TV producers will want controversial people, difficult people. They want drama,” Wade says. “That’s not the kind of people you want on a space mission, particularly a one-way mission where the crew are going to be locked up in cramped capsule for months on end. It’s just fraught with difficulties. And they won’t be able to evict anyone from the bio-dome on Mars!”

Giving Chickens Bacteria ... To Keep Them Antibiotic-Free

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-22 13:11

What does it take to get chickens off antibiotics? According to Perdue Farms, an added dose of the "good bacteria" known as probiotics can help crowd out the harmful microbes that make a chicken sick.

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With Dark Humor, Anger And Empathy, Women Respond To The NFL

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-22 13:00

Women, who make up 45 percent of the NFL's fan base, are critical the league's handling of domestic abuse scandals. But some still support their teams and express sympathy for the players.

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Why A Teenage Mom Was Jailed In El Salvador After A Stillbirth

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-22 12:57

Christina Quintanilla faced up to 50 years in prison after an anonymous hospital worker accused her of having an abortion.

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Prosecutor Says White House Intruder Had 800 Rounds Of Ammunition In Car

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-22 12:25

Omar J. Gonzales, 42, jumped a fence and made it past the White House's North Portico doors before being apprehended by the Secret Service.

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Look Out MAVEN, India's Mars Orbiter Is Closing In

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-22 12:24

India's Mars Orbiter Mission is set to reach Mars on Wednesday, just days after a U.S. NASA probe began its orbit around the Red Planet. The difference? India did it on a much tighter budget.

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There goes the neighborhood: The college students next door

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-22 12:08

On a busy road in Baltimore, Valerie Sirani walks up to a shabby beige house with three mailboxes and Christmas lights lining the windows. She knocks on the door. After a few minutes, a dozen or so young men in shorts and T-shirts gather on the front lawn, looking a bit wary.

They’re all students at Loyola University Maryland, living in a row of big houses off campus. Sirani hasn’t come alone. She’s brought with her representatives from the university and City Hall, as well as a uniformed police officer.

“My name is Val,” she tells the group. “I’m the community association president. Does everyone know what community you’re living in?”

They throw out a few guesses, but it’s clear they don’t.

“It’s Lake Walker,” Sirani tells them.

Lake Walker is a small, middle-class neighborhood in North Baltimore. With Towson University, Goucher College and Loyola all just a few miles away, Sirani has counted at least 20 houses rented by college students, out of about 700 homes. Today’s meeting is part welcome wagon, part warning.

“You’re part of our community and we want you to have fun,” Sirani says, “but we want you to be safe.”

So maybe don’t come home from a day of drinking and set out lawn chairs on your slanted roof to watch traffic, like Sirani recently saw some kids on this block doing. She stopped and took a picture.

“The kids obviously saw what I was doing and came down,” she says. “They were very polite, but extremely intoxicated.”

The minute school starts back up each year, so do the off-campus parties—and the complaints from neighbors about noise, fights, and people urinating in the bushes. Baltimore City police officer Doug Gibson shows the students a folder full of reports just from the past few weekends. If a house gets written up as a “neighborhood nuisance,” the landlord and tenants can be hit with hundreds of dollars in fines.

“Some of the reports already from this block are in that process right now,” he says. “There are going to be, most likely, some $500 citations issued already this year.”

Afterward, Loyola senior Bryan Pricoli admits the chat was a little intimidating. He also admits that having people over is one reason he wanted to live off campus.

“Obviously within normal human behavior,” he says. “This is just six good guys living together, and just having a good time our senior year.”

And they don’t have that much choice about where to live. Decades ago Loyola made an unusual agreement with several neighborhoods in its backyard that its students wouldn’t live there.

Studies have shown that the presence of a college, with its cultural activities and open spaces, raises property values. That doesn’t mean people want students living next door. Joan Flynn, senior vice president for administration at Loyola, warns the students that their behavior reflects on the college.

“You need to understand that you’re living here for one year; these folks are living here essentially for a lifetime,” she says. “The goal here is to be viewed as a contributing member of this community and not an element that diminishes the quality of life in this community.”

Efforts to smooth neighborhood relations are catching on at other colleges, says Beth Bagwell, president of the International Town-Gown Association. When students know their neighbors, it’s “harder to ignore the fact that Ms. Smith next door has a baby and she has to get up at 7 o’clock in the morning,” she says.

At the University of Colorado Boulder, some students living off campus are required to attend an orientation before they can collect their keys. They learn about the local nuisance law and hear about the community from a neighbor. Among the houses that have participated, Bagwell says citations for things like noise and property damage have dropped by half.

“So they were able to quantify the fact that this was a very successful program, and they’re still doing this,” she says.

Lake Walker’s Valerie Sirani isn’t sure. After a meet-and-greet with students from Towson University the week before, she was inundated with emails from neighbors complaining about a Saturday night party.

A big week to come in climate change policy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-22 10:14

It's going to be a big week in New York for the policy of climate change. 

Just a day after 300,000 people took to the streets of Manhattan to bring more attention to the need for climate change action, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund announced it was divesting from fossil fuel investments.

"What's clear is that this is a symbolic announcement," says Marketplace's Scott Tong. "But the amount of selling off would pale in comparison to the size of most of these big companies."

The reality, Tong says, is that we're in a planet that is supposed to keep global warming to just two degrees Celsius, but is currently on track to double that figure. But one of the other realities, he says, is that accountants could change the world of climate change.

"[The bankers] are everywhere talking about the opportunities of a low-carbon economy," he said. "Solar and wind energy, they say, are worth investing in, because in many places they can compete against coal and gas. There are tens of billions of dollars going towards bonds that invest in low-carbon technologies — not because of polar bears but because the return on investment is good. This is the kind of reality they're trying to send to national capitals."

In California, Less Water Means More West Nile Virus

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-22 09:54

You'd think that mosquitoes wouldn't like drought, but that's not what's happening in California, where stagnant water breeds more mosquitoes. Cases of West Nile virus have doubled since last year.

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Your Wallet: Redesigning student financial aid

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-22 09:18

According to the Federal Reserve, total student loan debt in the country has recently surpassed $1 billion:

The effects of student loans pop up throughout the economy: housing is out of reach for many, and even social security can be affected.

So, how would YOU re-create financial aid, if you could? Would you require work-study programs to bring down the cost of college while in school? A greater number of programs that cover student debt after you graduate?

Let us know on Twitter or email us, we'd love to hear your ideas.

Massive Volcanic Eruption Is Making Iceland Grow

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-22 09:05

The eruption has been going for weeks. So far it hasn't been catastrophic, but it has been creating new ground.

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3 Afghan Army Officers, Who Had Gone Missing, Detained At Canadian Border

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-22 08:22

The men are described as senior Afghan army officers who were vetted before being allowed to participate in training exercises. They are not considered a threat, officials say.

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Dr. Daniel Bausch Knows The Ebola Virus All Too Well

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-22 07:36

Can you catch it from sweat on a cab seat? Will blood transfusions help? Who really wants to go to Africa and pitch in? Is it too late? A leading virologist answers burning questions about Ebola.

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Largest Of Calif. Wildfires Destroys 10 Homes, Other Structures

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-22 07:16

More than 5,500 firefighters are battling the so-called King Fire in the Sierra Nevada forest area. Some 2,800 people have been evacuated.

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Hillary Exhilaration Helps Energize Generation Z

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-22 07:11

Many young people are excited about the 2016 presidential election — and the chance to make history.

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When private investors, not taxpayers, pay the toll

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-22 07:00

Nine years ago, Indiana's then-Governor Mitch Daniels was looking for money to improve the state's roads and bridges. His solution was a public-private partnership in which the Indiana Toll Road Company leased a 157-mile stretch of highway in northern Indiana for 75 years to the tune of $3.8 billion. The deal was supposed to benefit both the state, and the company, a Spanish-Australian partnership.

“The private partners would receive tolls that were paid by motorists and the state would receive a better, improved road and this upfront cash payment,” said Robert Puentes, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. When the recession hit, Americans started driving less, and tolls became less lucrative. And while that became a problem for the Indiana Toll Road Company, the partnership meant that taxpayers weren’t on the hook.

“There's no taxpayer bailout involved in this in any way, shape or form,” said Robert Poole, director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation. “This is one of the advantages of these long-term deals. They shift the risk from the taxpayers to the investors.”

And, despite what’s happening in Indiana, investor interest in these types of projects hasn’t flagged, says Poole, who points to similar toll-road deals currently underway in Orlando, Dallas-Forth Worth, and northern Virginia.

The numbers for September 22, 2014

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-22 05:49

In New York Monday morning, everyone is talking about climate change. Thousands of protesters marched to promote awareness and action; the Rockefellers, who made their fortune in oil, announced their $860 million charity will divest from fossil fuels and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a 10-year, $1 billion-dollar plan to cut the city's greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050. All of this is timed with the climate summit convening at the UN Tuesday.

So everyone's talking about the environment this morning — including us — but we're reading some other stuff, too. Let's take a look at those numbers:

10 million

Apple sold more than 10 million iPhone 6 and 6 Plus devices since Friday, beating the first-weekend sales of the iPhone 5, CNET reported. Apple also upsold more people on pricier models with more storage than it has in past years, one analyst told Business Insider. Apple makes 70 percent of its profits from the iPhone, and that flash storage is high-margin. Overall, it's a good day for Apple and a bad day for the millions of women trying to fit those bigger iPhones in their pockets.

2008

That's when Home Depot reportedly got the first warnings they might have a cyber-security problem, about six years before 56 million cardholders' information would be stolen in a massive data breach. Former network security employees told the New York Times that Home Depot was lax about security, using outdated antivirus software and failing to regularly scan for vulnerabilities.

14.7 percent

The nationwide three-year default rate on student loans in 2013, this year's numbers are expected Monday. Schools exceeding a 30 percent default rate three years in a row or 40 percent in a single year can lose federal funding, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported, and this year the department of education has changed its criterion from a two-year default rate to the ostensibly more accurate three-year rate. The default rate is on the rise, and one department of education official told the Chronicle as many as two to three dozen schools could lose federal aid.

2/15/14

In case you missed it, that's the day the Baltimore Ravens front office reportedly first learned what was on a security camera tape from inside the casino elevator where former running back Ray Rice knocked out his then-fiance. According to an ESPN investigation published late Friday afternoon, Ravens higher-ups pushed for leniency from both prosecutors and the NFL as they tried to keep the tape — which became public two weeks ago — under wraps.

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