National News

2 Dead After Driver Hits Them At SXSW Festival

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 23:59

Police in Austin, Texas, say a man and a woman have been killed after a drunk driver crashed through barricades set up for the South By Southwest festival.

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Who's The Best In College Basketball? Let's Look At The Numbers

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 23:40

"Nobody really compares" to Alan Williams number-wise, a statistician says. But the starting center for University of California, Santa Barbara, isn't widely expected to be named Player of the Year.

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Amazon, Apple want a piece of the TV set top box

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-12 23:39

You’ve heard of Roku - the little box you attach to your television to stream TV shows, movies and music. There’s also Apple's TV, its set-top box. And the word is Amazon is going to release one any day too.  

Why? Well, if you want to watch Amazon Prime’s streaming videos you can go to their website or download an app. But for most people, there’s no straightforward way to get Amazon Prime onto your TV. Kevin Klowden, an economist with the Milken Institute, says that’s a problem.

"The best screen that somebody’s going to have in their home is the TV screen," he says. 

And Amazon wants to be on that screen. The set-top box gives it direct access and once it’s there, it can sell you other goods too. Word is Google is also going to introduce a set-top box and they might start selling video games. 

For years, the tech industry’s talked about the impending fall of the TV. And so the set-top box, well, it seems sort of old-fashioned. But Susan Etlinger, an analyst at Altimeter group, says most of America hasn’t got the memo.

"People are kind of stubborn, we love our TVs," she  says.  

Etlinger says that while cable companies know what you like to watch on TV, tech companies are running blind. And so the new mantra is, if you can’t beat it, join it to a set-top box.

One Year Later, 'A Pope For All' Keeps Catholics Guessing

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 23:38

Following two doctrinally conservative leaders, Pope Francis' pastoral approach in his first year has given the Catholic Church a new glow. But it's still unclear where he intends to take the church.

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Hitching A Ride On The World's Biggest Cargo Ship

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 23:36

Launched in August, the Maersk McKinney Moller is the first of a new class of megaships. It's 20 stories high and a quarter-mile long. NPR's Jackie Northam hopped on board in Poland.

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3 Dead After Pileups On Snowy Ohio Turnpike

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 22:20

Pileups on the Ohio Turnpike involving at least 50 vehicles killed three people and seriously injured a state trooper on Wednesday as a late-winter storm swept through the Midwest and the Northeast.

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Neil Young: Good music is like an amazing drug

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-12 21:42

Neil Young's new music player focuses on high quality digital files, Pono, and seems on the surface like a dubious idea. In the age of smartphones as the ultimate mobile computing device, building something that looks like a weird cross between a Zune and an iPod seems like an old idea.

But now that we've got that skepticism out of the way, it's worth noting the PonoMusic Kickstarter project started on Tuesday has raised over $2 million dollars--breaking records for speedy funding on the site. Also, the players actually do sound really good. That's the goal for Young, who has said that even if Pono doesn't succeed, merely offering an alternative to our compressed, degraded MP3 world.

Good music, says the Canadian musician, is still something people love. And if young people heard it the way musicians meant for it to be heard, then Young thinks they might go for it.

"It's like an amazing drug, that once you have it, you have to have more," says Young. "That's the way real, good-sounding music is." 

The question is, will earbud-toting mellenials will even know the difference. Or if I can tell, for that matter. And the answer remains to be seen. But Young believes in it enough to work on it for several years, and this is the result. If the kickstarter is any indication, Young is not alone. Listening to the player through earbuds and through a stereo at Pono's demo location in South Austin, you can almost imagine vinyl lovers of all ages picking it up. 

 

Caffeine: America's addictive drug of choice

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-12 15:58

There’s a good chance that, while you’re reading this, you’re "under the influence of a drug." And "it’s completely legal, it’s completely socially acceptable, most Americans take this drug daily, even most adolescents take the drug daily, in smaller doses," says Murray Carpenter, author of  “Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks us.

The drug is, of course, caffeine. It’s most often associated with coffee, but you can find caffeine in tea, soda pop, chocolate, and, of course, energy drinks.

From the coffee counter in back, to walls lined with coolers full of sodas, to the five-hour energy shots crammed near the cash register, "Corner stores are monuments to our lust for caffeine," says Carpenter.

The soft drink industry is a $70 billion industry  and Carpenter estimates that coffee is another $30 billion.

“It’s a huge business,” he says.

And that’s because the effect caffeine has on us isn’t too different from nicotine. We reach for a daily cup of coffee or can of soda because we’re addicted.

“I think that they consistently downplay the importance of caffeine in their products, in terms of how appealing it makes the products to the consumer.”
 
While the Food and Drug Administration is investigating the effects of caffeine -- and the trend of adding caffeine to foods not normally associated with caffeine (like gum) -- even Carpenter says he still reaches for a daily up of caffeinated coffee: “I’m not crazy about decaf.”

Judge Throws Out Charges Against Indian Diplomat

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 15:20

A federal judge said Devyani Khobragade enjoys diplomatic immunity. Her case sparked a diplomatic row between India and the U.S.

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Tips for landing a new job inside your company

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-12 14:50

The economy might not be firing on all cylinders, but it is adding jobs. So what’s the best strategy for people who are employed and looking for something better in their own company? Internal candidates often have an advantage, but being an insider can sometimes prove a double-edged sword: You know the terrain, but everyone else knows your baggage.

Here are a few pieces of advice from Beth Kelly, managing partner of HR Collaborative in Michigan, and Thomas Kochan of MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

Think about projects or assignments you’ve had in the past that would be good predictors for the new job you want. Beth Kelly says internal candidates are sometimes typecast as the accounting clerk or the receptionist. It can be hard to break out of those roles and convince the hiring manager you can also be a marketing specialist. Having concrete examples of your potential can help.

If your only route into a company is as temporary employee, treat that temp job like it’s the most important job you’ve had. In some fields, like manufacturing, temporary work has increasingly become the path to employment. Beth Kelly calls it a 90-day interview. Contingent hiring may be unsettling, but Kelly advises you to seize the opportunity and show what a team player you are.

If you trust your current boss, tell them you’re thinking about a job switch right away. If there’s not a trusting relationship, it’s different. Ask the manager to whom you’re applying for a job to tell you before speaking to your current supervisor. Having an open conversation with a trusted boss can open up opportunities. Thomas Kochan also encourages internal candidates who don’t get the new job to seek honest feedback on how to prepare for the next opening.

Apply for the job. Yes, it might be uncomfortable. But Thomas Kochan says many potential internal candidates who talk themselves out of applying for jobs later regret it.

The final push for Affordable Care Act signups

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-12 14:43

If you haven't signed up for health insurance by March 31, you'll likely face a penalty. 

The thing is, a lot of the uninsured don’t seem to know that the deadline is March 31.  Kantar Media says  insurance companies are now devoting almost half of all their ad spending to commercials with a health reform theme. 

Insurers are also giving financial support to some grassroots groups, like Enroll America.  It's organizing 3,000 enrollment events just in March aimed at getting people to sign up on one of the healthcare exchanges. The Service Employees International Union is also spreading the word, going door to door and making phone calls. "So far we’ve had 274,000 direct conversations but we want to pump that number up,” says SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry.

Both groups are focusing on states like Texas and Florida, which aren’t too keen on the Affordable Care Act but have lots of uninsured residents. 

New Jersey Judge Rules Women Can Keep Fathers Out Of Delivery Room

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 14:09

Basing his opinion on two landmark abortion cases, the judge said a woman has a stronger right over her body and her unborn child than the father. This is likely one of the first rulings of its kind.

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Twitter invites writers to think beyond 140 characters

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-12 13:52

What's the pay-off for writers to keep sharing online? Twitter and publishers say the answer is simple: The social platform offers access to new audiences and book buyers. 

Twitter, the Association of American Publishers (AAP), and Penguin Random House (the publishing company that merged in mid-2013) organized a writing competition and a series of in-person and online events for writers. #TwitterFiction Festival, running March 12-16, includes formal talks and informal chats with a logophile cornucopia: published writers, young and old writers, unpublished but professional writers, famous writers who aren’t writing as much anymore, and the “new” and undiscovered writer.

In fact, #TwitterFiction is not really about any specific genre of storytelling. The organizers even included a category for non-fiction submissions, making the event more about writing andwriters, than the actual genre of fiction. #TwitterFiction isn’t really about Twitter itself, either, although it’s certainly not about the writing on Facebook walls.

Twitter emphasizes new writing styles the social network is known to appreciate and promote:  

“We encourage writers to use Twitter in a variety of ways — everything from connecting with their readers to experiments with new forms of narrative. Twitter is even a great way for writers to play with visual narratives in real time. We ask them to be experimental - taking the art of storytelling and character-creation and using Twitter to bring it to life. Twitter is a wide open frontier for creative experimentation with a built-in global audience of millions and we encourage writers to take advantage of that.” - Andrew Fitzgerald, media partnerships at Twitter

The event’s website offers a creative tweet generator, which is a great Mad Libs for the 140-character set.

And answering the question of what the event isn’t (an event about Twitter or fiction or meeting new people in-person) reveals what it is: an attempt by a more traditional industry to meet the demands of the social media age by mimicking its personality.

Twitter wants to be form-friendly

It’s perhaps not a surprise that social media is a willing participant in a project that allows it to counter criticisms that Twitter is killing the English language. It also makes sense for Twitter to find creative ways to help content creators feel comfortable using the network as a publishing and promotional tool.

I tweet that I have a book, that I like a book, that I like your book… and all of a sudden I am hooked to a regular stream of information. Twitter is looking for new sources of revenue, and the more active users of its technology the better, if only from a purely fiscal point of view.

No one will check your follower count if you tweet away at #TwitterFiction, publishers aren’t treating it like the last pitch they will ever take from you, and writers have embraced the opportunity to do what they love best. However, this unique collaboration doesn’t mean there aren’t high stakes.

Twitter is a publishing and a promotional platform, to be sure -- but is it a marketplace where creative content, such as works of fiction, can be sold and bought?

And how does the supply-side (the authors and the publishers) see Twitter? Mostly as a way to reach the demand side (readers). Authors want to be read, and Twitter gives them instant gratification, in a sense. I asked Twitter what they think writers gain from using the network and attending such events:

“#TwitterFiction is a great way for writers to challenge themselves with a new genre or new technique. It’s also really beneficial to writers because Twitter makes for such an interesting stage: authors are essentially performing their work in front of a live, global audience. Twitter Fiction offers something traditional writing does not, as the possibility for creative storytelling are endless.” - Andrew Fitzgerald, Twitter

Soft-selling books on social media

Author and non-fiction #TwitterFiction contest winner Adam Popescu, 29,  says at first he was concerned that sharing an entire chapter of his (as-of-yet unpublished) book about a trip to the base of Mount Everest would result in a net loss. Popescu (who has worked on contract for Marketplace) was surprised to see his following increase by 700 people on the popular community site Wattpad after he published the chapter. 

When asked if he ever reached out directly on Twitter to publisher accounts (@-replying or @-mentioning publishers to get their attention), Popescu said that using Twitter is a delicate balance for writers. Using the platform without spending time to understand or engage in the reader community is “the equivalent of making a joke on a public stage, and then pointing to someone in the fourth row to ask if they got it,” Popescu noted.

Authors: Tweet to @MarketplaceAPM and tell us if you’ve successfully reached out to publishers online.

Petru Popescu, 70, who is both Adam’s father and a successfully published author himself, sits apart from his son -- on the suspicious-of-sharing-content-online camp, so I asked him what he thought about his son’s success writing both short and long form online:

“[On Twitter] you can't be long winded AT ALL, your readers don't look for rhetoric effect/intellectual complication; you have to have a voice, EVEN TWEETING, actually more so, because the space is so limited. The first person narrative, the ultra direct engaging of readers, those are writing ways of great value.” - Petru Popescu

UPDATE: We received comments on #TwitterFiction from Emma Straub, author of The Vacationers, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, and Other People We Married, on how she approaches Twitter for writers. Straub highlights the community on Twitter which she is able to see and particpate in: 

"Before I had a baby, Twitter was my pretend office, a place I could go to talk about cheese and television and books and my cats. Nowadays I use it more sleepily, as a late night companion, an insomniac friend. I know lots of writers find Twitter too distracting, but I really love being able to dip in and out and see what people are up to. Maybe that doesn't answer your question. I suppose that what I gain (as a writer) is a conversation. Some writers like to hide in their garrets, but I'm not one of those. I'm an extrovert in an introvert's universe, and Twitter is a bubbly, chatty place for the likes of me. 

"There are very few writers who I think use Twitter really well--that is, writers who are clearly having fun playing with the form itself. Teju Cole, Gary Shytengart, Colson Whitehead. Poets are often good, practiced as they are in pithiness. Standalone tweets, be they funny or wry or sarcastic or what have you, are the best. And, of course, the key to writing while using the platform is to turn it off." - Emma Straub, author

 

If Twitter builds it, they should come

Publishers, too, see Twitter’s short form style as a good way to introduce a soft sell. The bird du jour has won the favorable participation of well-heeled publication houses, which have a continual influx of submissions using traditional means.

In explaining its participation, Penguin Random House focused on the use of reader engagement on Twitter:

“Penguin Random House believes that social media is an excellent way for publishers and authors to connect with readers. There is an active and enthusiastic community of book lovers on Twitter who are very engaged in the conversation about books and reading.” - Christine McNamara, Vice President and Director of Partnerships at Random House

On making Twitter a friendly place for book buyers:

“We have seen tremendous interaction on Twitter through the various accounts and dialogs we participate in. It’s our experience that the conversation surrounding books on Twitter is diverse, smart, dynamic, and constant. Innovative events like the TwitterFiction Festival provide a wonderful opportunity for celebrating storytelling in its myriad forms and engaging with readers all over the world. We are proud to be one of the supporters for this great celebration of storytelling.” -  McNamara, Random House

AAP on its members, publishers, and authors/writers (a list of their featured participants at #TwitterFiction):

“The publishers who are our member organizations are committed to promoting the joy of reading and improving literacy. We get involved in a number of such initiatives supporting that mission and this fit perfectly. ...We welcome opportunities that showcase authors, writers and the expertise required in compelling storytelling.” - Andi Sporkin, AAP

#TwitterFiction shows the strength of Twitter’s user base and access to readers, the demand-side of the social platform. If Twitter can pull off becoming a platform for buying and selling, one suspects it could attempt the same with other media, too: news, photography, film, oil paintings, clothing… the list goes on.

Publishers are reaching out to readers. Authors are reaching out to readers. Twitter is helping the industry to showcase its work in all forms. The market is set for selling success. The only unknown is whether writers and authors-to-be will continue to share online. Concerns still exist, and publishers do not appear to be using social media to open up the field for writers. 

As long as Twitter and publishers keep trying, writers should take note: the readers are out there, tweeting, and reading. 

Now you can buy solar power (of a sort) at Best Buy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-12 13:45

Of all the things you can put in your cart at Best Buy, you probably didn’t think solar power for your home was one of them.

But that’s exactly what SolarCity CEO, Lyndon Rive, hopes you’ll do. His company just announced a partnership with Best Buy that he hopes will jump start the use of solar energy to power residential homes.

But Rive says this program isn’t just about buying the panels: "We install the equipment, we then sell you the electrons from the solar system.”

Most consumers say, from a poll the company conducted earlier this year that going green isn’t as important as paying less. Rive says he thinks customers will pay 10 to 12 percent less for their power than what they’d pay their utility company.

Rive says he thinks Best Buy is the best place to sell solar panels.

“When you go to Best Buy, the majority of the products you’re buying consume electricity. And what better to have a product to address that energy consumption with solar?”

Don't tase me, drone

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-12 13:36

This final note in which we've seen the future and it tases you from the air. There's a company that makes drones showing its wares down at SXSW, in Austin, Texas.

Drones with tasers on them. And, of course, they had to demonstrate their product. So they got an intern to volunteer to be zapped by the thing.

It's called the Chaotic Unmanned Personal Intercept Drone.

The company's slogan for the drone: "Amazon delivers packages. We deliver 80,000 volts of awesome."

It should be noted that the company says: "Chaotic Moon built CUPID to raise awareness of technology that's outpacing everything from regulatory agencies to social norms. We have no plans to develop drone type or commercialize this in any way."

Foul Weather Begets Foul Moods Online

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 13:12

Bad moods — and good ones — can infect social networks at the speed of a keyboard click, according to researchers who gauged the effect of a rainy day on the emotional spin of Facebook posts.

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Health Care Law Helps Entrepreneurs Quit Their Day Jobs

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 12:59

Employer-provided health care can deter people from leaving their jobs to start their own businesses. Analysts say Obamacare could alleviate so-called entrepreneur lock.

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Senate Panel Clears Ukraine Aid Package

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 12:54

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the bill, which now goes to the full Senate for a vote. The House has its own version.

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How A Series Of Mistakes Hobbled Minnesota's Health Exchange

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 12:06

The difficulty states have had getting their marketplaces working has been one of the biggest setbacks for Obamacare. Miscommunication, technology failures and management errors all hit in Minnesota.

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We're losing the man versus machine battle

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-03-12 12:00

It was supposed to be the next chapter in the struggle of man versus machine. In what sounded like the premise of a startup fever dream, KUKA, a German robotics company, pitted their ping pong playing robot against German champion Timo Boll. Would humankind reign victorious, or would KUKA's machine crush the dreams of rec room wunderkinder everywhere?

Boll ended up winning...sort of.

It's pretty clear from watching the final product - as well as this behind the scenes video - KUKA did in fact build a robot that could play ping pong, they just had no intention of actually testing its ability against a human. Instead, they produced a terminator-esque tribute to man's ability to overcome the machine. Those anticipating the game were disappointed. Some called out the robot company for misleading advertising, while others called the match a "glorified commercial."

Clearly, people were looking forward to seeing how someone at the top of their field would fare against a machine designed to be better than the best. It's a tale as old as (computer) time. So how has humankind fared in the past when matched up against their robot foes? Let's get this robocage match underway.

Chess is considered the ultimate game of strategy, so what better arena to test a battle of wits. The first reported instance of a computer defeating a human happened in 1956, when a program called MANIAC was able to best a novice player. Though the development of the technology would continue to be tested throughout the next couple of years, it was in 1997 that robot-human matches garnered mass attention in the pairing of World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov against IBM's supercomputer Deep Blue.

Spoiler alert: Kasparaov lost. Though the chess playing computer craze hit fever pitch in 1997, advancements in programming continue to be developed. In 2009, a chess program running on a mobile phone was able to reach the grandmaster level of chess at an international tournament in Spain. At least we have computers beat on sportsmanship

Robots - 1, Humans - 0

It only gets more depressing from here on out. Olympian Ussain Bolt holds the record for the fastest human being in the world, with an average running speed of 23.35 miles per hour. Robotics company Boston Dynamics, however, has him beat.

With a speed of 28.3 miles per hour, the Cheetah Robot edges out the world record holder. Even at his fastest, Bolt runs at 27.44 miles per hour, giving robots another win.

Robots - 2, Humans - 0

There's no need to beat a dead horsebot. We all know how IBM's Watson did in its two day appearance on Jeopardy. That didn't stop Alex Trebec from getting in a dig at Watson's expense in the first couple minutes of the supercomputer's appearance on the tv quiz show. Watson got back at him by thoroughly defeating his human competitors by a margin of $23,213. That's cold, Watson.

Robots - 3, Humans - 0

It's pretty obvious that we're losing the battle. Robots are getting more and more advanced, while the human body can only do so much. So why did people get so angry when KUKA tried to score one for humankind by rigging the match? At the end of the day, people don't like to be lied to. That ping pong playing robot probably has us beat, fair and square.

 

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