National / International News

George Takei And Company To Hollywood Gatekeepers: Fix Your Diversity Problem

NPR News - 7 hours 22 min ago

A coalition of multi-ethnic Hollywood watchdogs are pushing talent agencies to add some color to their lineups.

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Anderson 'taken for granted' - Cook

BBC - 7 hours 29 min ago
Alastair Cook says England sometimes take James Anderson's bowling for granted, on the eve of the second Test against West Indies.

York travel to St Helens in Cup

BBC - 7 hours 35 min ago
York, the lowest-ranked team in the competition, will travel to St Helens in the sixth round of the Challenge Cup.

For streaming sites, playlists still need human touch

About half a dozen people circle a large conference room in Google’s New York office, reviewing a series of color-coded spreadsheets projected a wall behind them.

“Let’s jump into some stations,” says Peter Asbill, who oversees editorial for Google Play Music after the company acquired his music start-up, Songza, last summer.

“These are all of the playlists that we have, all of the stations, within working-out experience right now,” Asbill says.

There are currently 86 different “work-out” playlists, each one made and revised by human beings. The process is reminiscent of the days of when music fans might have carefully crafted a mixed cassette tape or CD for a friend or crush. In today’s digital music world an increasing number of music streaming sites want listeners to outsource those playlist-making responsibilities to them, competing for the ever-increasing time consumers spend with earbuds in their ears.

But perhaps surprisingly in this digital age, even when playlists go corporate, human beings are still key to their success.

For Asbill, the key difference between yesterday and today’s process is data. The group focuses on their “Performance-Enhancing Pop” playlist. Data collected from users shows that the playlist gets selected frequently, but its “satisfaction score, a proprietary score that’s a mix of skips and thumbs up, thumbs down, and listening time,” is just okay.

The worst preforming song on the playlist is "Honey," by Mariah Carey, which the group decides is likely too slow compared with others on the list. A Kenny Loggins song also isn’t preforming well. While its tempo is faster, the team thinks it’s stylistically out of place with other, more popular songs, like Lady Gaga’s "Just Dance."

In the end, the consenus is that Kenny and Mariah should probably be cut from this mix, along with Britney Spears, “I’m a Slave 4 U,” which the group thinks should moved to their “Sexy Sweaty Workout” list.

But why is this human touch necessary in 2015? Why not take this data and let machines and algorithms do this work? Google Play Music does use algorithms when people want to pick an artist or song and have site suggest similar music, but Asbill says playlists made by humans can be creative, funny, or unique to a specific situation, activity or feeling.

“It always requires further investigation,” he says. “If it’s a new song, is it too early so that not enough people know about it and like it yet and will it do better over time? Is it a song that’s a great song, it’s just on the wrong playlist, or have we given the playlist the wrong title so that we’re not setting up people’s expectations for what they hear on the other end?”

Pandora, an early entry into music streaming, also relies people for its music curation, but in a very different way from Google. Both sites use algorithms to create a playlists based off a song or artist the listener chooses. However unlike Google, which has machines analyze those songs, Pandora uses people.

“It really takes a human,” says Steve Hogan, Pandora’s music operations manager. “For example, a human can listen to a song and pick out there’s a trumpet, there’s an acoustic bass. This is something the human ear can do in a fraction of a second.”

A team of roughly 30 people, most of them active musicians, analyze 10,000 songs a month, tagging 200 to 400 traits for each song, answering questions like, "how much does the electric guitar dominate this song?"

“That would be on a five-point scale,” Hogan explains. “Beyond that, we want to know, 'how much distortion effect is on that guitar on a five-point scale? What is that guitar doing, how much of it is strummed rhythm guitar?'”

The algorithms then draw on those descriptions and tags to build playlists of similar songs for listeners. In other words, machines offer scale for Pandora, but it’s humans who bring the quality. 

Student dies taking 'online diet pills'

BBC - 7 hours 45 min ago
A student dies after taking suspected diet pills bought online, police reveal.

Iran Charges 'Washington Post' Reporter With Espionage

NPR News - 7 hours 46 min ago

Jason Rezaian's lawyer says he has been charged with four serious crimes. The Washington Post's Tehran bureau chief has been detained for nine months and held in the notorious Evin prison.

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A start-up is creating t-shirt tycoons

$5 million

That's how much one small store on Chicago's south side sold in lottery tickets last year. Lucky Mart used to be a convenience store, but after selling a ticket that won big, the shop rebranded and now sells lottery tickets almost exclusively. At the time our reporter visited the store, officials came by with a plaque naming Lucky Mart the top-grossing location for the Illinois state lottery.

7 million

That's how many shirts TeeSpring sold last year, raking in about $100 million, Bloomberg reported. The start-up is a platform for designing, buying and selling t-shirts, taking care of production, shipping, customer service and the like. The site makes more than half of its sales through targeted ads on social media, and its birthed a group of t-shirt entrepreneurs, some of whom make more than $1 million with their designs. 

7,072,000 tons

That's how much electronic waste the U.S. generated last year, much of it from large appliances, according to a new report from United Nations University. The U.S. outstrips other countries' e-waste, the BBC reported, leaving thousands of tons of valuable recyclable materials like copper in landfills.

90 percent off

That's the hook for one of airline JetBlue's many "flash sales," wherein a business offers deep discounts for a very short time. Marketplace Weekend looked into how companies leverage these eye-popping deals — which often run at a loss — for publicity, and how consumers can best take advantage of them before time runs out.

The 'quiet mouse' making a big noise

BBC - 7 hours 55 min ago
Just how has Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe been named Football League manager of the decade after only six years in the job?

Mr. Toilet And Mr. Condom Think Jokes Will Save The World

NPR News - 7 hours 57 min ago

Potty humor! A condom in a key chain with the slogan: "Weapon of mass protection." The goal is to use laughter to change attitudes. And there's even a study to prove that it works.

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FBI Chief's Comments Linking Poland To Holocaust Draw Angry Response

NPR News - 8 hours 4 min ago

In a speech last week, James Comey appeared to suggest that Poles had been complicit in the Holocaust. Polish leaders, who have long recoiled at that assertion, demanded an apology.

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Greece asks public agencies for cash

BBC - 8 hours 16 min ago
The Greek government asks public sector bodies to hand over any reserve cash to help it meet a payment due to the International Monetary Fund.

Balls would be 'excellent chancellor'

BBC - 8 hours 16 min ago
Labour leader Ed Miliband says Ed Balls "would make an excellent chancellor" if his party wins the general election.

'Syria-bound' family held in Turkey

BBC - 8 hours 21 min ago
A British couple believed to be en route to Syria with their four children are being held in Turkey, a government official tells the BBC.

Russian forces 'kill top jihadist'

BBC - 8 hours 27 min ago
Russia says its special forces have killed a North Caucasus jihadist leader in a shoot-out in Dagestan.

Tim Tebow Will Reportedly Return To NFL With Philadelphia Eagles

NPR News - 8 hours 27 min ago

It would be the former Heisman winner's fourth NFL team. The New York Jets released Tebow in the spring of 2013; later that same year, he was cut by the New England Patriots.

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Man injured as building collapses

BBC - 8 hours 30 min ago
A man is injured after a building in central London collapses.

'Spy charge' for US reporter in Iran

BBC - 8 hours 43 min ago
Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, who was detained nine months ago in Iran, is facing four charges including espionage, his lawyer says.

Japan, U.S. 'Close' To Major Deal

NPR News - 8 hours 48 min ago

A 12-country trade agreement hinges on negotiations between Japan and the United States.

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VIDEO: SNP manifesto on campaign day 22

BBC - 8 hours 49 min ago
The SNP launched its manifesto, other parties launched posters and manifestos too and the deadline to register to vote is tonight.

Stab victim closes police station

BBC - 8 hours 53 min ago
Swansea central police station is closed after the victim of a stabbing sought shelter from his attackers inside.

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