National / International News

Boko Haram fighters 'surrender'

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:18
Hundreds of fighters in Nigeria-based Islamic militant group Boko Haram have surrendered after heavy losses against the army, the country's military spokesman says.

More to Europe than McIlroy in ultimate team game

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:13
Rory McIlroy is eager to promote the strength of Europe's team, a strength that could show in the Ryder Cup singles on Sunday.

More unmarried Americans, thanks to economic woes

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:12

The number of American's who've always been single and plan never to marry is at an all time high, according to the Pew Research Center.

On the theory that having a job is an important feature in a future spouse, here's the slice of the data that makes it a Marketplace thing: Fifty years ago there were 139 single young men with jobs for every 100 single young women.

Now, there are 91 single men with jobs for every 100 single women.

Wal-Mart: From 'low prices' to fast banking

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:11

Is there anything Wal-Mart doesn’t want to sell you? The country’s biggest retailer has announced it will offer low-cost checking accounts to anybody 18 and older.

Wal-Mart is partnering with Green Dot, best known for prepaid debit cards.  Wal-Mart says many of its customers are looking for an alternative to high fees at traditional banks.  

“GoBank” is a mobile checking account with no overdraft fees, no bounced check fees and no minimum balance requirement. Wal-Mart has tried to obtain a banking license but bank regulators have rejected the idea. 

Mike Moebs, CEO of the economic research firm Moebs Services, says by partnering with a bank like Green Dot, Wal-Mart can still get a slice of that business.  “Wal-Mart has already done this with check cashing and with money orders and with money transfers and they’ve done it very, very successfully,” says Moebs.

 Moebs expects Wal-Mart to get a cut of the so-called “swipe fee” every time a customer uses GoBank’s debit card. Wal-Mart declined to comment on its financial arrangement with Green Dot.

It does say it’ll be quick to sign up for an account. Daniel Eckert, Wal-Mart vice president of financial services, says customers can literally sign up with a smartphone app “in the parking lot.”  Apparently that “always low prices” thing is now also “always fast banking.” 

Manchester City 7-0 Sheffield Wednesday

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:10
Manchester City score seven second-half goals to start their League Cup defence with an easy win over Sheffield Wednesday.

Shifting Stance, Some GOP Candidates Back State Minimum Wage Hikes

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 13:01

As free-market conservatives, Republicans are philosophically opposed to raising the minimum wage. But a handful in tight races are having second thoughts.

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Air France offers to scrap expansion

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-24 12:35
Air France offers to scrap plans to expand its Transavia low-cost airline in Europe, in return for striking pilots returning to work immediately.

Last Mitford sister dies at 94

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-24 12:32
Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, and the last surviving Mitford sister, has died at the age of 94.

Dems Probably Won't Take The House, So Why Are They Raising So Much?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 12:26

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is millions of dollars ahead of the Republicans in fundraising, especially among the small-donor faithful.

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#Gamergate Controversy Fuels Debate On Women And Video Games

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 12:26

A debate has flared surrounding ethics in video game journalism and the role and treatment of women in the video game industry. Attacks online have turned heated, vicious and ugly.

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Remembering Christopher Hogwood, An Evangelist For Early Music

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 12:07

The English conductor, keyboard player and musicologist died today at age 73. He used modern scholarship and keen musicianship to bring new life to works by Handel and Bach, Mozart and Haydn.

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Man charged over Iraq roadside bombs

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-24 11:59
A 37-year-old man from north-west London is charged with conspiring to murder coalition forces in Iraq.

U.N. Security Council Unanimously Passes Anti-Terrorism Resolution

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 11:45

The measure targets travel of militants abroad as well as recruiting and funding for extremist groups. It was adopted at a meeting chaired by President Obama.

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Grieving But Grateful, Ebola Survivors In Liberia Give Back

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 11:44

After living through their own nightmares, Ebola survivors are still mourning the loss of their loved ones. But they're giving back by working at the treatment centers and caring for children.

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Cribbing from the Netflix playbook

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-09-24 11:30

Netflix dominates streaming media in a lot of ways. It has 50 million subscribers, some well-regarded original series, enough clout to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Comcast and Verizon and it accounts for a jaw-dropping 34 percent of web traffic. 

Netflix may have a virtual monopoly, but there are plenty of competitors lining up. Amazon, Hulu, Playstation Network, Xbox, Yahoo and others are all throwing around a lot of money to break into original programming.

"The problem is, at a certain point there's going to be too many of these services and they're not going to be able to sustain themselves," television critic Alan Sepinwall says.

An expensive cable bundle helps all channels subsidize each other, he says, but "there's no equivalent of that for streaming and I don't think there will be."

Here's the recipe Netflix's competitors are following to try and break in to this hot new market.

Step 1: Don't wait for the audience to find to you

How can people watch your shiny new original content if they don't know about your service? That's not really a problem for streaming-centric companies like Netflix and Hulu, but for other established brands it's a surprisingly tough nut to crack.

"Most of the time when I go to Amazon it's just listing 'Here are items you've viewed, maybe you should order those!'" Sepinwall said. "So you don't inherently think of Amazon as a streaming business. Whereas with Netflix, that's the only reason you go."

In fact, a study from earlier this year showed about a third of Amazon Prime customers have never used the video streaming service included in their membership.

Yahoo's Screen service has faced similar problems. At TechCrunch Disrupt, CEO Marissa Mayer noted that Yahoo! had produced 86 different series over the past year, "None of whom you've ever heard about because it was sort of a failed branding exercise."

Only "Burning Love" — a "Bachelor" parody with literally dozens of big names attached — got any traction, and Yahoo Screen kept lagging behind until it suddenly made headlines in July.

Step 2: Buy yourself some credibility

Cult hit "Community" had barely hung on at NBC over five seasons of firings, rehirings, behind the scenes drama, cast changes and sinking ratings before finally being cancelled. But "Community" was exactly what Yahoo needed.

"The more players there are, the more you need to do something big to sort of stand out and seem like you belong on that same playing field," says Vox culture editor Todd Vanderwerff. "I think a lot of this is just purchasing credibility."

It's the same reason Netflix resurrected Fox's "Arrested Development" last year. A niche flop on traditional TV could be a huge hit for a new company if the audience is willing to follow.

There are a few other ways to close the credibility gap too. Amazon paid through the nose this spring for the right to stream old HBO shows, and Hulu has built up a respectable catalog of foreign shows along with a just-announced Stephen King adaptation.

Step 3: Make a word-of-mouth hit (and stack the deck with a good gimmick)

It's tough to make a hit from scratch, but there are a couple ways to tip the odds.

Sepinwall points to "House of Cards." The show isn't that good, he says, but but gets by because it looks like a so-called prestige cable drama — the way it's shot, the anti-hero, the high-profile cast — and people like binge-watching it.

"I remember when "House of Cards" season one was released ... I would watch my Twitter feed and it turned into a race," he says. "Even if [the show] is not that great, but it has some sense of forward momentum, it becomes easy to go forward and you feel like [you're] on the ground floor of something special."

When the show's second season debuted on Netflix all at once, the explosion of social media conversation seemed to prove the show's success.  Netflix doesn't make its streaming numbers public, Sepinwall notes, so it's impossible to know how many people actually watched.

Amazon has turned to crowd-sourcing, letting subscribers see user-submitted pilots and vote on their favorites. The process has its flaws, both said, but after a few tries Amazon may have its first big hit in "Transparent," which will debut all at once Friday.

Step 4: Wait for the industry to shake out

Vanderwerff compared streaming to the early days of home video, predicting we'll see a lot of media companies come and go or change hands as the industry adjusts.

"I really think we're on the precipice of everyone in Hollywood trying to get in this game, and it's going to come down to the same companies you've always heard of."

The player to watch is HBO. Their streaming service is still bundled with cable, but when they break from that model and embrace streaming, Vanderwerff says, many more companies will follow.

Streaming services are still tied to traditional TV in other ways. They have no restrictions on time or content, but they don't stray far from what the networks are offering.

"There's no reason an episode has to be 30 or 60 minutes," Vanderwerff says. "That is an artificial constraint placed on us by the early gods of television that we have now evolved past, we just haven't realized it yet." 

The full possibilities of streaming TV — the niche ideas, the crowd-sourcing, the binging and more — might not come to fruition until the format has become more standardized, and that could take some mergers and acquisitions.

Obama sets out US leadership vision

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-24 11:27
US President Barack Obama has laid out a broad vision of American leadership in a changing world, in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Water seen on Neptune-sized planet

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-24 11:21
A cloud-free atmosphere reveals signs of water vapour on HAT-P-11b, the smallest planet beyond our Solar System ever to yield such an insight.

Research Institutions Will Have To Identify 'Dual-Use' Pathogens

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 11:11

Scientists are deeply divided on whether lab-made flu viruses are legitimate medical research or national security threats. A new federal policy asks institutions to evaluate those risks early on.

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Some iPhone 6 Plus Users Find An Unwanted Feature: It Bends

NPR News - Wed, 2014-09-24 10:47

Some owners of Apple's new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are discovering that their superslim glass and aluminum devices aren't holding up well in an environment that's usually safe: their pockets.

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Philippine rebels threaten hostages

BBC - Wed, 2014-09-24 10:44
A Philippines-based militant group, Abu Sayyaf, threatens to kill two German hostages it captured in April.