National / International News

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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Murray knocked out at Indian Wells

BBC - Wed, 2014-03-12 14:02
Milos Raonic knocks out British number one Andy Murray in the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.

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12-16, includes formal talks and informal chats with a logophile cornucopia: published writers, young and old writers, unpublished but professional writers, famous writers who aren’t writing as much anymore, and the “new” and undiscovered writer.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?”

VIDEO: Syria: Collective failure of century

BBC - Wed, 2014-03-12 13:44
David Miliband has described the international response to the crisis in Syria as the "defining collective failure of this century".

Rangers 3-0 Airdrieonians

BBC - Wed, 2014-03-12 13:41
Lee McCulloch nets a first-half hat-trick as Rangers ease to victory over Airdrieonians to clinch the League One title.

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."

Italy PM proposes sweeping tax cuts

BBC - Wed, 2014-03-12 13:33
Italy's new Prime Minister Matteo Renzi proposes a sweeping package of tax cuts, in a bid to revive the country's economy.

HIV protection gel 'a step closer'

BBC - Wed, 2014-03-12 13:12
A gel that can be applied by women after sex to protect against HIV is a step closer, following animal studies, research suggests.

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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US launches Herbalife investigation

BBC - Wed, 2014-03-12 12:48
US regulators launch an investigation into nutrition and weight-loss firm Herbalife, following allegations it has been operating a 'pyramid scheme'.

Missing plane: Last message revealed

BBC - Wed, 2014-03-12 12:29
Malaysia says the last message from a Malaysia Airlines plane suggests everything was normal on board before it vanished over the South China Sea.

Third horse dies at Cheltenham

BBC - Wed, 2014-03-12 12:25
Akdam and Stack The Deck are put down after suffering injuries and jockey Bryan Cooper breaks a leg on day two of Cheltenham.

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.


Ruling On Gay Juror May Cause Ripples In Same-Sex Marriage Cases

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 12:00

In a dispute involving two drugmakers, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an attorney can't dismiss a potential juror because of that juror's sexual orientation.

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FTC Investigates Herbalife, Following Claims It's A Pyramid Scheme

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 12:00

Herbalife shares dropped on news the Federal Trade Commission is investigating the company. After shorting Herbalife's stock, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman's been lobbying politicians to investigate.

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Obama Rolls Out White House Welcome Mat For Ukrainian Prime Minister

NPR News - Wed, 2014-03-12 12:00

Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is visiting the White House Wednesday. The meeting comes days before a vote in Crimea over whether to secede from Ukraine.

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