National / International News

10 facts about Bitcoin (before it gets boring)

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:46

You can now pay your Dish Network TV bill with Bitcoin.

Andy Schmidt, Research Director with CEB TowerGroup, says one of the biggest knocks against crypto-currencies is that so far they’ve mostly been used for one-time transactions, not standard recurring payments. But, he says, Dish's move to accept dull, normal everyday payments will get more people using these systems more and more often.

Before Bitcoin becomes totally boring, here are five of our favorites – the weirdest/best/most random things you can buy using cryptocurrency:

  1. Space! Billionaire Richard Branson now takes Bitcoin. So hop aboard a Virgin Galactic craft and shoot off into the starry skies in a shiny space rocket. Maybe you'll get lucky and get a seat next to the Winklevoss twins.
  2. Thank god! It's about time. Bitcoin now buys us Beef Jerky. Chew on that. 
  3. Do you really, really love Bitcoin? Make it official.  Let the world know how you feel by proclaiming your love for Bitcoin in permanent ink on your body
  4. Hiding from the Fed? Hacking the NSA? Now you can use Bitcoin to safeguard your privacy in the brick and mortar world by paying for vertical blind replacement slats!
  5. All this mining for coins is exhausing.  Don't you wish you had a squishy pillow nest to sink into after mining for Bitcoins all day? Now you do!  Thanks to Overstock.com you can pay for your new sectional sofa with Bitcoins!

Five alternatives to Bitcoin
If the dark and shadowy world of Bitcoin isn't dark and shadowy enough, here are some alternatives. But, Schmidt says to keep in mind that most cryptocurrencies are basically variations on a theme. There's an algorithm involved and typically only a set number of coins.

  1. DarkcoinThe darker currency that values privacy. Its website says it's secure, decentralized and anonymous.
  2. Zerocash. This currency, still in the works, is a collaboration from MIT, Johns Hopkins and Tel Aviv University. Its makers say that Bitcoin has a privacy problem – payments can still be traced to users and every transaction is publicly available for everyone to see. Stay tuned!
  3. Aurora coin. A currency specifically for the people of Iceland.  It works like Bitcoin, but because Iceland ran into so much  (ahem) trouble during the last financial crisis, it's not allowed to engage in mining invisible currency.
  4. Latium.  The website for this new cryptocurrency says it's a new dawn, plus it's giving away coins free.
  5. Dogecoin. It has a cute dog for an icon and its tagline is "favored by Shiba Inus worldwide." It also has a NASCAR sponsorship.

You can look for more interesting and unusal things to buy and services to book with Bitcoin here.

Driver escapes tree falling on car

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:41
A driver has a lucky escape after a large tree branch fell on his car as he was driving on a main road in Cardiff.

Disillusioned Lo to quit NI politics

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:35
Anna Lo of the Alliance Party says she will not seek re-election to the Northern Ireland Assembly because she is disillusioned with politics.

Custody death probe PC quits force

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:32
The police watchdog urges the Metropolitan Police to stop an officer quitting so he can face misconduct proceedings after a death in custody.

Those big summer sequels may stop, one day

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:28

Wesley Morris has a question: Why does “big summer blockbuster” always mean “big summer sequel?”

“There’s another 'Transformers' movie,” says Morris,  film critic at Grantland.  “Everything is ‘another.’ It is either a sequel or part of a franchise, which is technically a sequel.”

Morris says that gargantuan franchises like Spiderman and Transformers have been safe bets for film studios in recent years. But this summer might see that trend changing.

“I think people are going to be ready for something new. And something original. The [negative] response to "Amazing Spider Man 2" has been really heartening, at least for me. It’s interesting to see moviegoers get a point where they are getting fed up with the idea of being expected to go see something because it’s starring a superhero, or based on a comic book."

The Economy Takes A Dip, But Analysts Look For It To Snap Back

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:28

The latest U.S. report showed growth shrank in early 2014, but talk of a recession is unwarranted, economists say. They blame a harsh winter and say strong consumer spending signals a rebound.

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As Oklahoma Drought Continues, Farmers Prepare For Losses

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:27

As Oklahoma enters its fourth year of sustained drought, some farmers expect the harvest to be so bad they'll end up calling their insurance agents and declaring this year a total loss. StateImpact Oklahoma's Joe Wertz reports that some are calling this the worst drought since the '50s — or even since the Dust Bowl.

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Initial Afghan Elections Went Well, But Worries Rise For Round Two

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:27

Afghanistan's presidential election in April left no candidate with more than 50 percent of the vote. A second-round election will be held on June 14 — during the peak of the Taliban fighting season. There are growing concerns that election day could be a blood bath, and that a close outcome would result in political instability.

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Insurgents In Ukraine Shoot Down Helicopter, Killing General

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:27

Reports from Ukraine say a general was among about a dozen soldiers killed when their helicopter was shot down by pro-Moscow separatists.

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Pakistani Woman Beaten To Death By Her Family As Police Stand By

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:27

Pakistan is reeling from the latest so-called "honor killing." Just feet from a courthouse, a pregnant woman was stoned to death for marrying a man against her family's wishes.

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Old Senate Tradition Lies Behind Controversial Judge's Nomination

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:27

President Obama nominated a controversial Georgia judge — one who once supported the display of the Confederate flag — for the federal bench. The White House says there's a particular reason for that.

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Pope Invites Israeli, Palestinian Leaders For Joint Prayer Session

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:23

Israeli President Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, have agreed to attend the joint prayer meeting at the Vatican, set for next week.

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Texas Takes A Hard Right Turn

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:23

In most states this year, the Republican establishment has managed to hold off Tea Party challengers. In Texas, the opposite was true.

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'Violent high risk' prisoner missing

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:18
A "high risk" prisoner with a history of violence has gone missing while on licence from a jail in Leicestershire.

Ford recalls 1.4m cars due to fault

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-29 12:15
US car giant Ford recalls a total of 1.4 million cars, the majority of which are sport utility vehicles sold in North America, due to a possible loss of power steering.

Venture capitalists learn to love education

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-29 11:48

Education isn’t what you’d typically think of as sexy. It’s practical. It’s serious.

But add a little tech and vavoom! Venture capitalists are very, very into it.

Michael Moe is CEO of GSV Capital, which has invested $100 million in education technology companies like Coursera and 2U. He said there’s a lot to like about education these days. 

Education as a whole is a big market—$2 trillion in the U.S. and $4.5 trillion globally—said Moe. “And it’s characterized by very few large players.”

Today, technology grabs only a slice of that spending. Moe estimates the e-learning market is around $80 million and growing.

There are big names angling for dominance, like Pearson, Google and News Corp. But Moe said that leaves plenty of room for small companies to hit big and grow fast. “I think the forces at work could compress that time from idea to mega-business into a much shorter period,” he said.

One of the companies trying to make the jump to mega-business is Remind101.

Basically, Remind101 gives teachers the ability to mass text kids and parents, things like homework assignments, test reminders, notes of encouragement. Like these:

Crepe Day is in danger of being cancelled! Be sure your behavior is not the reason! via @remind101

— Krista Applegate (@MmeApplegate) May 28, 2014

 

Candide: banquet information on choir room board. Payment due Thursday if you plan to attend. via @remind101

— David Carter (@cugeoffrey) May 29, 2014

Company CEO Brett Kopf says the idea originated back in fifth grade. “I have a bunch of learning disabilities,” he said, “I have ADD and dyslexia. I was diagnosed in fifth grade, and school was always really hard for me.”

In college, he realized reminders, like texts, could help him get stuff done. They could help him stay on track. 

So he and his brother set about building a company that provided that service. “I would drool at the thought of going to Silicon Valley,” said Kopf, “I thought it was some golden place where money just fell of trees. And it doesn’t.”

Okay. Money might not fall off trees.

But, since 2011, when Kopf and his brother got to Silicon Valley, they’ve raised more than $19 million from investors.

Remind101 is free for teachers. The company says teachers use it to send more than 80 million texts a month.

And, the teacher focus is part of the reason it’s so attractive to venture capitalists. There’s a shift in the education market. The customer is changing.

“In the past, the way that innovation came to schools was in a car,” said Jennifer Carolan, managing director of NewSchools Seed Fund, part of the NewSchools Venture Fund, a non-profit, philanthropic investment group. “A salesman would set up a meeting with a District IT administrator and in a few weeks time, the salesman would bring his computer and demo the product to the district decision maker.”

Today, she said, it’s all different. “We have teachers discovering apps and tools on their tablets and bringing them into the classroom.”

And with millions of teachers out there, those apps and tools can spread fast. “When this period of education history is written,” said Carolan, “it will be the story of the teacher who is driving technology growth in our schools and starting the edtech companies.” 

The question now is how much of the money chasing what’s next in the classroom, is going to pay-off. For investors. And for students.

Educational technology has already had some high-profile bankruptcies; investors and foundations have taken some hits.

And, on the education side of things, researchers like Justin Reich, at HarvardX think many of the companies getting money aren’t providing services that are changing the equation. 

Take, for example, online games with multiple choice answers. They are easy to identify said Reich, “Oh I know what this is, this is a worksheet. It’s randomized and it’s on a computer, but I had worksheet problems. I know what these things are.”

Or apps that hand out digital badges. “Oh, those are stickers. Mrs. Trusdale in the third grade gave me stickers, I recognize these things.”

A lot of online classes are teachers, teaching in front of a board. Not that transformative, he said. “If what we’re hoping to have happen is to have there be really profound changes in the way we prepare people for an extraordinarily complicated society, then paving old cow paths is not going to be the way to accomplish that.”

He thinks venture capital needs to look beyond what’s sexy, and focus a little more on substance.

South Sudan rebel in Kenyan talks

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-29 11:41
South Sudan's rebel leader Riek Machar holds talks with Kenya's leader in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi about the latest peace efforts.

Ford Recalls 1.4 Million Vehicles For Various Defects

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-29 11:30

The recalls include 1.1 million SUVs with power steering defects, 200,000 Taurus sedans with a corrosion issue and 82,500 vehicles with floor mats that might interfere with the accelerator.

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French rally against National Front

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-29 11:24
Thousands of students demonstrate in France against the far-right National Front, following its success in the European elections last week.

City ends bid to curb Sriracha maker

BBC - Thu, 2014-05-29 11:23
A California city drops a lawsuit it lodged against the maker of a popular Asian-style pepper sauce after residents complained of the odour.
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