National News

Tesla is disrupting more than just the car business

Marketplace - American Public Media - Sat, 2016-02-06 16:01

Tesla Motors is building the world's biggest battery factory just outside of Reno, Nevada. The company is calling it the “gigafactory,” and when it’s up and running in 2016 it’s expected to make Tesla’s electric cars much more affordable. 

“In a single factory we're doubling the worldwide capacity to manufacture lithium-ion batteries,” says J.B. Straubel, Tesla's chief technology officer. 

That's significant enough. But the company also plans to develop batteries for use with solar-power generation – giving Tesla a shot at challenging public utilities as an energy source, Straubel says.

“At the price points that we're expecting to achieve with the gigafactory ... we see a market that is well in excess of the production capability of the factory,” says Straubel.

The market for batteries is an offshoot of the booming business for solar panels, particularly in states such as California, where solar is becoming commonplace.

“We sign up approximately one new customer every minute of the workday," says Will Craven, director of public affairs at California-based SolarCity.

Much of the excess energy harnessed by solar panels is returned to the power grid, Cravens says. This means homeowners and businesses may earn a credit from their power companies, but have no say over when and how that energy is used.

The partnership with SolarCity will use rooftop solar panels fitted with Tesla’s battery packs to allow customers to keep that energy in-house. That means they can use it however, and whenever, they want. The concept puts Tesla in direct competition with utility companies.

“Stationary storage, or backup storage, is really being considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of renewable electricity generation,” says Ben Kallo, an analyst with the Robert W. Baird financial services firm.

Kallo points out that the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources makes them less reliable because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine.  But with the ability to store that energy, renewable energy sources can compete head-to-head with utility companies for customers.

“There are still many utilities out there who kind of have their head stuck in the sand and just hope that this goes away. What we're seeing is really building momentum,” Kallo says.

Forward-minded utilities might look at Tesla’s business model as an opportunity, he says.  Energy-storage technology could be used to build capacity in their existing grids, and also build new infrastructure for battery-powered cars and homes.

 

Writers on Water: Tiphanie Yanique

We’re at the end of our month-long series about Water: The High Price of Cheap. How we take water for granted, don’t want to pay for it, and as a result, can find ourselves without it. Which is, you know… not good.

The poet and novelist Tiffany Yanique has a unique perspective on water. She grew up in the U.S. Virgin Islands, surrounded by the sea, but on land with very little water to drink. The author of “Land of Love and Drowning,” Yanique tells us what water means to her:

Land of Love and Drowning

Owen Arthur Bradshaw watched as the little girl was tied up with lace and silk. He jostled the warm rum in his glass and listened to the wind.

The storm outside wasn’t a hurricane. Just a tropical gale. It was the season for storms. Lightning slated through the heavy wooden shutters that were closed but unfastened. The thunder was coming through the walls built with blue bitch stone. There was no one outside walking in the rain. That sort of thing was avoided.

A scientist visiting from America had brought the lace and the silk. They were all at the house of Mr. Lovernkrandt, an eminent Danish businessman. Denmark was giving up on the West Indies and America was buying in, but Mr. Lovernkrandt was not leaving. The scientist was tying the girl up. He was demonstrating an experiment that had become stale on the Continent, an experiment of electricity. The little girl was very beautiful. And she was very little. And she was very afraid. She was also very brave.

Captain Bradshaw thought on his daughter, Eeona, who was not unlike this American girl. Only Eeona was more beautiful and at least as brave.

The people who had come together to make Captain Owen Arthur Bradshaw could be traced back to West Africans forced to the islands as slaves and West Africans who came over free to offer their services as goldsmiths. Back to European men who were kicked out of Europe as criminals and to European women of aristocratic blood who sailed to the islands for adventure. Back to Asians who came as servants and planned to return to their Indies, and to Asians who only wanted to see if there was indeed a western side of the Indies. And to Caribs who sat quietly making baskets in the countryside, plotting ways to kill all the rest and take back the land their God had granted them for a millennium.

Owen Arthur had been raised from a poor upbringing to a place of importance and ownership. He was the captain and owner of a cargo ship. And now he was among the important men who sat in this living room and watched through the haze of the oil lamps as a girl was hoisted off the ground via lace and silk and a hook in the ceiling. The little girl’s body jerked as the American scientist tugged. Her body jerked until she was a few feet off the ground, but she did not cry out. Owen Arthur Bradshaw was not sure how much longer he could bear to watch. But it was essential for him to be at this gathering. The host, Mr. Lovernkrandt, was a rummaker and Owen Arthur had always shipped rum. But with Americanness would come Prohibition, and Owen Arthur needed to ensure he was included in any of Lovernkrandt’s nonliquor endeavors.

He pressed his own earlobe between his thumb and forefinger. Success and solvency should have been on his mind, but Owen Arthur could not help but watch the American girl with a father’s tenderness. This little girl was pale-faced and blond, and Owen’s little girl, Eeona, was honey-skinned and ocean-haired. But still he looked at this strange little girl as though looking on his own child. The first half of him desired that he had created this little girl. She was a pretty yellow thing. The lower half of him desired the girl. How young could she be?

He put his mouth to his glass and tilted it until the warm sweetness met his lips. She will outlive me, he thought to himself. And who was the “she” he was referring to? Perhaps his wife, who was just then sitting at home doing the sewing that it seemed God had created her to do. Or perhaps he was speaking of his mistress, who was at that moment sitting in her home playing the piano he had bought her, making a music that only God or the Devil could bless. Or perhaps he was actually speaking of his daughter, whom he loved like he loved his own skin. Perhaps he was speaking of the little girl to whom the scientist was now attaching cords of metal. Perhaps the little girl was, in a way, all women to him, as all women might be to a certain kind of man.

Owen Arthur is right. All these shes will outlive him, though he cannot bear the thought of his women going on. He knows his daughter will live forever, in the way all parents do, simply because parents generally die first. But Owen will not die of old age. Owen will die of love. The Danish West Indies will become the United States Virgin Islands and then this patriarch will die. And perhaps these things are the same thing.

“Behold,” the American is saying in his strange accent. He hands the girl a glass ball and then whispers to her, “Do not drop it or I will punish you.” She does not make a move to suggest she has heard. She only takes the glass ball in both her hands. And then the first miracle happens—her hair begins to rise. The storm outside begins to howl.

“Christ, have mercy.” This is what the Christians whisper. The Jewish and Muslim men for whom these islands have been a refuge, mutter “Oy, Gotenu” and “Allahu Akbar” under their breaths respectfully. Yes, America will bring us progress. Here is progress before us.

Reprinted from Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, Copyright © 2014 by Tiphanie Yanique.

Putin Critic Boris Nemtsov Shot Dead In Moscow

NPR News - 1 hour 3 min ago

On Friday, gunmen shot to death the prominent Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov. Nemtsov was a longtime Russian opposition leader and a sharp critic of President Vladimir Putin.

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Mexican Attorney General Who Handled Case Of Vanished Students To Step Down

NPR News - 1 hour 4 min ago

Murillo Karam ran the investigation when 43 college students disappeared. He's now stepping down.

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New Museum Depicts 'The Life Of A Slave From Cradle To The Tomb'

NPR News - 1 hour 28 min ago

A New Orleans attorney has turned an antebellum plantation into a new museum. You won't find hoop skirts and mint juleps, but stark relics at a site devoted entirely to a realistic look at slavery.

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Jeb's Rowdy Supporters Help Him Escape the CPAC Lion's Den

NPR News - 1 hour 33 min ago

The former Florida governor's supporters shouted down his hecklers at his much-anticipated appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

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Putin Critic Boris Nemtsov Shot Dead

NPR News - 1 hour 50 min ago

Nemtsov served as a governor and deputy prime minister in the 1990s. He later became an opposition leader and sharp critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was killed on a street in Moscow.

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The Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, Longtime President of Notre Dame University, Dies

NPR News - 2 hours 12 min ago

Father Ted, as he was known to his friends, was influential in reshaping Catholic higher education. He was also a champion for civil rights and nuclear disarmament.

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#NPRreads: A Sign Of The Times? Trinidad Offers Venezuela Toilet Paper For Oil

NPR News - 3 hours 14 min ago

For your weekend, here are three recommendations for stories that may surprise you about the rise of OxyContin, the fall of Venezuela and an undocumented immigrant who made money for Goldman Sachs.

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Waiting for a big break in Germany's new economy

Felicitas Sonnenberg is a waitress with dark hair and bright eyes, and works at a trendy restaurant in Berlin where business people go for a nice lunch.

Krissy Clark/Marketplace

As she darts from table to table, she takes customers’ orders with a pen and pad of paper she keeps tucked in a black, polka-dotted belt strapped around her waist. It holds not just her order pad, but, she hopes, her ticket to making it in the German economy.

A little context. Maybe when you think of the German economy, certain things come to mind: good pay, lots of vacation, strong social-safety net, perhaps something about precise German engineering.

For many years, those clichés were pretty accurate. Precise German engineering led to lots of well-made German products like cars, engines and industrial machines, built by lots of well-paid German workers — who could be so well-paid because their well-made products were in demand around the world. Germany called it their “economic miracle,” or Wirtschaftswunder, and it led to the companion doctrine of Wholstand Für Alle, which translates to “prosperity for all.” 

“That was the promise after the Second World War, that we will have a strong economy but that the profits will be shared so everyone can profit from the growth,” says Peter Bofinger, an economic adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But the shifts in the German economy brought on by unification and globalization have called the promise of shared prosperity into question, says Bofinger. “We have seen in the last twenty years more or less a stagnation of living standards for the wide majority of the population.”

Along with those fears has come a new German reality, a rise in the number of working poor. Many well-paid manufacturing jobs in Germany have gone overseas, or to European countries with lower labor costs, leaving behind more temporary, part-time and low-paying work in Germany.

And that is where waitress Felicitas Sonnenberg comes in. Sonnenberg makes 8.50 euro an hour, about the equivalent of $9.65 in the United States.

Waitresses, taxi drivers, hairdressers and workers in other kinds of service industries make up a large share of Germany's new working poor. Pay has gotten low enough in many of these industries in early 2015 Germany established a minimum wage for the first time ever.

In the case of Sonnenberg, the boost she got when the minimum wage kicked in still wasn’t enough for her to make ends meet.

“It would be wonderful to live with my money — what I earn in my job,” she says. “But it's not enough without help of the state.”

Sonnenberg is separated from her husband, raising two young children on her own. She gets some aid from the government that goes toward rent and daycare, and she says she is grateful for it. But in recent years Germany, long known for a strong social-safety net, has been rethinking how much to spend on that net. Sonnenberg says she can feel the scrutiny when she goes to her local welfare office.

“They were treating me like somebody who doesn't want to work — who only wants to get the money of the state, “ she says. “And I am not like that.”

Sonnenberg works part time right now, but she says as a single mom even that can be a tough balancing act. Once she is home from work, her children are eager for her attention. Bath time, dinner time, homework, bedtime, “Everything has to be done in a certain way, to finish in time to bring the children to bed at 9 o’clock,” she says.

But after the kids are in bed, Sonnenberg gets busy making plans for her future.

That black dotted belt she was wearing at the restaurant, to keep her pen and order pad? She designed and made it herself, after feeling frustrated with the standard money belts that most German wait staff use.

Krissy Clark/Marketplace

She has shopped her design around to people in the fashion industry and received coaching from state-funded agencies on how to prototype and trademark the design. “I want to produce this and have my own company,” she says.

She already has the trademark certificate framed, hanging in a narrow hallway in her apartment. “This is my office,” she says with a laugh.

Krissy Clark/Marketplace

Sonnenberg says she has told the welfare agency about her efforts to start her own business; she says she was warned it might be too much for a single mother, and that maybe she should stick to waitressing. And so she says she is torn, between the income she makes now, and taking a risk to make more. 

“I am believing in my product because I love it and I use it every day, and I think that there is really a need of this thing,” she says. “But I have a fear to go into the business market, because I feel so little.”

Yet, little creative start-up businesses like Sonnenberg's are being touted by German politicians as one of the best new hopes for the German economy.

As scared as Sonnenberg is, she is also hopeful.

“I always said when I really found my company, I will open a bottle of Champagne — but I never did it, because you never know when, when is the real start,” she says.

Because even with her framed trademark certificate and her prototypes, Sonnenberg says it's hard to know when you've really made it in the German economy these days.

What Do Conservatives Want For 2016? We Asked

NPR News - 4 hours 23 min ago

Attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference say they want the next president to focus on bipartisanship, faith, security and lower taxes.

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What happens at Netflix when House of Cards goes live

Update Feb. 27, 2015: Well, here we are a little over a year later and "House of Cards" Season 3 is up on Netflix. We can't promise this is exactly how things went down this time around (there was that slight hiccup this year when the season accidentally got released early) but it's safe to say someone called in sick to work today to be the next super-binger.

Original story: Feb. 14, 2014

The new world of Internet TV is really geeky.

I spent some time in the Netflix war room last night, as the company debuted the second season of its smash hit series, "House of Cards." The war room is a conference room with big table in the middle, and as we approached midnight, a bunch of engineers were crouched over their laptops.

Jeremy Edberg, Netflix’s reliability architect, was one of them.

"So when the clock hits 12, the first thing I’m going to be doing is looking at our dashboards to see if anybody is playing the show," Edberg said.

If nobody is playing "House of Cards," that means there’s a problem. Unlike traditional TV, people now use hundreds of different devices to go online. And last night, the engineers were there to make sure "House of Cards" would play on every one of them.

Netflix monitors House of Cards mentions on social media during the season two launch in 2014.

Courtesy of Netflix

"We’ve probably got sitting around the room an X-Box, a Play Station, Nintendo, Apple devices, Android devices and a couple of different TVs from our partner manufacturers," Edberg said.

The engineers can tell, in real time, how many people are streaming the show on these devices, where they are and who’s binging. Edberg said the last time "House of Cards" launched, the engineers figured out the entire season was about 13 hours.

"We looked to [see]  if anybody was finishing in that amount of time," Edberg said. "And there was one person who finished with just three minutes longer than there is content. So basically, three total minutes of break in roughly 13 hours."

That’s right, of its 40 million subscribers around the world, Netflix was able the find the one super binger. Netflix spokesman Joris Evers said Netflix knows everything about your viewing habits.

Netflix knows who's watching the show and in what quantities.

Courtesy of Netflix

"'House of Cards' was obviously a big bet for Netflix," Joris said. "But it was a calculated bet because we knew Netflix members like political dramas, that they like serialized dramas. That they are fans of Kevin Spacey, that they like David Fincher."

Evers said Netflix uses this data when it decides on which original program to buy.

"We monitor what you watch, how often you watch things," Evers said. "Does a movie have a happy ending, what’s the level of romance, what's the level of violence, is it a cerebral kind of movie or is it light and funny?"

Netflix’s move into original programming is all about taking viewers from other media companies, especially HBO, said Brad Adgate, an analyst at Horizon Media.

He says Netflix has more subscribers than HBO, but when it comes to making money, Netflix is David to HBO’s Goliath. But Adgate says, Netflix does have its slingshot.

A scene from the Netflix War Room during 2014.

Courtesy of Netflix

"I think right now Netflix does have a competitive advantage over HBO because of the analytics," Adgate said.

Networks like HBO still rely, on large part, on Nielsen data. But the information Netflix gets is much more textured, granular — and valuable.

"And I think that’s where television and streaming video is headed — but I think right now streaming video is in the lead," Adgate said. That said, he added, it’s just a matter of time before HBO and other premium channels catch up.

5 Quotes From Earl Lloyd, The First Black Player In The NBA

NPR News - 5 hours 31 min ago

Earl Lloyd, who died Thursday, once recalled telling a young man who thanked him for blazing a trail, "Man, you owe me absolutely nothing."

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5 Quotes From Earl Lloyd, The First Black Player In The NBA

NPR News - 5 hours 31 min ago

Earl Lloyd, who died Thursday, once recalled telling a young man who thanked him for blazing a trail, "Man, you owe me absolutely nothing."

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Families Of ISIS Victims React To Identification Of 'Jihadi John'

NPR News - 5 hours 39 min ago

The family of Steven Sotloff said they hoped the man identified as Mohammed Emzawi is brought to justice. The daughter of aid worker David Haines said she wanted a "bullet between ... [his] eyes."

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Families Of ISIS Victims React To Identification Of 'Jihadi John'

NPR News - 5 hours 39 min ago

The family of Steven Sotloff said they hoped the man identified as Mohammed Emzawi is brought to justice. The daughter of aid worker David Haines said she wanted a "bullet between ... [his] eyes."

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When Food Is Too Good To Waste, College Kids Pick Up The Scraps

NPR News - 5 hours 40 min ago

Millions of tons of food are wasted on college campuses around the country, and students are noticing. Some of them are now rescuing food to make tasty meals for the needy and compost for gardens.

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When Food Is Too Good To Waste, College Kids Pick Up The Scraps

NPR News - 5 hours 40 min ago

Millions of tons of food are wasted on college campuses around the country, and students are noticing. Some of them are now rescuing food to make tasty meals for the needy and compost for gardens.

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Parents Choose A Simple Device To Reshape A Baby's Ear

NPR News - 6 hours 24 min ago

Sometimes a baby's outer ear may be a tad misshapen. Surgery can help later on, but a plastic mold makes the most of the fact that a newborn's ears are pliable. They can reshape within weeks.

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