National News

What Does Sound Look Like?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-09 04:37

A clever photography trick allows you to see the invisible: the rising heat from a lighter, the turbulence around airplane wings, the plume of a sneeze ... and even sound waves.

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UConn Women Win, Making School Center Of College Hoops World

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-09 03:55

Both the men's and women's teams are Division I basketball champions this year. Only once before has a school done that in the same year: UConn, in 2004.

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New Pings Have Head Of Search Optimistic Jet Will Soon Be Found

NPR News - Wed, 2014-04-09 03:00

But searchers aren't declaring success just yet. And if what they're hearing aren't signals from the plane's black boxes, they may not get a second chance. The boxes' batteries are due to run out.

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When England walked away from coal

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-09 02:26

Former mining communities around Britain have been marking what is for them a grim anniversary: it has been 30 years since the start of a national miners strike that convulsed the U.K. and its coal industry. The year-long strike over mine closures failed. After the strike, scores of mines were mothballed and a work force that once comprised more than a million men dwindled to a few thousand. Today, only three deep mines remain in operation in the U.K., and two of them are marked for closure.

Why did Britain decide to stop digging 30 years ago? Was this solely about coal, or was it political?

Ex-miner Mike Clark has no doubts. "It was political," he says firmly. Margaret Thatcher – the Conservative Prime Minister at the time – "she would do everything she could to break the working class of Great Britain. That's why she decided to close the pits. Don't forget that at the time, the coal mines were publicly-owned. It was a nationalized industry."

The miners believed Thatcher targeted them for reasons of political revenge. The National Union of Mineworkers had humbled a previous Conservative government in the 1970s by going on strike and triggering a general election which that government lost. But Thatcher may have had a more practical motivation for taking on the miners in 1984: They were Britain's most powerful and militant workers, the shock troops of a labor movement that Thatcher was determined to weaken.

"She wanted to redress the balance back in favor of capitalism," argues Christine Rawson, who grew up in a mining village in south Yorkshire. "Thatcher was determined that the unions would not gain strength, and would lose strength."

Quite right, too, says Dieter Helm, a professor of energy at Oxford University Dieter Helm. When Thatcher came to power, British labor relations were in chaos; the country was crippled by more than 2,000 strikes a year. "There was a general consensus that union power had reached a level where the British economy could no longer really function," says Helm. "And there was a very good economic case for closing the pits as well because of the high cost of deep pit mining. The contraction of the U.K. coal industry was economically correct. It had to happen. It was going to happen. It would have happened anyway."

Britain's deep mines could no longer compete on price with cheap imports of high quality coal from open cast mines in South Africa, Australia, and the United States. And, furthermore, the Thatcher government believed that those imports improved the country's energy security. Margaret Thatcher claimed that it was safer to rely on foreign coal than on the output of British miners. During the strike she called them: "The Enemy Within."

In focus: A merged Comcast-Time Warner

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-09 02:10

Some mergers have relevance to people’s lives says antitrust attorney Allen Grunes, and the proposed Time Warner-Comcast deal is one of them. Grunes, with the firm GeyerGorey, says the internet will be a focal point as the combined company would have at least 40 percent, and as much as 50 percent, of the fastest high-speed internet service market.

There are concerns the deal would make it harder for the next Netflix or Hulu to stream content, because it would have to pay the combined company more. But there are also concerns about what the deal will mean to individual access to the internet.

"We need to make sure these companies are more accountable to consumers around other things as opposed to the future of the internet," says Nicol Turner-Lee, with the Minority Media and Telecom Council.

Comcast, in a filing ahead of the federal review, says as part of the deal it would expand its program to provide more access to low-income communities.

The dangers of Big Data in health care

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-09 02:03

Imagine you had access to your doctors' vital statistics.  For example, how much they charged Medicare for a certain procedure -- kind of like statistics on baseball players. Such data was recently released by the federal government

Jean Mitchell, who teaches public policy at Georgetown, says for many doctors, "Their patients will be quite surprised by how much money they’re making, and the volume of procedures performed." Mitchell also says the new data could spotlight conflicts of interest, like when a doctor who owns an MRI machine orders lots of MRIs. 

But some doctors worry the new information will be taken out of context -- and they point out that Medicare patients need lots of tests: 

"Sixty percent of all Medicare patients actually have three or more medical conditions. Our patients are extremely complex" Dr. Reid Blackwelder,  president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Single-serve coffeemaker market heats up

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-09 02:00

Coffee is the single-most popular food item — solid or liquid — that Americans consume at breakfast, according to the NPD Group. And although American coffee consumption has been more or less flat since the 1980s (and has fallen since peaking in the 1940s), one category is booming: single serve.

The dominant player in the domestic market is Green Mountain’s Keurig machines and their K-cup pods — with 72 percent market-share, according to a recent report from Euromonitor. Switzerland-based Nestle and its Nespresso machines have just 3 percent of the U.S. market.

But Nespresso — which is dominant in Europe — is trying to muscle in with a new offering called the VertuoLine. Nespresso's original line of machines — which has seen double-digit growth in recent years in the U.S. — is designed to reproduce a "European" coffee experience, says Nespresso CEO Jean-Marc Duvoisin.

"The objective was to be able to create concentrated strong espresso coffee especially as drunk in Italy, France, Switzerland," Duvoisin says. In other words, a strong short shot of espresso with froth, or crema, on top.

But Duvoisin acknowledges that the market for this style and size of coffee drink is limited in the U.S. So the company's new VertuoLine — with a new coffee-making technology that swirls the hot water through the pod in a centrifuge motion — delivers what the company thinks many more Americans want, says Duvoisin, "the long mug of coffee." 

It's an eight-ounce cup, similar to what rival Keurig machines deliver.

Harry Balzer, who researches American eating and drinking habits at the NPD Group, says Nespresso’s move to a bigger drink is probably wise.

"Look at the sandwiches we have, look at the drinks we have," says Balzer. "We tend to prefer things bigger. Feel like we're getting a good deal, a good value."

But Americans may not feel like they're getting such good value from Nespresso, says Jim Hertel at retail consultancy Willard Bishop. It's not the price of the machines — at around $300 they're in the same price-range ballpark as the competition.

It’s "the price of the pods themselves," says Hertel. He says one can find K-cups for Keurig machines online or at discount groceries for just over $0.30 apiece. Nespresso's pods cost twice that, and they have to be ordered from Nespresso.

"It's going to start off being elite," Hertel says of Nespresso's expanding footprint in the U.S. market, "and then it's going to move its way down. It may never get down to the mid-market."

Right now, Nespresso machines are available in Nespresso's own branded stores — just a handful in upscale markets like Beverly Hills, New York and Miami. The company also has store-within-a-store displays — where customers can sample Nespresso coffee free — in stores like Bloomingdale's and Sur La Table. And the company plans to introduce its new VertuoLine at Target later this year.

Tim Boyle/Getty Images

 

SOME RULES OF OFFICE COFFEE ETIQUETTE:

1. If you drink the last cup, make a new pot!
2. Re-read Rule No. 1 — it's that important.
3. Never leave a dirty cup in the single-serve coffeemaker. Empty the used pod, or pod reservoir if it's full.
4. If there are multiple flavors of single-serve coffee in a rack at work, don't pick a co-worker's favorite if it's the last one left.
5. If there are free snacks in the office kitchen, eat the whole cookie — or donut or Danish. It's okay to count calories, but no one wants a pastry you've already torn apart with your grubby fingers.
6. Chip in to the office coffee pool if there is one — no one likes a freeloader (and eventually you'll probably be found out.)

These are the highest paid doctors in Medicare

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-09 01:26

As of today, we know a whole lot more about how much Medicare pays doctors. The government has released huge amounts of data on which doctors, got paid how much, for what procedures. The data show payments to more than 800,000 doctors and health care organizations. It includes information for thousands of procedures. 

If you want to look up a specific doctor, to find out how much she was paid by Medicare in 2012.  You can look it up.  The Wall Street Journal has created an easy to use interactive search tool here. Researchers are at the very beginning of trying to make sense of all the numbers.  But, we have been able to pull out a few interseting tid-bits.

According to a New York Times analysis:

Much of Medicare spending is concentrated among a small fraction of doctors. About 2 percent of doctors account for about $15 billion in Medicare payments, roughly a quarter of the total.

Medicare paid 344 doctors and health care providers more than $3 million in 2012. At the top of the list is an opthamologist in Florida who was paid nearly $21 million.

So who are these well paid doctors? Where are they?

Here are the top 5 states where those 344 doctors and health care providers do business:

 And here's a breakdown of the $3 million-plus club by the type of medicine they practice.

 Some doctors aren't happy with the data dump.  According to the Wall Street Journal, it's the end of a fight that's been going on since the 1970s. As my colleague, Nancy Marshall-Genzer points out, many physicians groups worry the numbers, out of context, could be misleading: 

"Sixty percent of all Medicare patients actually have three or more medical conditions. Our patients are extremely complex" Dr. Reid Blackwelder,  president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Proponents of the database say it will allow patients to figure out which doctors do a good job of providing good quality care while limiting costs.  And, it should help us all better understand what goes into the $2.8 trillion dollar U.S. health care industry.

If these dolphins could talk

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-04-09 01:00

Researchers in Florida have developed an interface that aims to translate dolphin sounds into words that humans can understand. As Dr. Denise Herzing, the founder of the Wild Dolphin Project, puts it:

"Think of it like an acoustic keyboard underwater. The system has four artificially designed whistles that we created. We made them specifically because they aren’t in the dolphin’s normal repertoire."

With their ability to mimic sounds, dolphins can learn how to make whistling noises which they have been trained to associate with designated objects in the water. Underwater computer CHAT (Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry) can hear the whistle sounds being made by the dolphins, and then translate them into words that are transmitted into a researcher's ear piece. 

Dr. Herzing is encouraged by an instance in which a dolphin's whistle was translated by CHAT into the word "Sargassum," which is a kind of brown algae. Though, she warns of celebrating success too soon.

"Let’s remember that when a dolphin mimics a whistle, it doesn’t necessarily mean the dolphin understands what the whistle means."

Still, it's an exciting development in dolphin-to-human communication. And no, we're not referring to this kind of communication.

 

In Eastern Ukraine, Normality Rules Except At Ground Zero

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 23:39

Protests in eastern Ukraine are the focal point of the country's crisis with implications that stretch beyond its borders. Yet life in most of Donetsk seems untouched by the turmoil.

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States, Lawmakers Want Feds To Use New Math For FEMA Calculations

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 23:37

As a new tornado season begins, Illinois officials say they need more help from the federal government, and Sens. Kirk and Durbin have reintroduced a bill proposing changes to the disaster formula.

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Time To Root, Root, Root For Final Innings

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 23:35

A baseball odd couple ends their careers this year: Commissioner Bud Selig and Yankees' shortstop Derek Jeter.

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An Education Reporter Puts Himself To The (Standardized) Test

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 23:34

New Common Core teaching standards mean new standardized exams. NPR's Cory Turner took one himself and reports on what's changed.

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Lessons Learned For 2015 From This Year's Obamacare Sign-Ups

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 23:32

More funding for in-person guidance could help ease confusion, say consumer groups. Beefing up education about each plan's relative costs would help, as would shifting open enrollment to tax-time.

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Obama Aunt Who Stayed In U.S. Illegally Dies At 61

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 21:47

President Barack Obama's aunt Zeituni Onyango, who was denied asylum in the United States but stayed illegally for years, died Tuesday at age 61.

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Marine Guard Shot To Death By Colleague AT N.C. Base

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 21:41

A Marine posted at the main gate of a North Carolina base shot and killed a colleague inside a guard shack, a spokesman said. The shooting comes less than a week after a fatal rampage at Fort Hood.

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Death Toll From Washington Mudslide Rises To 35

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 16:37

The last person identified was two-year-old Brooke Spillers of Arlington, Washington. President Obama is also scheduled to visit the area later this month.

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Massive Security Flaw Picks The Padlock On Much Of The Internet

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 16:02

A bug has been discovered in one of the Internet's principal encryption programs. The bug enables attackers to evade security and eavesdrop on information supplied to companies online by users.

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Texas Education Agency Considers Adding Class On Mexican-Americans

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 15:27

Mexican-American studies have been controversial in some parts of the country. In Arizona, for example, those studies were banned in 2011.

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GM At Odds With Feds Over Recall-Related Documents

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-08 14:51

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is fining the automaker for not answers all of its questions about ignition switch problems, but General Motors says it's doing its best to comply.

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