National / International News

Tearing down tech manuals

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-05-07 13:00

When you buy a complex gadget, chances are it’s not going to come with a repair manual. Instead, manufacturers may take the product in, or expect you to purchase a new one when the latest model comes out. This has led to a boom in the repair industry and has inspired countless people to dissect pieces of technology and create their own manuals.

Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson explains the boom and bust of the repair industry and introduces the idea of a “teardown.”

NAFTA legacy casts a shadow on new trade agreements

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-05-07 13:00

President Obama will visit Nike headquarters in Oregon on Friday to tout the benefits of free trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a deal between the U.S., Japan and 10 other nations that’s deep in negotiations.

The president will also likely push for Congress to pass a pending Trade Promotion Authority bill, which would renew his ability to negotiate trade agreements before submitting them for a straight yes or no vote in Congress, without amendments.

Both initiatives have drawn criticism from members of the president’s own party and renewed a much older discussion about the North American Free Trade Agreement's impact on the U.S. in the two decades since it was enacted. 

In the 1992 presidential debates, Ross Perot cautioned that NAFTA would create “a giant sucking sound” of U.S. jobs heading south to Mexico, crystallizing public fears about its potential impact.


Those fears have colored many Americans' present-day perceptions of the agreement, but the reality is far less dramatic, says Simon Johnson, a professor of global economics at MIT.

“NAFTA did not do as much as is claimed by people who are either for or against NAFTA,” he says. “It did increase trade, particularly between Mexico and the United States. It did displace some jobs in the U.S., and some people who lost those jobs didn’t get good jobs again.”

Trade has winners and losers. Many labor unions, for example, will say the losses aren’t worth the gains. Lots of economists disagree, including Jeffrey Schott, with the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“Overall, NAFTA has been a great benefit for the U.S. economy,” says Schott. “It’s boosted productivity, it’s increased economic growth.”

But he says politicians – both Democrats and Republicans – often try to sell trade deals by promising new jobs.

“People with an Econ 101 background know pretty well that you’re not going to create more jobs through a trade agreement,” he says. “But trade agreements affect the type of jobs available in an economy.”

The White House has acknowledged that NAFTA has “not lived up to the hype,” but it disagrees with critics who have dubbed the TPP “NAFTA on steroids.” President Obama argues it should be debated on its merits, not what NAFTA did or didn’t do.

But for many Americans, it’s still very hard to separate the two.

“People seem to know that NAFTA should be opposed without really understanding why,” says Andy Shoyer, a partner specializing in international trade at the law firm Sidley Austin and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.

In the early 1990s, Shoyer was an assistant general counsel with the United States Trade Representative, and spent late nights typing drafts of the deal. He still has a T-shirt that a colleague made at the time, listing NAFTA negotiating sessions like concert tour dates.

When he put it on recently, he wife quipped that “while it was safe to wear it around the house, it probably wasn’t prudent to wear it around the neighborhood.”

Modernizing the Magic Kingdom

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-05-07 13:00

Four years ago, the big cheese at the house of mouse unveiled a $1 billion plan for streamlining the guest experience at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. The company would introduce some revolutionary wearable tech called “MagicBands.”

The electronic bracelets would be proverbial “keys to the kingdom” for millions of visitors, allowing them to do everything from pay for meals to access their hotel rooms, just by holding their wrist up to a scanner. It was an ambitious goal, and Disney had its work cut out.

“You’re talking about installing 30 million square feet of of WiFi coverage,” says Austin Carr, who wrote about the overhaul for Fast Company. “You’re talking about installing upgrades to the hotel door locks —about 28,000 of them."

The project was an enormous undertaking, and required the 40 square mile park to cram state-of-the-art tech into 40-year-old structures. The rollout of the bands, which started out slowly in 2013, wasn’t without its bumps.

“When you entered the park, a lot of guests complained that it wouldn’t read their MagicBands right," Carr says. "A lot of people had difficulty understanding how the system worked."

That forced Disney to hire more guest services representatives to handle the complaints. Despite the costs and challenges, Carr says CEO Bob Iger’s risk paid off.

"Just being able to swipe your wrist is a reflection of the world I’d like to see," he says.

The Internet of Things the MagicBand can do

  • Check-in with Disney Magical Express transportation
  • Park admission
  • Hotel check-in and unlocking Disney hotel room doors
  • FastPass+ check-in for attractions and entertainment
  • Access special event tickets
  • Connect Disney PhotoPass images to account
  • Charge food and merchandise purchases to Disney hotel room
  • Signal arrival to specific park restaurants, and locate your table using radio frequency (via Wired)

Are You Sick, And Sick Of Hearing 'Everything Happens For A Reason'?

NPR News - Thu, 2015-05-07 12:56

Afraid of saying the wrong thing to someone with a serious illness? Now there are "empathy cards" that make fun of those well-meaning but tasteless remarks.

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DNA 'Printing' A Big Boon To Research, But Some Raise Concerns

NPR News - Thu, 2015-05-07 12:56

Companies are assembling and churning out tailored stretches of DNA faster and more cheaply than ever before. The tool speeds research into diseases of plants and people. But what about eugenics?

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Facebook studies news feed balance

BBC - Thu, 2015-05-07 12:49
Our own choices stop us from reading ideologically challenging content more than Facebook's algorithms, according to a study by the company's own researchers.

Murray reaches Madrid quarter-finals

BBC - Thu, 2015-05-07 12:37
Andy Murray beats Marcel Granollers 6-2 6-0 to win his second match in a day, and reach the Madrid Masters last eight.

FBI Says It Sent Bulletin On Texas Assailant Hours Before Attack

NPR News - Thu, 2015-05-07 12:33

Director James Comey says that Elton Simpson had attracted attention as someone who might attend the Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest, but that the bureau had no reason to believe he would attack.

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'Haqqathon' Takes Anti-ISIS Fight To Cyberspace

NPR News - Thu, 2015-05-07 12:30

In Arabic, haqq is the word for truth. Muslim software designers gathered recently for a "haqqathon" to develop social media products that can compete with violent extremists online.

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New Public-Corruption Chief Vows To Not Shy Away

NPR News - Thu, 2015-05-07 12:29

Raymond Hulser, the new chief of the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section, said his unit is committed to prosecuting "important and tough" cases cases and bringing them to trial.

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