National / International News

How Comp-Sci went from passing fad to must have major

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-16 02:30

The demand for computer science majors is booming. Even students at liberal arts institutions are itching to learn how to write code and develop artificial intelligence.

It's hard to believe that the field wasn't considered a serious academic discipline back in the 1960s.

Joel Moses has been teaching computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 47 years. But when he first arrived on campus in 1963, it was to be a founding member of Project MAC.

"Machine Aided Cognition, which is another way of saying artificial intelligence. And Multi Access Computers, which is another way of saying time sharing," Moses explained.

Project MAC marked the beginning of the formal study of computer scienceAt first, administrators were skeptical. They viewed computer science as just a passing fad.

"We had to prove ourselves,” Moses said. “And we did!”

Not only did Moses and his colleagues create time sharing, they automated calculus problems.

“People were pleasantly surprised that a computer could do that as well as humans," Moses said.

Then, in the 1970s, MIT's Lab for Computer Science was born. MIT researchers developed some of the basic programming that led to fax machines, e-mail, and the complex operating systems we all take for granted today. Computer science was finally making its mark.

“There was a turning point,” Moses said. “Sometime in the 80s I thought it was OK to major in computer science."

Today, one-third of all MIT engineering students are computer science majors. And the number of undergrads taking advanced courses in the field is growing.

We have to reach further with equipment and we can only do this with computer science," said PhD candidate Dehann Fourie.

Inside the lab, Fourie is working to program a robot that can both explore the deepest reaches of the ocean and be smart enough to know what it's found.

Ten thousand meters down, you are sort of in this dark abyss,” Fourie said. “Now you have to go do something useful and that doesn't just happen by itself."

"All these things people have talked about for decades are coming to fruition and the computers are getting better and better," said Moses. 

But he admits it's still early days: computer science is just beginning to really tackle speech and facial recognition and to advance artificial intelligence by figuring our how the human brain works.

Listen to Kirk’s extended interview with Joel Moses:

MIT is celebrating 50 years of computer science and the birth of a new field. To commemorate the ocassion, the university has compiled a list of 50 ways Project MAC transformed computer science.


VIDEO: Political stickers to keep or swap

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-16 02:29
MPs reveal which stickers they want to keep, give away, or swap of their political colleagues and foes.

Patient sings through throat surgery

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-16 02:17
Professional singer Alama Kante sings through surgery to remove a tumour to prevent surgeons damaging her vocal cords.

Will the instability in Iraq flow to the pump?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-16 02:17

Oil traders are among the many people keeping a close watch on growing violence in Iraq.

They’re gathering a kind of intelligence, says Phil Flynn, with The PRICE Futures Group in Chicago: “You kind of price in the worst-case scenarios, and then you wait and see if that really happens,” he says.

Traders are worried about what would happen if the world were to lose access to Iraq’s oil, about two million barrels a day, according to Jim Burkhard, head of global oil market research for IHS.

That has traders worried about “spare capacity,” which Burkhard says is like “our emergency supply, in case there is a disruption.”

Right now, total spare capacity worldwide is roughly equal to what Iraq exports.

Paul Sullivan, who teaches courses on energy security at the National Defense University, sounds a note of caution: “The oil is coming out of Iraq without much disruption, except for psychological disruption.”

Still, when it comes to the price of oil, that can be powerful. Even though it takes several weeks for oil to get from the Persian Gulf to U.S. refineries, gas prices are already going up.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, here's what makes up the cost of every gallon of gas pumped at the service station:


The average national gas price according to AAA is $3.66 a gallon. If you split that out according to the EIA, that price is made up of costs from crude oil, refining, distribution, marketing, retail costs and taxes. While dependency on foreign oil has decreased, 40 percent of crude oil and petroleum products consumed by Americans is still imported from foreign countries.


"The biggest portion of the cost of gas goes to the crude-oil suppliers. This is determined by the world's oil-exporting nations, particularly the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)," according to Kevin Bonsor and Ed Grabianowski of How Stuff Works. Two-thirds of the retail price of gas is from the actual crude oil, and at today's prices that equates to $2.45.


Twelve percent of your $3.66 per gallon goes towards refining costs and profits. That's approximately $0.44 cents that goes towards refining the oil and other terminal operations, including crude oil processing, oxygenate additives, product shipment and storage and brand advertising -- as well as profits. This also includes the cost of any oil spills.


Gas consumers, you and I, also help cover the cost of franchise fees, rents, wages, environmental fees, credit cards fees and insurance costs. This includes billboard, TV and newspaper ads. These, among a few other costs, are all encompassed in the distribution, marketing, and retail costs and profits, or 9 percent of the retail price for a gallon of gas.


And another 12 percent of the retail price goes towards taxes, including, among others, state and federal. Federal taxes averaged around 18.4 cents per gallon and state taxes averaged 23.52 cents per gallon according to the U.S. EIA.

A Chinese Chemical Company And A 'Bath Salts' Epidemic

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 02:13

When the drugs first appeared, U.S. law enforcement officials had a tough time figuring out what they contained and where they came from. One source was a lab in Shanghai.

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Horseshoe crab blood (and, why conservation pays)

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-16 02:00

Quite possibly, the gentle horseshoe crab has swum ashore during the full and new moons of May and June to spawn for 445 million years. 

Horseshoe crab-like creatures were here when the dinosaurs appeared, and they were here after the dinosaurs disappeared. They survived ancient global warming and ice ages alike. And then people happened. 

“Over a hundred years ago, they were ground up and put on land as a fertilizer,” says Eric Hallerman, professor of fish conservation at Virginia Tech. In places like the Delaware Bay, 90 percent of the crab population was wiped out, and not a great many people cried about it. 

Then in the '70s, people discovered that they need the crabs for something much more valuable.  

“Every human on the face of the earth, if they’ve ever been given an injectable medicine, has been touched by LAL,” says Allen Bergenson with biomedical firm Lonza. 

LAL – Limulus Amebocyte Lysate – is a test for bacterial contamination made from the crab’s blood (usually made without killing the crabs). Lonza is one of four companies that manufacture it. The test is used throughout the medical industry to ensure medical instruments and materials don’t cause fever or complications when introduced to the blood.

It’s among the reasons that, gradually, people and governments started to care about the crab. 

“We’ve created laws that make sure the animals are returned to sea, that require them to be harvested by hand,” says John Dubczak, general manager with biomed company Charles River Endosafe in South Carolina. In that state the industry lobbied to ban fishermen from harvesting hundreds of thousands of crabs to use as bait for sea snails and eels. 

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission intervened in 1998 to relieve pressure on the crab from the bait industry. 

Now, the biomedical industry is competing within itself to see who can use the fewest crabs. 

Charles River has developed a highly sensitive test that only uses one twentieth the normal amount of horseshoe crab’s blood. Lonza has a synthetic version that doesn’t use any crab’s blood. The firms argue, sometimes bitterly, over which product is better. The synthetic version doesn’t have the same regulatory standing as the crab-based version (it’s not currently listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia, an official list of sanctioned drugs and uses), and for now that has dissuaded the pharmaceutical industry from embracing it.

Whatever the result, the competition raises a different way of thinking about nature.

“Instead of nature for nature’s sake, nature for people’s sake,” explains Janet Ranganathan, Vice President for Science and Research at the World Resources Institute. She’s referring to a concept called “Ecosystem Services.” When people realize the value in nature, and then pay to maintain it, everyone wins. 

In many cases, this approach has saved entire ecosystems.

“In the '80s, water quality was degrading in NYC because of development in the Catskill and Delaware watershed,” she says. Instead of building a $6 billion water filtration plant the city spent a fraction of that ($1.5 billion) just protecting the forests that purified water by paying landowners to maintain and restore it. 

It doesn’t always work, of course. Upstream agriculture on the Mississippi causes dead zones downstream that negatively affect fishermen, Ranganathan gives as an example. “You have one industry trumping another,” and polluters don’t have to pay for the disruption in services that nature provides. 

But things appear to be working out somewhat for the horseshoe crabs. Overall, the pressure on their population appears sustainable, according to the ASMFC, though there are troubling declines numbers in certain regions.

In some cases, making money off of nature can be a good way to protect it. 

Referendum abuse 'should be ignored'

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-16 01:55
The Scottish independence debate should not allow itself to be "drowned out" by online abuse, the moderator of the Church of Scotland says.

The good and bad of $1.70

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-16 01:50
What does sterling's rise to $1.70 say about the British economy?

Rooney must be bigger threat - Hodgson

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-16 01:39
England manager Roy Hodgson admits that he needs to get striker Wayne Rooney into the penalty area more often.

Bank 'puzzled' by productivity gap

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-16 01:38
The Bank of England says productivity is 16% below its pre-crisis trend - but says it is at a loss as to why this is.

Eto'o set to miss match with Croatia

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-16 01:33
Cameroon captain Samuel Eto'o is almost certain to miss Wednesday's Group A game against Croatia because of a knee injury.

VIDEO: 'Bleached Beauty' defends skin lightening

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-16 01:10
Kenyan socialite defends skin lightening

Police: Dozens Killed In Terrorist Attack On Kenyan Town

NPR News - Mon, 2014-06-16 01:04

Somali extremists wielding automatic weapons attacked a small Kenyan coastal town for hours on Monday, assaulting the police station, setting two hotels on fire and spraying bullets into the street.

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Airbus just can't take flight

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-16 01:00

The A380 was supposed to change aviation as we know it. The plane can hold more than 500 people -- Airports around the world even remodeled to accommodate the huge jet.

But apart from Emirates Airline, the double decker jet hasn’t sold well.

Robert Mann, a former airline executive, says the reality is there are only a few airlines and airports in the world where the A380 makes sense.

“The A380 is a niche airplane," he says. “Anybody who had a need for them, or could conceive a need for them has ordered them.”

That’s left an opening for Boeing.

Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst at the Teal Group Corporation, says most airlines are interested in long haul, twin engine jets that can seat between 250 and 400 people.

“That’s where the action’s act,” he says.

Aboulafia says that fits nicely with what Boeing offers with the Dreamliner and its redesigned 777X. He says it “puts Airbus at a competitive disadvantage.”

Airbus is trying to answer Boeing with a slightly smaller jet: the redesigned A350XWB. Though, the company is having difficulty getting the planes off the ground -- Last week, Emirates Airline canceled its order for 70 of those planes.

AUDIO: 'I was completely paralysed'

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-16 00:59
Ann Edwards says she was completely paralysed when she fell victim to campylobacter bacteria, and that she still has some paralysis in her feet and low stamina more than 17 years later.

VIDEO: Blair should 'put a sock in it' on Iraq

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-16 00:50
The London Mayor, Boris Johnson, has said that he thinks Tony Blair "should put a sock in it" rather than comment on the situation in Iraq.

Wizz Air scraps flotation plans

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-16 00:45
Hungarian low cost airline Wizz Air cancels plans to list on the London stock market citing "market volatility in the airline sector".

Quad bike crash death man named

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-16 00:42
Police name 60-year-old man who died in Forth Valley quad bike crash on Saturday as Donald MacKinnon of Kilbryde.

Don’t just get mad, decode the system

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-06-16 00:40

Here is the latest menu item on my "Get Smarter in 90 Minutes A Week" media diet: The other night I watched How to Survive a Plague, a film about ACT UP and its activism to fight AIDS. I am not sure why I chose to view the documentary from 2012 now; maybe it is that I just came off a seven-day bike ride in California to raise money and awareness in the fight against HIV/AIDS, during which I had a number of conversations during the ride about the progress against the disease, and the many remaining challenges.

What I did not realize until after the fact is that I was watching the film on the 25th anniversary of one of the film's key moments. This week in 1989, activists were able to shove their way into the International AIDS  Conference in Montreal. As the film shows, the insurgents were there to make much more than just a ruckus in support of speeding up the testing of new treatments for the disease. Members of ACT UP had the smarts and focus to study and decode the Food and Drug and Administration's system for drug approval. The activists forced their way into that meeting with more than banners, placards, and slogans: They had drafted a smart action plan that would radically change the fight against AIDS.

Activists had come up with the now-famed National AIDS Treatment Agenda: 15-pages long and printed with a yellow cover. This agenda proposed — demanded, really — a series of changes to the drug approval process to make clinical trials of new medicines for AIDS, and the opportunistic infections that are associated with the disease, better meet the needs of patients. It was the product of some very smart systems analysis from people without a formal background in this area of medical research and drug regulation. These activists applied intellectual rigor to figure out how the federal system worked and what it might need to get drugs to desperate people more quickly.

As the film shows, thoughtful medical statisticians got a copy of the agenda that day 25 years ago and took seriously many of the recommendations. Eventually, activists, patients, researchers at the National Institutes of Health, members of Congress, and officials at the FDA would come more closely into line in the fight against the disease.

One of the activists who figured out the AIDS drug process was broken and contributed to new thinking on ways to fix it is Mark Harrington, who won a MacArthur "Genius" fellowship in 1997 for his work in this area. Although Harrington doesn’t have an MBA, he was acting on a lesson from business: He understood the power of a deep systems analysis to diagnose something big that was broken.

Another star of the doc I watched last night is still working hard in the fight against the disease. Peter Staley wrote a column just the other day calling for a new set of changes to America's HIV prevention efforts.

On the 25th anniversary of the original agenda, he points out that 50,000 people a year still get infected every year — and that figure is just for the United States.

Dog bite probe finds 'no misconduct'

BBC - Mon, 2014-06-16 00:39
An investigation, launched after a police dog attacked a 10-year-old boy in Oldbury, concludes there are "no misconduct or training issues."

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