National / International News

That perfect 'Seinfeld' episode about cable companies

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-07-17 03:00

Even though I got it, I never really got the "Seinfeld" Plaza Cable gag fully until I moved to New York City.

In my first apartment, I remember that even getting the cable installed and trying to start to pay the cable guy real money every month felt like an epic right of passage. That 1996 episode of television -- airing a decade before I even came to the city -- became, like so many "Seinfeld" depictions, a chrystalized experience in an ever-changing city. Watching it now nearly ten more years later, it remains pitch perfect. Just watch this and tell me you can't relate. I dare you. 


The weird 4-hour appointments, the long hold times on the phone, the grumpy dude in the van -- it's all there. Kramer as the everyman is exactly as he should be: Incredulous at a seemingly arbitrary and faceless bureacracy, righteous in his indignation, and happy to "stick it to the man," even when the man is of course a real person with real feelings.

It is actually really elegant how the roles are flipped. The cable guy becomes the powerless person waiting around as his blood is brought slowly to boil. Kramer is what we percieve the cable company to be: Snickering behind a peephole and messing with us while taking advantage because there's really not much we can do about it.

This has been an interesting week for media and cable companies. Rupert Murdoch's $80 billion bid for Time Warner is almost just a rumble behind the awkward sound of that customer service call between an Engagdget editor and a Comcast customer service agent. In a veritable monster mix of smash hits, it's the latest and greatest viral example proving the cable company is pretty much the worst at dealing with its customers.

Comcast is currently on a full court press for its unprecedented merger with Time Warner Cable -- Which, by the way, just sent me the most rediculous letter congratulating me on my newly-reduced-but-still-more-than-I've-been-paying rate. And at the same time from Reddit to The New Yorker, the company is also this week's modern stand-in for Seinfeld's Plaza Cable. 

The fact that the jokes are still relevant is what's really disturbing. In "Seinfeld," the cable guy apologizes through the door, and Kramer, moved, rolls back the deadbolt. They hug. What could be better? A truce between customer and company, a promise to do better, and a regonition of the humanity and hardships on both sides.

I think I prefer the TV show to real life. "Seinfeld," at least, has a happy ending.

VIDEO: An airline black box in 'the cloud'

BBC - Thu, 2014-07-17 02:57
Earlier this year Malaysian Flight 370 disappeared without trace. Soon, proposals will be set out to ensure that never again can an aircraft vanish.

Wedding venue fined after trip death

BBC - Thu, 2014-07-17 02:57
A wedding venue is fined £20,000 after a guest tripped, broke his neck and died because its patio lights were not working.

India six-year-old 'raped in school'

BBC - Thu, 2014-07-17 02:55
A six-year-old schoolgirl is allegedly raped by two staff members at a school in the southern city of Bangalore, the latest such attack in India.

VIDEO: Japan's Mount Fuji made out of rice

BBC - Thu, 2014-07-17 02:54
Artists in Japan use a paddy field measuring 140m by 100m to create a giant scene from a legend about Mount Fuji using different coloured rice plants.

French leader in West Africa tour

BBC - Thu, 2014-07-17 02:51
The French president begins a three-day visit to West Africa, likely to be dominated by security and fostering economic ties, in Ivory Coast.

Mortars Rock A Shaky 5-Hour Truce Between Hamas And Israel

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-17 02:51

Israel and Hamas agreed to hold their fire for five hours, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. local time, for humanitarian reasons. But the peace was marred by a mortar attack around noon.

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'Grave concerns' over M4 relief road

BBC - Thu, 2014-07-17 02:38
Serious questions about the Welsh government's decision to build a £1bn M4 relief road around Newport are raised by an assembly committee report due out next week.

Rosberg must alter World Cup helmet

BBC - Thu, 2014-07-17 02:27
Nico Rosberg is forced to change the design of a helmet he was planning to wear to celebrate Germany's World Cup win.

Ban B&Bs for care leavers, say MPs

BBC - Thu, 2014-07-17 02:06
Young adults leaving the care system in England should be provided with regulated accommodation and not placed in bed and breakfasts, say MPs.

AUDIO: Stirling Prize 'goes beyond aesthetics'

BBC - Thu, 2014-07-17 02:06
Julia Barfield discusses the Stirling Prize shortlist for architecture, which includes the Shard skyscraper and London Aquatics Centre.

VIDEO: Runners named for architecture prize

BBC - Thu, 2014-07-17 02:03
Shortlist for this year's Stirling Prize, which recognises Britain's best new architecture, is announced

Car theft dog found tied to pole

BBC - Thu, 2014-07-17 02:00
A dog that was inside a car which was stolen in East Dunbartonshire is found tied to a pole.

Students experiment in zero-gravity

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-07-17 02:00

This week, a group of students are heading to NASA's Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program. True to its name, the program puts particpants in a plane that flies up and down, approximating zero gravity so the young scientists can do their work. 

Ish Sanchez, who is studying Mechanical Engineering at San Jose State University, is one such student participating in the program. He says being in an environment without gravity is profoundly different from the typical human experience.

“Your whole outlook on life -- up until the point when you experience zero gravity -- is completely shifted,” says Sanchez. “There’s no up and down, there’s no side walls. The mere act of pushing a button can send you off in another direction.”

The group wants to study particles created in potential in-space manufacturing or asteroid mining operations — The experiment will cut some carbon fiber rods and observe the different particle trajectories from cutting in zero gravity.

Though after this round of experiments, there may be a failure to launch -- The program is being cancelled due to budgetary constraints after this flight.

Students experiment in zero-gravity

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-07-17 02:00

This week, a group of students are heading to NASA's Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program. True to its name, the program puts particpants in a plane that flies up and down, approximating zero gravity so the young scientists can do their work. 

Ish Sanchez, who is studying Mechanical Engineering at San Jose State University, is one such student participating in the program. He says being in an environment without gravity is profoundly different from the typical human experience.

“Your whole outlook on life -- up until the point when you experience zero gravity -- is completely shifted,” says Sanchez. “There’s no up and down, there’s no side walls. The mere act of pushing a button can send you off in another direction.”

The group wants to study particles created in potential in-space manufacturing or asteroid mining operations — The experiment will cut some carbon fiber rods and observe the different particle trajectories from cutting in zero gravity.

Though after this round of experiments, there may be a failure to launch -- The program is being cancelled due to budgetary constraints after this flight.

Don't blame millennials. Blame the middle-aged!

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-07-17 02:00

There's a common refrain about the sluggish housing market these days that goes something like: "Those darned young folks just aren't buying houses like they used to."

Well, that diagnosis isn't quite right, according to a new study from Trulia, the online real estate firm.

Trulia Chief Economist Jed Kolko says if you look at the data, "18-to-34-year-olds today look about as likely to own a home as 18-to-34-year-olds did 20 years ago, once we adjust for the big changes in demographics."

Kolko points to demographic changes like the fact that today's young adults are much less likely to be married or have kids than their counterparts 20 years ago. When you look at the young adults today who still are married with kids, he says they are buying homes at the same rates as they did in 1997.

But there is a generation where homeownership really has declined since the rise and fall of the real estate market in the 2000s, even when you adjust for demographics.

"The 35-to-54-year-old group was more affected both by the housing bubble and by the foreclosure crisis," Kolko says.

Graphics from Trulia, depicting adjusted homeownership rates for 18-to-34 year olds and 35-to-54 year olds compared to a demographic baseline. The demographic baseline is a depiction of we'd expect to happen with those demographic if the recession, or any other behavioral changes, didn't occur. (Graphics courtesy of Trulia)

Of course, even that generation might not be gone from the housing market forever. Amy Gerrish, 36, lost her home outside of Phoenix, Ariz. to foreclosure in the early days of the real estate crash, and then reluctantly became a renter.

She knew it would take at least three years after the foreclosure to be considered for a home loan again.

"As soon as that date started coming up, we started looking," she says.

She now is a homeowner once more.

We reached out to listeners on Twitter to ask about their experience with the housing market. Here are some of the responses:

[<a href="//storify.com/Marketplace/middle-age-homebuyers" target="_blank">View the story "Middle-Age Homebuyers" on Storify</a>]

Facebook wants to know what you're watching

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-07-17 02:00

Let’s face it, we use our smart phones for just about everything, including watching television.

This fall, TV ratings giant Nielsen and Facebook will join forces to follow what we watch on our mobile devices.

Dorie Clark teaches corporate and personal branding at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. She says the new tracking system is a "necessary evolution."

“People are consuming far more video on their smart phones, on their I-Pads,” says Clark. “And if we want to make smart decisions about how to allocate marketing dollars, we need to know what they’re watching and where.” 

But there could be privacy concerns.

A Facebook spokesperson says the new system can’t be used to identify individuals. Even though Facebook and Nielsen announced the partnership last year, recent controversy over Facebook manipulating content to influence users’ emotions as part of a survey worries privacy advocates.

Jeff Chester, Executive Director of the Center for Digital Democracy, for example.

“It’s just one piece of a much more disturbing picture that’s emerging as Facebook links with these powerful market research companies to understand what we do and when we do it,” says Chester. 

 

VIDEO: Typewriters to fight digital snooping?

BBC - Thu, 2014-07-17 01:48
James Bond and Jason Bourne have given us an insight into the secretive world of espionage, but how much of what we see in those films takes place in real life?

Stanning in strong GB world squad

BBC - Thu, 2014-07-17 01:46
Heather Stanning will have a chance to win her first World Championship gold medal after being named in the GB rowing squad.

Tory 'head bangers' have won - Clegg

BBC - Thu, 2014-07-17 01:43
Nick Clegg attacks David Cameron's plans to limit the power of the European Court of Human Rights saying "extremists"' and "head bangers" now held sway in the Conservative Party.
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