NPR Picks

Monday
Jan082018

When The Cash Register Doesn't Take Cash

"General manager Erica Ritchie smiled politely before breaking the news to the young woman with a $10 bill in her hand."

"'We're actually cashless,' said Ritchie inside Bluestone Lane, a bright cafe in the shadow of City Hall in downtown Philadelphia."

"'Oh,' said the young woman, a bit sheepishly, before handing over a credit card to pay for her small coffee."

"By now, Ritchie is used to the exchange, though it's not terribly common anymore. Most of Bluestone's customers are regulars who come because it's close to work — and because they rarely carry cash. They like the reassurance in this food-crazed city that they won't need it."

"'I can't remember the last time I got out cash. Probably like a few weeks ago – a month ago? Maybe something like that,' said Samuel Foote, a social worker in the office building above the cafe, as he waited for banana toast. 'And it was like to give money to my father who doesn't have Venmo.'"

 

Sunday
Jan072018

It's Not Just A Cold, It's 'Sickness Behavior'

"It's just a cold. But even though I know I'm not horribly ill, I feel this overwhelming need to skip work, ignore my family and retreat to the far corner of the sofa."

"I'm not being a wimp, it turns out. Those feelings are a real thing called "sickness behavior," which is sparked by the body's response to infection. The same chemicals that tell the immune system to rush in and fend off invading viruses also tell us to slow down; skip the eating, drinking and sex; shun social interactions; and rest."

"'Those messages are so powerful they can't be ignored,' says Philip Chen, a rhinologist at the University of Texas, San Antonio. But that doesn't mean we don't try. Symptoms like a stuffy nose are obvious, Chen notes, but we're less aware that changes in mood and behavior are also part of our bodies' natural response to infection."

"It might behoove us to pay attention. There is plenty of evidence that having a cold impairs moodalertness and working memory and that brain performance falls off with even minor symptoms."

 

Saturday
Jan062018

NPR Host Robert Siegel Signs Off

"The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the median number of years that American workers have been working for their current employer is a little over four."

"I say that to acknowledge how unusual it is that I have been working at National Public Radio for a little over 40 years — 41, to be precise."

"For the past 30 years, I've been doing the same job: hosting All Things Considered. And doing it very happily."

"No one is more surprised by my tenure than I am."

"I came to NPR on what I thought was an unfortunate but necessary detour that — I hoped and figured — would last a couple of years."

"I'm a native New Yorker and the New York FM radio station where I worked was sold in 1976 and — to put it mildly — I didn't figure in the new owner's plans."

Friday
Jan052018

While The Eastern U.S. Freezes, It's Too Warm In Alaska

"While above-average temperatures might sound good to much of the U.S. right now, it's too warm in rural Alaska. High temperatures 10 to 20 degrees above average are upsetting everything from recreation to hunting for food."

"Last Saturday, Maurice Andrews won the Kuskokwim River's first sled dog race of the season."

"'It felt awesome, man,' Andrews said, 'Finally! Finally good to be out.'"

"The race in southwest Alaska had been scheduled to happen two weeks before. But warm weather — just above freezing — made the trails unsafe. Temperatures dropped and a dusting of snow fell. The entire race usually runs 35 miles up the frozen river. This time it had to run over land."

Thursday
Jan042018

Ancient Human Remains Document Migration From Asia To America

"In Alaska, scientists have uncovered something they say is remarkable: the remains of two infants dating back more than 11,000 years."

"Their discovery is evidence of the earliest wave of migration into the Americas."

"'It's incredibly rare,' says Ben Potter, an archaeologist at the University of Alaska who is among the researchers on the project, at a site called Upward Sun River in central Alaska. 'We only have a handful of human remains that are this old in the entire Western Hemisphere.' The findings were published Wednesday by the journal Nature."

"The remains were in such good condition that geneticists were able to extract DNA from one of them. They compared the sample with the genes of people from around the world."

"They conclude that the ancestors of these infants started out in East Asia about 35,000 years ago. As they traveled east, they became genetically isolated from other Asians. At some point during the last ice age they crossed a frozen land bridge from Siberia to Alaska called "'Beringia.'"

Wednesday
Jan032018

Neuroscientist Predicts 'Much Better Treatment' For Alzheimer's Is 10 Years Away

"British neuroscientist Joseph Jebelli first set out to study Alzheimer's because of his grandfather, who developed the disease when Jebelli was 12."

"In the years that followed, Jebelli watched as his grandfather's memory started to disappear. But Jebelli points out that although a certain amount of memory loss is a natural part of aging, what happened to his grandfather and to other Alzheimer's patients is different."

"'Losing your keys, forgetting where you put your glasses, is completely normal,' he says. 'But when you find your glasses and your keys and you think, 'What are these for?' — that's a sign that there's something else going on, that it's not just a memory loss.'"

 

Tuesday
Jan022018

Scientists Still Seek A Reliable DUI Test For Marijuana

"This spring, 16 state patrol officers from Colorado and Wyoming took a couple days off their usual work schedule to do something special. They assembled in a hotel conference room in Denver. As instructed, they wore street clothes for their first assignment: going shopping at nearby marijuana dispensaries."

"'It's a brave new world,' said instructor Chris Halsor, referring to the years since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana."

"There are now more marijuana dispensaries in Colorado than there are Starbucks shops, said Halsor, a Denver lawyer and former prosecutor. And though consuming cannabis is legal across the state, driving under its influence is not."

"The cops in that conference room, with their buzz cuts and Mountain Dew, are all part of the force charged with keeping the roads safe. But first, they needed a formal pot education — to learn how to identify various marijuana products and paraphernalia when they pull over a driver they suspect is under the influence."

 

Monday
Jan012018

How Pirates Of The Caribbean Hijacked America's Metric System

"If the United States were more like the rest of the world, a McDonald's Quarter Pounder might be known as the McDonald's 113-Grammer, John Henry's 9-pound hammer would be 4.08 kilograms, and any 800-pound gorillas in the room would likely weigh 362 kilos."

"One reason this country never adopted the metric system might be pirates. Here's what happened:

"In 1793, the brand new United States of America needed a standard measuring system because the states were using a hodgepodge of systems."

"'For example, in New York, they were using Dutch systems, and in New England, they were using English systems,' says Keith Martin, of the research library at the National Institute of Standards and Technology."

"This made interstate commerce difficult."

Sunday
Dec312017

Researchers Gather Health Data For 'All Of Us'

"Federal taxpayers are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into a quest for blood samples, medical information and fitness readouts from a million Americans. It's called the All of Us precision medicine initiative, and it's the biggest push ever mounted to create a huge public pool of data that scientists — and anybody else who is interested — can mine for clues about health and disease."

"Proponents say this big data approach to medicine will be revolutionary. Critics aren't so sure."

"The plan is to recruit a million Americans to sign up for a program that will not only gather all sorts of medical data about them but will also follow them for at least a decade, possibly much longer. Their electronic medical records could end up in huge databases. The physical samples of blood and urine will end up in an industrial park in Rochester, Minn."

"Mine Cicek, an assistant professor of laboratory medicine and pathology at the Mayo Clinic, leads me into a vast building with more than an acre and a half of floor space. 'This used to be an old warehouse, but when we moved in three to four years ago, we really built a laboratory, and it's in the space,' she says."

 

Saturday
Dec302017

The Photos That Tell Some Of 2017's Biggest International Stories

As 2017 draws to a close, we take a look at powerful photos from around the world that tell some of the year's most important stories.

The toll of Syria's civil war:

The war between Syrian rebels and government forces began in 2011 and has displaced millions and left hundreds of thousands dead. Much of Aleppo — Syria's centuries-old city known as its economic capital and celebrated for its beauty, history and culture — lay in ruins after years of fighting. After President Bashar Assad's military recaptured the city in late 2016, residents including 70-year-old Mohammed Mohiedin Anis returned and found homes damaged or destroyed. "He played one of his favorite songs," AFP photographer Joseph Eid told Time magazine — a recording by Syrian singer Mohamed Dia al-Din. "He is so attached to his past and to the things that he always cherished and loved, and without them he will lose his identity," Eid said. "That's why he insists on staying and getting back his life again."

Friday
Dec292017

In Memoriam 2017: The Musicians We Lost

Bright voices from every corner of the music world left us this year — from virtuoso players to visionary composers, from charismatic bandleaders to golden-eared producers, from influential inventors to critics and commentators who interrogated and elevated the art they covered. Explore their legacies here.

Thursday
Dec282017

Size (And Sound) Matters When It Comes To Bubbles In Your Sparkling Wine

"Oenophiles have debated the most desirable characteristics of bubbles in champagne and sparkling wines for centuries, with most purists swearing that the smaller the bubble, the better the wine. But up until recently, few thought to listen to the bubbles themselves for answers."

"Scientists at the Applied Research Laboratories at the University of Texas in Austin normally measure the sound of inflating fish bladders and bubble curtains that dampen noise from underwater drilling. This time, they decided to listen in on champagne bubbles. "It was just nerdy curiosity," says Kyle Spratt, who led the research at UT."

"'Our first inclination was to drop a hydrophone (underwater microphone) into a glass and see what sort of sounds we heard,' Spratt says."

"And, how do sparkling wine bubbles sound? With the right listening equipment, 'they ring like bells,' he says. And the more expensive bottle did indeed have smaller bubbles, he found."

Wednesday
Dec272017

As Corals Wither Around The World, Scientists Try IVF

"A couple hours after sunset, everyone is donning a wetsuit. In minutes, 15 to 20 dark figures are standing in a graveyard on the west coast of Guam. But they're not here for the tombstones. They've come to help rescue something from dying in the waters nearby — the corals."

"Corals along Guam's coastlines have been dying in recent years, and they're not alone. Warming seawater and increasing ocean acidity are damaging reef ecosystems around the world. Some scientists and environmentalists fear a worldwide collapse by 2050."

"The coral reefs we see are actually colonies of millions of tiny animals. In a single night, the corals cast a fog of sperm and eggs into the water, some of which fertilize to make baby coral larvae. And some of those larvae settle back onto the reef, making it grow."

"Dirk Petersen says, 'OK, let's go. It's gonna be the night, guys. Spawning time.'"

Tuesday
Dec262017

North Korea Designed A Nuke. So Did This Truck Driver

"This year, deep inside a mountain, North Korea detonated a giant nuclear bomb."

"The weapon was powerful; at least 10 times more destructive than the bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. The North claimed it was an advanced, thermonuclear design. The test came just months after a report that some intelligence officials believed North Korea had successfully "miniaturized" some of its nukes in order to fit them on top of missiles."

"The apparently rapid progress alarmed politicians and pundits, and it worried average Americans, many of whom hadn't thought much about nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War."

"But a 71-year-old truck driver named John Coster-Mullen wasn't surprised. Nuclear weapons are not particularly "hard" to design and build, he says. "Compared to what they do in manufacturing today for making a light bulb, these are simple. They really are," he says."

Monday
Dec252017

'Fascinating And Also A Little Bit Uncomfortable': Andrew Wyeth At 100

"In 1977, nearly 30 years after Andrew Wyeth's most famous painting "Christina's World" was created, critic Robert Rosenblum was asked to name the most overrated and most underrated artists. He put Wyeth in both categories."

"'Robert Rosenblum's comment is accurate to a degree but also simplistic,' says Michael Komanecki, chief curator at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine. He's often asked to weigh in on Wyeth. 'Andy has been described to me as, 'Oh, the critics treat him so badly.' Well, it's not at all true — he enjoyed a tremendous critical reputation for decades.'"

"Wyeth has certainly enjoyed tremendous commercial success. The Farnsworth has an entire center devoted to the work of Andrew Wyeth, his father N.C. Wyeth and Andrew's son Jamie Wyeth. The museum's collection of Andrew's work shows a range that's broader than the seemingly literal realism of his familiar paintings — with their fine brushwork, muted palette and depictions of his rural neighbors. Here, there are watercolors of coastlines with energetic, impressionistic brushstrokes and a bright palette. These are surprises."

Sunday
Dec242017

SpaceX Rocket Launch Lights Up The California Sky, Freaks Out Some Residents

"An iridescent streak lit up the sky over Southern California on Friday night, stopping traffic and leading some residents to marvel and others to worry about a UFO or even a nuclear bomb attack. In reality, it was a SpaceX rocket lifting off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, north of Santa Barbara, Calif., carrying 10 satellites for the Iridium constellation. They will be used in mobile voice and data communications."

"In a bid to ease the minds of worried witnesses, the Los Angeles Fire Department released a statement saying the 'mysterious light in the sky is reported to be the result of [Vandenberg] Air Force Base launching rocket to put satellite into space.'"

"SpaceX CEO Elon Musk didn't help matters when he tweeted, 'Nuclear alien UFO from North Korea.'"

The glowing contrail could be seen as far away as Phoenix, reports The Associated Press.

"People were wondering if it had something to do with movies, or TV or a UFO," Jimmy Golen, who was touring the Warner Bros. studio in Burbank at the time, told the wire service.

 

Saturday
Dec232017

The Christmas Of Now: A Convergence Of Pasts

"Ebenezer Scrooge was famously visited by three ghosts in A Christmas Carol. The past, present and future all converged on poor Scrooge in an effort to save him from his own narrow vision of the world and wake him to the wonders of the life right before his eyes."

"As we navigate the frantic pace of this holiday season we, like Scrooge, might stop to let the past, present and future converge on us for the same reason. Luckily we don't need any scary spectral visitations on Christmas Eve. All we have to do is step outside and let the night sky transport us back in time."

"So put on your coats, and your gloves and don't forget your scarf because you can't rush this. The truth of time — your time — will take a moment to sink in."

"Once you get out there your job is to find a star and focus on it for a second. Now here is a question: Are you seeing that distant sun as it is now, right now?"

 

Friday
Dec222017

Climate Change Likely To Increase Volcanic Eruptions, Scientists Say

"A warming planet due to human-induced climate change will likely contribute to an increase in volcanic activity, according to a recent study in the journal Geology."

"While a relationship between climate and volcanism might seem counter-intuitive, it turns out that pressure exerted by thick glaciers on the Earth's crust — what geologists call "surface loading" – has an impact on the flow of magma below the surface."

"The correlation affects "magma flow and the voids and gaps in the Earth where magma flows to the surface as well as how much magma the crust can actually hold," the study's lead author Graeme T. Swindles, an associate professor of Earth system dynamics at the University of Leeds, wrote in an email to Scientific American."

Thursday
Dec212017

Life Expectancy Drops Again As Opioid Deaths Surge In U.S.

"Life expectancy in the U.S. fell for the second year in a row in 2016, nudged down again by a surge in fatal opioid overdoses, federal officials report Thursday."

"'I'm not prone to dramatic statements,' says Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics. 'But I think we should be really alarmed. The drug overdose problem is a public health problem and it needs to be addressed. We need to get a handle on it.'"

"The trend is especially concerning because life expectancy is considered an important indicator of the general well-being of a nation."

"'It gives you sort of an overall sense of what's going on,' Anderson says."

"Life expectancy, which is the average time someone is expected to live, generally has been rising steadily for decades in the United States, with only occasional downward ticks."

Wednesday
Dec202017

Illinois Holocaust Museum Preserves Survivors' Stories — As Holograms

Holocaust survivor Sam Harris has told the story of how he survived the Holocaust hundreds of times.

He's talked about his experience in the Nazis' concentration camps with school groups and in videos for oral history archives. He even wrote a children's book.

But when he sat down to tell his story in Los Angeles a couple months ago, it was different.

In a Hollywood studio, surrounded by green screens, Harris answered questions for five or six hours a day. By the time it was all done, he'd answered nearly 2,000.

Sam Harris was getting made into a hologram.

"Oh my gosh, it's like being on the moon," Harris said. "I just looked at it and said, is that me?"