NPR Picks

Sunday
Oct162011

Chance to Spot Rare Supernova Fading Fast

"Supernova 2011fe is bringing out the stargazers. It's one of the brightest supernovas in the last century and it's now visible. It's the kind of event amateur astronomers dream of."

"The supernova will last for more than a decade, but it won't stay this bright. Within the next week, the light that took 21 million years to reach earth will fade out of view for amateur astronomers."

"On a Saturday night in the desert town of Yucca Valley, Calif., two hours east of Los Angeles and far away from the big city lights, the town's community center parking lot is buzzing. There's a group of excited backyard astronomers like Carolina Liechtenstein."

Saturday
Oct152011

A Woman of Photos and Firsts: Ruth Gruber at 100

"At the age of 100, Ruth Gruber is responsible for a lot of firsts. When she was just 20, she became the youngest Ph.D. ever at the University of Cologne in Germany. She was the first photojournalist, much less female journalist, to travel to and cover both the Soviet Arctic and Siberian gulag. She documented Holocaust survivors and the plight of the ship, the Exodus 1947."

"Born in Brooklyn in 1911 to Jewish immigrants, Gruber has been the subject of a documentary film; of a made-for-TV movie; a musical; and, earlier this summer, she received a Cornell Capa Award and exhibition at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in Manhattan."

Thursday
Oct132011

'Catch-22': A Paradox Turns 50 and Still Rings True

"Fifty years ago, a new phrase began to make its way into American conversations: "Catch-22." Joseph Heller's irreverent World War II novel — named for the now-famous paradox — was published on Oct. 11, 1961. His take on war meshed perfectly with the anti-authoritarian generation that came of age in the 1960s. And now, a half-century later, the predicament of a no-win trap still resonates with a new crop of young people distrustful of their elders."

"In August 1944, Heller flew on a mission over the French town of Avignon. Sitting in the plexiglass nose cone of a B-25 bomber, Heller faced the very real possibility of death for the first time. That mission, says Heller biographer Tracy Daugherty, shaped the way Heller thought about war, a sensibility that permeates his novel."

Tuesday
Oct112011

How Many Gills in a Cubic Decameter?

"It's National Metric Week – always celebrated in the week that contains Oct. 10, because that's the 10th day of the 10th month. Metric folks love the number 10."

"The International System of Units — that's the official name of the metric system — is a decimal system of weights and measures based on the meter and the kilogram. Abbreviated SI, for Système international d'unités, the metric system was first suggested as early as the 16th century."

"It's now used almost universally throughout the world, though a few places still use some non-metric measurements (known as English or Imperial standards). You can still order a pint in a British or Irish pub, for example."

"Although its use has been sanctioned in America since 1866, the U.S. has stuck to ye old English system of feet and ounces. Only three countries — Burma (also known as Myanmar), Liberia and the United States — have not adopted it."

Sunday
Oct092011

The Economic Reality of Tough Immigration Laws

Gordon Hanson, an economist specializing in the impacts of immigration, studies the reality side of things at University of California-San Diego. He says that for decades there has been an unwritten social contract that says the U.S. isn't going to make it easy for immigrants to get in; there will be physical barriers and it will cost time, money and personal risk."

"What that did in effect was to select out people who weren't serious, to select out people for whom the opportunity of being in the United States didn't matter that much," Hanson tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Robert Smith.

Saturday
Oct082011

After Jobs, Who Will Be the Next American Visionary?Edison with his phonograph, 1877Edison With His Phonograph 1877

"Visionary. Uncompromising. Intuitive. Risk-taking. Steve Jobs — the man who helped build a company and used it to transform multiple industries and popular culture — could have been lifted from the pages of a college textbook on how to be a successful CEO."

"He was "the most incredible businessperson in the world," Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak told CBS News on Thursday, a day after Jobs' death."

Friday
Oct072011

Are You Among the "99 Percent?'

"As the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to spread, one of its rallying cries is generating a fair amount of debate."

"The protesters say they represent the "99 percent" — that is, everyone except the richest 1 percent of Americans or those who have been benefiting from the way things are going."

"Some conservative voices take issue with the 99 percent theme."

Thursday
Oct062011

Steve Jobs: How Apple's CEO Help Transform Popular Culture

"When the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was announced last night, if you were following Twitter, what you saw was a spasm of grief. Writers, actors, musicians, your friends, comedians ... the genuine sadness was palpable, not only because he was 56 years old, but because so many saw the news while holding one of his products in their hands. This is very much what popular culture is: this hive mind, this hum of collective response. And it makes all the sense in the world, because there's a good argument to be made that no one has affected popular culture more in the last — well, you can pick your number of decades — than Steve Jobs."

Wednesday
Oct052011

Israeli Chemist Wins Nobel Prize For Quasicrystals

"Israeli scientist Daniel Shechtman won the 2011 Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday for his discovery of quasicrystals."

"The 1982 breakthrough fundamentally changed the way chemists look at solid matter, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said."

"Scientists used to believe that atoms were arranged inside crystals only in ordered, repeating patterns, Shechtman's work showed that the atoms could be packed in a pattern that did not repeat – a new chemical structure known as a quasicrystal."

Monday
Oct032011

Dissolve My Nobel Prize! Fast! (A True Story)

"It's 1940. The Nazis have taken Copenhagen. They are literally marching through the streets, and physicist Niels Bohr has just hours, maybe minutes, to make two Nobel Prize medals disappear."

"These medals are made of 23-karat gold. They are heavy to handle, and being shiny and inscribed, they are noticeable. The Nazis have declared no gold shall leave Germany, but two Nobel laureates, one of Jewish descent, the other an opponent of the National Socialists, have quietly sent their medals to Bohr's Institute of Theoretical Physics, for protection. Their act is probably a capital offense — if the Gestapo can find the evidence."

Sunday
Oct022011

Ken Burns' 'Prohibition' Recalls a Law So Strict It Was (Tee)totally Doomed

"'We were awash in alcohol in the 19th century,' says documentarian Ken Burns in a discussion with Audie Cornish on Weekend Edition Sunday. Burns' Prohibition, beginning Sunday night on PBS, serves as the follow-up to his past series on topics as diverse as the Civil War, Jazz, the National Park system, and baseball."

"The early installments of Prohibition paint the America that got itself into Prohibition as a nation that indeed had a massive drinking habit — several times as much alcohol as we consume now. That habit, Burns says, led to a temperance movement initially intended to encourage people to drink less, not nothing. But its goals gradually became more and more extreme until the law that ultimately passed to enforce Prohibition was far stricter than many had intended — so strict that it could not stand."

Friday
Sep302011

Asteroids Pose Less Risk To Earth Than Thought

"Our planet's risk of being hit by a dangerous outer space rock may be smaller than scientists previously thought. That's according to a survey of the sky that NASA is calling the most accurate census yet of near-Earth asteroids."

"A NASA space telescope called the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, recently went searching for asteroids lurking nearby — and found far fewer than astronomers had expected."

Thursday
Sep292011

The 'Worm' That Could Bring Down the Internet

"For the past three years, a highly encrypted computer worm called Conficker has been spreading rapidly around the world. As many as 12 million computers have been infected with the self-updating worm, a type of malware that can get inside computers and operate without their permission."

"What Conficker does is penetrate the core of the [operating system] of the computer and essentially turn over control of your computer to a remote controller," writer Mark Bowden tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "[That person] could then utilize all of these computers, including yours, that are connected. ... And you have effectively the largest, most powerful computer in the world."

 

Wednesday
Sep282011

Wanna Live Forever? Become a Noun

"Adam: When I say "Henry Shrapnel, Jules Leotard, Robert Bunsen," you think — what?
Me: That they're inventors?
Adam: No. Better than that. Each one has become immortal. They're nouns!
Me: Is that a good thing, becoming a noun? ...
Adam: Are you kidding? It's a wonderful thing. A thing to sing about.
Me: You're going to sing?
Adam: If I may ..."

Monday
Sep262011

Avoiding Global Warming Stories

"There are, of course, global warming zealots and global warming absolute deniers. Most people, I figure, live in the middle, a bit cloudy about the data, a bit weary of the hysterics on either side, and worried both ways, about the costs of changing our ways and the costs of doing nothing. I am one of those who say even if the evidence isn't all in, let's be prudent; let's change our behavior."

 

Sunday
Sep252011

'The Swerve': Ideas That Rooted The Renaissance

"The latest distress signal being sounded on the chat sites I share with my bookish friends is that IKEA is about to introduce an updated version of its classic BILLY bookcase — some 10 of which totter to overflowing in my own basement. Anticipating "the death of the book," IKEA has redesigned the good old BILLY with deeper shelves and glass doors, thus transforming it from a bookcase into a tchotchke cabinet. What a relief, then, it is to be able to escape from this most recent alarmist speculation into (what else?) a book that itself attests to the power of books, or in this case, a single book to change the world. Stephen Greenblatt's new non-fiction wonder called, The Swerve, is part adventure tale, part enthralling history of ideas. As Greenblatt's story reminds us, there have been other, much grimmer times in history when books as objects very nearly disappeared — without Kindles, Nooks or iPads to take their place."

Friday
Sep232011

Physicists Wary of Junking Light Speed Limit Yet

"GENEVA (AP) — Physicists on the team that measured particles traveling faster than light said Friday they were as surprised as their skeptics about the results, which appear to violate the laws of nature as we know them."

"Hundreds of scientists packed an auditorium at one of the world's foremost laboratories on the Swiss-French border to hear how a subatomic particle, the neutrino, was found to have outrun light and confounded the theories of Albert Einstein."

"To our great surprise we found an anomaly," said Antonio Ereditato, who participated in the experiment and speaks on behalf of the team."

Wednesday
Sep212011


"Look around. There's a good chance you'll spot a tablet computer, if you don't have one yourself. Touch-screen phones are even more common. Biometric scanners scan your fingerprints at your bank, or your irises at the airport. They're devices that used to be the stuff of science fiction — the sort of thing you'd see in Star Trek or Blade Runner or Minority Report. Now they're here in the real world. And they're everywhere"

"How did so many films and TV shows get so much right about what was coming down the technological pipeline?"

Tuesday
Sep202011

Gamers Solve Stubborn Viral Mystery: The Shape of a Key Enzyme

"See, Mom? Playing online video games can pay off."

"An online group of gamers has correctly deduced the structure of an enzyme that AIDS-like viruses use for reproduction. By playing the online-game Foldit, the group figured out the structure of an important viral protein that has baffled scientists for more than a decade."

"The enzyme is a retroviral protease and plays a critical role in how the AIDS virus matures and proliferates. Gamers, who weren't experts in viruses, solved the puzzle in just three weeks."

Sunday
Sep182011

Glowing Kittens Help In Fight Against AIDS

 "Here's an experiment: Turn off your lights, shine a blue flashlight on the cats in the room and look for the ones that turn neon green, like a glow stick."

"That's how scientists at the Mayo Clinic identify cats that they've successfully treated against the feline immunodeficiency virus."