NPR Picks

Friday
Apr062012

Intel Legends Moore and Grove: Making It Last

"In Silicon Valley, the spotlight is often on young entrepreneurs with fresh ideas that will change the world — people like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, or Jack Dorsey of Twitter."

"But for decades, two older titans of the high-tech industry thrived in that fast-paced world: Gordon Moore and Andy Grove of Intel."

"Speaking recently in a rare joint interview, the two discussed how their company survived, and what they think of the current crop of Silicon Valley techies."

Thursday
Apr052012

Shake It Off: Earth's Wobble May Have Ended Ice Age

"The last big ice age ended about 11,000 years ago, and not a moment too soon — it made a lot more of the world livable, at least for humans."

"But exactly what caused the big thaw isn't clear, and new research suggests that a wobble in the Earth kicked off a complicated process that changed the whole planet."

"Ice tells the history of the Earth's climate: Air bubbles in ice reveal what the atmosphere was like and what the temperature was. And scientists can read this ice, even if it's been buried for thousands of years."

"But when it comes to the last ice age, ice has a mixed message."

Tuesday
Apr032012


"Everybody knows that there's just one Moon orbiting the Earth. But a new study by an international team of astronomers concludes that everybody is dead wrong about that."

"'At any time there are one or two one-meter diameter asteroids in orbit around the Earth,' says Robert Jedicke, an astronomer at the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii."

"Since most of these objects are too small to see, Jedicke had to use indirect methods to reach his conclusions. He started with a few well known facts."

Monday
Apr022012


"Nylon stockings became all the rage. Black fedoras were the "pure quill" — meaning the real deal. Bing Crosby crooned Only Forever on the console. And Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American actor ever to take home an Oscar."

"Ah, 1940. Three score and 12 years ago, America was in a very different place — economically and culturally."

"But on April 2, 2012, when the National Archives releases detailed data from the 1940 census, we will get an even keener idea of how much — or how little — this nation has really changed in the past 72 years."

Sunday
Apr012012

Does a Chocolate Habit Help Keep You Lean?

"A new study finds that people who eat chocolate several times a week are actually leaner than people who don't eat chocolate regularly."

"Really, we asked? Last time we checked chocolate was loaded with fat and sugar. But this new research, along with some prior studies, suggests chocolate may favorably influence metabolism."

"To test this theory, Beatrice Golomb, an associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, asked about 1,000 people, ages 20 to 85, a simple question: "How many times a week do you consume chocolate?" The participants then completed food frequency questionnaires to estimate their caloric intakes of a whole range of foods including chocolate. They also had weight and height measurement taken to calculate their body mass index, or BMI."

Saturday
Mar312012

"Novelist Christopher Moore says he isn't very good at giving elevator speeches — those quick pitches on your latest project that Hollywood screenwriters are so good at.

"'[That's] one of the reasons I probably don't work in Hollywood,' Moore tells NPR's Scott Simon. But if he had to give a brief rundown of his latest novel,Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d'Art, he says, 'I'd talk about it being a book about the color blue, and about solving the murder of Vincent van Gogh and the sort of mystical quality of making art. And it's funny.'"

"The narrative winds all around late 19th century Paris through artists' homes, cafes and brothels. But it begins and ends with a meditation on blue."

Friday
Mar302012


"It turns out your brain is organized even if you're not."

"At least that's the conclusion of a study in Science that looked at the network of fibers that carry signals from one part of the brain to another."

"Researchers used cutting-edge imaging technology to look at places where these fibers intersect. And they found a remarkably organized three-dimensional grid, says Van Wedeen of Harvard Medical School, the study's lead author."

"The grid is a bit like Manhattan, Wedeen says, 'with streets running in two dimensions and then the elevators in the buildings in the third dimension.'" 

"Of course the human brain has a lot of folds and curves. So, Wedeen says, you have to imagine Manhattan bent into some odd shapes. But the underlying grid doesn't change. The streets intersect at 90-degree angles and the buildings rise vertically."

Thursday
Mar292012


"The Greek atomists were the first to ponder the fundamental constitution of matter. They considered, in an amazingly prescient insight, that if you could cut matter into smaller and smaller pieces you'd end up with its smallest bits, which they called atoms."

"The word itself means that which cannot be cut. They further considered that atoms were eternal and indestructible, thus constituting the essence of Being. However, as they combined with each other in myriad ways, they made up all the stuff that we see in the world, from rocks to water drops to frogs and people. This way, Being turns into Becoming, capturing the essence of nature, of things that are and things that change. They went further, and in an attempt to create a unified theory of nature, proposed that thoughts and feelings were also made of atoms. Unified theories are as old as philosophy."

 

"Although the modern concept of atoms is quite different from that of the pre-Socratic Greeks, the notion that matter is made up of small, indivisible bits remains alive and well, constituting the basis of elementary particle physics, the branch of physics that tries to find the fundamental constituents of matter."

Wednesday
Mar212012


"New analysis of a photo taken in 1937 has led investigators to think it might show a piece of  the landing gear from aviator Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Electra plane, which disappeared in June that year somewhere in the South Pacific."

"And at the State Department today, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other officials gathered to announce that a privately funded search effort led by the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) will be going to the Pacific island nation of Kiribati in July to see if they can find any evidence of the aircraft, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan."

"'Amelia Earhart may have been an unlikely heroine for a nation down on its luck,' Clinton said, 'but she embodied the spirit of an America coming of age and increasingly confident, ready to lead in a quite uncertain and dangerous world.'"

Tuesday
Mar202012


"What makes people creative? What gives some of us the ability to create work that captivates the eyes, minds and hearts of others? Jonah Lehrer, a writer specializing in neuroscience, addresses that question in his new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works."

"Lehrer defines creativity broadly, considering everything from the invention of masking tape to breakthroughs in mathematics; from memorable ad campaigns to Shakespearean tragedies. He finds that the conditions that favor creativity — our brains, our times, our buildings, our cities — are equally broad."

"Lehrer joins NPR's Robert Siegel to talk about the creative process — where great ideas come from, how to foster them, and what to do when you inevitably get stuck."

Monday
Mar192012


"Don Draper, the main character on the hit TV show Mad Men, is said to have been inspired by a real Madison Avenue ad man: George Lois. Lois was a leader in the "Creative Revolution" in advertising during the 1950s, and became one of the most influential art directors in advertising history. His work helped make brands like Xerox, Lean Cuisine and Jiffy Lube famous. Lois is perhaps best known for creating iconic Esquire magazine covers, many of which now reside in the Museum of Modern Art."

"Lois recently talked with NPR's Renee Montagne about his work and his new book, Damn Good Advice. In the late '50s, he worked at the Doyle Dane Bernbach agency, the first agency that matched great art direction with great writing, according to Lois. One ad that Lois is particularly fond of was one his colleagues created for the 1957 campaign for Levy's Jewish Rye."

"The campaign was, 'You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's Jewish Rye,'" Lois remembers. "And the visual was a Native American Indian chomping into a sandwich made with Levy's; it was a Chinese waiter chomping into a sandwich; it was a New York Irish policeman chomping into it."

"Lois considers this campaign great because it had a memorable tag line, and the visuals were compelling. "Those two things together create great advertising," he says. It's as simple as that."

Sunday
Mar182012


"These are good times for Esperanza Spalding. The bass player, composer and vocalist was barely into her 20s when she released her debut album on a Spanish label in 2006. Her 2008 breakout record, Esperanza, topped Billboard's contemporary jazz chart. Not long after that, she was invited to play at the White House by President Barack Obama."

"Last year, she was the first jazz musician to be named Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards — much to the chagrin of Justin Bieber and legions of tweens. Spalding's latest album,Radio Music Society, comes out this week."

"'The benefit of the radio is, something beyond your realm of knowledge can surprise you, can enter your realm of knowledge,' Spalding tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin. 'Part of the premise of that stems from my concern about the accessibility of jazz, just how people can access it. If you don't already know about jazz music, how would you be exposed? How would get an opportunity to find out if it spoke to you? If you get exposed to it enough, you might find a taste for it.'"

Friday
Mar162012


"After 40 years on the stand-up stage, countless comedy albums and iconic movies, Steve Martin is still finding new ways to make people laugh."

"The comedian got on Twitter in 2010, and by now he has attracted nearly 2.5 million followers with his funny and slightly demented tweets."

"But Martin has recently gone old-school by collecting some of his funniest tweets — and the best responses from his followers — in a book,The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten.: The Tweets of Steve Martin."

Tuesday
Mar132012

Drones Over America: What Can They See?

"Unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, have long played a role in military operations. But imagine thousands of drones flying over U.S. skies — something we may see in just a few years. In February, President Obama signed an aviation bill requiring the Federal Aviation Administration to make plans to integrate drones into American airspace."

"On Monday's Fresh Air, John Villasenor, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a professor of electrical engineering at UCLA, explains what these drones will be able to see and how they work. He also talks about the privacy and national security concerns raised by using drones for surveillance purposes."

Monday
Mar122012


"The National Academy of Engineering in Washington, D.C., once asked its members to pick the greatest engineering achievement ever."

"Their choice? The electrification of the country through what's known as 'the grid.'"

"Ernest Moniz, director of the Energy Institute at MIT, says they were right on the money."

"'That reflects what an amazing machine this is, spread out geographically, always having to balance demand and supply because electricity is not stored,'" he says."

"Every day, with the flick of a switch, millions of Americans tap into the electricity grid. It's a web of power stations, transformers and transmission lines that span the continent, distributing electricity like veins and arteries distribute blood."

Thursday
Mar082012

Sun Sends Solar Flares Speeding Toward Earth Will Hit Thursday (3-8-12)

"The sun ejected two huge solar flares Tuesday, and NASA says that we here on Earth may notice the effects of magnetic fields and ionized gases that it estimates will arrive around 1:25 a.m. ET Thursday. So, if you detect some electronic interference — say, your GPS doesn't work right — blame it on the sun."

"In NASA's video of the mass ejections of solar matter, they look powerful, even angry — like massive solar blisters. As NASA says, 'One of the most dramatic features is the way the entire surface of the sun seems to ripple with the force of the eruption.'"

"The flares took place about an hour apart. And when they hit Earth, the waves of magnetic fields may disrupt power grids, as well as radio-based communications."

Wednesday
Mar072012

Is US Energy Independence Finally Within Reach?

"Rising gas prices have been the big energy story of the past several weeks. But many energy experts say that's a sideshow compared with the really big energy event — the huge boom in oil and natural gas production in the U.S. that could help the nation reach the elusive goal of energy independence."

"Since the Arab oil embargo of 1973, energy independence has been a Holy Grail for virtually every American president from Richard Nixon to Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama."

"But now, it might just be within reach."

Monday
Mar052012

Inconsistency the Real Hobgoblin

"The problem with flip-floppers is that they are, by definition, inconsistent. They're unpredictable."

"And our brains don't like that, says David Linden, a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins."

"To understand why, Linden says, it helps to consider how the brain looks for consistency and predictability in even a mundane event like reaching for a cup of coffee."

"Long before your hand reaches the cup, your brain starts making predictions about everything from how much force will be required to lift the cup to how the coffee will taste."

"Once the brain makes its predictions, it starts to "use sensory information as it comes in to compare the prediction with what actually took place,' Linden says."

"You grasp. You smell. You taste."

Saturday
Mar032012

As Film Fades photographer Makes a Huge, Huge Statement

"Photographer Dennis Manarchy has taken the idea of large-format and ... enlarged it. To make his portraits, Manarchy goes inside a 35-foot-long camera. He uses a 6-foot-tall negative. And to process the film, he says, 'you gotta get really nasty.'"

"The result, he says, is the 'most unbelievably beautiful thing you've ever seen in your life.'"

"Granted, he's biased. And I haven't been to his Chicago studio to see the portraits he's already made — but can only imagine the spectacle and resolution of a negative that large."

"This may not be the world's largest camera. There was one behemoth in 1900 that used wet plates. In 2007, Guinness recognized a project that used an entire airplane hangar as a camera (though that was more of a camera obscura). There's also the "camera truck," self-described as the "world's biggest mobile camera" — but that's also a pinhole."

Friday
Mar022012

In Rice: How Much Arsenic Is Too Much?

"The news that some rice-based foods are surprisingly high in arsenic has left rice lovers wondering how the heck we're to know what's safe to eat."

"Since Dartmouth College researchers reported last week that a toddler formula and energy bars sweetened with organic brown rice syrup tested high for arsenic, readers of The Salt have had lots of questions about how one might find out the arsenic content of rice-based foods, and figure out what's safe."

"Alas, those questions don't have simple answers."