NPR Picks


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."


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."


Shoot Now Focus Later: A Little Camera to Change the Game

"Just when you thought you had the latest in camera technology, along comes something new and shiny and ... rectangular."

"It's called the Lytro, and it uses something called "light field technology." In short: You shoot now and focus later."

"NPR's resident photo expert, Keith Jenkins, explains: In a nutshell, he says, this camera captures not only the color and the intensity of light — which is what normal cameras do — but also the direction of that light — from every possible angle."

"Still confused? We are, too."


Six Legged Giant Finds Secret Hideway Hidden For 80 Years

"No, this isn't a make-believe place. It's real."

"They call it "Ball's Pyramid." It's what's left of an old volcano that emerged from the sea about 7 million years ago. A British naval officer named Ball was the first European to see it in 1788. It sits off Australia, in the South Pacific. It is extremely narrow, 1,844 feet high, and it sits alone."

"What's more, for years this place had a secret. About half way up, at 225 feet above sea level, hanging on the rock surface, there is a small, spindly little bush and under that bush, a few years ago, two climbers, working in the dark, found something totally improbable hiding in the soil below. How it got there, we still don't know."


A Nation Divided: Can We Agree on Anything?

"Like baseballs in a batting cage, the controversies that divide us just keep on coming. Fast and unpredictable."

"Last month it was the flap over the Susan G. Komen foundation and its move to cut financial support of Planned Parenthood. The resulting imbroglio dredged up deeply held convictions among Americans about women's health issues and "cause marketing" that, in this case, has resulted in profits for companies promoting breast cancer awareness and research through pink and omnipresent product tie-ins."

"This month it's the Girl Scouts. Bob Morris, a state representative in Indiana, has created a kerfuffle by denouncing the Girl Scouts organization for 'sexualizing young girls.' The campfire-building, cookie-selling sorority, he wrote in a letter to his state Legislature, 'has been subverted in the name of liberal progressive politics and the destruction of traditional American family values.'"

"Next month it could be church bells, butterflies or baseball. There's just no telling."

"Do Americans disagree about everything? Are we such factious and fractious folks that we just naturally start arguing and choosing sides whenever something comes up? Are we always contentious, never content? Always warring, never loving? Have we reached such a pointed, poisoned, partisan point in our history that any topic, once it rises to the surface of national dialogue, triggers angry standoffs on Facebook and Twitter and everywhere else?"


Space Chronicles: Why Exploring Space Still Matters

"After decades of global dominance, America's Space Shuttle program ended last summer while countries like Russia, China and India continue to advance their programs. But astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, author of the new book Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, says we're at a critical moment for America's space program. He thinks it's time for America to invest heavily in space exploration and research."

"'Space exploration is a force of nature unto itself that no other force in society can rival,' Tyson tells NPR's David Greene. "Not only does that get people interested in sciences and all the related fields, it transforms the culture into one that values science and technology, and that's the culture that innovates," Tyson says. 'And in the 21st century, innovations in science and technology are the foundations of tomorrow's economy.'"

"He sees this 'force of nature' firsthand when he goes to student classrooms. 'I could stand in front of eighth graders and say, 'Who wants to be an aerospace engineer so you can design an airplane 20 percent more fuel efficient than the one your parents flew?' ' Tyson says. "That doesn't usually work. But if I say, 'Who wants to be an aerospace engineer to design the airplane that will navigate the rarefied atmosphere of Mars?' because that's where we're going next, I'm getting the best students in the class. I'm looking for life on Mars? I'm getting the best biologist. I want to study the rocks on Mars? I'm getting the best geologists.'"


Meet the Mathematical Genius in my Basement

"In the mid-1980s, Simon Norton was considered one of the great mathematical prodigies of the 20th century. He worked on a hyper-dimensional math problem so complex it was called "The Monster." But then things fell apart for Norton, and he ended up in a dingy basement packed with bulging plastic bags and piles of bus timetables."

"And he may have remained there in obscurity if it weren't for his upstairs neighbor in Cambridge, England: biographer Alexander Masters. Actually, Simon Norton was Masters' landlord. The two men developed a kind of friendship, and they even traveled together. Their time together is documented in Masters' new book, Simon: The Genius in My Basement."

"'Here he was, this extraordinary genius, the envy of everyone around him,' Masters says. 'And now he is a person who wanders around on trains and buses, whom some people will cross the street in order to avoid.'"


Is the Right to be Forgotten the Biggest Threat to Free Speech on the Internet?

"This Is Yesica, the tipsy one on the right. She's a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model from Argentina. She is very nice to look at."

"But if you live in Argentina, you can't look at her. Put Yesica's name in Yahoo! Argentina and what do you get? You get nothing. A blank. She's not there."

"Yesica and her lawyers have exercised a legal right now dubbed "The Right to Be Forgotten" that allows you to remove embarrassing pictures or information you put on the web — and do it permanently, totally. Which means you can tell Yahoo! or Google or Facebook, 'I don't want that there anymore. I want this to be forgotten. You have the image or the email or whatever in your computers. Remove it. And if you don't, you are breaking the law.'"

"Yesica demanded that Yahoo! remove certain pictures, and presumably a court has ordered Yahoo! to block Yesica searches while the two sides appeal."


Google Glasses: Frightening or Fantastic?

"The buzz is building about the news that, as The New York Times has reported, there soon may be 'Google glasses' that can 'stream information to the wearer's eyeballs in real time.'"

"Yes, by the end of the year Google may be selling spectacles that come with a small screen that in theory will allow users to get information about nearby locations, the weather, friends who might be close by and other things. They're reportedly going to cost between $250 and $600."

"Sounds cool, right?"


From Waterfall to LavaFall: Yosemite's Fleeting Phenomenon

"If you head to Yosemite National Park this time of year and stop by Horsetail Fall at just the right time, you might see something spectacular: As the sun sinks low in the sky, the waterfall glows with streaks of gold and yellow — and it looks just like molten lava."

"Photographers like Michael Frye flock to the park every February to try to capture the phenomenon. Frye, author of The Photographer's Guide to Yosemite, describes the sight to NPR's Audie Cornish."


Questions About Bird Flu Research Swirl Around Private WHO Meeting

"A closed-door meeting to discuss controversial bird flu research is drawing to a close at the World Health Organization in Geneva, and the WHO plans to publicly report on what happened once it's officially over.

"'We're very aware that there's a lot of interest in the meeting and that people will want to know, you know, what were the issues that were discussed and did you come to any consensus,' the WHO's Keiji Fukuda noted before the meeting began. 'So we will try to make that as clear as possible as quickly as possible.'"

"The international gathering comes as the scientific community is divided about the risks and benefits of experiments that generated genetically altered bird flu viruses."


Ellie Wiesel Shines Spotlight on Romney Over Controversial Mormon Practice?

"Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is under pressure to condemn posthumous Mormon baptisms of Jews and Holocaust victims"

"Romney "should speak to his own church and say they should stop," said Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel in a story in the Huffington Post."

"'I wonder if as a candidate for the presidency Mitt Romney is aware of what his church is doing,' Wiesel continued. 'I hope that if he hears about this that he will speak up.'"

"Wiesel was reacting to news this week that his name, and the names of his father and grandfather, were found on a genealogical database kept by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and used to select deceased souls for a Mormon practice known as proxy baptism."


Is Adding Fiber to Food Really Good For Your Health?

"I'm standing in the cereal aisle with three items in my basket: a box of sugary kids' cereal, some yogurt and a bottle of apple juice. According to their labels, all three of these foods are good sources of fiber, which, if you think about it, may say as much about us (the shoppers) as it does about the food we buy."

"'We're looking for elements within things,' says John Swartzberg, a professor of public health at University of California, Berkeley. 'Almost a mystical kind of thinking.'"

"He says that our love affair with food additives — fiber, for example — can be traced back to a single moment in history: British navy, 1747. "They realized that when the sailors were eating citrus fruits, they didn't get this terrible disease called scurvy," he says."


Return of Gray Wolves Renews Debate Over Hunting

"Gray wolves were taken off the endangered species list in Idaho and Montana last year and put under state control. But they're still on the list in neighboring Wyoming. That's because Wyoming has been the most aggressive about wanting to kill wolves."

"Wyoming has finally struck a deal with the federal government regarding how wolves will be treated once the state takes over. But environmentalists believe the agreement denies wolves an important refuge."

"There weren't any wolves in Wyoming until the federal government reintroduced them in the 1990s. Now there are at least 329 in the state. But the state is eager to shrink the population because wolves kill livestock and game."


Dickens at 200: A Birthday You Can't Bah Humbug

"Tuesday marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens — the great 19th century English novelist who gave us stories of pathos and comedy, and colorful portraits of the people of London, from the poor in the back streets, to the rich in the parks and avenues."

"Lots of Dickens' phrases — like "Bah humbug" and "God bless us, every one!" — have slipped into our minds and our memories. And along with the words, the characters, too — from hungry orphan Oliver Twist to sweet and lonely little Nell to cruel Mr. Murdstone."

"'After Shakespeare, Dickens is the great creator of characters, multiple characters," says Claire Tomalin, author of the new biography Charles Dickens: A Life. "He did these great walks — he would walk every day for miles and miles, and sometimes I think he was sort of stoking up his imagination as he walked, and thinking of his characters. The way he built his novels was through the voices of his characters.'"



Stopping the Brain Drain of the US Economy

"Yale University student Marina Keegan received an email last May from Bridgewater Associates, one of the world's largest hedge funds, offering her $100 if she said why she didn't apply for a summer internship."

"Keegan, an English major, decided to take Bridgewater up on its offer."

"'It was only sort of once I was inside the room when I realized ... maybe I'm helping them perfect their recruiting machine, which is exactly what we were doing,' Keegan tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz."

"Bridgewater confirmed that it does hold these focus groups. It's a small but telling window into the way big banks and consulting companies recruit at top-tier schools."


Addicts Brains May Be Wired at Birth for Less Self-Control

"Many addicts inherit a brain that has trouble just saying no to drugs."

"A study in Science finds that cocaine addicts have abnormalities in areas of the brain involved in self-control. And these abnormalities appear to predate any drug abuse."

"The study, done by a team at the University of Cambridge in the U.K., looked at 50 pairs of siblings. One member of each pair was a cocaine addict. The other had no history of drug abuse"

"But brain scans showed that both siblings had brains unlike those of typical people, says Karen Ersche, the study's lead author. "

"'The fibers that connect the different parts of the brain were less efficient in both,' she says."


In Italy: Art As a Window Into Modern Banking

"As Italy and much of Europe struggle with their finances, the city of Florence has staged an art exhibition looking at the critical — and controversial — role that financial institutions have played for centuries.

"The recent Money and Beauty exhibit, held in the majestic 15th-century Palazzo Strozzi, illustrated how Florentine merchants got around the Catholic Church's ban on money-lending and bankrolled the Renaissance."

"With the Bible explicitly condemning usury, the lending of money was relegated to Jews, one of the few professions they were allowed to practice."

"Yet in Florence, merchants turned the city into a laboratory and invented the financial instruments of international trade."

"The exhibition starts with a small gold coin — the florin, named after the city. It was first minted in 1252, and a half-century later it was being used throughout Europe."


Want To Make A Giant Telescope Mirror--Here's How

"The world's largest mirrors for the world's largest telescopes are made under the football stadium at the University of Arizona."

"Why there? Why not?"

"'We wanted some space, and it was just used for parking some cars, and this seemed like a good use,' says Roger Angel."

"Angel is the master of making big mirrors for telescopes. For 30 years he has been using a method called spin casting to make the largest solid telescope mirrors in the world."

"At the moment, he's making the second of seven mirrors, each 27 feet across, that will go into the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), which will be sited on a peak in the Andes Mountains in Chile."


One Man's Quest To Capture America's Endangered Zoo Animals With a Camera

"To spend a day in the life of National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore, there are a few things you have to get used to. Really long drives, for one. Tigers charging at you. And, of course ... well ... messes."

"'I'm the only studio portrait photographer I know whose subjects routinely poop and pee on the background right in front of me,' he says from behind the lens."

"It's a comical sight here behind the scenes at the National Aquarium in Baltimore: Sartore, two animal handlers and a ridiculous amount of gear are cramped into a tiny, 50-degree back room. All for a puffin. Sartore is doing all he can to coax the little guy into a handsome headshot. In my mind, this is fun, but for him, it's serious business."