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Science

All Things Considered

Computers That Know What You Need, Before You Ask

Monday, March 17, 2014

Programs — some already on your smartphone — are preparing useful information based on your past behavior, ushering in the era of predictive, or anticipatory, computing.

Comment

Even If You Don't Have Symptoms, You May Still Have The Flu

Monday, March 17, 2014

Roughly 1 in 5 unvaccinated people had the flu between 2006 and 2011, but only a quarter of them had symptoms, a study found. That could affect how the virus spreads.

Comment

Scientists Announce A Big-Bang Breakthrough

Monday, March 17, 2014

Researchers say they have found direct evidence of a mysterious and ultrarapid expansion of the universe in the first sliver of a second after the Big Bang.

Comment

A New Window On The Big Bang Has Been Opened

Monday, March 17, 2014

The very first moments of the universe hold secrets we'd very much like to know. Commentator Adam Frank says news today takes us a step closer to understanding the origins of the cosmos.

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Radiolab

A Flash Freeze, In High-Def

Monday, March 17, 2014

Not only did we get to see water freeze into ice instantaneously, Rockefeller University set it up like a Vogue fashion shoot.

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Comments [17]

The Green You See Is Not The Green You See

Monday, March 17, 2014

Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, commentator Tania Lombrozo brings us two illusions in green. Look at them long and hard, if you dare.

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PRI's The World

How does a jetliner go missing with all of today's technology?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Teams from more than 20 nations are scouring a huge area stretching from the Indian Ocean near Australia to Central Asia, looking for any sign of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 — the Boeing 777 jet that went missing on March 8 with 239 people onboard.

Until they find the jet and its vital "black boxes," investigators will be hard-pressed to prove what happened to the missing airliner. Aviation safety expert Alan Diehl said that, with today's advanced technology, it shouldn't be possible for a commercial airplane to simply vanish. 

"If there's a defect in the Boeing 777, the industry needs to know about it right away," said Diehl, who has worked with the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Association and the US military. "Other airlines may not want to buy a 777 if there's still a cloud over this incident."

In their almost 20 years in service, just two Boeing 777s have been lost — Asiana Airlines Flight 214, which crashed in San Francisco last year and British Airways flight that crashed at London's Heathrow airport in 2008. Generally, the Boeing 777 has been heralded as one of the safest jets in the sky.

Planes are often equipped with an emergency locator transmitter (ELT), capable of sending location messages to a satellite. The Malaysia Airlines flight did have an ELT, but it never activated. That could be because of the way it crashed, or even that it never crashed at all. "Airliners in the US and Malaysia, are not required to carry these transmitters," said Diehl, who spent 40 years designing aircraft. 

Credit: Reuters

New technologies do exist, according to Diehl, author of the book, Air Safety Investigators: Using Science to Save Lives — One Crash at a Time. He points out that a Canadian company claims to have developed a "streaming black box, which streams data constantly. But there's been a lot of debate whether or not there's enough bandwidth to allow 2,000 or 3,000 airlines around the world [to be] streaming this data constantly."

If the plane did crash into the Indian Ocean, and didn't land on some airstrip in southeast Asia or crash into a remote area in that part of the world, investigators will have just three weeks to locate the airplane's black boxes using the mandatory underwater locator devices planes carry. That's how long the batteries last. The underwater locators aren't helpful if the plane crashed or set down on land.

"If we don't find [the plane] in the next three weeks, we may never find it," Diehl said. "This may be another Amelia Earhart situation and that's not what we want."

Of course, even if years go by, the plane can still be found. Air France Flight 447 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean and more than two years went by before investigators were able to find and recover the plane's black boxes, using remotely controlled submersibles.

And if the plane landed on the ground, a whole different set of circumstances could transpire to lead investigators to the plane.

Comment

The Brian Lehrer Show

CAFFEINE!; the Metro-North report; Crimea’s Decision

Monday, March 17, 2014

Did you know that the caffeine in soda is usually made in China? Murray Carpenter is author of Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us and he’ll explain the drug. Plus: what a federal report on the Metro-North crash found about how the rail service was too lax about safety; the latest on the Crimean referendum; and more.

Soundcheck

People Who Don’t Enjoy Music; Liam Finn Plays Live; Knitting Factory Founder Michael Dorf Honors Paul Simon

Monday, March 17, 2014

In this episode: A recent study shows that some people -- in fact, perhaps as much as two percent of the population -- don’t feel any emotional response when listening to music. Robert Zatorre, neuroscientist at the Montreal Neurological Institute, explains what’s known as “musical anhedonia” and why music might not have an impact on some brains.

Then: New Zealand singer-songwriter Liam Finn comes from a musical family: he’s the son of Neil Finn from Crowded House and Split Enz. Hear him and his band play songs from his new album, The Nihilist, in the Soundcheck studio.

And: Michael Dorf founded the popular down-and-dirty music venue The Knitting Factory back in the 1980's, and the much more upscale venue City Winery 20 years later. The music impresario joins us to talk about his annual Carnegie Hall tribute show series -- which this year will honor the music of Paul Simon.

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Soundcheck

Do You Not Get Pleasure From Music? Maybe You Have Musical Anhedonia

Monday, March 17, 2014

A recent study shows that some people don’t feel any emotional response when listening to music. We find out why music might not have an impact on some brains.

Comments [9]

PRI's The World

As the air clears in Paris, here's a look beyond the smog emergency

Monday, March 17, 2014

Parisians are breathing a little easier Monday, quite literally.

An air pollution emergency over the last few days is abating and life is more or less returning to normal.

The BBC's Paris correspondent Hugh Schofield says the air had already started to improve over the weekend after "really bad days" on Thursday and Friday. But officials nonetheless imposed alternate — or "odd/even" — driving restrictions for Monday as a precaution against a resurgence of dangerous levels of particulate smog.

The restrictions allowed only cars with odd-numbered license plates on the road on odd-numbered days, and only those with even-numbered plates on even-numbered days. But the rules were in place for just one day. Authorities called them off on Monday after the pollution improved.

On Friday, the city made its Metro rail system and car and bike share programs free for the duration of the crisis.

The smog emergency started last week when a stalled high-pressure system cut down on air circulation and trapped vehicle exhaust and other emissions over the city. It worsened on Friday when a northerly wind blew in emissions from industrialized areas of Germany and beyond.

It had been 17 years since the last smog emergency in Paris and, even at its worst, Schofield says, the air was nowhere near as bad as it often is these days in developing world cities like Beijing, São Paolo and Mumbai.

"It was certainly annoying and bad and I felt a catch in my throat when I went cycling and so on," he says. "But it was nothing like the levels of smog that you could experience" in those cities, he says.

Schofield explains that the emergency steps were taken because Paris has a much lower pollution threshold for such actions. There was also "a certain amount of politics involved ... because we do have the city mayoral elections coming up the end of the week, and that is very much on everyone's minds."

The weather was the immediate culprit, but Schofield says the pollution came from emissions from diesel engines and other sources in and around Paris. He says Paris is trying to phase out diesel buses and take other steps to cut pollution.

"Everyone knows that to address this problem deeply, you can't have these one-off, urgent, emergency reactions like alternate driving ... We're all responsible in the way we consume energy and the way we drive our cars," he says.

But Paris is not particularly guilty. "It's got a very good public transport system, " he says. "It's just that maybe it needs to be extended in certain areas and more incentives put in place for people to leave their cars at home."

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All Things Considered

Parenting In The Age Of Apps: Is That iPad Help Or Harm?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

With tablet technology still relatively new, pediatricians are trying to understand how interactive media affects children.

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All Things Considered

Photo Identification: The 'Best And Worst Way' To ID People

Sunday, March 16, 2014

How reliably can we find the fakes? A new study says the more forgeries people come across, the better they are at spotting them. But there are multiple traps that can cloud screeners' judgment.

Comment

Physicists, Generals And CEOs Agree: Ditch The PowerPoint

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A group of physicists banned PowerPoint from forums, and they aren't the only people who say we should cut back on slide-based presentations: Others include Amazon, LinkedIn and NASA.

Comment

Not-So-Objective Scientists Cling To Accepted Wisdom

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Overturning scientific dogma is tricky. Reporter Joe Palca tells NPR's Rachel Martin that one astronomer learned that lesson when he calculated that the universe was younger than colleagues believed.

Comment

Why'd The Scientist Cross The Road? To Figure Out Why You're Laughing

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Scott Weems' book HA! explores the science of when we laugh and why. He describes the part of your brain that's active when you laugh, and the controversy over whether ducks are funnier than chickens.

Comment

You're Old. You're a Rock. You Can See

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Two rocks sit on a hill. They're rocks, so there's not a whole lot to do. But then there's a noise, some motion, and suddenly they are witnesses to an extraordinary change. Come see what they see.

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Radiolab

You're Old. You're a Rock. You Can See

Saturday, March 15, 2014

I want to tell you the story of three rocks, starting with the oldest one ever found. That one is so small, if you put it in the palm of your hand you'd need a magnifying glass to spot it. It was found buried inside a hunk of sandstone near ...

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Rethinking The Five-Second Rule: With Carpet, There's No Rush

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Looks like the old adage about when it's safe to eat dropped foods may actually be effective for wet, sticky stuff like candies. For carpet-dusted snacks, you can take your sweet time, a study finds.

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All Things Considered

Lawmakers Seek To Lay Roadblock To Powerful Painkiller

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sen. Joe Manchin is introducing a bill to force the Food and Drug Administration to ban potent new painkiller Zohydro, backed by a bipartisan effort to get the FDA to remove its approval of the drug.

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