Marketplace Tech®

with Ben Johnson

About the Program

Hosted by Ben Johnson, this daily "journal of the Digital Age" airs during broadcasts of Minnesota Public Radio's Morning Edition.

Official program website

Latest Show
The Sound of Computers

Have you ever wondered what computers sounded like before they evolved into the sleek, silent processors we know and use. Well, now you can find out.

Matt Parker, a UK-based sound artist, is the man behind the Imitation Archive - it’s a collection of sounds from the early days of computing. The archive will be in the National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park, England. Parker is also working on turning some of these sounds into musical compositions.

What was surprising, he said, was the rich variety of sounds he encountered. “Certainly the assumption would be that they all sound the same,” said Parker.  

“Very early electromechanical computers running on relay switches make a very different sort of sound to the sounds you get from high processing smaller devices,” he explained, before playing sounds from one particular device, known as the WITCH. It sounded, he said, like “various pieces of metal grinding.”

Parker described the device as “basically, a very advanced calculator.”

He also said the WITCH was the most musical of all the technology he's recorded: “It’s very interesting, very rhythmic."

His goal is to explore the separation between the quiet devices that we keep beside us or tucked away in our pockets and bags, and the place where all the information they process is ending up. “I want to try and find a way using sound to remind people of that,” said Parker.   



Hillary Clinton's email isn't necessarily insecure

In the controversies over Hillary Clinton's decision to use a private email address for official correspondence as U.S. Secretary of State, one theme has been the question of whether, in doing so, she created a security risk. 

As important as records maintenance is, the possible lack of proper security/encryption is most troubling

— Nolan McCarty (@Nolan_Mc) March 3, 2015

However, Hillary Clinton wasn’t a typical worker using gmail to avoid a little hassle. She had her own email system. And unofficial doesn’t have to mean unsafe.

"Just the fact it’s not part of the government’s email system doesn’t mean its insecure," says Larry Ponemon, chairman of the Ponemon Institute, which studies cyber-security.

Big institutions, with robust security budgets — think Target or Sony — haven't been immune from cyber-attacks.

Poneman says someone with enough money and motivation could create a good system. And smaller systems have advantages: Fewer users means fewer people who could slip up and compromise security.

"It could be very secure and make it harder for the bad guy to actually find it," says Poneman. "Because it's small, it becomes — not invisible, but it's not as easy to find it and basically do bad things."


Developing the ideal prosthetic arm

Miles O’Brien, a science correspondent for PBS Newshour, had his arm amputated after he suffered an injury while he was on assignment last year.  

“It was quite a fluke,” said O’Brien. “I had been on a reporting trip and a case fell on my arm. A bruise turned into something potentially life threatening.”

By the time he got to a doctor it was too late to save his arm. He now uses a prosthesis. But not all the time.

“There’s one that I use for bicycling, one that I use when I am driving,” said O’Brien. As for the day to day, he added, he’s learn to live with one arm.

That’s largely because the current technology hasn’t produced the ideal replacement yet.

“When you think about what your hand does for you, that’s a huge engineering challenge,” said O’Brien. “The challenge of replacing the human arm, and in particular the human hand, is  tremendous.

But he’s optimistic because there’s been a lot of progress in related technologies, from batteries to sensors to computers that recognize patterns. The last, especially, has him most excited.

Computers, he explained, can now identify patterns in the remaining muscles in his stump. That means they know the patterns which signal that he wants to move his wrist or finger.

“And something that’s made of silicon, metal and and plastic would do my bidding,” said O’Brien.      


MOOCs 2.0, the corporate edition

One of the top online course providers, Coursera, holds its annual conference Monday and Tuesday. Coursera offers a long list of mostly free, massive open online courses, or MOOCs.   

The latest trend? MOOCs designed for workers to sharpen their skills. Some corporations are now requiring them. 

About half of the people taking MOOCs on Coursera are trying to upgrade their job skills. Some corporations have started paying for Coursera’s certificate programs.

MOOCs are especially useful for new fields like analyzing big data for things like credit scoring.

“Since it’s a brand new field, nobody studied it in school," says Rick Levin, CEO of Coursera. "Anybody over 30 never even heard of it when they were in school.”

So, their employer tells them to take a MOOC.   

Jeanne Meister is founding partner of the consulting firm Future Workplace. She expects corporations to start demanding more.

“Custom MOOCs to fill particular skill gaps," she says. "That’s where it’s going.”

Meister surveyed 195 HR executives about MOOCs a year and a half ago. 

70 percent wanted to use MOOCs for training. But there weren’t enough MOOCs on the subjects they wanted. 

Their complaint now? Too many MOOCs to choose from.


What 5G means for you

The Mobile World Congress begins Monday in Barcelona, Spain. The agenda for the first day: 5G.

It’s still an emerging technology, but it’s got everyone excited because of what it promises. You can download movies in seconds, play your GIFs in milliseconds, and power the Internet of Things.

Even the FCC is excited: they announced late last year they they want to plan for 5G cellular networks.  

“This is one of the most exciting things, in my mind, that the FCC has done in a while,” says Ted Rappaport, director of NYU WIRELESS, and a professor at New York University's polytechnic school of engineering. “They have issued a notice of inquiry about how we could we use a vast new spectrum resource that has never been used before for mobile.”

If this happens, says Rappaport, cell phone frequency will at least increase to ten times of what it is now: “Going from 2 or 3 gigahertz to 28 or 38 or 60 or 72 gigahertz.”

Those speeds would bring “enormous” bandwidth, he adds.

“Billions of dollars are being spent on the research and development for this 5G millimeter wave future,” says Rappaport.



Silicon Tally: Frankincense, Apple watch, and Myrrh

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, we're joined by Leo Laporte, host of the This Week in Tech podcast.


As easy as scanning a fingerprint

We're taking one of our regular opportunities to go back to Back to the Future Part II. The 1989 movie predicted a number of technological advances that would be around in 2015. And now that the real 2015 is here, we are exploring whether or not some of that predicted tech has arrived.

Today, we take a look at biometrics, as in using retinas and fingerprints for identification or passwords. In Back to the Future’s vision of 2015, fingerprint scanners are all over the place. The technology is used to identify people, collect payments, and open locked doors.

Joseph Lorenzo Hall, Chief Technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, says we shouldn’t assume that life will fully imitate art.

“Frankly I don’t think we’ll ever be there and we shouldn’t be there. The problem with these kinds of things, in terms of allowing you access to your home, is that your fingerprint is not secret. If someone were able to produce a fake finger or cut your finger off, they may be able to gain access to your house. There’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t change your fingerprints easily," he says.

So you’re saying as a security technology it’s not all that useful?

It’s very usable. The trick is that it’s really best as an addition onto some other thing, be it a passcode on a mobile platform, or a token you may have, like a security key fob or something like that. There are systems that use harder to spoof biometrics like vein patterns in your hand. That’s extremely hard to reproduce, very detailed and highly identifying.

Are there privacy issues that come up as we use our biology to identify us and to give us access?

Holding your biometric data can be a privacy problem. If it leaks out, then someone who needs to reconstruct your fingerprint or your facial pattern can do that, but luckily most companies do a very similar thing to how we work with passwords. You don’t store password as you type them. The iPhone, forr example doesn't store your fingerprint. It stores some abstraction of your fingerprint that’s very hard to back out into your actual fingerprint. So if someone were to get into your phone they couldn't actually steal your fingerprint.

We have talked about other technologies in the movie, like fax machines, that seemed futuristic at the time, but now sort of belong in the past. Would you put fingerprint scanners in that category?

No. I think that was pretty prescient. They identified something we would be using right around the time when they went “back to the future” the second time. I do think they were overzealous in how ubiquitous fingerprint scanning would be. We are a little more careful with how we use these things.

Is there a piece of technology from Back to the Future Part II that you want us to highlight? Send your ideas to



A big win for net neutrality

Update: The FCC voted to re-classify broadband under Title 2 of the 1934 Communications Act.

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission plans to vote on new so-called Open Internet Rules. If the vote passes, the new rules will classify internet service providersboth broadband and wirelessas common carriers under what's called Title II.

What this means in english is that the FCC will be able to regulate internet companies, making sure they deliver all data from the web to the user at equal speeds. This would be a big win for net neutrality advocates. The most famous of them being Columbia University Law professor Tim Wu, the guy who coined the phrase in the first place. So what does he think about all of this?

Click the media player above to hear more.


Crowd-sourcing hits the bookshelf

Next month, Amazon’s Kindle Scout will publish its first set of books. The platform was launched in October, and was quickly dubbed a publisher’s version of crowd-sourcing - readers vote for books to be published based on excerpts.

Steve Gannon’s cop thriller, L.A. Sniper, is among the 10 titles that will be released in March. Gannon had been publishing books on Kindle for a while when he decided to try out Kindle Scout. One advantage of publishing online that he enjoys is interacting with the reviews.

“Reviews on Amazon are so immediate,” says Gannon. “I can reply too. I like that.”

He’s also had readers point out typos and parts of a storyline that don't make sense. One reader wrote about a hole in a plot line and said, “I know a lot of writers put that in there just to see if anyone is paying attention!”

Gannon’s response? “I said, 'I wish I could say that, but you caught it, and I fixed it.'”

“It’s good to get a really broad viewpoint from readers,” he says. “They keep you on your toes.”

For all the recent friction between Amazon and authors, Gannon is quite optimistic. He sees it as a great partnership for independent authors like him who need the publicity that a big company like Amazon would bring.

“They are able to lift you from the other hundred-thousand independent authors out there,” says Gannon.




Who should have the key to your messages?

Remember when UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, said that he wanted to pass a law that would compel messaging apps to provide a backdoor for security agencies? That would, in effect, ban encrypted software that has no key. President Barack Obama agreed with him.  

In response to that proposal, Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of internet law at Harvard University, wrote an open letter to Cameron, explaining why he thinks it’s a “very bad idea.”

It’s one thing to try and regulate WhastApp, says Zittrain, because the government knows  where Facebook “lives,” and the Silicon Valley company has assets that could be seized.

But what happens when someone produces the next wildly popular messaging app? What if that someone happens to be, as Zittrain wrote in his letter, “two caffeine-fueled university sophomores?” They would be pretty hard to regulate, or even find, according to him.

“You’re kind of stuck, which means you have to go double or nothing,” says Zittrain. “You now have to try to regulate the entire app ecosystem.”  

Even if that were to work, which he doubts, he believes the price is not worth the reward. The way he sees it, it’s similar to a rule that would allow the police to walk into people's homes without a warrant and look around to make sure everything is fine.

“That might well reduce crime, but it’s just not something that a free society would tolerate,” says Zittrain.



Snapchat's secret to success

Snapchat just might become the world’s third most highly valued start-up, coming up behind Xiaomi and Uber. News broke last week that the instant messaging service, whose content disappears within seconds, is seeking a valuation that could go up to $19 billion.

What makes Snapchat worth that much money? For one, it just launched a new feature called Discover. It’s made up of several channels, via which Vice, CNN, National Geographic and others will broadcast content according to deals they signed with Snaphat.

“They all want to reach Snapchat users who are young, they are millennials, they are the cool kids,” says Will Oremus, a senior tech writer at Slate, who has written about how the app often confuses him.

“We are confounded by snapchat, the little buttons don't make any sense,” he says.

A self-proclaimed “oldster,” Oremus, 32, says he is 148 in “Snapchat years.” And this, he thinks, is at the heart of Snapchat’s success. It appeals to teenagers and millennials because older people don’t use it. And they don’t use it because it’s confusing, according to Oremus.

Take Facebook, for instance. When it first launched, Oremus says, it was popular among college-going kids because it took some time to figure out and it was largely used by youngsters. Using Facebook effortlessly, and constantly sharing on it, was part of a secret knowledge they shared. But soon people of all ages started using Facebook. Today, Facebook, according to Oremus, is for “the uncool kids and, more than that, for the uncool parents.”

Oremus says this is similar to a theory put forward by venture capitalist Andrew Parker in his blog. In that post, Parker talks about “the secret knowledge culture of gaming,” and how each game came with its own set of cheat codes, passwords and “hidden artifacts.” He writes that this turned the “secret knowledge” into a “shared experience.”

“Snapchat, in its way, is about secret knowledge, too,” says Oremus. “It’s cool because the parents can’t figure it out. The way the kids figure out is they show each other. That’s what makes it fun.”



Silicon Tally: Let's go to space!

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news.

This week, we're joined by Janet Vertesi, a sociologist and historian of science and technology at Princeton.


Can YouTube replace the movie theater?

So far on our From the Hills to the Valley series, we've talked about how technology is represented by Hollywood, spoken with a producer and actor who has successful projects on both HBO and YouTube, and an MPAA executive who believes Silicon Valley isn't doing enough to beat piracy online.

Today, we have someone from a purely tech background who is meddling with a distinctly Hollywood craft: writing a screenplay. Charles Forman always loved video games, but after selling OMGPOP, the gaming company he co-founded, he decided to try something new. The result: Storyboard Fountain. It’s an app that allows people to literally visualize screenplays and stories as they are being scripted or narrated.

“It’s a computer program that allows you to create a new frame, draw on that frame, and it’s sort of tethered to the script, so you’re sort of drawing a story,” says Forman. “I want somebody to be able to make a movie in their underwear in their apartment."

And when he says “movie,” he doesn’t necessarily mean a movie in a theatre. It could be a project that’s distributed on YouTube or picked up by Netflix. Forman thinks that’s where the future is headed: people creating, distributing and consuming content via the internetNot a movie hall where strangers gather to watch a big screen.

Froman doesn't think so much about Hollywood versus Silicon Valley as much as he does about the way we measure success itself. Success, he says, won’t necessarily be ruled by the box office. In the future, according to Forman, the most successful distribution model might not include releasing a movie in theaters.

“Ten years from now, if people are still going to see movies, and that’s a thing, I’ll eat my shirt,” says Forman.



The cost of generosity

Keith Brincks’ kidneys have failed him.

“I’m wore out, rundown. With my blood this toxic my short term memory is kinda nonexistent,” he says, three days before the surgery that will prevent him from needing to go on dialysis and extend his life.

Brincks is of course only one out of 101,511 people waiting for a new kidney, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing or UNOS.  About 17 percent of them will actually get one this year and around 4,500 will die waiting, says the National Kidney Foundation.  There is one person who is able to help Keith Brincks right now, and that is his sister Melissa.

“I’m feeling pretty nervous, pretty anxious, little scared,” she says the night before she is to go under the knife. “When I met the surgeon they told me last minute they were going to take out a rib, so a lot of pain is what I’m expecting I guess.” She laughs. Ribs are rarely taken out for kidney donation these days, but this was Melissa's lot. “And five days in the hospital. I’m doing this because I love my brother.”

Brincks will pay a price for her generosity, beyond the quarter-to-a-third of a pound of flesh and bone she is giving up from her abdomen. She won’t be able to work for two months.

“Six to eight weeks, just depending on how I’m feeling after I get out of the hospital.”

Brincks goes out of her way to say how much she loves her bosses, but the fact is, she doesn’t get sick days.    

“At first it was figuring out what I was gonna do with my job – I clean carpets – then how am I gonna pay for my bills.”  

On top of that, Brincks had to travel from Iowa to Arkansas several times for pre-op appointments just to make sure she could donate. She had to find childcare for her son when she was away, and will have to do it once more during the surgery and her recovery. On average it costs $3,000 to $5,000 for living donors like Melissa Brincks, though cost estimates vary.

Limited assistance

“Not everyone has employer paid time off and vacation and sick time,” says Dr. Robert Merion, president of Arbor Research Collaborative for Health, a nonprofit research group.

“That’s four to six weeks you’re going to be generating no income for your family no rent money no money to put food on the table and so on.  And our health insurance system doesn’t currently provide a way for that to be covered.”

Neither does the government.

Dr. Merion helped create the National Living Donor Assistance Center or NLDAC.  It uses grants from the Department of Health and Human Services to help thousands of low income people every year with some expenses like travel and lodging. The assistance is available only if the organ recipient makes below 300% of the federal poverty line. The organ donor is left out of the equation, though there are some exceptions for financial hardship.    

Brincks didn’t qualify.

NLDAC does not cover lost wages.

Alan Langnas, a past president of the American Society of Transplant Surgeons, says he has an idea why not.

“There are people in the government who still have reservations, it makes them a little uncomfortable to overly promote living donation,” he says. It’s not about money. “For many years many people were full on against living donation period. Just the idea you’d take someone who is perfectly healthy and operate on them and take out one of their kidneys.”

Confusion over the law

 In the private sector, transplant doctors say there’s confusion about whether it’s even legal to reimburse someone for expenses. Congress outlawed payment for organs in 1984 out of fear of creating a market. But it carved out an exception for paying a person’s expenses and lost wages. Not all transplant centers and hospitals got the memo. Melissa Brincks’ hospital didn’t.

“They tell you there’s laws that you can’t receive money from the recipient, and I don’t know the laws,” says Brincks.

This misinformation coupled with the lack of substantial financial support  for many donors has its consequences. Sigrid Fry-Revere is a bioethicist and would’ve been an organ donor.

“My friend died.”

Fry-Revere would have missed two months of farm work to recuperate after saving her friend’s life, which she could not afford to do.

“I personally got excluded as a living donor simply because I didn’t have enough resources.”

Her friend would’ve paid to help her with expenses, but she, like Brincks, was told she couldn’t receive any money in any way from the donor.

After her friend passed away, Fry-Revere went on to campaign to get assistance for other living donors and eventually helped create the American Living Organ Donor Fund last summer through a crowdfunding project.

Though too late for her friend, her group has helped about thirty people receive or donate an organ so far, including Melissa Brincks. Though thirty people is minuscule compared to the need, Fry-Revere says “we realized maybe we can do a little bit to save just a few people.”

Fry-Revere argues that the federal government should do more to reduce costs to living donors because it would in the end, save money. Medicare will cover end-stage kidney disease regardless of age, and transplants are more cost effective than dialysis — some studies predict a savings of $100,000 for each transplant, others predict Medicare will pay more for three years before breaking even and then saving money for decades after that. 

Troy Zimmerman, Vice President for government relations at the The National Kidney Foundation, says the possibility of delayed savings complicates the prospect of congressional action.  “Certainly anything that’s introduced in congress if it has a price tag, particularly if it’s a tax credit, tax break, any kind of tax expenditure or entitlement like Medicare or Medicaid, it requires a cost estimate from CBO,” and if it has a net cost over a five or ten year period, it requires an offset.”

The Kidney Foundation favors a tax credit system that would offer individuals cash at tax time.  “At the federal level it's like any federal tax proposal it has to be combined with a larger tax bill.” Tax reform has been one of the most elusive goals on Capitol Hill for many years.  

Biased Incentives

But Medicare already spends tens of thousands of dollars per patient to expedite transplants in some instances. It pays $50,000 - $70,000, for example, to organizations that procure kidneys from dead donors, according to data provided by UNOS.  

“[But] they get zero if they arrange a living organ donor,” says Fry-Revere. “The incentive has always been to establish better and more deceased organ donation.”

Deceased organ donation, however, doesn’t come close to meeting the need she says.

“At the moment fewer than 1% of the u.s. population dies under conditions where organs can be retrieved, so even if every single american signed their donor card we would never have enough,” she says, citing research published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Even so, organ donation saved or extended 24,383 lives last year.  

Back in Arkansas, Keith Brincks knows exactly what he’s asking of his sister.  

“It’s asking a lot.  A lot from her,” he says. And he is grateful.

“I got real lucky. If it weren’t for my sister, the transplant definitely extended my life.”

For now though, people willing to give up their flesh to save a life must also be able to give up thousands of dollars. Which many doctors say means there are simply more people out there who want to donate than there are people who are financially able to.

Update:  Keith and Melissa Brincks are recovering from a successful transplant surgery after receiving assistance from the American Living Organ Donor Fund.


Who is Goliath?

Today on our From the Hills to the Valley series, we take a look at internet piracy and whether or not tech companies are doing enough to stop illegal downloads.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which represents six of Hollywood’s biggest studios, including Sony, Warner Brothers and Walt Disney, believes Silicon Valley can do more.

“We believe that the whole ecosystem should engage in voluntary measures to prevent online theft and distribution,” says Mike Robinson, who is the head of content protection at MPAA. The internet, says Robinson, is vital to Hollywood, not least for marketing and distributing content.

But the MPAA and Silicon Valley are still at loggerheads with each other over piracy. In fact, leaked emails during the hack on Sony Pictures suggested that the MPAA and several Hollywood studios had identified a “super enemy” in their piracy battle. It was rumoured that the enemy, referred to as Goliath, was Google. Is Google “goliath?” Robinson wouldn't say.

Meanwhile, the MPAA is watching a court case involving the International Trade Commission (ITC) in which the ITC is pushing for a mandate to stop pirated content at the United States border. “It’s an interesting proposition, whether or not those singles coming to the U.S. should be subject to some form of blocking,” says Robinson. However, he says, he would rather everyone involved, including Silicon Valley, voluntarily come up with a joint plan to beat piracy.

“Thats our desire with ISPs and folks from Silicon Valley, to find ways that work for all of us.”



Want to get crafty? Help is only a click away

The Internet has made crafting a lucrative business — and it’s not just for selling goods. Lately, a growing number of crafters are willing to pay to learn new skills.

For help, they’re turning to companies like CreativeBug or the Denver-based company Craftsy.

Compared to many free YouTube videos shot with one camera, Craftsy tutorials look pretty slick with graphics and multiple camera angles. In one popular class called "Quilting Big Projects on a Small Machine," students pay about $35 for eight lessons.

Craftsy Founder and CEO John Levisay says this course has been a blockbuster.

“It’s a skill that scares people because they spend a lot of time making this beautiful quilt, and then when they go to sew it together, people are afraid they’re going to wreck it,” Levisay says.

Craftsy seeks out the best instructors across 16 categories like cooking and woodworking. Overall, classes range in price from $15 to $60. What makes the courses, Levisay says, are the social features Craftsy has built into its courses.

“While we wanted to capture the anytime anywhere nature of online learning, we also wanted people to be able to ask their instructor a question, ask fellow students questions, and to interact with others,” he says.

It’s paying off. In 2014, the company nearly doubled its revenue, bringing in $43 million. In November, the company raised more than $50 million in venture capital. IBISWorld Industry Analyst Zeeshan Haider says the appeal for investors is the company’s large potential customer base.

“For example, there are more than 21 million plus quilters that spend anywhere around $4 billion annually on quilting,” says Haider. “So there’s still a tremendous market for the company to tap.”

Right now, Craftsy has just 6 million registered users, and there’s room for growth. Many millennials are interested in Do-It-Yourself fashion — which Craftsy has also tapped into. On the company’s website you can learn how to make your own jeans, skirts, and shirts — even your very own undergarments. 


To get to Hollywood, make a left at YouTube

For the second edition of From the Hills to the Valley - our series comparing Hollywood and Silicon Valley - we spoke to someone who belongs to both worlds. Issa Rae created and stars in The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, an award-winning series on YouTube. This month, she released a memoir by the same name, and is working on a pilot for HBO.

Rae believes it was her success on YouTube that brought her the opportunity with HBO.  

“HBO would never have heard of me or even seen any of my stuff had it not been for YouTube,” she says.

Why YouTube? Rae had pitched a few shows to networks, but she soon realised that they had a different perception of what the audience wanted to see on TV. She found that her ideas, especially those that involved “content of color,” were often met with reluctance or a lack of enthusiasm.

“I wanted to create a show about black people in college, and they were saying that’s too segmented,” she says. “When I wanted to make 'Awkward Black Girl,' I knew that if they didn’t want to see a show about something as mainstream as black people in college, they would never go for 'Awkward Black Girl.' They would never believe they exist even.”

Rae thinks streaming video services like Netflix and Amazon, which have abandoned the pilot model used by so many TV studios in favor of releasing shows one season at a time, give creators more freedom to experiment with stories that networks shy away from. Internet-first video, she says, will lead to more diverse programming, because online content is so closely tied to social media, which itself is very diverse.

But the biggest challenge to creating online content, Rae says, is the pressure to produce on schedule.

“Had I been consistently releasing content on a weekly basis, I would have had a much bigger following," she says. “People will forget about you if you're not on their radar constantly. Audiences are just really fickle. There’s no formula online outside of being consistent.”



Will there be a U.S. version of Black Mirror?

Today, we kick off From the Hills to the Valley, our series on what divides Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and what pulls them closer? We are going to talk about a lot of different things - from creativity and fame to piracy and lobbying -  but we begin with how Hollywood sees and, therefore, represents Silicon Valley.

First up is Jenna Wortham, staff writer at The New York Times Magazine, who recently wrote about Black Mirror, a dystopian British series that’s recently become popular in the US.

Black Mirror, Wortham says, is an un-Hollywood version of how technology is changing our lives. She thinks one reasons it’s difficult for hollywood to represent silicon valley is that people “sitting behind screens,” is rather “boring and hard to illustrate.”

What about The Social Network? “It was great,” she says, “but you couldn’t get away from scenes of Jesse Eisenberg furiously coding. How do you make that sexy?”

Wortham isn’t sure Hollywood could have made a series like Black Mirror.

“I don't know that those narratives are very popular here," she says. “When we do dystopian narratives they tend to focus on collapse of civilization  or a zombie virus outbreak. Not necessarily computers have gone haywire and they are coming for us.”



Silicon Tally: Fly the friendly (and cheap) skies

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news.

This week, we're joined by Brian Kelly, otherwise known as "The Points Guy." Kelly prides himself on being "able to book exciting and extravagant trips for next to nothing through his hard-earned loyalty points and airline miles, flying first class."


Expedia buys Orbitz – what it means for you.

Expedia is going to buy rival Orbitz for about $1.3 billion.

The boards of both companies have approved the deal. Orbitz shareholders still have to give it the thumbs up. Assuming that happens, what’s in it for consumers?

You might be thinking you'll have to pay more for airline tickets. After all, the online travel site business is consolidating. Expedia bought Travelocity late last month.

“Certainly, there is one less independent choice, and anytime that happens, let’s face it, that’s not likely to push prices down for consumers,” says Seth Kaplan, managing partner of Airline Weekly.  

Kaplan says it might be a bit harder to find good deals. 

But not much, because Expedia still has lots of competition, from airline websites to more innovative sites like Hipmunk and HotelTonight.   

Kaplan says Expedia isn’t buying up its rivals to hike airfares. It’s trying to gain leverage with airlines, which don’t like allocating tickets to third party sites like Expedia. They’d rather sell their tickets themselves.

“Expedia, if it’s bigger, can go to airlines and say, 'Look, we control that many more millions of customers, and so you have to care what we think,'" he says.

Kaplan says Expedia wants lots of plane tickets to sell, because that’s what consumer buy first. Then we move on to rental cars and vacation packages, which are marked up more. That’s where Expedia makes its money. 


Program Schedule

MPR News

Listen Now

On Air

Fresh Air®

Other Radio Streams from MPR

Classical MPR
Radio Heartland