Business

American Ninja Warrior growth sparks Olympic bid effort

By Junie Burns
Medill Reports

Initially, American Ninja Warrior structured its TV presence so that the top Americans could compete in Japan. But as the show gained popularity and athletes became more skilled and aggressive, the show catapulted into a larger market, leaving NBCUniversal affiliate G4 for a new home on NBC ‘s prime time schedule.

Japan began airing a ninja-style sports entertainment special in 1997 where 100 athletes competed on a rigorous four-stage obstacle course called “Sauske.” G4 adapted this format in the United States to create American Ninja Warrior.

Now, the success of the television show carries over into local gyms and ninja gyms while competitive leagues continue to pop up across the country. Patrick Losh, co-owner of the Hanover Park ninja gym Muscleball Ninjas, is the co-founder of Athlete Warrior Games, one of the up-and-coming ninja warrior competitive leagues based in the Midwest.

Losh, a native of Illinois, trained at Muscleball Ninjas for six years before launching Athlete Warrior Games with gym co-owner and 5-time American Ninja Warrior veteran Tyler Yamamuchi.

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Homegrown Residency spotlights local Chicago musicians

By Chris McConaghey
Medill Reports

Every Tuesday night, Uncommon Ground’s Live Intimate Listening Rooms spotlight artists who might otherwise be plugging up to amplifiers in their garages and basements. Here, they get their chance to perform in front of a room filled with friends, family, and other Chicago local music fans.

Artists such as Danielle “Miss Jones” Jones – who has been singing since she was 10, but never really considered herself as a performer – are provided the opportunity to debut their material live and uncut. Jones, 21, is an Indiana native who moved to Chicago right after she graduated high school. She now deems herself as an amateur pianist and a practiced vocalist.

She will be performing Tuesday night, romancing the audience with soft ballads about her life. Continue reading

New Grounds in Town: Newport Coffee brings taste of Stockholm to the North Shore

By Jake Holland
Medill Reports

Coffee has been big in Chicago since the ’90s, but the North Shore, says Mikael Bengtsson, can now hold its own. “It’s bubbling up here,” says the engineer-turned-barista, who this summer opened Newport Coffee with his wife, Lotta. The Evanston cafe, 622 Davis St., serves high-end coffee (a standard latte will run you about $5) and pastries with a Swedish flair. Bengtsson’s second location — the first is in Bannockburn — held its soft launch July 1, with plans for the official launch slated for later this fall. I sat down with Bengtsson to talk about caffeine, the shop’s aesthetic and his vision for the brand.

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AI brings brand new experience in recruiting, while data poses challenges

Yixuan Xie
Medill Reports

Hiring the right people is crucial to an organization’s success and companies are turning to artificial intelligence to optimize that process.

AI, which uses computer science to make machines imitate human intelligence and behavior, is revolutionizing numerous industries. It is the technology behind Amazon Inc.’s cashier-less stores, Tesla Inc.’s self-driving vehicles and Apple Inc.’s Siri voice assistant. It is also lending a helping hand to the recruiting industry to find the right people for the right jobs.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent for July, which is near a five-decade low. Despite being good news for job seekers, the rate has some employers desperate to find talented workers when so many people are already employed.

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AI for candidate screening: eliminating or reinforcing bias

Yixuan Xie
Medill Reports

While job applicants hope they are evaluated based upon their capabilities and skills when applying for a job, hiring decisions can be full of biases, ranging from dismissing a candidate simply for a name to focusing recruiting efforts on elite schools.

With multiple studies revealing discrimination in recruitment, artificial intelligence is being embraced as a way to level the playing filed. AI removes human interaction from some parts of resume and video screening, helping to address conscious and unconscious hiring bias. But despite creating a more consistent and fairer way to evaluate applicants, it has the potential to be problematic.

Resume Screening

A 2016 study by Cornell University showed that resumes reveal candidates’ personal identifiable information and may introduce bias into the screening process, especially at the initial stages. It found that candidates with Caucasian-sounding names had 50 percent higher call back rates for interviews than those candidates with African American-sounding names. Research by PayScale, a salary trend analysis website, revealed this year that women face barriers to being hired at tech companies, with females being just 29 percent of the industry.

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Goat yoga: Connecting with animals, the earth and each other

By Stephanie Fox
Medill Reports

Floral incense float to the floor in a swirl of smoke. A cool breeze sneaks through the window cracks and echoes the sounds of the country. Outside, the sun is shining, but inside Blue Sky Farm’s make-shift yoga studio the low-light and metal star-covered walls elicit a feeling of serenity reminiscent of the forest in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Much like Shakespeare’s classic comedy, things aren’t always what they seem.

Circling the women sitting cross-legged on mats are six baaing, leaping and headbutting baby goats. For the yoga students, the goats are a hilarious addition to an otherwise relaxing activity. To the goats, the yoga students are something they jump off in a flailing ball of hoof and fur. Continue reading

Stoned drivers targeted by new breathalyzer technology

By Brady Jones
Medill Reports

Slowed reaction time. Reduced ability to make decisions. Impaired coordination. Memory loss. Difficulty in problem-solving. These are some of the symptoms listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describing people who drive under the influence of marijuana. And right now, it is very difficult for law enforcement officials to determine when these drivers are sharing the road with you—and may be responsible for causing an accident.

Detecting recent marijuana use by drivers is far more difficult for law enforcement than detecting the presence of alcohol. Currently, testing can’t be done for marijuana using on-site breath samples. Now, a new device that aims to provide a reliable solution to this growing concern is being developed—and law enforcement officials welcome the potential of the new technology.

As more states move to legalization for recreational purposes, marijuana is more accessible to people with limited or no experience using it. The ability to successfully detect drivers that have smoked or ingested the drug becomes paramount to keeping drivers safe. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana that produces the feeling of being high, does not show up on current, traditional breathalyzer devices used by law enforcement to detect blood alcohol content.
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The trials and tribulations of freeze-casting to manufacture materials in space

Medill News Service journalist Lauren Robinson is embedding this spring with Northwestern University researchers studying freeze-casting for a planned space launch.

Click the first photo in the gallery above for a photo essay showing how a freeze-casting suspension is created.


Krysti Scotti’s enthusiasm for her pioneering freeze-casting work at Northwestern University is contagious enough to brighten the coldest and wettest days.

Scotti is hosting my embedded-reporting assignment at SpaceICE, where scientists in professor David Dunand’s lab are preparing to test freeze-casting — a way to manufacture materials — in a NASA satellite mission and on the International Space Station. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is building the actual CubeSat satellite for the mission.
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How to ensure your electric vehicle is powered by renewable energy

By Brady Jones
Medill Reports

Driving an electric vehicle plays a critical role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but the impact of this reduction gets diminished if the electricity comes from fossil fuels. The sources of electricity used to power your car must be green too and several choices are available to make that happen.

It all comes down to this: how can you ensure that you are maximizing the amount of electricity that comes from renewable sources used to charge your vehicle?

The two highest contributors of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2016 were transportation and electricity production, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In Illinois, 40 percent of the state’s electricity is produced by coal and natural gas—only 7 percent is produced by wind and solar, reports the U.S. Department of Energy. Fortunately, some power companies offer green energy options for your power. And there are steps you can take to maximize the percentage of renewable sources for your electricity. How you do that depends first on where you live.
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Meet Chef Roberto Pérez: Revitalizing Chicago’s Puerto Rican food scene

By Justin Agrelo
Medill Reports

Puerto Rican chef Roberto Pérez doesn’t eat pork.

He confesses this to me from behind the steering wheel of his black Volvo on a cold Monday a few weeks ago. We’re driving through Chicago’s Austin neighborhood to Rico Fresh, one of Pérez’s favorite grocery stores.

His confession is an obvious break from a stale Puerto Rican stereotype that claims we all love pork. As a Puerto Rican who doesn’t eat much pork myself, Pérez’s views on “the swine” (as he calls it) don’t surprise me. But because people are defined just as much by choices they abstain from as they are by what they choose to enjoy, I ask him about it. Continue reading