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More talking to babies helps their brains
Written by LAURAN NEERGAARD, AP Medical Writer   
Friday, 14 February 2014 07:02

WASHINGTON (AP) — Using videos that claim to teach toddlers, or flash cards for tots, may not be the best idea. Simply talking to babies is key to building crucial language and vocabulary skills — but sooner is better, and long sentences are good.

So says research that aims to explain, and help solve, the troubling "word gap": Children from more affluent, professional families hear millions more words before they start school than poor kids, leaving the lower-income students at an academic disadvantage that's difficult to overcome.

That gap starts to appear at a younger age than scientists once thought, around 18 months, said Stanford University psychology professor Anne Fernald.

And research being presented this week at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science suggests that it's not just hearing lists of words that matters as much as rich, varied language with good grammar that trains babies' brains to learn through context.

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Canceled! Airlines scrap record number of flights
Written by SCOTT MAYEROWITZ, AP Airlines Writer   
Friday, 14 February 2014 07:01

NEW YORK (AP) — The relentless snow and ice storms this winter have led to the highest number of flight cancellations in more than 25 years, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

U.S. airlines have canceled more than 75,000 domestic flights since Dec. 1, including roughly 14,000 this week. That's 5.5 percent of the 1.35 million flights scheduled during that period, according to AP calculations based on information provided by flight tracking site FlightAware.

It's the highest total number and highest percent of cancellations since at least the winter of 1987-1988, when the Department of Transportation first started collecting cancellation data.

Mother Nature isn't entirely to blame. A mix of cost-cutting measures and new government regulations has made airlines more likely to cancel flights and leave fliers scrambling to get to their destination.

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Hey Romeo, thank these guys for bringing the roses
Written by SCOTT MAYEROWITZ, AP Airlines Writer   
Thursday, 13 February 2014 13:56

MIAMI (AP) — If Cupid were to have a home, it would be Miami International Airport.

Before millions of Americans can present their loved ones with a bouquet of Valentine's Day roses, most of the flowers are flown from Colombia and Ecuador to Miami, many in the bellies of passenger planes. There, cargo handlers and customs agents — call them Cupid's helpers — ensure that the deep red petals stay perfect until they reach their final destination.

In the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day, about 738 million flowers — 85 percent of imported flowers — come through the Florida airport. Los Angeles is a distant second, with 44 million. The roses, carnations, hydrangeas, sunflowers and other varieties are rushed by forklift from planes to chilled warehouses and then onto refrigerated trucks or other planes and eventually delivered to florists, gas stations and grocery stores across the country.

"We always joke that a passenger gets themselves to the next flight while a bit of cargo does not," says Jim Butler, president of cargo operations at American Airlines.

Cargo is a small, but increasingly important part of U.S. airlines' business. New jets are built with more freight space and the airlines are adding new non-stop international routes popular with shippers.

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Average 30-year U.S. mortgage rate up to 4.28 pct.
Written by Average 30-year U.S. mortgage rate up to 4.28 pct.   
Thursday, 13 February 2014 13:58

WASHINGTON (AP) — The average U.S. rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage edged up this week to 4.28 percent from 4.23 percent but remains near historically low levels after declining during the five previous weeks.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average for the 15-year loan was unchanged at 3.33 percent.

Mortgage rates have risen about a full percentage point since hitting record lows roughly a year ago. The increase was driven by speculation that the Federal Reserve would reduce its $85 billion a month in bond purchases. Deeming the economy to be gaining strength, the Fed proceeded last month with planned reductions of its bond purchases, which have helped keep long-term interest rates low.

Recent economic data have pointed to a likely pause in the housing market's recovery. Real estate data provider CoreLogic reported last week that U.S. home prices slipped from November to December. And the year-over-year increase slowed, likely a result of weaker sales at the end of last year.

The number of Americans who have signed contracts to buy homes has plummeted to its lowest level in more than two years.

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China revives moon rover, but malfunction persists
Written by Associated Press   
Thursday, 13 February 2014 07:30

BEIJING (AP) — China has restored communications with its space program's troubled "Jade Rabbit" moon rover, but engineers are still working to fix its mechanical problems, state media reported Thursday.

The official Xinhua News Agency cited Pei Zhaoyu, the lunar probe program's spokesman, as saying the rover had survived the frigid cold of the lunar night that started Jan. 25.

The "Jade Rabbit" rover was designed to roam the lunar surface for three months while surveying for natural resources and sending back data. But it ran into problems as it was shutting down in preparation for the lunar night, which lasts two weeks.

The problems were a rare setback for China's burgeoning space program, which in recent years has conducted space walks and placed a space station in orbit.

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