Robots Could Keep You Cool

University of Maryland researchers came to a recently held energy summit in Washington DC to show how air-conditioning technology could also be made more efficient. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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Famous Stolen Violin is Played on Stage Again

A prized violin that was stolen and missing for 35 years, recently returned to the concert stage for the first time since being recovered in 2015. The exquisite Stradivarius, made in the 18th century, belonged to virtuoso violinist, Roman Totenberg. One of Totenberg’s former students played the violin this week in its first public concert. VOA’s Deborah Block has more

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Trudeau, Ivanka Trump Attend Broadway Opening of Canadian 9/11 Musical

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with first daughter Ivanka Trump as a guest, welcomed a new musical that celebrates Canadian compassion and openness following the September 11 attacks.

Trudeau and Trump and some 120 ambassadors from around the world attended the show “Come From Away” Wednesday night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, in one of the cities where the bulk of the 3,000 people on 9/11 died.

The musical is set in the small Newfoundland town of Gander, which opened its arms and homes to about 7,000 airline passengers diverted there when the U.S. government shut down its airspace. In a matter of a few hours, the town was overwhelmed by travelers from 38 planeloads and dozens of countries and religions, yet locals went to work in their kitchens and cleaned up spare rooms.

‘Lean on each other’

In remarks before the show, Trudeau got on the stage and said he was pleased that, “the world gets to see what it is to lean on each other and be there for each other through the darkest times.”

The show got a standing ovation, including from Trump, who sat beside Trudeau and U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley. Also in attendance was Jean Chretien, a former Canadian prime minister. Trump was seen clapping along happily as the band played at the curtain call.

The actors did not acknowledge the special audience, but one afterward was still buzzing.

“When do we have the opportunity to share a story about kindness, gratitude and love that takes place in a country that is known for opening their hearts to people,” said actor Rodney Hicks. “It just meant the world to all of us.”

‘There for those tough times’

Trudeau, who champions global free trade and has welcomed 40,000 Syrian refugees, was celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary of its Confederation to reaffirm the special friendship between Canadians and Americans.

“Our friends are there for those tough times, when you lose a parent or a loved one, when you get knocked off your path at a difficult moment in your life. Where you go through difficult times, that’s when you turn and you lean on your friends,” he said. “That ultimately is what this story is all about — being there for each other.”

In the show, a cast of a dozen play both residents and marooned passengers, telling true stories of generosity, compassion and acceptance, while fear and suspicion reigned in America. The show arrives just as a debate over immigration and open borders reignited following the Trump administration’s push for a ban on travelers from six predominantly Muslim nations.

Canadian husband-and-wife writing team Irene Sankoff and David Hein wrote the book, music and lyrics, and it was directed by Christopher Ashley, the artistic director of the La Jolla Playhouse. The musical veers its focus from weighty matters, a mother anxious about her missing firefighter son in New York, to more silly events, like a rowdy evening at a local bar where visitors are urged to kiss a cod.

Trudeau’s warm reception was in contrast to the ones that greeted two other world leaders who recently attended the Broadway smash “Hamilton,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Both received more than a smattering of boos.


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Hacker Spaces Offer More Than Sum of Their Tools

“Hackers,” whether they’re Wikileaks or malicious computer coders, have a bad reputation. But there are also hackers who are simply trying to create a more user-friendly world. Think of them as New Age do-it-yourselfers.

And they have playgrounds where they do their hacking.

Hacker Safe Spaces

Tinkerers around the world are starting to come together at so-called hacker spaces, to share tools and camaraderie.  These hacker spaces include a member-financed club in a warehouse in Oakland, California called Ace Monster Toys.

Jose’s full time work is as an architect, but in his spare time, he hangs out at Ace Monster Toys so he can use big “toys” like a buzz saw.

He hacks guitars out of old wood, including one created entirely from triangular scraps of highly-prized purple heartwood that a carpenter had thrown away after completing a project.

Different rooms, different tech

Rachel McCrafty, an artist, designer, and maker whose real name is Rachel Sadd, runs Ace Monster Toys. She says Jose’s work represents the heart of what they do here.

“That he made something epically beautiful out of trash,” she says, “that’s the essence, to me, of hacking.”

She says Ace is a great place to hack, tinker and collaborate on a variety of projects.  

There’s a textile room, where quilt squares made in the beginner’s sewing class are displayed on one wall. The highlight is the club’s professional sewing machine.

In another part of the building, it’s more high-tech. Software engineer Walt joins Jason, a sound engineer, to experiment with Jason’s latest “toy.” It’s a programmable music cube he’s developed that flashes green and yellow as it changes pitch, all in a clear cube that’s no bigger than the palm of your hand.

Upstairs at an electrician’s table, red lights flash as part of a baton-sized gizmo for scaring pets away from cars. Kam, its creator, is a salesman for a semiconductor equipment maker. He says that he’s learned new ways to program gadgets, thanks to other Ace Club members.

In fact, the people who hack here say that one of the best things about this place, is the people who hack here.

“Whenever I run into problems, people here help me,” Kam says. “They are very nice people.  Very helpful.”

McCrafty says she planned it that way.

“Our teachers are volunteers, our tool stewards are volunteers, our board members serve as volunteers.  They’re just incredibly generous.”

A cooperative space

The club’s 150 members pay monthly dues to cover the building’s rent, and to get their hands on cool stuff, like a 3-D desktop printer, and a monster-sized laser cutter that can cleanly cut wood into the curvy front of an electric guitar, or make something as delicate as a paper octopus.  Members can use the tools anytime, day or night.  McCrafty says it works out, thanks to rules that emphasize communication and respect.

“Respect yourself.  Be safe.  Respect the space,” she says. “Respect the people you’re sharing with.”

These values pay off, as they did for Owen and Arun. The young entrepreneurs are here every day, all day, using computers in the club’s shared office space.  They’re programming Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa to be a virtual banking expert that readily answers financial questions.

By hanging out at Ace, Owen says they’ve learned more about how a high-tech probability model can enhance Alexa’s virtual banking expertise.

“It was actually our friend, Walt.  We had just met him then, and he said, ‘Hey, I couldn’t help but overhear, you guys were talking about a Bayesian classifier.  Let me tell you how I use that in my current job.'”  

Looking around at his fellow hackers, Owen added, “So I think it’s pretty critical that we’re in a space where people are generous with their time, they’re super motivated and working on their own projects.  It just creates these chance encounters.”

It all makes this hackerspace greater than the sum of its parts, or its members, all of them offering unique ways for people to “play” together. 

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McDonald’s Tests Mobile Ordering Before National Rollout

McDonald’s has started testing mobile order-and-pay after acknowledging the ordering process in its restaurants can be “stressful.”

The company says it will gather feedback from the test before launching the option nationally toward the end of the year. It says mobile order-and-pay is now available at 29 stores in Monterey and Salinas, California, and will expand to 51 more locations in Spokane, Washington, next week.

The rollout comes as customers increasingly seek out convenience through options like online ordering or delivery. McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook has noted the initial stages of visiting can be “stressful,” and the chain is making changes to improve the overall customer experience. That includes introducing ordering kiosks, which McDonald’s says can help ease lines at the counter and improve the accuracy of orders – another frustration for customers. Easterbrook has also talked about the potential of delivery.

With its mobile order-and-pay option, McDonald’s says customers place an order on its app then go to a restaurant and “check in” to select how they want to get their food. That could be at the counter, in the drive-thru, or with curbside delivery, where an employee brings out orders to a designated space. Orders are prepared once customers check in at the restaurant.

Starbucks has already found success using its mobile app and loyalty program to encourage people to visit more often and spend more when they do. The chain has also said its mobile order-and-pay option was so popular that it caused congestion at pick-up counters last year, leading some customers who walked into stores to leave without buying anything. Starbucks said it is working on fixing those issues.

It’s not clear whether McDonald’s will be able to get the same level of usage for its mobile app and order-and-pay option. Since coffee tends to be more of a daily habit, for instance, people may be more willing to download an app for it on their phones.

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Mcdonald’s Tests Mobile Ordering Before National Rollout

McDonald’s has started testing mobile order-and-pay after acknowledging the ordering process in its restaurants can be “stressful.”

The company says it will gather feedback from the test before launching the option nationally toward the end of the year. It says mobile order-and-pay is now available at 29 stores in Monterey and Salinas, California, and will expand to 51 more locations in Spokane, Washington, next week.

The rollout comes as customers increasingly seek out convenience through options like online ordering or delivery. McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook has noted the initial stages of visiting can be “stressful,” and the chain is making changes to improve the overall customer experience. That includes introducing ordering kiosks, which McDonald’s says can help ease lines at the counter and improve the accuracy of orders – another frustration for customers. Easterbrook has also talked about the potential of delivery.

With its mobile order-and-pay option, McDonald’s says customers place an order on its app then go to a restaurant and “check in” to select how they want to get their food. That could be at the counter, in the drive-thru, or with curbside delivery, where an employee brings out orders to a designated space. Orders are prepared once customers check in at the restaurant.

Starbucks has already found success using its mobile app and loyalty program to encourage people to visit more often and spend more when they do. The chain has also said its mobile order-and-pay option was so popular that it caused congestion at pick-up counters last year, leading some customers who walked into stores to leave without buying anything. Starbucks said it is working on fixing those issues.

It’s not clear whether McDonald’s will be able to get the same level of usage for its mobile app and order-and-pay option. Since coffee tends to be more of a daily habit, for instance, people may be more willing to download an app for it on their phones.


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Angelina Jolie to Teach Course at London School of Economics

Angelina Jolie is set to teach a master’s course at the prestigious London School of Economics this fall as a visiting professor.

The London Evening Standard reports the 41-year-old actress and filmmaker gave a preview of her class Tuesday with a lecture at the school’s Centre for Women, Peace and Security. She told the newspaper before the lecture that she was “a little nervous,” but she hoped to do well because the talk was “very important” to her.


The Standard reports that Jolie will be lecturing in an unpaid post in September as part of a master’s program on women, peace and security.


Jolie’s humanitarian work is well-known. She serves as a special envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.


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2 Popular Messaging Apps Vulnerable to Hackers

Those encrypted messaging apps you may have been using to avoid prying eyes had a major flaw that could have allowed access to hackers, according to a cybersecurity firm.

According to Check Point Software Technologies, both Telegram and WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, were vulnerable.

The company said it withheld the information until the security holes were patched, saying “hundreds of millions” of users could have been compromised.

The vulnerability involved infecting digital images with malicious code that would have been activated upon clicking the pic. That, according to Check Point, could have made accounts susceptible to hijacking.

“This new vulnerability put hundreds of millions of WhatsApp Web and Telegram Web users at risk of complete account take over,” Check Point head of product vulnerability Oded Vanunu said in a news release. “By simply sending an innocent looking photo, an attacker could gain control over the account, access message history, all photos that were ever shared, and send messages on behalf of the user.”

Both apps tout so-called end-to-end encryption to ensure privacy, but according to Check Point, that made it hard to spot malicious code.

Patching the vulnerability involved blocking the code before the messages were encrypted.

WhatsApp claims to have more than one billion users, while Telegram has more than 100 million.

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Affleck Completes Alcohol Rehab

Actor Ben Affleck says he recently checked out of a rehabilitation program for alcohol addiction.

The actor most recently known for portraying Batman revealed the news in a Facebook post Tuesday. The actor has a history of alcoholism, having been in rehab in 2001.

“I have completed treatment for alcohol addiction; something I’ve dealt with in the past and will continue to confront,” he wrote on Facebook.

In his post, he said the action was largely motivated by his desire to be a good parent.

“I want to live life to the fullest and be the best father I can be. I want my kids to know there is no shame in getting help when you need it, and to be a source of strength for anyone out there who needs help but is afraid to take the first step,” he wrote. “I’m lucky to have the love of my family and friends, including my co-parent, Jen, who has supported me and cared for our kids as I’ve done the work I set out to do. This was the first of many steps being taken towards a positive recovery.”

Affleck separated from wife, actress Jennifer Garner, in 2015, but there has not been a formal divorce. The couple has three children.

Later this year, Affleck will appear as Batman in the movie “Justice League,” which opens November 17.

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Friends lend a hacking hand

Hacking means tinkering, whether with computers, woodworking or really anything. Tinkerers around the world come together at hacker-spaces, to share tools, camaraderie and expertise. Shelley Schlender takes us to a hacker space in Oakland, California, called Ace Monster Toys, where members lend each other a “hacking” hand.

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Mitch Seavey Becomes Oldest, Fastest Musher to Win Iditarod

Mitch Seavey won his third Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, becoming the fastest and oldest champion at age 57 and helping cement his family’s position as mushing royalty.

The Seward, Alaska, musher brought his dogs off the frozen Bering Sea and onto Front Street in the Gold Rush town of Nome after crossing nearly 1,000 miles of Alaska wilderness.

He outran his son, defending champion Dallas Seavey, and lapped the oldest musher record that he set at age 53 in 2013. He previously won the race in 2013 and 2004.

Seavey also set a time record of 8 days, 3 hours, 40 minutes and 13 seconds, the Iditarod said. That shaved several hours off the record his son set last year: 8 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes and 16 seconds.

“Sweet” was the first thing Mitch Seavey said after getting off the sled at the finish line under the famed burled arch. It was broadcast live statewide.

His wife, Janine, greeted him with a hug. “Oh, my gosh, look at what you’ve just done,” she told him. “You’ve changed the sport.”

After talking to his wife, Seavey greeted each of his dogs and thanked them with a frozen snack. He later posed with his two lead dogs, Pilot and Crisp.

“They get frustrated when they go too slow, so I just let them roll, which was scary because I’ve never gone that fast, that far ever, but that’s what they wanted to do,” he said.

Seavey said the dogs know only one thing — 9 to 10 mph.

“They hit their peak, they hit their speed, and that’s what they do,” Seavey said at the finish line. “They trusted me to stop them when they needed to stop and feed them, and I did that, and they gave me all they could.”

Seavey picked up $75,000 and the keys to a new pickup truck for winning the world’s most famous sled dog race.

The Seaveys have now won the last six races. Dallas Seavey won four, and his father finished second the last two years. The two are close but competitive.

“He and I have such a great relationship,” Mitch Seavey said. “There’s no malice, we just love running sled dogs. No question.”

Dallas Seavey finished in second place, five minutes ahead of France native Nicolas Petit.

The family’s ties to the race go back to the first Iditarod, held in 1973, when Mitch Seavey’s dad, Dan, mushed in the event. The younger Seavey, who is 30, had wins in 2012 and from 2014 to 2016.

The race started March 6 in Fairbanks, with 71 teams. Five mushers scratched.

Fans lined the finish, clapping and cheering on Seavey. As his team finished the last few blocks of the race, Seavey yelled, “Good boys! Hep!”

Just before reaching the chute, he got off his sled and ran with the dogs a bit.

Four dogs associated with the race have died this year, including a 4-year-old male named Flash who collapsed on the trail early Tuesday when his musher, Katherine Keith, was about 10 miles outside the checkpoint in Koyuk.

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A Barrel of Fun: Niagara Falls Touts Thrills in Rebranding

Niagara Falls, whose most famous thrill-seekers have gone over the brink in barrels, wants to be the place the rest of us go for outdoor adventure, too.


A new marketing effort launched Tuesday rebrands the American shore of the falls as a natural playground to be explored on foot, bike, boat or helicopter.


U.S. tourism officials, ever in competition with their counterparts on the heavily developed Canadian side of the binational attraction, say their new focus embraces the American side’s less commercial feel in a way they hope will attract more visitors for longer stays.


“What people are wanting to have on a getaway or a vacation is a time of experience and not just to come and witness or see and hear, but actually experience and touch and feel and do,” said John Percy, president and chief executive of Niagara Tourism & Convention Corp., which has been renamed Destination Niagara USA.


“Niagara Falls is the embodiment of America’s adventurous spirit,” he said.


The refocusing, coming just in time for the busy season, followed interviews, focus groups and visitor surveys that found that those who visit and live in the region most value its scenic, historical and natural attributes and are drawn to outdoor adventure, officials said.


The findings align with support in recent years for the ongoing removal of a highway that was built along the Niagara River, which will increase access to the water’s edge, as well as strong opposition to a proposal to build a lodge on rustic Goat Island inside Niagara Falls State Park. Opponents of the lodge cite renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s declaration more than 100 years ago that the area should be off-limits to developers.


It’s a marked contrast to Niagara Falls, Ontario, where neon-lit museums, rides and restaurants offer a carnival-like atmosphere at the water’s edge.


Niagara Falls State Park sees about 8 million visitors every year from all over the world, a number that has been steadily rising, Percy said, along with hotel visits and dollars spent.

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Netflix to Finish and Release Orson Welles’ Final Film

Orson Welles’ last film finally has a home.


Netflix has acquired the global rights to Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind” and will finance its completion and restoration.


Netflix’s announcement Tuesday brings to a close the decades-long mystery surrounding one of cinema’s greatest filmmakers. Welles began shooting the film in 1970 but never completed it.

The “Citizen Kane” director died in 1985.


“The Other Side of the Wind” is a Hollywood satire about a filmmaker attempting a comeback. Its stars include John Huston, Dennis Hopper and Peter Bogdanovich, who has helped in its editing.


Producer Frank Marshall will oversee the film’s completion.


Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos says he grew up worshipping Welles so releasing Welles’ last film “is a point of pride” for him and for Netflix.

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Why Bangalore Doesn’t Need Silicon Valley

Visitors to Bangalore, India, these days can see street art, have beer at local microbreweries or take an Uber ride to a distant neighborhood to meet with venture capitalists about a recent startup that grabbed their attention.

Gone are the days of a city dominated by call centers and American visa seekers.

“There’s an artisanal hot dog place there,” Sean Blagsvedt, founder of online job portal Babajob, said of a nearby neighborhood, speaking over his plate of salmon sashimi. “You have a bazillion 20-something tech people who don’t like to cook and suddenly have a [large amount] of money to start paying for interesting food. … You saw the same things in San Francisco.”

A wide variety of dining options, nightlife and other activities has blossomed alongside the tech industry in “India’s Silicon Valley.”

Bangalore was rated the most dynamic city in the world, two spots ahead of California’s Silicon Valley — which isn’t a city but was ranked as one — by the JLL City Momentum Index this year. The index looks at more than 100 cities around the world, rated by their “ability to embrace technological change, absorb rapid population growth and strengthen global connectivity.”

Not looking abroad

Call centers and outsourced IT workers still make up a part of Bangalore, but a vibrant crowd of modern, enthusiastic, tech-minded people has grown to dominate the city — and for most of them, the promise of “a better life” abroad is not on their radar.

Bangalore, however, has been attracting Americans and Europeans to start companies in India for Indians. And this phenomenon is hardly new.


Blagsvedt, who is also Babajob’s CEO, moved to Bangalore from his hometown of Seattle, Washington, when he was 28 to work with Microsoft. Although Blagsvedt enjoyed his work, he felt compelled to work more directly with Indians, for Indians.

“I always had this nagging thing, like, am I doing enough to address the inequity that I saw, am I doing enough to make the best use of my skills, to try to do something important to make a difference?” he said.

After reading a study that said to get out of poverty, one needed to either change jobs or start a successful business, Blagsvedt was inspired to change how people found those positions.

“If only we could find a way to digitize all the jobs, make it accessible to people who don’t use computers, and digitize the social network, then we might be able to catalyze the escape from poverty for a lot of people,” he said.

Twelve years, a successful company and a family later, Blagsvedt is “more Bangalorean than me!” according to an Indian on his team, Akshay Chaturvedi.

In the past 10 years, however, it’s not just Americans and Europeans with humanitarian motivations who are starting companies in Bangalore.

Indians, even those who paid for American educations and planned to pay off those debts with American jobs, have seen the increasing opportunity back home.

‘A lot of vibrancy’

“[There is] a lot of young talent trying to build solutions that are uniquely India on almost every sector, whether that’s health services, education, digital media, even financial inclusion,” said Vani Kola, a venture capitalist who has been in Bangalore for 10 years after working in Silicon Valley. “I see a lot of vibrancy with respect to opportunity for building unique companies with unique solutions for India.”

And Indians have taken advantage of that opportunity. The number of startups in Bangalore rivals those in the top tech cities around the world. In 2015, San Francisco research firm Compass rated Bangalore as the second fastest-growing startup ecosystem in the world, and it was the only Asian city besides Singapore to place in the top 20 startup ecosystems.


Chaturvedi is one such person who, after completing a fellowship in the United States, returned to India, specifically Bangalore, to join the world of unique Indian startups.

“I can’t imagine my life without startups,” Chaturvedi told VOA. “Everything I do — I’m touched by a startup at least 20 times a day. Every single dinner I order by some food tech startup.”

In the days after we spoke with him at Babajob, Chaturvedi quit to work on his own startup — Leverage, an online platform for higher education services.

Although the question of the future of H1-B visas, a visa most often granted to IT workers from India, is on the minds of American companies that employ them, Bangalore seems less concerned.

“When students studied there, I said, ‘Look, there’s a lot of opportunity calling in India — can’t I do something here?’ That, I think, was a trend that was already there for the last few years,” Chaturvedi said. “And now [the] Indian economy seems to be strong and the opportunity from startups seems very viable in India.”

Fewer seeking H1-Bs

Blagsvedt holds a stronger opinion, saying that H1-B visas are exploitative, and that the rise of opportunity in Bangalore has limited the number of people desperate for those options.

“They haven’t raised that minimum salary in 22 years,” Blagsvedt said. “Now you tell me where you can hire a five-year programmer in Silicon Valley for $65,000 [a year]. You just can’t. And what does that guy have as recourse? If he doesn’t like the job, his visa is sponsored fully … he can’t complain, he can’t even switch jobs!”

Blagsvedt and Chaturvedi both said that in the Bangalore startup ecosystem, they had heard no talk, or worry, about the proposed changes to the U.S. visa program.

Chaturvedi did admit, however, that any threats to the H1-B program “would have been far scarier 10 years back.”

In today’s Bangalore, any widespread panic that Silicon Valley might imagine simply hasn’t taken hold.

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Trudeau in New York for Broadway Play About Canada on 9/11

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans to be in New York on Wednesday for a Broadway play about Newfoundlanders who opened their doors to thousands of passengers who descended on the town of Gander the day U.S. airspace was shut on 9/11.

More than 200 flights were diverted to Canada. Little-used Gander became the second busiest airport, taking in 38 flights. The 6,600 passengers arrived without warning on the town of 10,000.

Canadians took care of the stranded passengers for days. Americans say they experienced overwhelming kindness.

It’s now a musical called “Come From Away” that has won critical raves. It opened Sunday at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater.

Trudeau spokeswoman Andree-Lyne Halle said Tuesday the prime minister and his wife look forward to showing New Yorkers “Canada at its best.”

“We embrace the opportunity to highlight how we are there for each other in times of need,” she said.

Flight crews quickly filled Gander’s hotels, so passengers were taken to schools, fire stations and church halls. The Canadian military flew in 5,000 cots. Stores donated blankets, coffee machines, barbecue grills. Unable to retrieve their luggage, passengers became dependent on the kindness of strangers, and it came in the shape of clothes, showers, toys, banks of phones to call home free of charge, an arena that became a giant walk-in fridge full of donated food.

Once all the planes had landed or turned back to Europe, Gander’s air traffic controllers switched to cooking meals in the building nonstop for three days.

Years later, that huge, comforting hug of Gander still warms the memories of the passengers.


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Playwright Uses Art to Help France Fight Radical Islam

As France wrestles with questions of security and immigration during its presidential election campaign, a Belgian playwright is using his art as a weapon in the fight against radicalization.

Ismael Saidi, 40, has an unexpected hit with his dark comedy “Jihad”, which follows three men on their hapless journey from Brussels’ Schaerbeek district to Homs in Syria.

“I’ve written this play to say ‘That’s enough, it has to stop’,” says Saidi, a Muslim. “It’s now become more than a play, it’s become a real social issue.”

France was traumatized by violence including a truck attack that killed 86 people in Nice last July and coordinated attacks in Paris in November 2015 when 130 people died.

Saidi says writing was a way to “free himself” of the guilt he felt, having dodged the trap some of his acquaintances fell into.

He says militants recruited boys like him to fight in Afghanistan when he was a teenager living in Schaerbeek and years later, in 2014, a former classmate posted a photo on Facebook holding a rifle in Syria.

The departure of about 700 French citizens to fight for Islamic State in Syria and Iraq has also made terrorism and immigration important issues in France’s presidential race.

Centrist Emmanuel Macron, the front-runner, has proposed setting up detention centers to “re-socialize” jihadists returning from Syria and Iraq.

Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen would expel all foreigners linked to Islamist fundamentalism, while conservative Francois Fillon has repeatedly warned of the risk of French Muslims being radicalized.

The government, which estimates 11,500 people are radicalized in France, plans to spend 15 million euros ($19 million) this year on preventing radicalization, up from around one million euros in 2014. It’s unclear if those funds will remain in place after the presidential election.

The current campaign includes websites to raise awareness of recruitment techniques.

Critics say the government has not delivered a coherent strategy to counter radicalization among France’s five-million Muslims.

But government officials say state-sponsored programs must be supplemented by private projects, such as Saidi’s play, which has drawn large crowds in its two-year tour of France and Belgium.

More than 700 secondary-school students saw it recently in the northern French city of Valenciennes.

“With plays like that, we can really make change happen,” said 16-year-old Sarah Moussaddak.

Muriel Domenach, who leads government efforts to prevent radicalization, supports the initiative.

“Making Daesh [Islamic State] uncool is very important,” she said.

Some experts argue former jihadists are the only ones who can reach people at risk.

“They have lived it from the inside, they know the invisible threads of jihadi utopia,” says French anthropologist Dounia Bouzar, who until last year helped the government train local authorities to fight radicalization.

David Vallat, who appears in one government online counter-radicalization campaign, was jailed for five years in the 1990s for joining networks linked to Algeria’s Armed Islamic Group.

He had previously traveled to Bosnia and Afghanistan. Now, the 45-year-old project manager from Lyon wants to spend all his time telling his story. But Vallat says that without public funding, he cannot make his voice heard.

French authorities are reluctant to work closely with former jihadists, wary about whether their reform is sincere.

Last year, Bouzar tried to persuade the government to work with Farid Benyettou, the infamous ex-mentor of the Kouachi brothers, who attacked satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, killing 12 people. Her proposal was rejected.

“The government is too timid,” says Bouzar. “Even the best imam, the best psychologist or the best teacher cannot instill doubts about something he hasn’t lived.”

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Dave Franco, ‘Mad Men’ Star Alison Brie Get Married

 Dave Franco and former “Mad Men” star Alison Brie have gotten married.

Franco’s publicist has confirmed a People magazine report that the pair wed. No details were released on where or when the ceremony took place.


Franco and Brie announced their engagement in August 2015, after three years of dating.


The 31-year-old Franco is best known for his roles in the “Neighbors” and “21 Jump Street” films.


Brie is 34 and starred as Trudy Campbell on “Mad Men.” She also played Annie Edison on “Community.”


Franco and Brie appear together in “The Disaster Artist,” which stars and is directed by Franco’s older brother, James. It premiered over the weekend at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival in Texas.

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African Governments Learn to Block the Internet, but at Cost

The mysterious Facebook blogger kept dishing up alleged government secrets. One day it was a shadowy faction looting cash from Uganda’s presidential palace with impunity. The next was a claim that the president was suffering from a debilitating illness.

For authorities in a country that has seen just one president since 1986, the critic who goes by Tom Voltaire Okwalinga is an example of the threat some African governments see in the exploding reach of the internet – bringing growing attempts to throttle it.

Since 2015 about a dozen African countries have had wide-ranging internet shutdowns, often during elections. Rights defenders say the blackouts are conducive to carrying out serious abuses.

The internet outages also can inflict serious damage on the economies of African countries that desperately seek growth, according to research by the Brookings Institution think tank.

Uganda learned that lesson. In February 2016, amid a tight election, authorities shut down access to Facebook and Twitter as anger swelled over delayed delivery of ballots in opposition strongholds. During the blackout, the police arrested the president’s main challenger. Over $2 million was shed from the country’s GDP in just five days of internet restrictions, the Brookings Institution said.

The shutdowns also have “potential devastating consequences” for education and health, says the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, an organization founded by a mobile phone magnate that monitors trends in African governance.

As more countries gain the technology to impose restrictions, rights observers see an urgent threat to democracy.

“The worrying trend of disrupting access to social media around polling time puts the possibility of a free and fair electoral process into serious jeopardy,” said Maria Burnett, associate director for the Africa division of Human Rights Watch.

In the past year, internet shutdowns during elections have been reported in Gabon, Republic of Congo and Gambia, where a long-time dictator cut off the internet on the eve of a vote he ultimately lost.

In Uganda, where the opposition finds it hard to organize because of a law barring public meetings without the police chief’s authorization, the mysterious blogger Okwalinga is widely seen as satisfying a hunger for information that the state would like to keep secret. His allegations, however, often are not backed up with evidence.

It is widely believed that Uganda’s government has spent millions trying to unmask Okwalinga. In January an Irish court rejected the efforts of a Ugandan lawyer who wanted Facebook to reveal the blogger’s identity over defamation charges.

“What Tom Voltaire Okwalinga publishes is believable because the government has created a fertile ground to not be trusted,” said Robert Shaka, a Ugandan information technology specialist. “In fact, if we had an open society where transparency is a key pillar of our democracy there would be no reason for people like Tom Voltaire Okwalinga.”

In 2015, Shaka himself was arrested on suspicion of being the blogger and charged with violating the privacy of President Yoweri Museveni, allegations he denied. While Shaka was in custody, the mystery blogger kept publishing.

“Who is the editor of Facebook? Who is the editor of all these things they post on social media? Sometimes you have no option, if something is at stake, to interfere with access,” said Col. Shaban Bantariza, a spokesman for the Ugandan government.

Although the government doesn’t like to impose restrictions, the internet can be shut down if the objective is to preserve national security, Bantariza said.

In some English-speaking territories of Cameroon where the locals have accused the central government of marginalizing their language in favor of French, the government has shut down the internet for several weeks.

Internet advocacy group Access Now earlier estimated that the restrictions in Cameroon have cost local businesses more than $1.39 million.

“Internet shutdowns – with governments ordering the suspension or throttling of entire networks, often during elections or public protests – must never be allowed to become the new normal,” Access Now said in an open letter to internet companies in Cameroon, saying the shutdowns cut off access to vital information, e-financing and emergency services.

In Zimbabwe, social media is a relatively new concern for the government following online protests launched by a pastor last year. Aside from blocking social media at times, the government has increased internet fees by nearly 300 percent.

In Ethiopia, where a government-controlled company has a monopoly over all telecom services, internet restrictions have been deeply felt for months. The country remains under a state of emergency imposed in October after sometimes deadly anti-government protests. Restrictions have ranged from shutting down the internet completely to blocking access to social media sites.

Just 30 days of internet restrictions between July 2015 and July 2016 cost Ethiopia’s economy over $8 million, according to figures by the Brookings Institution. The country has been one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies.

Ethiopia’s government insists social media is being used to incite violence, but many citizens are suspicious of that stance.

“What we are experiencing here in Ethiopia is a situation in which the flow of information on social media dismantled the traditional propaganda machine of the government and people begin creating their own media platforms. This is what the government dislikes,” said Seyoum Teshome, a lecturer at Ethiopia’s Ambo University who was jailed for 82 days last year on charges of inciting violence related to his Facebook posts.

“The government doesn’t want the spread of information that’s out of its control, and this bears all the hallmarks of dictatorship,” Seyoum said.

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Facebook Bars Developers from Using Data for Surveillance

Facebook barred software developers on Monday from using the massive social network’s data to create surveillance tools, closing off a process that had been exploited by U.S. police departments to track protesters.

Facebook, its Instagram unit and rival Twitter came under fire last year from privacy advocates after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a report that police were using location data and other user information to spy on protesters in places such as Ferguson, Missouri.

In response to the ACLU report, the companies shut off the data access of Geofeedia, a Chicago-based data vendor that said it works with organizations to “leverage social media,” but Facebook policy had not explicitly barred such use of data in the future.

“Our goal is to make our policy explicit,” Rob Sherman, Facebook’s deputy chief privacy officer, said in a post on the social network on Monday. He was not immediately available for an interview.

The change would help build “a community where people can feel safe making their voices heard,” Sherman said.

Racially charged protests broke out in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson in the aftermath of the August 2014 shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer.

In a 2015 email message, a Geofeedia employee touted its “great success” covering the protests, according to the ACLU report based on government records.

Representatives of Geofeedia could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday. The company has worked with more than 500 law enforcement agencies, the ACLU said.

Geofeedia Chief Executive Officer Phil Harris said in October that the company was committed to privacy and would work to build on civil rights protections.

Major social media platforms including Twitter and Alphabet Inc’s YouTube have taken action or implemented policies similar to Facebook’s, said Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties policy director at the ACLU of Northern California.

Ozer praised the companies’ action but said they should have stopped such use of data earlier. “It shouldn’t take a public records request from the ACLU for these companies to know what their developers are doing,” she said.

It was also unclear how the companies would enforce their policies, said Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice, a nonprofit that opposes government use of social media for surveillance.

Inside corporations, “is the will there, without constant activist pressure, to enforce these rules?” Cyril said.

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FBI Official to Tech World: Try to Understand Us

So what was the FBI doing at the South by Southwest Conference and Festivals in Austin, Texas, primarily known for music, movies and interactive media?

James Baker, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s general counsel, took the stage at a hotel in Austin, Texas, on Monday to present a human face to the issues of encryption and cyber security. He talked about the quandaries law enforcement grapples with in the digital age.

The FBI has been in the center of a maelstrom over Wikileaks disclosures about CIA practices, foreign government election tampering and whether President Donald Trump was subject to a wiretap when he was a presidential candidate.

Baker steered clear of those topics. Instead, he focused on an issue near to the heart of the tech-focused attendees: encryption of devices. 

Still fresh in the audience’s minds was the San Bernardino, California, terror attack in 2015 that led to a standoff between law enforcement and Apple over one of the iPhones used by one of the attackers.

The FBI sought Apple’s help in getting access to the mobile phone. Apple balked, arguing that strong encryption was important to protect privacy. In the end, the government dropped its legal efforts to force Apple to open the phone and reportedly found other ways into the device. 

But the case highlighted disagreements within American society, Baker said. In the last three months of 2016, the FBI received more than 2,000 devices from law enforcement agencies seeking access. The FBI had no solutions in nearly half of the devices. 

“This is happening all the time,” he said. “It’s impeding investigations.”

While the questioner Jeffrey Herbst, chief executive of Newseum, spoke to Baker, audience members asked questions on, a web-based Q&A and polling platform for live events.

Their focus showed an interest in the FBI’s greater maelstrom: “Is there any evidence that foreign governments tried to impact the campaign?” asked one questioner.

Baker did not address any questions on the issue but spoke broadly about security in the digital age. 

“We have to do a better job at explaining the cost of having better encryption,” Baker said. 

He suggested that lawmakers might break down the complex topic of encryption and look for areas where they can make progress, such as carving out new rules for devices law enforcement has in its possession to allow access. “What we don’t want to do is wait for an event to happen,” he said. 

In the end, Baker said that the American people need to hold the FBI accountable and be skeptical about what it does, but also invest the time to understand the issues. 

“The FBI has to deal with the reality of what is,” he said. “Not what we wish it to be.” 

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