New Generation of Hackable Internet Devices May Always Be Listening

It’s not a matter of “if” you’ll be hacked, but “when” you’ll be hacked. That may be every security expert’s favorite quote, and unfortunately they say it’s true. A Wikileaks dump of alleged CIA documents that includes electronic hacking techniques makes it abundantly clear that no one is safe. The leaks and the revealing CIA techniques reinforce the notion that when we’re wired 24-7, we are vulnerable. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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US Solar Soared in 2016, But Investors Still Leery

New U.S. solar installations nearly doubled last year, but slowing demand for both residential and large-scale systems, falling panel prices and concerns about looming federal tax reform are still dampening investor appetite for the sector.

Solar installations soared 97 percent to 14.8 gigawatts in 2016, according to a report released Thursday by Wood Mackenzie and the Solar Energy Industries Association. The technology is cheaper than ever, with panel prices dropping 40 percent last year, and many utilities procuring solar on the basis of cost alone.

But the dramatic drop in panel prices has hampered solar manufacturers’ profits and ramped up competition for utility-scale contracts among developers, companies said in recent weeks while reporting fourth-quarter results. Add in a slowdown in the residential market, tax reform pushed by U.S. President Donald Trump, climbing interest rates and falling oil prices, and stock market investors remain skittish about solar.

2017 a transition year

Credit Suisse analyst Andrew Hughes said in a client note on Thursday that the key risk to his “outperform” rating on shares of residential solar player Sunrun was “investor sentiment, which in a rising interest rate and falling oil price market obscured by tax policy uncertainty remains tepid.”

The MAC Global Solar Energy index, which tracks shares of solar power companies, slid 43 percent in 2016. The index has recovered to gain nearly 8 percent so far this year but remains 65 percent below its year-ago level.

U.S. module manufacturers and project developers SunPower and First Solar Inc are both viewing 2017 as a transition year for their businesses, they said after reporting in February losses for the fourth quarter of last year.

SunPower Chief Executive Tom Werner in a conference call predicted “intense competition for the forseeable future in mainstream power plants,” adding that some companies were selling panels at below cash cost.

A slowdown is forecast

Indeed, the solar industry report released Thursday forecasts a slowdown in the market this year after last year’s boom. Utility systems accounted for more than 10.5 GW of the total in 2016, but are not expected to exceed 10 GW again until 2021, the report said.

The 2016 boom was largely due to a rush by developers to claim a federal tax credit for solar systems that had been expected to expire at the end of the year. The five-year extension of that credit, however, has allowed projects to be pushed into this year and beyond.

Though Trump has not called for ending tax credits for solar and other renewable energy, he has expressed doubts about the role of clean power sources.

Home installations are growing

On the solar residential side, installations grew 19 percent to 2.6 GW last year, down from 66 percent growth in 2015. Growth has slowed in major markets like California, where many of the households most interested in solar have already put up panels.

Tesla, which acquired residential market leader SolarCity late last year, said last month that it deployed 201 megawatts of solar in the fourth quarter, a more than 20 percent drop from the same period a year earlier.

SolarCity rival Sunrun reported a quarterly profit that topped Wall Street estimates due to cost cuts, but said growth would be substantially slower in 2016. System deployments rose 40 percent in 2016, but are expected to rise just 15 percent this year, Sunrun said.

“While it may be slowing, it is still growing. That is an important piece of the story,” Abigail Ross Hopper, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in an interview. “Some of that resetting is to be expected.”

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Colossus Probably Depicting Ramses II Found in Egypt

Archaeologists from Egypt and Germany have found a massive eight-meter statue submerged in ground water in a Cairo slum that they say probably depicts revered Pharaoh Ramses II, who ruled Egypt more than 3,000 years ago.

The discovery, hailed by the Antiquities Ministry as one of the most important ever, was made near the ruins of Ramses II’s temple in the ancient city of Heliopolis, located in the eastern part of modern-day Cairo.

“Last Tuesday they called me to announce the big discovery of a colossus of a king, most probably Ramses II, made out of quartzite,” Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani told Reuters on Thursday at the site of the statue’s unveiling.

The most powerful and celebrated ruler of ancient Egypt, the pharaoh also known as Ramses the Great was the third of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt and ruled from 1279 to 1213 BCE. He led several military expeditions and expanded the Egyptian Empire to stretch from Syria in the east to Nubia in the south. His successors called him the “Great Ancestor.”

“We found the bust of the statue and the lower part of the head and now we removed the head and we found the crown and the right ear and a fragment of the right eye,” Anani said.

On Thursday, archaeologists, officials, local residents, and members of the news media looked on as a massive forklift pulled the statue’s head out of the water

The joint Egyptian-German expedition also found the upper part of a life-sized limestone statue of Pharaoh Seti II, Ramses II’s grandson, that is 80 centimeters long.

The sun temple in Heliopolis was founded by Ramses II, lending weight to the likelihood the statue is of him, archaeologists say.

It was one of the largest temples in Egypt, almost double the size of Luxor’s Karnak, but was destroyed in Greco-Roman times. Many of its obelisks were moved to Alexandria or to Europe and stones from the site were looted and used for building as Cairo developed.

Experts will now attempt to extract the remaining pieces of both statues before restoring them. If they are successful and the colossus is proven to depict Ramses II, it will be moved to the entrance of the Grand Egyptian Museum, set to open in 2018.

The discovery was made in the working class area of Matariya, among unfinished buildings and mud roads.

Dietrich Raue, head of the expedition’s German team, told Reuters that ancient Egyptians believed Heliopolis was the place where the sun god lives, meaning it was off-limits for any royal residences.

“The sun god created the world in Heliopolis, in Matariya. That’s what I always tell the people here when they say is there anything important. According to the pharaonic belief, the world was created in Matariya,” Raue said.

“That means everything had to be built here. Statues, temples, obelisks, everything. But … the king never lived in Matariya, because it was the sun god living here.”

The find could be a boon for Egypt’s tourism industry, which has suffered many setbacks since the uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 but remains a vital source of foreign currency. The number of tourists visiting Egypt slumped to 9.8 million in 2011 from more than 14.7 million in 2010.

A bomb attack that brought down a Russian plane carrying 224 people from a Red Sea resort in October 2015 further hit arrivals, which dropped to 1.2 million in the first quarter of 2016 from 2.2 million a year earlier.

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Apple’s Siri Learns Shanghainese as Voice Assistants Race to Cover Languages

With the broad release of Google Assistant last week, the voice-assistant wars are in full swing, with Apple,, Microsoft and now Alphabet’s Google all offering electronic assistants to take your commands.

Siri is the oldest of the bunch, and researchers including Oren Etzioni, chief executive officer of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Seattle, said Apple has squandered its lead when it comes to understanding speech and answering questions.

But there is at least one thing Siri can do that the other assistants cannot: speak 21 languages localized for 36 countries, a very important capability in a smartphone market where most sales are outside the United States.

Microsoft Cortana, by contrast, has eight languages tailored for 13 countries. Google’s Assistant, which began in its Pixel phone but has moved to other Android devices, speaks four languages. Amazon’s Alexa features only English and German. Siri will even soon start to learn Shanghainese, a special dialect of Wu Chinese spoken only around Shanghai.

The language issue shows the type of hurdle that digital assistants still need to clear if they are to become ubiquitous tools for operating smartphones and other devices.

Speaking languages natively is complicated for any assistant. If someone asks for a football score in Britain, for example, even though the language is English, the assistant must know to say “two-nil” instead of “two-nothing.”

At Microsoft, an editorial team of 29 people works to customize Cortana for local markets. In Mexico, for example, a published children’s book author writes Cortana’s lines to stand out from other Spanish-speaking countries.

“They really pride themselves on what’s truly Mexican. [Cortana] has a lot of answers that are clever and funny and have to do with what it means to be Mexican,” said Jonathan Foster, who heads the team of writers at Microsoft.

Google and Amazon said they plan to bring more languages to their assistants but declined to comment further.

At Apple, the company starts working on a new language by bringing in humans to read passages in a range of accents and dialects, which are then transcribed by hand so the computer has an exact representation of the spoken text to learn from, said Alex Acero, head of the speech team at Apple. Apple also captures a range of sounds in a variety of voices. From there,

an acoustic model is built that tries to predict words sequences.

Then Apple deploys “dictation mode,” its text-to-speech translator, in the new language, Acero said. When customers use dictation mode, Apple captures a small percentage of the audio recordings and makes them anonymous. The recordings, complete with background noise and mumbled words, are transcribed by humans, a process that helps cut the speech recognition error

rate in half.

After enough data has been gathered and a voice actor has been recorded to play Siri in a new language, Siri is released with answers to what Apple estimates will be the most common questions, Acero said. Once released, Siri learns more about what real-world users ask and is updated every two weeks with more tweaks.

But script-writing does not scale, said Charles Jolley, creator of an intelligent assistant named Ozlo. “You can’t hire enough writers to come up with the system you’d need in every language. You have to synthesize the answers,” he said. That is years off, he said.

The founders of Viv, a startup founded by Siri’s original creators that Samsung acquired last year, is working on just that.

“Viv was built to specifically address the scaling issue for intelligent assistants,” said Dag Kittlaus, the CEO and co-founder of Viv. “The only way to leapfrog today’s limited functionality versions is to open the system up and let the

world teach them.”

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Solar Energy Station to Power Hawaiian Island

One of Hawaii’s islands may soon be powered by solar energy, at least during the night.

In the biggest project since it acquired the solar cell giant SolarCity, the Tesla company will build a 13-megawatt solar farm on the island of Kauai, covering more than 44 acres (18 hectares). The solar cells will charge a 53-megawatt hour battery station able to provide most of the island’s power at night.

The batteries, called Powerpacks, will be built by Tesla’s new Gigafactory.

Right now, Kauai residents are paying very high prices for energy, so the plan is to gradually transition to renewable sources, including wind and biomass.

Kauai plans to generate 70 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2030 and to completely wean itself from fossil-generated electricity by 2045.

Tesla says that once it’s in full production, the Kauai solar energy plant will lower the fossil fuel burn by over 6,000 metric tons a year.

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Indian Campaigners Use Comics to Raise Trafficking Awareness

Since January of this year, thousands of school children in India’s northeastern state of Assam have pored over an illustrated story of how two young girls from a relief camp were lured by a man who told them of the good life they could lead in a big city, home to swanky buildings and flashy cars. It sounded attractive to the poor youngsters who could only visualize a bleak life ahead.

Fortunately spotted by a policeman as they waited for the man at a railway station to head to the city, the story goes on to relate what their future could have been like when they were sold to work as poorly paid domestic employees, sex workers or laborers.

The comic in the Assamese language aims to raise awareness among children about trafficking rings that lure young girls and boys from villages into India’s booming cities with the promise of good jobs.

The most vulnerable to human traffickers are states such as Assam, where a violent ethnic conflict has displaced many families, and the country’s poorer, underdeveloped states such as West Bengal, Telengana, and Andhra Pradesh.

As child rights campaigners stress prevention as key to addressing the problem, comic books have emerged as an effective tool to empower children to protect themselves in these areas. Children being sold accounted for nearly half of the human trafficking cases in India in 2015.

“There are more colors, more expressions, its an effective means of communication, especially for children,” says Miguel Queah at Assam-based non-profit Utsah, who wrote the story and helps organize reading sessions in vulnerable and displaced communities such as relief camps, children’s homes and government schools in Assam. “Children love reading the stories, discussing among their friends, we could see that response taking place” he says.

Orders to print more comics have gone out with the initial stock of 800 copies having run out and there is a proposal to incorporate it in school curriculums.

The non-profit My Choices Foundation began reaching out to rural communities a little over a year ago with its comic book, The Light of Safe Villages to educate children about threats such as trafficking and other social problems such as child marriage.

Hannah Norling who heads communications at the My Choices Foundation is confident that the colorful books and simple stories in local languages are effectively spreading the message of how traffickers trap young children. “We are in the right place,” she said.

It is distributed to students across more than 500 Indian villages.

She points out that while it is sometimes difficult to reach out to parents, who are busy working, children are more of a captive audience and the idea was to give them an illustrated book that could serve as a complete educational tool which they could share with their parents.

“We had to leave something behind that would be a long term reminder. If something happens a year from now, a physical frame of reference for them to revert back to ‘OK now what do I do?” said Norling.

One of the stories in the comic is of a guardian girl on a mission to save others and another of a vigilant boy.

Growing awareness among children has made them more alert to threats from traffickers and some have reported to village council or others if they noticed a friend missing, according to Norling. She said that helped in the rescue of three girls in the past year who had left their village.

The comic book initiative is among several efforts to prevent trafficking in rural areas. One of them by Save the Children spreads the message in local communities through children who have been rescued.

India honored a woman on Wednesday when 21-year-old Anoyara Khatun, who was trafficked from West Bengal state, received the “Women Power” award from the president for stopping hundreds of other children from being forced into labor or married off.

Khatun was brought to Delhi when she was 12 years old and forced to work as a house maid, but managed to escape after six months. With the help of child rights advocates, she returned home and is part of a network of children’s groups in 80 villages where young people are taught about their rights.

Manab Ray at Save the Children in New Delhi points out that once trafficking has happened, there is little that can be done to help the victims, so the key is to stop it in villages. And at the heart of the effort to engage local communities are the children themselves. “Children we found are the best informers, in terms of knowing the issues, because they face it themselves, they can have the natural ability of identifying the traffickers and all,” said Ray.

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China Seeking International Law for State Control of Internet

China is seeking an international agreement to enhance state control over the internet in order to fight cyberattacks and cyberterrorism. Beijing wants to extend the existing idea of sovereignty over land and sea to cyberspace.

Beijing has released its first white paper discussing how it will persuade different countries to join together in an international partnership. The idea is to enhance the power of individual governments over cyberspace and reduce the role of the private sector.

“Countries in the whole world have increasing concerns [about cyberattacks] in this regard. Cyberspace should not be a space of no laws,” Long Zhou, coordinator of the Cyber Affairs division of the Foreign Ministry said last week while releasing copies of “International Strategy of Cooperation on Cyberspace,” China’s first policy paper on the issue.


Analysts see it as a grandiose plan to extend the Chinese idea of censorship across large parts of the world. China has been criticized in developed countries for controlling the internet with a heavy hand and not allowing Google, Facebook, Twitter and many foreign news websites to be seen in China.

The first set of organizations that will be hit, if the Chinese campaign gains momentum, are American companies that play a dominant role in the internet space, analysts said.

“The inventors of cyberspace were idealistically and ideologically convinced that they had created a domain of perfect freedom, where anyone could gain entry and behave as if no laws existed,” Sheila Jasanoff, director of the program on science, technology and society at Harvard University’s Kennedy School told VOA.

“It has been interesting to see how this allegedly wide open and free space has gradually been ‘written over’ with all the markers of national sovereignty and rivalry,” she said.

Russian role in U.S. polls

China is taking advantage of the uproar in the United States over alleged cyberattacks by Russia to interfere in the recent presidential election.

Asked about the alleged Russian interference, Long said, “Especially in recent years, the number of cybersecurity events throughout the world is increasing, posing challenges to all countries’ efforts to maintain political, economic stability and protecting all citizens’ rights and interests.”

Lee Branstetter, an associate professor of economics at the Heinz School of Policy and Management of the Carnegie Mellon University, saw the situation differently. 

“The China solution is a proposal to create huge barriers to the free flow of information across borders. It is hard to see how a global digital economy could function under such a regime,” he said.

Beijing action plan

China is trying to persuade world governments and international agencies, including the United Nations, to accept the principal of “cyber sovereignty” that allows each country to govern the internet in the manner it wants without interference from other governments. Long said the concept of land and sea sovereignty, which is recognized by the U.N., should be extended to the cyber world because the problems and situations are similar.

He said the international community is discussing the need to “produce new international legal instruments to deal with the security situation in cyberspace.” These situations include cyberterror or cross-boundary cybercrimes.

China plans to raise the issue at different international forums including U.N. agencies, the BRICS group — for Brazil, Russia, India and China — and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The Chinese endeavor has the support of Russia, which will join in the campaign for making international rules on cyberspace, Long said at a recent news conference.

Jasanoff is skeptical of the Chinese rationale.

“There is good reason to believe that China will do more to limit the freedom of information of its citizens than to ensure its own security with regard to things like critical infrastructure,” she said. “The most effective firewall will likely be against the creation of domestic networks of civilian information exchange and protest.”

Assertions of cybersovereignty from China and elsewhere are happening at a time when national sovereignty is in decline for many reasons, not least because the technological capability for both creating and breaking through security systems is highly dispersed, she said.

“Hackers for hire are distributed throughout the world, and recent experiences at all kinds of major institutions shows that hardly any are free from threats (and even the reality) of cyberattacks,” Jasanoff said.

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In Surreal Wilderness, National Parks Visitor Travels Back in Time

Driving through the ancient swamplands of the Big Cypress National Preserve in southern Florida made national parks traveler Mikah Meyer feel like he was in another world.

Ghostly landscape

“Because it was so early, it was super foggy,” he said. “We couldn’t see more than 20- 30 feet in front of us and it was just this ethereal, misty experience.”

“At one point we came up against a controlled burn site, so you have these tall trees that were green at the top but then underneath, everything was charred and… it was straight out of a Star Wars movie…I was just waiting for the Ewoks to appear!”


Mikah – who’s on a mission to visit all of the more than 400 National Park sites – had just been to Florida’s famous Everglades National Park, so it was natural for him to want to visit the neighboring preserve. “It was on the same road as I took to go to the Everglades — Highway 41. The Everglades was on the south side; the Big Cypress National Preserve on the right side.”

Western Everglades

“A far less popular park than the Everglades, Big Cypress is a lot more wild,” Mikah noted. The huge cypress swamp, most of which is in Big Cypress National Preserve, is dominated by bald cypress trees that grow in water, which create surreal scenes that are enhanced by fog and smoke.

His guide, Ozzie Gonzalez from Everglades Nature Tours, drove Mikah and his travel companion, Andy Waldron, through the ghostly environment on a swamp buggy, a vehicle that’s specially designed to navigate the area’s rough and muddy terrain. “It had these monster truck wheels that were only four-pounds pressure, and that’s basically because you’re going over so many rocks and so many holes that it’s needed to be light pressure so that the vehicle doesn’t break,” Mikah explained.

Big Cypress was actually the first national preserve in the National Park Service, established in 1974. It owes that distinction to a massive community effort. “It was both industry and conservationists, along with hunters and Native people who use this land for their own recreational purposes,” Mikah noted, “so it was a real group effort to make sure that it remained in ways that helped everybody.”

Freshwater to the sea

The primary reason the preserve was created was to protect its freshwater’s natural flow into the neighboring Everglades and Ten Thousand Islands, and help support the rich marine estuaries along Florida’s southwest coast.

“It helps protect the watershed,” Mikah said. “So the water that comes down from Lake Okeechobee, today only 25% of it flows to the Everglades as it did historically. So by having the preserve north of the Everglades, it helps protect the water that comes down into the Everglades…and is the drinking water for half of the people that live in Florida – so over 10 million people — so that’s important.”

Plentiful pythons

Protecting nearly 300,000 hectares of this vast swamp, Big Cypress National Preserve comprises a combination of tropical and temperate plant communities that are home to a diversity of wildlife. That includes the elusive Florida panther, and in more recent years, Burmese pythons, one of the largest snake species on Earth.

The invasive snakes have been turning up in and around Big Cypress National Preserve and are now known to be breeding in the preserve and spreading throughout south Florida.

Mikah said that back in the ‘70s, having exotic pets was a trend. “People would purchase pythons as little, one-foot long baby snakes, which would eventually grow to over 10 feet and you’d have to feed them a pig a week…so all these people were just taking them to the Everglades and Big Cypress and dumping them in nature.”

Now they’ve reproduced, “and have basically taken over the place to the point that some naturalists think there will come a point when they will have eaten all of the other species and at that point they’ll start to cannibalize each other,” he said.

Big Cypress National Preserve is working with other government agencies to control the growing Burmese python population and address other invasive species. On its website, the National Park Service notes that the reptiles “serve as a painful reminder of just how dangerous invasive species can be.”

Stepping back in time

About 130 kilometers west of Miami, far from the bright lights and bustle of city life, the national parks and preserved spaces in south Florida — and the wildlife they support — are also a reminder of what protection can offer… a chance for visitors from around the world to explore a special and fragile place that remains untouched by civilization.

“It was so interesting to be in south Florida because I think when we hear south Florida, we just think of nightclubs on Miami Beach,” Mikah said. “But in reality, the vast majority of the land is made up of Everglades National Park and the Big Cypress National Preserve and so it’s important to remember that these two National Park Service sites represent what Florida looked like before human interaction.

“So if you want to step back in time, this is a place you can do it.”

Mikah invites you to learn more about his travels in Florida and all across America by visiting his website, Facebook and Instagram.

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On Channel 972, Viewers Become Show Hosts

Senior citizens who move to Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville, Maryland, have a chance to start new careers in television. No matter what they did before retiring, they’re encouraged to participate in creating a range of programs broadcast on channel 972, a closed circuit 24-hour TV station. Faiza Elmasry has the story. Faith Lapidus narrates.

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Rubber Robots Could Help People with Weak Muscles

Powered exoskeletons may help people with weak muscles move better. Exoskeletons are often made from metal, which means their joints are rigid. Now researchers at a university in Switzerland are working on flexible, rubber robots that could replace the metal joints in exoskeletons, making them far more flexible. VOA’s Deborah Block has a report.

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Female Artists in Rio Promote Women’s Rights Via Painting

Before leaving her home each day to teach art to children, Mariluce Maria de Souza must factor in extra time to account for the shootings and other eruptions of violence that occur daily in Alemao, Rio de Janeiro’s largest complex of slums, or favelas.

The 35-year-old mother sometimes has to cancel a session teaching painting to children because the journey to class is just too dangerous. Through the project called Favela Art, the self-taught artist requires that her students attend school and study hard in return.

Souza has become an example of empowerment for girls and women in the slum, who often face domestic violence and workplace discrimination.

“Sometimes the mothers, who are mother and father at the same time, don’t have the time to give the kind of attention that five, six or seven children need,” Souza said.

Like many Latin American countries, Brazil has deep problems with gender-specific violence. The Brazilian nonprofit Mapa da Violencia says nearly five in 100,000 women are killed each year, giving the country one of the world’s highest homicide rates for women.

The situation is even worse for black women, many of whom live in slums. Between 2003 and 2013, the annual number homicides of black women jumped 54 percent, according to Mapa da Violencia.

“We use the graffiti to demand the end of violence against women,” said Maiara Viana Rodrigues, a 25-year-old who said that as a teen she was sexually abused by a man in her neighborhood.

To make her point, the member of Afrograffitteiras, a group working to empower black women, on one recent afternoon painted graffiti exhorting: “Viva! You, Woman!” on a wall in a Rio suburb.

Along with rejecting physical violence, the female artists say they also want to shine a light on psychological abuse, unequal access to education and health care, and less pay for women doing the same job as men. 

Lya Alves, who recently painted a mural of a black woman on a wall in Rio’s renovated port area, says feminism has lost much of its meaning since the 1970s, when women fought against being considered sexual objects.

“Nowadays the media promotes” the sexual objectification of women, she said. “Is that helping to obtain a better education, a better salary?”

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Nike to Launch High-tech Hijab for Female Muslim Athletes

Nike will launch a hijab for female Muslim athletes early next year, becoming the first major sports apparel maker to offer a traditional Islamic head scarf designed specifically for competition, the company said on Wednesday.

The head covering, marketed under the “Pro Hijab” brand, is designed to allow athletes to observe the traditional Islamic practice of covering the head without compromising performance.

Made from a lightweight, flexible material, the hijab is expected to hit stores shelves in early 2018, Nike said in a statement.

In recent years, the hijab has become the most visible symbol of Islamic culture in the United States and Europe. Many Muslim women cover their heads in public with the hijab as a sign of modesty, but some critics see it as a sign of female oppression.

With sensitivities over immigration and the perceived threat of Muslim extremism running high, the head scarf has led to attacks against Muslim women. At the same time, the hijab has evolved in a symbol of diversity that Nike has embraced.

The Women’s March on Washington, held the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, used the face of a woman wearing a hijab in an American flag pattern as its promotional image.

Muslim athletes visiting Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, just outside of Portland, have complained about the difficulties of wearing a hijab while competing, according to the company.

The company consulted with Muslim women athletes from around the world, including Middle Eastern runners and cyclists, in the designing the hijab.

Other companies have also set their sights on hijab sales to Muslim athletes.

Last year, Danish sportswear company Hummel unveiled a soccer jersey with an attached hijab for the Afghanistan national women’s soccer team.

Non-professional women Muslim athletes have used athletic hijabs made by smaller companies.

But Nike’s annual net sales in the billions and its reach in popular culture can do more to bring Muslim athletes into the fold, said Amna Al Haddad, a Nike sponsored weightlifter from the United Arab Emirates who consulted on “Pro Hijab.”

“[It will] encourage a whole new generation to pursue sports without feeling there is a limitation because of modesty or dress-code,” Haddad said.

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Nigeria’s Kaduna Rivals Lagos in Growing Hip-hop Culture

Lagos has long been known as Nigeria’s pop culture hub. It’s the home of Nigeria’s film industry, Nollywood, as well as many of the country’s top musicians and artists.

But a group of rappers and fashion designers is creating a scene of their own in Kaduna, in northern Nigeria, some 600 kilometers from Lagos. Kaduna’s is the new center of Nigeria’s growing hip-hop culture.


DJ Jakes Tudu is cranking out jams on his weekly radio show, playing the latest tunes from local rap artists.


Hip-hop music has taken over Nigeria’s pop music scene. Rappers like Morell, DJ AB, Kheengz, and Classiq are part of a new generation of rappers. They hail from Kaduna and they’re trying to put their city on the music map.  


On the surface, Kaduna is a quiet conservative city. But there’s another side of it. Here, music artists like Kevin Words are becoming local celebrities. DJ Jakes is a huge fan of Words.

“Stepping into the Kaduna music industry you have to listen to the likes of Kevin Words because a lot of people out there have this stereotype or this mindset that Kaduna artists or the Kaduna industry is full of mediocres, but when you hear people like Kevin Words, trust me, you want to sit up,” DJ Jakes says.

Ibrahim Ilyia, 28, is another rapper from the streets of Kaduna. He goes by the stage name IBI. One of his most recent hit songs, Alhamdulillah, fuses the local Hausa slang with American hip-hop style.  


“When I was young I used to listen to rap a lot and I fell in love with rap music and right now I do rap music because I love it,” Ilyia says.

Most rappers in Nigeria, Ilyia says, end up going to Lagos to make it but Lagos, in his opinion, is passe.


“I’m not actually against people going to Lagos, but if Kaduna people can just build themselves alone, reach a certain level, I mean Lagos is nothing. We’ll counter them.”

So, he works hard, putting pen to paper to write rhymes and trying out new lyrics with sample beats. He’s good at free-styling, too.


The music is just one part of hip-hop culture. Fashion is also important. Kaduna is fertile ground for young ambitious designers.

Hussena Raji is the CEO of Mummy’s Fashun. Her clothes are an edgy blend of urban and African.

“I decided to blend hip-hop because that’s what’s selling in the market. Almost everybody wants to wear and feel like it. So we try as much as possible to make everything look it,” says Raji.

Patrick Yamai, 24, is another designer combining different looks with his fashion label YKP Clothing.


‘I just felt there was a space in the fashion line that had been neglected. It’s either fully African or it’s fully English, or fully corporate, but I had this dream of fusing the two. Something you can wear to the club and still wear to the office. So I tried to fuse African and urban together to see if it can go and the reception has been wonderful. We’re doing clothes that are African but you can wear it with a sneaker and still look cool, that’s what we’re trying to do,” he said.


Yamai is an accounting graduate while DJ Jakes studied architecture in school. But they each found their calling in this local scene.

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Tech Companies Respond to Alleged CIA Hacking Tools

Major technology firms say they are moving to fix any vulnerabilities in their operating systems, a day after WikiLeaks released documents pertaining to an alleged CIA hacking arsenal capable of spying on people through microphones in mobile phones and other electronic devices, such as smart televisions.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Apple said it already had addressed many of the issues identified in the WikiLeaks documents, but said it would “continue work to rapidly address any identified vulnerabilities.”

“We always urge customers to download the latest iOS to make sure they have the most recent security updates,” Apple said.


Samsung made a similar comment, saying it was aware of the report and “urgently looking into the matter.”

“Protecting consumers’ privacy and the security of our devices is a top priority at Samsung,” the South Korean electronics company said.

According to the WikiLeaks documents, the CIA identified weaknesses within the software used by Apple, Google, Microsoft and other U.S.-based manufacturers; but, instead of informing the companies of the vulnerabilities, the CIA “hoarded” the exploits, leaving people open to potential hacking.

“By hiding these security flaws from manufacturers like Apple and Google the CIA ensures that it can hack everyone; at the expense of leaving everyone hackable,” WikiLeaks said in a statement accompanying the release of the documents.

The CIA would neither confirm nor deny the legitimacy of the documents, although WikiLeaks boasts a nearly perfect record on the authenticity of the documents it publishes.

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, White House Spokesman Sean Spicer likened the WikiLeaks release to recent information leaks from within the White House, and said it should serve as “a cause for concern” for all Americans.

“I think the idea that we are having these ongoing disclosures of national security and classified information should be something that everybody is outraged about in this country,” he said. “This is the kind of disclosure that undermines our country, our security and our well-being.”

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UN Expert Urges States to Work Towards Cyber Surveillance Treaty

The world needs an international treaty to protect people’s privacy from unfettered cybersurveillance, which is being pushed by populist politicians preying on fear of terrorism, according to a U.N. report debated on Wednesday.

The report, submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council by the U.N. independent expert on privacy, Joe Cannataci, said traditional privacy safeguards such as rules on phone tapping were outdated in the digital age.

“It’s time to start reclaiming cyberspace from the menace of over-surveillance,” Cannataci told the Council.

With governments worldwide demanding data from firms such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple and Twitter, it did not make sense to rely entirely on U.S. legal safeguards, and creating an “international warrant” for data access or surveillance would unify global standards, he said.

“What the world needs is not more state-sponsored shenanigans on the Internet but rational, civilized agreement about appropriate state behavior in cyberspace,” the report said. “This is not utopia. This is cold, stark reality.”

Cannataci was appointed as the first “Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy” in 2015, following the uproar caused by revelations by Edward Snowden, a former U.S. security contractor who once worked at the U.S. mission in Geneva.

His report was submitted last week, before the latest publication by anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks of what it said were thousands of pages of internal CIA discussions of hacking techniques of smartphones and other gadgets.

The United States did not react to Cannataci’s report, but many countries welcomed it and agreed that online privacy standards should be as strong as offline standards.

China’s diplomat at the Council said rapid technological advances and the “drastic increase worldwide in the violation of privacy” made it urgent to enhance protection, while Russia’s representative said Cannataci’s report was “extremely topical”.

Venezuela, Iran and Cuba all welcomed Cannataci’s work and criticized international surveillance.

A draft legal text was being debated by activists and “some of the larger international corporations” and was expected to be published within a year, Cannataci said.

In his report, he criticized populist laws that intruded on privacy in the name of fighting terrorism.

He said such sweeping but unproven powers were based on fear alone, and compared them to U.S. President Donald Trump’s order restricting travel from six Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

“The level of the fear prevents the electorate from objectively assessing the effectiveness of the privacy-intrusive measures proposed,” he wrote.

“Trying to appear tough on security by legitimizing largely useless, hugely expensive and totally disproportionate measures which are intrusive on so many people’s privacy – and other rights – is patently not the way governments should go.”

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In Pictures: International Women’s Day

Today, woman around the world are celebrating International Women’s Day.  U.N. agencies are calling for greater efforts to ensure gender equality and end hunger and poverty.

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‘Hamilton’ US Tour Led by Actor Who Vows a ‘Gritty’ Take

You may not particularly recall Nov. 16, but Broadway actor Michael Luwoye will never forget it.

It was a Wednesday and he certainly earned his salary that day. Luwoye played the title role in the mega-hit musical “Hamilton” at the matinee and then suited up a few hours later to play Aaron Burr that evening.

“I knew that this would happen, at some point. I was prepped and a little excited to do that. So it was one of those moments of just, ‘Let’s just go!'” he said. “It was much more exhilarating than I’d imagined it would be.”

Luwoye is the first person to play both pivotal roles on the same day, and audiences across the country will soon be getting a chance to see why he was entrusted with the responsibilities.

The 26-year-old Alabama native stars as Alexander Hamilton in the “Hamilton” national tour, which kicks off this month with a 21-week stand in San Francisco, followed by a 21-week engagement in Los Angeles.

“It’s incredible how much people love this show and they haven’t seen it. So it warms my heart to know that more people will be able to see it with this tour,” Luwoye said.

Luwoye is the fifth actor to play Hamilton and promises a strong take on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s striving Founding Father. “My Hamilton is pretty gritty. I feel like that fire that Hamilton has, I feel like I capture that very well,” he said.

Thomas Kail, the Tony Award-winning director of “Hamilton,” said he watched and listened to Luwoye audition for Hamilton with a memorable take on the striving song “My Shot.”

“It was one of those moments when you sit up straight in your chair and you know that you are witnessing something,” said Kail. “We throw a lot of material at people when we’re auditioning and there are certain people who rise to meet that. And he just rose to meet it.”

Miranda’s multiple award-winning take on the nation’s first U.S. treasury secretary has a varied score, ranging from pop ballads to rap battles to sexy R&B. It has been cheered for reclaiming the nation’s founding story with a multicultural cast.

Luwoye, born and raised in Huntsville, Alabama, went to the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa and decided to make performing a career as a junior in college. His credits include playing a Ugandan dreamer in off-Broadway’s “Invisible Thread” and Peter Tosh in a bio-musical of Bob Marley in Maryland.

When “Hamilton” was first being created downtown, he initially auditioned for the dual roles of Hercules Mulligan/James Madison. He didn’t get it – the roles went to Okieriete Onaodowan – but Luwoye kept auditioning, learning new characters and eventually impressing with his Hamilton and Burr.

Luwoye got the call that he’d won the part of the Hamilton alternate on Broadway when he was working as a caterer. “I was in the middle of putting on my tuxedo,” he said. “Once I hung up the phone, I was like, ‘I have a lot of words to learn.'”

Then came that pivotal winter day when on the same day he played both the chatty, workaholic Hamilton and his political nemesis, the sly and careful Burr, which he considers a harder part. Luwoye said doing both made the show more clear.

“Hamilton and Burr onstage mirror each other,” he said. “Hamilton gets to express a lot more and is very, very fast – that fire is lit under him and he just goes. Burr has the same drive but has to do it a lot slower. The story is not about him. He’s telling the story and so his moments are not the priority in the storytelling.”

Luwoye has packed up his Brooklyn apartment and flown to San Francisco where company members include Joshua Henry as Burr and Rory O’Malley as King George III. “I don’t really have words for this, to be very honest,” he said.

One thing is certain: His catering days are done.

“I think so,” he said with a smile. “I think so.”

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Scarlett Johansson Files for Divorce from Romain Dauriac

A lawyer for Scarlett Johansson’s husband Romain Dauriac says he’s “shocked” that the star filed for divorce.


Johansson’s filing in a New York City court on Tuesday states that her marriage to Dauriac is “irretrievably broken.” The move follows a January announcement that the couple split last summer after less than two years of marriage.


Johansson asks for joint custody of the couple’s toddler daughter in the filing, but also wants the child to live with her. Dauriac’s lawyer, Hal Mayerson, says he’s taken aback by the request because he has been the “primary parent” for Rose while Johansson has been involved with her career.


Johansson’s representatives and attorneys didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.


Johansson was previously wed to actor Ryan Reynolds from 2008 to 2011.


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Silicon Valley Offers Muted Reaction to New Travel Restrictions

When the Trump administration issued its executive order in Janurary restricting travelers from certain countries, many tech companies and their employees were quick to express their objections.

But now, with the new executive order out limiting travel to the U.S. for people from six countries, the response from Silicon Valley has been largely muted.

Alphabet, the parent company of Google, Facebook and Microsoft has so far remained quiet.

In reaction to the first travel executive order, the three companies were among 100 U.S. tech firms that filed a legal brief in opposition. At the time, Google said 76 of its employees were affected by the executive order.

Still, some firms, such as Uber, Lyft, Mozilla and Airbnb, were quick to express their objections to Monday’s executive order.

Lyft, the ride-hailing firm, plans to meet with the American Civil Liberties Group this week to discuss how “we can further support their efforts,” Logan Green, Lyft’s CEO, said in a statement. The company gave the civil liberties organization $1 million in January.

“Our sentiment has not changed: President (Donald) Trump’s immigration ban is unjust and wrong,” an Uber spokesperson said. “We will continue to stand up for those in the Uber community affected.”

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff tweeted a tribute to his grandfather, “Thinking of great grandfather Issac Benioff who came to US from Kiev as Refugee. W/O him no @Salesforce (2M jobs/200B GDP) or@GameOfThrones!” (Benioff’s cousin, David, is the co-creator of the hit TV series.)

Tech lobbying group and trade organizations have largely stayed mum about the limited travel ban.

One exception is TechNet, which represents tech firms such as Facebook and Apple. It put out a statement this week saying that “unfortunately, just like the first order, this new policy singles out individuals based on their country of origin and will adversely impact technology workers who live and work in our nation.”

The industry has been anxiously waiting for the Trump administration’s revamp of the H-1B visa program, which Silicon Valley uses to hire skilled workers. Late last week, the administration jettisoned an aspect of the H-1B visa application process called “premium processing,” which allowed companies to pay extra for their visa applications to be expedited.

That change underscored the uncertainty in the industry over how the Trump administration will ultimately handle both work visas and travel restrictions.

“What’s next?” said Evan Engstrom, executive director of Engine, an advocacy and research group focused on tech startups.

“What everyone is concerned about is what anti-immigration policies are going to be more expansive,” Engstrom said.

It’s a point echoed by a Yahoo executive.

“American businesses like Yahoo need certainty, particularly around the ability to hire and retain top talent. A piecemeal approach leaves question marks for companies and employees,” April Boyd, a Yahoo vice president and head of global public policy, said in a statement. “We encourage the administration to work with Congress on a thoughtful, lasting approach to bring positive change to the current immigration system.”

Each April 1, the U.S. holds a lottery for 65,000 H-1B visas and 20,000 additional visas for foreign students with master’s degrees. Last year, there were requests for more than 200,000, a record figure.

But critics say skilled-worker visa programs have hurt American workers. Companies have used them, they say, to hire foreign workers who are not highly skilled and who are paid lower than market rate wages.

The biggest users of the H-1B program have been outsourcing firms that provide IT consulting.

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Latin American Girls Hack Man’s World of Tech, Science

Staying up late into the night, Lilia Lobato Martinez watched endless YouTube videos to teach herself the computer code she used to help build her prize-winning Ool app for volunteers in Guadalajara, Mexico.

In her country, she is usually the only woman in tech competitions, which often hand out men’s T-shirts to the winners.

Now the 18-year-old electrical engineering student is using the $10,000 she won for her app in last year’s international girls-only Technovation competition to further develop Ool, which has so far linked over 1,000 volunteers with 20 non-profit groups in Mexico’s second-biggest city.

“A lot of people were constantly complaining everything’s wrong, but I found that no one was going out to the street to volunteer,” said Lobato. “So I decided to develop an app that’s a compendium of all the non-profit organizations, so we can learn what Mexico is building.”

A male-dominated field

With plans to eventually set up a center to teach children to code, she said many of her female friends shied away from IT development because it was male-dominated. Only four out of 40 students on her degree course are women, she pointed out.

Across Latin America, the participation of girls and women in technology and science has lagged far behind men, experts say.

And while awareness of the need to correct the imbalance is growing, social and economic pressures mean many are still pushed into other areas or expected to start work straight after school rather than going into higher education.

“Boys think it’s easy for them and they expect to be smart in technology … it’s not expected for girls, and that’s reinforced by the education system quite often,” said Gloria Bonder, Buenos Aires-based UNESCO chair on women, science and technology in Latin America.

The portrayal of women in the media, and a lack of role models also contribute to making it a system-wide problem, added Bonder, who is working on a Central American pilot project to incorporate gender equality into science and technology education.

While 44 percent of all science research positions — including social sciences — in the region are held by women, they are under-represented in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), according to UNESCO.

For example, in Peru and Colombia, around a third of natural science researchers are women, but they account for just a quarter of engineering and technology researchers.

Now a number of projects are striving to improve access for girls and give them the skills and confidence to compete in those jobs.

Developers’ boot camp

One of these is the Laboratoria coding academy in Lima, which spots talent “where no one else is looking,” said its chief executive, Mariana Costa Checa.

More than 1,000 women applied for 70 places at its intensive boot camp where candidates from low-income backgrounds train as front-end web developers.

The application process involves a series of rigorous tests, alongside interviews with candidates’ families to reduce the drop-out rate for the course, which also runs in Santiago, Mexico City and the Peruvian city of Arequipa, and helps participants land jobs with companies such as IBM.

Along with computer programs like JavaScript, it teaches workplace skills that are crucial for women who have little experience of formal-sector employment, said Costa.

She expects some Laboratoria graduates will go on to develop technical solutions for problems in their communities.

“The first thing we look for is a job, because it gives them economic stability, and for our average student, it triples their income,” said Costa.

It also gives them “a new perspective in life,” she added. “It starts changing the way they look at the world — and I think there’s enormous value in then bringing that change to their own communities.”

Many girls are on their own

With many girls from poor families under pressure to start earning as soon as they finish school, Rebeca Vargas, president of the U.S.-Mexico Foundation, said most of those who signed up for the international STEM mentoring program she helped set up in Mexico’s Puebla state did so without telling their parents.

Nearly all are now studying STEM subjects at college or university.

“Some of the girls we worked with last year had to sell bread and food on the street to be able to earn money to eat,” said Vargas, whose foundation developed the program with Mexico’s public education secretariat and the New York Academy of Sciences.

Girls take a different route

Families often expect girls to pay their way at home but not to seek senior positions at corporations or well-paid jobs.

“They’re supposed to work but they’re not supposed to be educated,” Vargas said.

Wendy Arellano Martinez, who won a scholarship to study biotechnology engineering at the prestigious Monterrey Technology Institute after the mentoring program, is now part of a team developing a project to make  spectacle frames from recycled plastic bottles for older people on low incomes.

“We’re going to be looking for funds from organizations or foundations to help us distribute our products to people who need them but don’t have the resources,” said the 18-year-old student from Puebla. “I want to give the same support that I received.”

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