China Manufacturing Expands at Fastest Pace in 5 Years

An official survey released Saturday said that China’s factory activity expanded in September at the fastest pace in five years, as the country’s vital manufacturing sector stepped up production to meet strong demand.

The official manufacturing purchasing managers’ index rose to 52.4 in September, up from 51.7 in the previous month and the highest level since April 2012.

The report by the Federation of Logistics & Purchasing said production, new export orders and overall new orders grew at a faster pace for the month.

“The manufacturing sector continues to maintain a steady development trend and the pace is accelerating,” said Zhao Qinghe, senior statistician at the National Bureau of Statistics, which released the data. Zhao noted that the report found both domestic and global demand have improved.

However, in a separate report, the private Caixin/Markit manufacturing PMI slipped to 51.0 from 51.6, as factories reported that production and new orders expanded at slower rates last month.

Both indexes are based on a 100-point scale with 50 dividing expansion from contraction. But the federation’s report is focused more on large, state-owned enterprises while the Caixin survey is weighted to smaller, private companies.

Another official index covering non-manufacturing activity rebounded after two months of contraction, rising to 55.4 last month from 53.4 in August. That indicates momentum is picking up again in China’s service sector.

The reports come ahead of the ruling Communist Party’s twice-a-decade congress set for next month, where top leaders will be reshuffled and authorities will outline economic policies.

Earlier this month, rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded China’s credit rating on government borrowing, citing rising debt levels that raise financial risks and could drag on economic growth.


Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

Smart Windows Let Heat in During Winter, Keep It Out During Summer

Solar power is definitely the wave of the future. But in the future instead of a roof covered with solar panels, your own windows might not only be collecting power from the sun, but also helping your house conserve energy. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.


Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

Untangling US Tax System

Nearly all U.S. taxpayers say American tax law, which runs tens of thousands of pages, is an incredibly complicated, annoying mess. And there is no agreement on how to fix the problem. Republicans recently outlined a new effort they say will be clearer, fairer and helpful to the economy. Critics say the Republican plan would cut taxes for the rich and increase the U.S. debt. VOA’s Jim Randle looks at how the system is supposed to work, and what critics say is wrong.


Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

Unintended Social Consequences Catching up to Facebook

Years of limited oversight and unchecked growth have turned Facebook into a force with incredible power over the lives of its 2 billion users. But the social network has also given rise to unintended social consequences, and they’re starting to catch up with it:

House and Senate panels investigating Russian interference in the 2016 elections have invited Facebook, along with Google and Twitter, to testify this fall. Facebook just agreed to give congressional investigators 3,000 political ads purchased by Russian-backed entities, and announced new disclosure policies for political advertising
Facebook belatedly acknowledged its role purveying false news to its users during the 2016 campaign and announced new measures to curb it. Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg even apologized, more than 10 months after the fact, for calling the idea that Facebook might have influenced the election “pretty crazy.”
The company has taken flack for a live video feature that was quickly used to broadcast violent crime and suicides; for removing an iconic Vietnam War photo for “child pornography” and then backtracking; and for allegedly putting its thumb on a feature that ranked trending news stories.

Facebook is behind the curve in understanding that “what happens in their system has profound consequences in the real world,” said Fordham University media-studies professor Paul Levinson. The company’s knee-jerk response has often been “none of your business” when confronted about these consequences, he said.

Moving fast, still breaking things

That response may not work much longer for a company whose original but now-abandoned slogan — “move fast and break things” — sometimes still seems to govern it.

Facebook has, so far, enjoyed seemingly unstoppable growth in users, revenue and its stock price. Along the way, it has also pushed new features on to users even when they protested, targeted ads at them based on a plethora of carefully collected personal details, and engaged in behavioral experiments that seek to influence their mood.

“There’s a general arrogance — they know what’s right, they know what’s best, we know how to make better for you so just let us do it,” said Notre Dame business professor Timothy Carone, who added that this is true of Silicon Valley giants in general. “They need to take a step down and acknowledge that they really don’t have all the answers.”

Hands-off Facebook

Facebook generally points to the fact that its policies prohibit misuse of its platform, and that it is difficult to catch everyone who tries to abuse its platform. When pressed, it tends to acknowledge some problems, offer a few narrowly tailored fixesand move on.

But there is a larger question, which is whether Facebook has taken sufficient care to build policies and systems that are resistant to abuse.

Facebook declined to address the subject on the record, although it pointed to earlier public statements in which Zuckerberg described how he wants Facebook to be a force for good in the world. The company also recently launched a blog called “Hard Questions” that attempts to address its governance issues in more depth.

But Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s No. 2 executive, offered an unexpected perspective on this question in a recent apology. Facebook “never intended or anticipated” how people could use its automated advertising to target ads at users who expressed anti-Semitic views. That, she wrote, “is on us. And we did not find it ourselves — and that is also on us.”

As a result, she said the company will tighten its ad policies to ensure such abuses don’t happen again.


Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

IMF Chief tells Central Bankers to not Dismiss Bitcoin

Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, has a message for the world’s central bankers: Don’t be Luddites.

Addressing a conference in London on Friday, Lagarde said virtual currencies, which are created and exchanged without the involvement of banks or government, could in time be embraced by countries with unstable currencies or weak domestic institutions.

“In many ways, virtual currencies might just give existing currencies and monetary policy a run for their money,” she said. “The best response by central bankers is to continue running effective monetary policy, while being open to fresh ideas and new demands, as economies evolve.”

The most high-profile of these digital currencies is bitcoin, which like others can be converted to cash when deposited into accounts at prices set in online trading. Its price has been volatile, soaring over recent years but falling sharply earlier this month on reports that China will order all bitcoin exchanges to close and one of the world’s most high-profile investment bankers said bitcoin was a fraud.

For now, Lagarde said, digital currencies are unlikely to replace traditional ones, as they are “too volatile, too risky, too energy intensive and because the underlying technologies are not yet scalable.”

High-profile hacks have also not helped, she noted. One notable failure was that of the Mt. Gox exchange in Japan in February 2014, in which about 850,000 bitcoins were lost, possibly to hackers. Following that, Japan enacted new laws to regulate bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies.

But in time, she argued, technological innovations could address some of the issues that have kept a lid on the appeal of digital currencies.

“Not so long ago, some experts argued that personal computers would never be adopted, and that tablets would only be used as expensive coffee trays, so I think it may not be wise to dismiss virtual currencies,” Lagarde said.

Lagarde’s comments appear at odds with the views of JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who this month described bitcoin as a fraud and said he’d fire any of his traders if they caught dealing in the digital currency.

In a speech laying out the potential changes wrought by financial innovations, Lagarde also said that over the next generation, “machines will almost certainly play a larger role” in helping policymakers, offering real-time forecasts, spotting bubbles, and uncovering complex financial linkages.

“As one of your fellow Londoners – Mary Poppins – might have said: bring along a pinch of imagination!”


Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

Researchers Seek Cheaper, Energy-efficient Ways of Producing Clean Water

Having enough clean drinking water has been a challenge in many parts of the world, whether it’s a place where water is scarce or abundant. The World Health Organization finds 3 in 10 people globally still lack safe drinking water at home.

The U.S. Department of Energy has just announced it is providing up to $15 million in funding for projects to develop solar desalination technology to create freshwater at a lower cost. Even before the announcement, researchers had been working on better ways to desalinate water.

“We can take any quality of water that we’re starting with and we can turn it into any quality of water that we desire at the end, and the only real challenge or limitation has to be overcome is how much does it cost and how much energy does it take to go from here to here,” said Eric Hoek, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Water Planet Inc.

Cheaper energy

Water treatment plants are largely driven by electricity. A cheaper source of energy is the sun.

“What’s changed in the last five to 10 years, solar has gotten cheap,” Hoek said.

“The only reason that that has not taken over the world at this point is that it’s still intermittent. The sun goes up and it comes down. You have power when it’s up and don’t when it’s down. What you need to make that a continuous base load is you need batteries, which you can charge up during the day, discharge at night, and the cost of batteries is still currently pretty high.”

Household system

Qilin Li at Rice University is building a desalination system that uses solar energy with broad drinking water applications for “individual households or small communities that live in remote locations, especially those who don’t have access to municipal water supply, don’t have a stable supply of electricity. This technology can be an ideal technology,” Li said.

Her solar-powered desalination system can “also benefit megacities in developing countries that don’t have the extensive water and power infrastructure we enjoy here in developed countries, and that kind of relief perhaps in not providing all the water for the whole city, but can relieve some of their need or dependency on the power grid,” Li said.

The goal of Li’s system is to make it modular and cost efficient so it could either meet the needs of a small household or a large community.

Li and her team created a reactor to distill water using heat from the sun. Water turns into vapor, goes through a porous membrane and becomes pure water. Li says a low cost coating on the membrane developed at Rice University makes this unique.

“So it (membrane) harvests the sunlight, converts the photon energy in the sunlight to heat highly efficiently to generate water vapor, and it also serves a separation function to keep the contaminants on the dirty side of the membrane and only allow pure water vapor to go through,” Li said.

Waste heat

The sun is not the only low cost source of energy. Amy Childress’ lab at the University of Southern California (USC) looks at how waste heat that comes from manufacturing can be used as a resource.

“With waste heat you’re going to have cycles and spikes. We’ve gone out to the field, measured waste heat at an industrial site. We come back. We plug that into our system, so that we can repeat that waste heat curve over and over and watch the response of membranes to the waste heat,” said Childress, who directs USC’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department’s environmental engineering program.

Her lab looks at how waste heat would impact the longevity and properties of a membrane.

Childress says the work in her lab will be helpful in the development of better membranes.

Filters in demand

There is high demand for membranes that help produce clean water. Water Planet’s PolyCera® membrane used to treat wastewater, is finding broader applications.

“We have a lot of interest now around the world, not just in industrial wastewater, but we’re actually making point-of-use under-the-sink water filters for applications in India, in China and here in the U.S. We’re making membranes that are being tested now for deployment offshore in sea water desalination to produce drinking water in barges and in platforms,” Hoek said.

With nearly 30 percent of the world’s population lacking safe drinking water at home, researchers will continue to work on harnessing free energy to clean water.


Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

Search for Cheaper, Energy-efficient Ways of Creating Clean Water

Having enough clean drinking water has been a challenge in many parts of the world, whether it is a place where water is scarce or abundant. The U.S. Department of Energy has just announced it is providing $15 million in funding for projects to develop solar desalination technology at a lower cost. But even before this announcement, researchers had been working on better ways of desalinating water. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee has the details.


Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

Telescope Moves Forward on Land Sacred to Native Hawaiians

A long-running effort to build one of the world’s largest telescopes on a mountain sacred to Native Hawaiians is moving forward after a key approval Thursday, reopening divisions over a project that promises revolutionary views into the heavens but has drawn impassioned protests over the impact to a spiritual place.

Hawaii’s land board granted a construction permit for the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope atop the state’s tallest mountain, called Mauna Kea, but opponents likely would appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. Protesters willing to be arrested were successful in blocking construction in the past.

“For the Hawaiian people, I have a message: This is our time to rise as a people,” said Kahookahi Kanuha, a protest leader. “This is our time to take back all of the things that we know are ours. All the things that were illegally taken from us.”

No construction soon

Telescope officials don’t have any immediate construction plans and will consider its next steps, said Scott Ishikawa, a project spokesman. Officials previously have said they want to resume building in 2018.

“In moving forward, we will listen respectfully to the community in order to realize the shared vision of Mauna Kea as a world center for Hawaiian culture, education and science,” TMT International Observatory Board Chairman Henry Yang said in a statement.

Richard Ha, a Native Hawaiian farmer who supports the project, urged opponents to avoid confrontation.

“The possibility of getting the best telescope in the world … I don’t feel is the right battle to fight,” he said. “It will hurt our own people.”

While opponents say constructing the telescope will desecrate Mauna Kea, supporters tout the instrument’s ability to provide long-term educational and economic opportunities.

“This was one of the most difficult decisions this board has ever made,” state Board of Land and Natural Resources Chairwoman Suzanne Case said in a statement about the 5-2 decision.

Plans for the project date to 2009, when scientists selected Mauna Kea after a five-year around-the-world campaign to find the ideal site for what telescope officials said “will likely revolutionize our understanding of the universe.”

The project won a series of approvals from Hawaii, including a permit to build on conservation land in 2011. Protesters blocked attempts to start construction. Then in 2015, the state Supreme Court invalidated the permit, saying the board’s approval process was flawed, and ordered the project to go through the steps again.

​Protests from the beginning

Protests disrupted a groundbreaking in 2014 and intensified after that. Construction stopped in 2015 after 31 demonstrators were arrested for blocking the work.

A second attempt to restart construction a few months later ended with more arrests and crews retreating.

Mehana Kihoi said being arrested while praying on the mountain was one of the most traumatic experiences of her life. She started going there to help heal from domestic violence, Kihoi told the land board earlier this month.

“For years, I carried grief and pain … until I went to the mauna,” she said, using the Hawaiian word for mountain.

Culture over money

Kanuha, a protest leader, dismissed the millions that telescope officials have paid toward educating youth on the Big Island in science, technology, engineering and math. So far, $3.5 million has been paid into the educational fund, even while the project’s construction permit was invalid.

That money isn’t the answer to improving the lives of Native Hawaiian youth, Kanuha said. Revitalization of language and culture through Hawaiian-focused education is what’s important, he said.

A group of Native Hawaiian telescope supporters formed a group called Perpetuating Unique Educational Opportunities. Some members had been against the telescope in the past, said the group’s attorney, Lincoln Ashida.

“We believe that with increased opportunities for children, that results in stronger families, which in turn benefits our community,” Ashida told the board.

A group of universities in California and Canada make up the telescope company, with partners from China, India and Japan. The instrument’s primary mirror would measure 98 feet (30 meters) in diameter. Compared with the largest existing visible-light telescope in the world, it would be three times as wide, with nine times more area.

Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano, has been the first choice, telescope officials said, calling it the best location in the world for astronomy. Its summit provides a clear view of the sky for 300 days a year, with little air and light pollution. They selected an alternate site in Spain’s Canary Islands if the telescope couldn’t be built in Hawaii.


Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

Tree-trimming Company Hit With Record Fine for Hiring Undocumented Workers

The government has fined U.S. tree-trimming company a record $95 million for knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants.

U.S. prosecutors said the fine against Philadelphia-based Asplundh Tree Expert Co. was the largest criminal penalty ever imposed in an immigration case.

Prosecutors said company managers deliberately looked the other way while supervisors knowingly hired thousands of undocumented workers between 2010 and 2014.

The prosecutors said this gave Asplundh a large workforce ready to take on emergency weather-related jobs across the country, putting its competitors at an unfair disadvantage.

A federal investigation into Asplundh was opened in 2015 and the company said it had since taken a number of steps to end “the practices of the past.”

“We accept responsibility for the charges as outlined, and we apologize to our customers, associates and all other stakeholders,” company Chairman Scott Asplundh said.


Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

Even With Billions Online, Digital Gender Divide Persists

Around the world, women are using technology to overcome barriers in education and employment. Getting online, however, remains a challenge for many women in developing countries.  

In the United States, the issue isn’t access to technology, but the lack of women pursuing technical careers.

Beginning Oct. 4 in Orlando, Florida, female leaders will discuss the digital gender divide at Voice of America’s town hall at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the world’s largest gathering of women technologists.

“The tech ecosystem has, sadly, not been welcoming to women,” said Y-Vonne Hutchinson, founder of ReadySet, a diversity consultancy that works in the tech industry.

Women struggle for access

Globally, women struggle for access to technology. Proportionally, the number of women using the internet is 12 percent lower, compared to men. In the least developed countries, only one in seven women is using the internet, compared to one in five men, according to a 2017 study.

“The digital divide is basically this phenomenon that some people have more access to digital technology than others or use it more than others, which is actually an unavoidable thing,” said Martin Hilbert, an assistant professor at the University of California, Davis. “Every innovation that comes to society doesn’t form uniformly from heaven. It diffuses through society.”

In a study of 25 countries in Africa and Latin America, Hilbert noted that if he adjusted for income, education and job opportunities, more women than men were online. “The fact that they turn up less is because they have less access to money, education and work opportunities,” he said.

Cultural barriers

Women also face some cultural barriers, said Nighat Dad, executive director of the Digital Rights Foundation in Pakistan.

The biggest reason she sees for why women are not getting online is what she describes as “the cultural norms or the family values.”

“The middle-class families or lower-class families think that access to computers or access to technologies is a boy’s basic rights and not the girls’ because the girls don’t need it,” she said.

Tara Chklovski, founder and chief executive of Iridescent, an organization that works to promote girls in tech worldwide, said her organization has worked with local partners to overcome barriers.

“There’s a country in Africa, where it is not cool for girls to own phones, only middle-age men,” she said. “When we came in and said we want to teach girls, they said why don’t you teach boys or why don’t you teach these men. We had to work for many years to address barriers.”

Women ‘held to higher bar’

In the U.S., there is a lively debate over why women continue to lag behind men in the tech industry. Women make up about 20 percent of companies’ technical workforce and about the same in leadership roles, said Caroline Simard, research director at the Clayman Institute of Gender Research at Stanford University.

“Often women are held to a higher bar to be successful,” said Simard. “They have to work harder to prove the same amount of competence.”

And when it comes to venture capitalists, who finance the startup ecosystem, not many are women.

“I joke in my profession, I don’t have to stand in line for a bathroom,” said Kate Mitchell, a partner at Scale Venture Partners. “Five to 10 percent of investing partners are women, depending what study you look at.”

VOA town hall

Women in tech roles inside a firm are at a higher risk of leaving the profession mid-career. Some say they felt they never belonged.

At VOA’s town hall at the Grace Hopper Celebration, leaders in technology will talk about what it will take to continue to close the digital gender divide.

“For the first time in history, technology can really help girls have a strong voice and help us have a society that has equality,” said Chklovski.

Deana Mitchell contributed to this report.


Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...