New App Helps Disaster Responders Deal with Religious Communities

Religious organizations in the U.S. are a key part of a community’s response to a disaster.  As Mike O’Sullivan reports, a new smartphone app is helping coordinate that response between relief workers and faith groups while making it more effective.


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Expansion Plan by World’s Largest Contract Chipmaker Won’t Ease Global Shortage: Experts

Plans by the world’s largest contract chipmaker for a record $100 billion capacity expansion will just mildly dent a growing worldwide shortage of semiconductors for gear such as high-speed notebook computers, 5G smartphones and newer vehicles, tech experts believe.Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. said in an April 1 legal notice to the Taipei stock exchange that it would use the money over three years on “leading technology” for manufacturing and R&D to “answer demands from the market.” The notice specifically cites demand for chips used in 5G-enabled and high-performance devices.That amount would set a dollar-value record for the company, which is better known as TSMC, said Brady Wang, an analyst in Taipei with the market intelligence firm Counterpoint Research.TSMC’s investment will ease “anxiety” among clients worried about semiconductor supply-chain instability caused in part by Sino-U.S. trade tension, said Kent Chong, managing director of professional services firm PwC Legal in Taipei. Its clients include multiple American hardware developers including Apple.“Overall, it would indeed increase capacity, without any question,” Chong said. American clients hope to source chips in the United States, he added. The company headquartered southwest of Taipei is already planning to open a $12 billion plant in the U.S. state of Arizona. “TSMC is obviously the forefront runner in bringing the whole supply chain to the U.S.,” Chong said.TSMC said in its stock market filing it is “working closely with our customers to address their needs in a sustainable manner.”Years-long shortageAnalysts caution, though, that the ever-growing demand for chips paired with the lag time in building new production plants will extend the shortage for years, despite TSMC’s investment.“You can throw a lot of money at it, but it’s not going to solve the problem,” said Sean Su, an independent political and technology consultant in Taipei.He pointed to popularity of home-use devices during the pandemic and a possible long-term reliance on this technology in “hybrid” online-offline economy after COVID-19 subsides.“Demand is off the ceiling,” Su said. “People want smartphones. People want this and that more than ever. People want tablets all of a sudden. Every single child in the house now needs a computer instead of sharing it.”Remote study and telework, two trends that emerged during the 2020 coronavirus outbreak, particularly raised demand last year for chips that run high-speed notebook PCs. That trend is piggybacking on prepandemic demand for 5G smartphones and new devices that run on artificial intelligence.Automakers joined the mix, too, last year as they placed orders for automated vehicles and electric cars. Because of the current chip shortage, they must wait until at least early 2022 as production capacity is now “fully loaded,” said Wen Liu, industry analyst with the Taipei-based Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute.Feeling an additional pinchWorld demand for chips should increase from $450 billion last year to about $600 billion in 2024, market research firm Gartner says. Industry revenue had already grown 5.4% from 2019 to 2020, according to fellow market research company IDC. TSMC and South Korean technology giant Samsung are the biggest chipmakers today and make the highest-grade chips.Chinese semiconductor clients will feel an additional pinch because of curbs introduced by former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, Su said. The Trump administration barred companies, including those based offshore, from working with a list of Chinese firms considered national security risks.“They will be [affected in China] due to trade embargoes as is,” Su said. “Every year, companies fight over limited batches of top-end processors.”China-based chip buyers include developers of three of the world’s five biggest smartphone brands by market share in late 2020.Most of the world’s chipmakers, such as the growing China-based Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp., lag in the equipment and knowhow to make chips that run fast on low power, tech analysts believe. TSMC’s investment will help it stay ahead of any up-and-coming peers, Wang said.“This is actually because [TSMC] saw a new opportunity, which would mainly be in 5G or high-performance PCs or demands for other digitization needs as that’s the demand following COVID-19,” Wang said. TSMC itself probably does not expect the planned $100 billion outlay to ease today’s chip shortage, he said.The company says in its stock exchange notice that “multiyear mega-trends…are expected to fuel strong demand for our semiconductor technologies in the next several years,” while the pandemic “accelerates digitalization in every aspect.”


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High Court Sides with Google in Copyright Fight with Oracle

The Supreme Court sided Monday with Google in an $8 billion copyright dispute with Oracle over the internet company’s creation of the Android operating system used on most smartphones worldwide.To create Android, which was released in 2007, Google wrote millions of lines of new computer code. But it also used 11,330 lines of code and an organization that’s part of Oracle’s Java platform.Google had argued that what it did is long-settled, common practice in the industry, a practice that has been good for technical progress. And it said there is no copyright protection for the purely functional, noncreative computer code it used, something that couldn’t be written another way. But Oracle said Google “committed an egregious act of plagiarism,” and it sued.The justices ruled 6-2 for Google Inc., based in Mountain View, California. Two conservative justices dissented.Justice Stephen Breyer wrote  that in reviewing a lower court’s decision, the justices assumed “for argument’s sake, that the material was copyrightable.””But we hold that the copying here at issue nonetheless constituted a fair use. Hence, Google’s copying did not violate the copyright law,” he wrote.Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a dissent joined by Justice Samuel Alito that he believed “Oracle’s code at issue here is copyrightable, and Google’s use of that copyrighted code was anything but fair.”Only eight justices heard the case because it was argued in October, after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg but before Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the court.The case has been going on for a decade. Microsoft, IBM and major internet and tech industry lobbying groups had weighed in, in favor of Google. The Motion Picture Association and the Recording Industry Association of America were among those supporting Oracle.The case is Google LLC v. Oracle America Inc., 18-956.


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Facing Pressure at Home, Chinese Tech Giants Expand in Singapore

Chinese tech giants are expanding in Singapore as they face a crackdown at home and growing pressure in other key markets — but they may struggle to find talent in the city-state. Messaging-and-gaming behemoth Tencent is opening a hub and TikTok owner ByteDance is on a hiring spree after establishing a regional headquarters, while e-commerce giant Alibaba is investing in property and recruiting. The tech firms are shifting their focus to booming Southeast Asian markets as authorities tighten the screws at home amid concerns about the platforms’ growing power. China’s regulators have launched a blitz on the sector, hitting several firms with heavy fines, and threatening to slice up massive companies whose reach now extends deep into the daily lives of ordinary Chinese.  Meanwhile, festering tensions between Washington and Beijing after an assault on Chinese tech titans during Donald Trump’s presidency make the United States an unattractive prospect, and problems abound elsewhere. “Chinese tech companies are facing regulatory pressures and sanctions from governments in other countries, notably the U.S. but also other nations such as India,” Rajiv Biswas, Asia Pacific chief economist at IHS Markit, told AFP.   India has banned a swathe of Chinese apps since a border clash last year, while the European Union and other Western powers recently imposed sanctions over China’s treatment of the Muslim Uyghur minority, prompting retaliatory sanctions.  But Singapore, a prosperous financial hub, maintains good ties with Beijing and the West, and tech firms have come to view it as a safe bet to expand their operations without upsetting either side.   In the current climate of geopolitical uncertainty “Singapore is considered as a more neutral country,” Chen Guoli, professor of strategy at the Singapore campus of business school INSEAD, told AFP. Hiring spree    In addition, long-running turmoil in traditional rival Hong Kong may have dimmed the territory’s appeal, although observers stress other factors are likely more important.   The influx of Chinese cash will be welcome in Singapore, whose economy has been hammered by the coronavirus and which is seeking to build itself up as a tech center. It is already home to major offices of U.S. tech titans Facebook, Google and Twitter, while ByteDance recently moved into bigger offices in the financial district and has launched a hiring drive. Between September and February, a third of ByteDance’s job postings were in Singapore, more than twice the ads it placed in China, with a focus on hiring specialized engineers, said Ajay Thalluri, an analyst with data and analytics firm GlobalData.   Meanwhile, Alibaba last year bought a 50 percent stake in an office tower, where its e-commerce unit Lazada is the main tenant, while its affiliate, fintech giant Ant Group, won a license to operate a wholesale digital bank in the city-state. Alibaba “is building teams in Singapore with significant key senior and mid-level job postings related to talent acquisition, product management, and legal compliance,” said Thalluri.   The e-commerce firm, co-founded by Jack Ma, has come under fierce pressure in China, with authorities pulling the plug on Ant’s record initial public offering in November.    Talent crunch    ByteDance and Tencent, which announced its Singapore expansion plans in September, say they are primarily focused on growing their businesses in Southeast Asia, a booming region of 650 million, rather than avoiding tensions elsewhere. By building up their Singapore presence, the tech giants are hedging their bets in case frictions with the West hit a new nadir, analysts say.   Chen of INSEAD said Chinese companies needed a “plan B” in case they had to separate their global and Chinese operations, in which case Singapore could become their international hub.  However, a major challenge in expanding in the city, with a population of just 5.7 million, is recruiting workers with the correct skills.  “Technology is developing and accelerating at a speed that far surpasses the supply of talent needed to scale,” said Daljit Sall, senior director for information technology at the Singapore office of global recruitment firm Randstad. Singapore is trying to attract overseas talent, although that may cause unease in a country where there are already concerns about the large foreign population, while schools are offering courses to prepare youngsters for tech jobs. Nevertheless, “there still remains an urgent need to fill these skills gaps now,” Sall said. 


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LinkedIn Gives Staff Week Off for Well-being

Professional social network LinkedIn is giving nearly all of its 15,900 full-time workers next week off as it seeks to avoid burnout and allow its employees to recharge, the company told AFP Friday.The Microsoft-owned firm said that the “RestUp!” week starting Monday is meant to give employees time for their own well-being.”There is something magical about the entire company taking a break at the same time,” LinkedIn said in reply to an AFP inquiry. “And the best part? Not coming back to an avalanche of unanswered internal emails.”During the week, LinkedIn will provide employees who may feel isolated the option of taking part in daily activities such as volunteering for worthy causes through “random acts of kindness,” according to the company.”A core team of employees will continue to work for the week, but they will be able to schedule time off later,” LinkedIn said.Major technology companies were among the first in the U.S. to adopt working from home last year to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, and most have yet to fully reopen their offices. Twitter has extended remote working indefinitely.LinkedIn does not expect employees to begin returning to its offices until September, and it plans to make it standard practice to let them work from home as much as half of the time.Microsoft in mid-2016 bought LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in cash, stepping into the world of social networking and adding a new tool for its efforts to boost services for business.


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US Supreme Court Rules in Facebook’s Favor in Case About Unwanted Texting

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday tossed out a lawsuit accusing Facebook Inc. of violating a federal anti-robocall law.The justices, in a 9-0 decision authored by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, sided with Facebook in its argument that text messages the social media company sent did not violate a 1991 federal law called the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).The case highlighted the challenge for the justices in applying outdated laws to modern technologies. The ruling sparked calls for Congress to update the law, enacted three decades ago to curb telemarketing abuse by banning most unauthorized robocalls.”By narrowing the scope of the TCPA, the court is allowing companies the ability to assault the public with a nonstop wave of unwanted calls and texts, around the clock,” Democratic Senator Edward Markey and Democratic Representative Anna Eshoo said in a joint statement.The court ruled that Facebook’s actions — sending text messages without consent — did not fit within the technical definition of the type of conduct barred by the law, which was enacted before the rise of modern cellphone technology.The lawsuit was filed in 2015 in California federal court by Montana resident Noah Duguid, who said Facebook sent him many automatic text messages without his consent. The lawsuit accused Menlo Park, California-based Facebook of violating the TCPA’s restriction on using an automatic telephone dialing system.Facebook said the security-related messages, triggered when users try to log in to their accounts from a new device or internet browser, were tied to users’ cellphone numbers.”As the court recognized, the law’s provisions were never intended to prohibit companies from sending targeted security notifications, and the court’s decision will allow companies to continue working to keep the accounts of their users safe,” Facebook said in a statement.’A disappointing ruling’Sergei Lemberg, Duguid’s lawyer, said anyone could avoid liability under the law if they use technology like Facebook’s.”This is a disappointing ruling for anyone who owns a cellphone or values their privacy,” Lemberg added.In this instance, the lawsuit asserted that Facebook’s system that sent automated text messages was akin to a traditional automatic dialing system — known as an autodialer — used to send robocalls.”Duguid’s quarrel is with Congress, which did not define an autodialer as malleably as he would have liked,” Sotomayor wrote in the ruling.The law requires that the equipment used must use a “random or sequential number generator,” but the court concluded that Facebook’s system “does not use such technology,” Sotomayor added.Duguid said that Facebook repeatedly sent him account login notifications by text message to his cellphone, even though he was not a Facebook user and never had been. Despite numerous efforts, Duguid said he was unable to stop Facebook from “robotexting” him.Facebook responded that Duguid had most likely been assigned a phone number that was previously associated with a Facebook user who opted in to receive the notifications.A federal judge threw out the lawsuit, but in 2019, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revived it. The 9th Circuit took a broad view of the law, saying it bans devices that automatically dial not only randomly generated numbers but also stored numbers that are not randomly generated.The National Association of Federally Insured Credit Unions said the decision “to narrowly interpret autodialers is a win for the credit union industry.””We have long fought for this clarity to ensure credit unions can contact their members with important, time-sensitive financial information without fear of violating the TCPA and facing frivolous lawsuits,” the association said in a statement.  


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Cryptocurrency Fuels Digital Art-Buying Frenzy

The record-breaking sale of a digital artwork in March is part of a rush to invest in previously unmarketable things like basketball highlights, video game art, and even tweets. Making it possible are NFTs or Non-Fungible Tokens. Matt Dibble explains.


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Skywalker Saga of ‘Star Wars’ a Lifelong Journey for Fans

Moviegoers in the U.S. and much of the world can now see “Star Wars, Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker.” The final installment of the “Skywalker Saga” ends a story that spawned the most successful movie franchise of all time, with more than $9 billion in global box office receipts – and counting. The film’s release is bittersweet for those who look back and see “Star Wars” woven throughout their lives. Among them is VOA’s Midwest Correspondent, Kane Farabaugh


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Croats Pick President in Tight Test for Ruling Conservatives

Voters in Croatia on Sunday cast ballots in a tight presidential election, with the ruling conservatives seeking to keep their grip on power days before the country take over the European Union’s presidency for the first time.

Some 3.8 million voters in the European Union’s newest member state can pick among 11 candidates, but only three are considered to be the front runners while the others are lagging far behind.

Conservative incumbent Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic is running for a second term, challenged by leftist former Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic and right-wing singer Miroslav Skoro.

Though the post is largely ceremonial in Croatia — the president formally commands the army and represents the country abroad — keeping the presidency is important for the ruling Croatian Democratic Union party as its government is set to assume the EU rotating chairmanship on Jan. 1 that that will include overseeing Brexit and the start of post-Brexit talks.

Analysts have predicted that a runoff vote will be held in two weeks as none of the candidates is expected to win an outright majority and they are all polling close to one another.

Grabar Kitarovic had started off stronger than other candidates but her position has weakened after the she made a series of gaffes during the campaign.

She is still believed to have a slight lead going into the election, followed closely by Milanovic. Skoro is trailing third, chipping away right-wing votes from Grabar Kitarovic.

Analysts believe that Grabar Kitarovic and Milanovic — who represent two main political options — will face each other in the Jan. 5 runoff, but they haven’t completely ruled out an upset by Skoro.

Though it has recovered since the 1991-95 war that followed the breakup of former Yugoslavia, Croatia still has one of the poorest economies in the EU and corruption is believed to be widespread.

Critics have blasted the government for setting the election three days before Christmas when many people travel abroad.

The Adriatic nation of 4.2 million people is best known for its stunning Adriatic Sea coast that includes over 1,000 islands and picturesque coastal towns such as the medieval walled city of Dubrovnik.


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Queen Elizabeth Mixes Puddings, and Sends Message of Continuity

At the end of a difficult year, Queen Elizabeth has posed for photographs with her son Prince Charles, grandson Prince William and great-grandson Prince George in an apparent message about the continuity of the British royal family.

Buckingham Palace released photographs on Saturday of the Queen and the three immediate members of the line of succession as they prepared traditional Christmas puddings.

Prince George, 6, is the focus of attention for his older relatives as he stirs pudding mixture in a bowl.

The palace said the four generations of royals represented a cross-section of people helped by a charity for serving and former members of the armed forces – the Royal British Legion – which the queen has supported since 1952.

The family scene struck a happy note for Queen Elizabeth, 93, after a difficult year.

Over the past 12 months, her husband Prince Philip got a police warning for his involvement in a car crash, grandsons Princes William and Harry publicly fell out and her second son Prince Andrew became more entangled in the furor over his links to disgraced U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein.

On Friday, 98-year-old Philip was taken to hospital for treatment of an existing condition, Buckingham Palace said.


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DC Volunteer Group Cooks Up Holiday Meals for the Needy

Since 1954, Mother Dear’s Community Center has been providing services for the needy in the Washington metropolitan area. During the holiday season, the center’s volunteers serve up meals-on-wheels, feeding homebound seniors and the homeless.


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Syria Says Possible Drone Attacks Hit 3 Oil, Gas Facilities

Near-simultaneous attacks believed to have been carried out by drones hit three government-run oil and gas installations in central Syria, state TV and the Oil Ministry said Saturday.

No one claimed responsibility for the attacks, which targeted the Homs oil refinery — one of only two in the country — as well as two natural gas facilities in different parts of Homs province.

Syria has suffered fuel shortages since earlier this year amid Western sanctions blocking imports, and because most of the country’s oil fields are controlled by Kurdish-led fighters in the country’s east.

State TV said it believes the attacks were carried out by drones and happened at the same time. It said a fire at the Homs oil refinery was soon put under control. The report said the Rayan gas facility and a third installation, also in Homs province, were hit.

Syria’s Oil Ministry said the attacks damaged some “production units” in the facilities. It said fires were being fought, and that repairs were already underway in some places.

The city of Homs and its suburbs have been fully under Syrian government control since 2017. However, some parts of the province near the border with Jordan remain in rebel hands.

In June, sabotage attacks damaged five underwater pipelines off the Mediterranean coastal town of Banias in Tartous province.

Syria’s oil imports dropped in October 2018 and shortages began in early 2019, largely the result of tighter Western sanctions on Syria and renewed U.S. sanctions on key Syrian ally Iran.

Before the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011, the country exported around half of the 350,000 barrels of oil it produced per day. Now its production is down to around 24,000 barrels a day, covering only a fraction of domestic needs.

In September, a drone and missile attack in Saudi Arabia hit the world’s largest crude oil processing plant, dramatically cutting into global oil supplies. Saudi Arabia says “Iranian weaponry” was used. Iran denies its weapons were involved.


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