Silicon Valley & Technology

US Picks Companies to Help Make Rules for Advanced Personal Health Monitors

Digital devices designed to monitor the wearer’s health in much greater detail than current models will need regulatory approval, and Apple, Fitbit and seven other companies will take part in a program to speed the approval process, the U.S. health regulator said Tuesday.

The firms will take part in a program that could make it faster for digital health devices to come to market by requiring less information to be sent to regulators ahead of time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.

Current devices, like the Apple Watch or Fitbit Blaze, measure things like motion and heart rate. But to take further measurements like blood oxygen or glucose, future devices might full under regulatory review. That review can take months or years, which is far slower than the pace of software updates from most technology firms.

Because of the potential for lengthy reviews, consumer technology companies have been reluctant to wade directly into territory regulated by the FDA. Apple, for example, has tended to partner with existing health researchers and companies such as DexCom Inc, a conventional medical device firm, for uses of their products that involve regulatory oversight.

But under President Donald Trump, the FDA has been moving to relax some of its requirements. The FDA in July created a pilot program that would pre-certify certain companies so that they have to submit less information before marketing a product.

The initial participants in the pilot program also included Samsung Electronics, Alphabet’s Verily biotech unit, Johnson & Johnson and Swiss biotech firm Roche AG, among others. The FDA said in a statement it was also considering whether companies in the pilot program “may not have to submit a product for premarket review in some cases.”

“Our method for regulating digital health products must recognize the unique and iterative characteristics of these products,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in the statement.

One major difference in the pilot program from existing regulations is that it will evaluate companies based on how well their software-design systems work, rather than looking at each product and its accompanying software individually.

“We are hopeful this will allow us to accelerate FDA regulated features and software development, bringing new capabilities that could positively impact health outcomes to market more quickly,” Fitbit CEO James Park said in a statement.

Economy & business

Mexico Tallying Economic Cost of Big Earthquake

Mexican officials are tallying up the economic losses of the magnitude 7.1 earthquake that caused widespread damage in the capital, as the number of buildings that may need to be pulled down or need major repairs rose to 500.


The death toll in the quake rose to 333, with 194 of those deaths in Mexico City. Authorities pledged a return to normality, but many streets in the capital were still blocked by construction equipment and recovery teams looking to extract the last remaining bodies from the rubble. Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said 40 to 50 people are still considered missing.


The city government announced a plan of reconstruction loans and aid for apartment dwellers who lost their homes or who may lose them as teetering buildings are pulled down.


But for city businesses like the downtown restaurant Guapa Papa, the result is already all too clear.


Sitting in the entrance of his restaurant Monday, surrounded by caution tape, Antonio Luna said: “This is a bust. It’s already closed due to structural damage to the building.”


He had to let go the three dozen employees at the 1950s-themed restaurant and is just trying to salvage whatever furniture and equipment wasn’t damaged.


“In the end the company let everyone go because it couldn’t continue having expenses,” Luna said.


Mancera said that the city, in alliance with private developers, would handle repairs on buildings that needed touch-ups or minor structural work to be habitable. He offered low-interest loans to apartment owners whose buildings would have to be demolished and rebuilt.

However, it is unclear to what extent the city can force owners to demolish buildings. Some that were damaged in the 1985 are still standing, in part because court challenges can stretch on for years.


Moody’s Investors Service said in a report Monday that the Sept. 19 earthquake that caused damage and deaths in the capital and nearby states “has the potential to be one of Mexico’s costliest natural catastrophes.”


Alfredo Coutino, Latin America director for Moody’s Analytics, said they were still collecting data on losses, but a preliminary estimate was that the earthquake could knock 0.1 to 0.3 percentage point off growth in Mexico’s gross domestic product in the third and fourth quarters.


For the full year, the impact on gross domestic product should be about 0.1 percentage point. “The impact on the year’s growth will be small, particularly considering that the reconstruction work will compensate for some of the total loss in activity during the fourth quarter,” Coutino said.


Money is expected to pour into the economy as Mexico City and the federal government tap their disaster funds. As of June, the city’s disaster fund stood at 9.4 billion pesos (more than $500 million), making it slightly larger than the national fund, according to a Moody’s Investors Services report.


Of course, the national fund also has to deal with recovery from the even stronger Sept. 7 quake that has been blamed for nearly 100 deaths, mostly in the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas.


There will be months of work ahead from demolition to repairs and reconstruction.


Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said that 500 “red level” buildings would either have to be demolished or receive major structural reinforcement. An additional 1,300 are reparable, and about 10,000 buildings inspected so far were found to be habitable.

At least 38 buildings, including apartments and office buildings, collapsed during the earthquake.


Mexico’s education ministry also has 1.8 million pesos (about $100,000) to spend on school repairs. In Mexico City alone, only 676 of the city’s 9,000 schools had been inspected and cleared to resume classes, Education Secretary Aurelio Nuno said Monday.


AIR Worldwide, a Boston-based catastrophe modeling consultant, provided a wide range for industry-insured losses, but noted they would be only a small part of the total economic losses. It put the insured losses at between 13 billion pesos ($725 million) and 36.7 billion pesos ($2 billion).


A graceful traffic roundabout encircled by restaurants, cafes and shops is now a sprawling expanse of medical tents, piles of food and other relief supplies, and stacks of building materials. While relief work went on outside Monday, men were busily wrapping furniture in foam and plastic inside the Antiguo Arte Europeo store.


Stone panels on the building’s facade appeared cracked or were altogether missing. Saleswoman Luisa Zuniga said the owners were waiting for civil defense inspectors to certify there was no structural damage to the building before reopening to the public.


Meanwhile, they were moving furniture that could still be sold to their other branches.


“Then we’ll see how long it takes to fix everything,” she said. “It is important to get back to work.”


Edgar Novoa, a fitness trainer, went back to his job Monday after working as a volunteer following the earthquake. Around midday, he stopped his bicycle at a cleared foundation where a building of several stories had stood near his home.


He knelt and prayed while others left flowers and candles at the site.


The government has said that nine foreigners, including five from Taiwan, died in the quake. One of the buildings that collapsed in the quake housed a business listed as Asia Jenny Importaciones, SA de CV. A South Korean man was also confirmed dead.


A Panamanian woman died, as did one man from Spain and one from Argentina.

Silicon Valley & Technology

Twitter to Test 280-character Tweets, Busting Old Limit

The days of Twitter limiting messages to 140 characters, a signature of the social network since its launch in 2006, may be numbered.

Twitter said on Tuesday that it would begin a test with a random sample of users allowing them to send tweets that are as long as 280 characters, double the existing cap, in most languages around the world.

The San Francisco-based company has stood by its short messages as a defining characteristic – like chirps from a bird, which is the company logo – even as users found ways around the limit, such as posting photos of text.

In a blog post on Tuesday, Twitter said its emphasis on brevity would never change but that it had been wondering whether people could express themselves easily enough, hurting the service’s popularity.

“Trying to cram your thoughts into a Tweet – we’ve all been there, and it’s a pain,” Twitter project manager Aliza Rosen and senior software engineer Ikuhiro Ihara said in the post.

The employees acknowledged some users may have an “emotional attachment” to the current limit.

News reports in January 2016 said that Twitter was running internal tests for longer tweets and considering a limit as high as 10,000 characters.

Though Twitter is ubiquitous in media because of frequent use by U.S. President Donald Trump and many celebrities, the company has struggled financially. For the second quarter, it reported a loss of $116 million and zero growth in the number of users, at 328 million people. Facebook Inc has 2 billion users.

A higher character limit was inspired by how people use Twitter when writing in Chinese, Japanese and Korean, the company said.

Characters in those languages can often express more than Roman characters can, meaning those users already, in effect, have a higher limit. They also use Twitter more often.

“In all markets, when people don’t have to cram their thoughts into 140 characters and actually have some to spare, we see more people Tweeting,” the two employees wrote.

The test of 280 characters will run for an unspecified number of weeks in all languages except Chinese, Japanese and Korean, Twitter said. The company declined to say how many people would be included in the test.

The 140-character limit originated from the use of SMS text messages. Twitter’s founders, including Chief Executive Jack Dorsey, wanted a limit just below the SMS cap of 160 characters.

Silicon Valley & Technology

Businesses Give $300M Toward K-12 Computer Science Education

A coalition of businesses including Amazon, Google and General Motors has agreed to give $300 million to boost K-12 computer science programs across the U.S.

Internet Association CEO Michael Beckerman announced Tuesday that the private-sector contribution will come in over the next five years. Beckerman led a panel discussion at a downtown Detroit high-rise that featured President Donald Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump.

Her visit to Detroit came a day after the president announced a plan to spend at least $200 million annually on competitive grants so schools can broaden access to computer science education.

“Knowing how to code is really foundational toward success in any industry, not just tech narrowly defined,” Ivanka Trump said.

Just before Ivanka Trump arrived on stage, Beckerman announced the private-sector contribution.

Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and are giving $50 million apiece; Lockheed Martin is promising $25 million; Accenture is committing more than $10 million; and General Motors and Pluralsight have pledged $10 million toward the effort. Additionally, Detroit-based Quicken Loans announced that it will work to make sure that 15,000 Detroit Public Schools students receive computer science training.

Ivanka Trump said it is crucial that young people, especially girls and racial minorities, learn how to write computer code and study computer science.

“We have to do better. We are going to do better, and this is a giant leap forward in that direction,” she said during the panel discussion, which also included Dan Gilbert, chairman of Quicken Loans; Hadi Partovi, CEO of; Rob Acker, CEO of; and Marillyn Hewson, CEO of Lockheed Martin.

Gilbert said teaching schoolchildren computer science “isn’t one of these things where maybe this will work.

“This is the answer. This is flat-out the answer,” said Gilbert, who also owns the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA.

Arts & Entertainment

Diwali Festivals Grow in US, from Disney to Times Square

The holiday of Diwali is starting to light up mainstream America.

Diwali, a festival of lights celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and others in India and other countries, has long been observed in immigrant communities around the U.S.

But now public celebrations of the holiday are starting to pop up in places ranging from Disneyland and Times Square to parks and museums.

The Times Square event is the brainchild of Neeta Bhasin, who says that while many Indian immigrants have found great success in the U.S., “still people don’t know much about India. I felt it’s about time that we should take India to mainstream America and showcase India’s rich culture, heritage, arts and diversity to the world. And I couldn’t find a better place than the center of the universe: Times Square.”

Bhasin, who came to the United States from India 40 years ago, is president of ASB Communications, the marketing firm behind Diwali at Times Square. The event, now in its fourth year, has drawn tens of thousands of people in the past. It’s scheduled for Oct. 7, from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m., with dance performances, Bollywood singers, a bazaar of food, saris and other goods, and a lighting ceremony.

While Diwali celebrations are held throughout the fall, the holiday’s actual date is Oct. 19. Also called Deepavali, it’s an autumn harvest festival held just before the Hindu new year. Celebrations include lighting oil lamps or candles called diyas to symbolize “a victory of knowledge over ignorance, light over darkness, good over evil,” said Bhasin.

The Diwali celebration at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, California, includes performances of traditional Indian dances and a Bollywood dance party for guests. It’s part of a festival of holidays at the theme park reflecting cultural traditions from around the world. The Disney festival begins Nov. 10 and runs through Jan. 7.

San Antonio, Texas, has one of the nation’s largest city-sponsored celebrations of Diwali, drawing more than 15,000 people each year. The 2017 event, scheduled for Nov. 4 at La Villita, a historic arts village, will be its ninth annual Diwali celebration with Indian dance, entertainment, food, crafts, fireworks and the release of lighted candles into the San Antonio River along the city’s River Walk.

New York City’s Rubin Museum will mark Diwali with an overnight Ragas Live Festival featuring more than 50 Indian classical musicians performing amid the museum’s collection of sacred Himalayan art. The event begins Oct. 21 at 10 a.m. and continues all day and night through Oct. 22 at 10 a.m. Chai and mango lassis will be served, visitors will have access to all the galleries and pop-up events like meditation and sunrise prayer will be offered. Special tickets will be sold for the opportunity to sleep beneath the artwork.

Other places hosting Diwali celebrations include Cary, North Carolina, in Regency Park, Oct. 14; Flushing Town Hall, Queens, New York, Oct. 29; the Seattle Center, Oct. 21; the Dulles Expo center in Chantilly, Virginia, Oct. 7-8; and Memorial Park in Cupertino, California, Sept. 30. In Columbus, Ohio, the Ohio History Center is hosting a photo exhibit about the city’s fast-growing population of immigrants from Nepal, Bhutan and India, with a Diwali event Oct. 8.

Bhasin said Diwali’s message is particularly timely now. “It is extremely important to be together and showcase to the world, not only Indians, but the entire immigrant community, to be together with Americans and to show the world we are one, we are all the same human beings,” she said.

Arts & Entertainment

Residente Leads Latin Grammys Nominations With 9 Nods

Puerto Rican rapper Residente’s first solo album post-Calle 13 has received a leading nine nominations for this year’s Latin Grammys, including for record, song and album of the year.

Colombian sensation Maluma follows him with seven, Shakira’s comeback gathered six, and Juanes, Mon Laferte and producer Kevin Jimenez ADG received five nominations each, the Latin Recording Academy announced Tuesday. The announcement was delayed by nearly a week after last year’s devastating earthquake in Mexico and hurricanes Irma and Maria, which have devastated the Caribbean.

This year’s ceremony could provide Juanes with the opportunity to break his record tie with Calle 13: Both acts have won 21 awards each.

Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s megahit “Despacito” got four nominations: record and song of the year, as well as best urban fusion/performance for its remix with Justin Bieber and best short form music video for its clip. The video, the most watched on YouTube with over 3.8 billion views since its January release, was produced and directed by Carlos R. Perez and highlights the color and beauty of now devastated Puerto Rico, which was hit by a Category 4 hurricane, Maria, less than a week ago.

Ten acts are vying for album, song and record of the year, unlike the traditional Grammy Awards where five nominees compete. Album of the year nominees also include Ruben Blades with Roberto Delgado & Orquesta, Antonio Carmona, Vicente Garcia, Nicky Jam, Juanes, Mon Laferte, Natalia Lafourcade, Shakira and Danay Suarez.

The record of the year list is comprised by a diverse group of artists, genres and collaborations that include Residente’s “Guerra,” ″Amarrame” by Mon Laferte, featuring Juanes; Shakira and Maluma’s “Chantaje”, “El Ratico” by Juanes with Kali Uchis, Jorge Drexler’s “El Surco,” Maluma’s “Felices Los 4,” Blades’ “La Flor De La Canela,” Alejandro Fernandez’s “Quiero Que Vuelvas” and Ricky Martin’s “Vente Pa’ Ca,” also featuring Maluma.

The Latin Grammys will air live on Univision on Nov. 16 from Las Vegas.

Arts & Entertainment

Guitarist Joe Walsh, Friends Stage VetsAid Concert

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and Grammy-winning guitarist Joe Walsh has started a new charity to benefit veterans’ organizations. As VOA’s David Byrd tells us, Walsh says he especially wants to help small, grass-roots groups that work with veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan

Arts & Entertainment

Robert Plant Releases new Track, Announces 2018 Tour

Robert Plant is going on tour in North America next year to support his upcoming album, “Carry Fire.”

The former Led Zeppelin frontman announced Tuesday that his 2018 tour will begin Feb. 9 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He’ll also visit New York, Boston, Toronto, Chicago and Los Angeles, among other cities. More dates will be announced later. Plant will be joined on the tour by his backing band, the Sensational Space Shifters.

Plant has also released another track from “Carry Fire” Tuesday, a cover of Ersel Hickey’s “Bluebirds Over the Mountain.”

The album is set to hit music stores and begin streaming on Oct. 13.