BMW remaps the roadster with Concept Z4

PHOTO GALLERY: BMW Concept Z4








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BMW Group on Thursday unveiled a long-awaited concept car that indicates the design direction for the next-generation Z4 roadster.

The Concept Z4, introduced during Monterey Car Week in Pebble Beach, Calif., is BMW’s vision of a modern roadster. It is a preview of the production car that BMW says is set “to be revealed over the course of next year.” The next-generation Z4 is expected to go on sale in the U.S. in the first half of 2019.

BMW Group design chief Adrian van Hooydonk says the Z4 concept “expresses the new BMW design language from all perspectives and in all details.”

“Stripping the car back to the essentials allows the driver to experience all the ingredients of motoring pleasure with supreme directness,” Hooydonk said in a statement. “This is total freedom on four wheels.”

Compact, sporty cars are a small but bright spot in an overall U.S. car market that is expected to shrink for the fourth consecutive year in 2017. U.S. sales of small sporty cars, largely behind the Mazda MX-5 Miata and Fiat Spider, are up 9 percent this year while the overall car market has slumped 12 percent.

The last Z4 went out of production in August 2016. BMW is working with Toyota to jointly develop the Z4’s replacement and a Toyota sports coupe speculated to be a revived Toyota Supra. The cars will use a new lightweight platform, and the next-generation Z4 is expected to grow in size.

The Concept Z4 has classic roadster design cues such as a long wheelbase, a low-slung and stretched silhouette and a compact rear end. But a shorter hood and “crisp” overhangs in the wedge-shaped concept put the driver closer to the center of the car than in previous BMW roadsters, the company says.

It also notes that juxtaposition of the low-set kidney grille and higher-up headlights makes for a deliberate association with the old BMW Z8. Instead of the customary bars, the inside of the kidney grille uses an elaborate mesh meant to recall the design of early BMW roadsters such as the BMW 328 Mille Miglia. The vehicle’s interior is designed for a total focus on the driving experience. Display screens are integrated into the driver’s cockpit, and all controls are grouped into what are called function islands.

There had been speculation that the Z4’s successor would be named the Z5, but that will not happen. Whether the new car will include a manual transmission had been in question. But reports indicate that a manual will be offered, along with new four- and six-cylinder engines. A plug-in hybrid variant is possible. A fabric roof will replace the retractable hard top on the previous-generation Z4.

GM thwarts plaintiffs’ $1 billion accord with Old GM trust fund

NEW YORK — General Motors thwarted a $15 million settlement between the company’s bankruptcy trust and thousands of plaintiffs that would have forced the automaker to contribute $1 billion in stock, prompting claims of a plot cooked up behind closed doors.

The now-derailed deal was intended to resolve hundreds of personal-injury cases stemming from GM’s faulty ignition switches, as well as a class-action suit over millions of vehicles that allegedly lost value due to a series of recalls in 2014. In a letter filed Thursday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan, lawyers for the plaintiffs said GM conspired with the trust to block the accord after GM previously accused the trust and the plaintiffs of engaging in the same behavior in negotiations last week.

GM “undertook a secret, contrived scheme to undermine the settlement agreement through a campaign of threats, intimidation and payoffs,” plaintiffs attorney Edward Weisfelner said in the letter, which was dated Wednesday. “At a minimum, it is the pot calling the kettle black.”

GM had fumed at the settlement and promised a court fight over what it called a “contrived scheme” to extract the $1 billion in stock. The company has been fighting to move on from the litigation after previously paying at least $870 million to settle claims and an additional $900 million to the Department of Justice to resolve a criminal probe.

GM spokesman Jim Cain said “we are pleased” that the company can continue fighting what it calls bogus personal injury claims in court instead of settling.

“Now the focus can return to where it belongs, which is the merits of the plaintiffs’ remaining claims,” he said in an email. “We will demonstrate that those claims lack merit.”

The General Unsecured Creditors Trust said it reached a separate agreement with GM under which the auto maker will pay the trust an unspecified sum to cover legal expenses for fighting the claims, according to a separate letter filed Wednesday in court.

“The GUC Trust has decided to resolve this dispute through a proposed settlement agreement with New GM,” the trust’s attorney, Matthew J. Williams, said in the letter. The previous talks with plaintiffs “did not result in a final or binding agreement.”

The settlement between the plaintiffs and the trust was due to be signed Aug. 15 and discussed at a hearing in bankruptcy court Thursday. Under that deal, the trust would have paid plaintiffs $15 million and accepted $10 billion in previously disputed claims, which would have pushed total approved claims in the case beyond a critical threshold of $35 billion.

That would have triggered a provision of the 2009 bankruptcy sale that would have forced GM to contribute $1 billion in stock to help pay the claims. GM argues the $10 billion figure had no basis in fact, and that the claims are barred because they were filed too late after the bankruptcy.

GM was encouraged to keep fighting the claims after recent court rulings narrowed the types of cases that can survive the litigation. One such ruling in July 2016 found the plaintiffs’ broadest theory of damages as “unprecedented and unsound.” GM has also come out on top in a series of test trials in cases over faulty switches that the company didn’t believe were legitimate.

The case is In Re: General Motors Ignition Switch Litigation, 14-MD-2543, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

Ford settles racial, sexual harassment probe for $10.1 million

Ford Motor Co. agreed to pay $10.1 million to settle sexual and racial harassment allegations by workers at two Chicago plants, resolving an investigation by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The investigation yielded reasonable cause that personnel at the Chicago Assembly Plant and the Chicago Stamping Plant had subjected African-American and female employees to racial and sexual harassment — violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the agency said in a statement Tuesday,

The agency also said the company retaliated against employees who complained about harassment or discrimination.

Ford, in a statement, said it agreed to close the matter without admission of liability to “avoid an extended dispute.”

The automaker added that after conducting its own investigation “appropriate action” was taken, including “disciplinary action up to and including dismissal for individuals who violated the company’s anti-harassment policy.”

Eligible employees are entitled to a portion of the settlement via a claims process outlined in the agreement.

It also ensures that during the next five years, Ford will conduct training regularly at the Chicago facilities, and “continue to disseminate” anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies and procedures to employees and new hires.

A spokeswoman for the agency declined to add any additional information about the case.

Ford said the group of employees eligible for settlement money are either women or African-American men who began working at the plant after Jan. 1, 2010, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The automaker will also consult the EEOC regarding complaints of harassment and related discrimination; and monitor its workforce regarding issues of that nature.

Roaming downtime hits customers on Three in Europe

Three logo

Roaming services have now been fixed for all customers on the Three mobile network in France, Portugal and Luxembourg, the operator has said.

Three apologised for the issue, which had lasted since yesterday.

On Twitter, several customers complained about problems they had experienced.

“The issue with our roaming partners which was affecting roaming service in France, Portugal and Luxembourg has now been fixed,” said Three in a statement.

“We apologise for any inconvenience.”

One : “I’m travelling alone and can’t make any calls or send any texts.”

Another said: “I’m driving to Paris tomorrow, and I’ve got to follow road signs because I have no connection for my Google Maps.”

BBC journalist Dougal Shaw – on holiday in France – also that he had been affected.

“I got lost in a market,” he wrote.

Very few girls took computing A-level

Girls with laptop

A worrying statistic for the tech industry was revealed in freshly-released A-level data – only 9.8% of those completing a computing course were girls.

It comes amid a storm in Silicon Valley over the number of women employed in the tech industry.

Experts agree that the world faces a digital skills shortage and that a more even gender balance is crucial.

One industry body worried that too few boys were also choosing the subject.

“Today’s announcement that nearly 7,600 students in England took A-level computing means it’s not going to be party time in the IT world for a long time to come,” said Bill Mitchell, director of education at the IT Chartered Institute, BCS.

He said that it fell well short of the 40,000 level that “we should be seeing”.

But he added that the fact so few girls were taking the subject was particularly worrying.

“At less than 10%, the numbers of girls taking computing A-level are seriously low.”

“We know that this a problem starting at primary school and it’s something that we need to address at all levels throughout education.

“As a society, we need to make sure that our young women are leaving education with the digital skills they need to secure a worthwhile job, an apprenticeship or go on to further study.”

The figures, from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), are not all bad news. They reveal that there has been a 34% rise in the number of female students sitting the computer science exam, up to 816 from 609 in 2016.

Google engineer James Damore caused controversy this month when he penned a memo suggesting that there were fewer women at Google because of biological differences. The search giant sacked him over the remarks, saying they were “offensive”.

A recent survey of 1,000 university students conducted by audit firm KPMG suggested that only 37% of young women were confident they had the tech skills needed by today’s employers.

A total of 73% said that they had not considered a graduate job in technology.

Aidan Brennan, KPMG’s head of digital transformation, said: “The issue here isn’t around competency – far from it – but rather how businesses understand the underlying capability of an individual and how to unlock it.

“I think this research highlights the work that needs to be done to show the next generation that when it comes to a career in tech, gender isn’t part of the equation.

“Competition for jobs is tough and we know that female job seekers can be less likely to apply for a role than their male counterparts if they don’t feel they already possess every prerequisite the job demands.”

Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, who founded the charity Stemettes to persuade more girls to pursue careers in Science, Technology Engineering and Maths has her own view about the low number of girls taking A-level computing.

“Girls often don’t want to be the only one in the class so they tend not to pick the subject when it is an option,” she said.

“Also, it’s often not even an option in a lot of schools so it’s an uphill battle but fortunately, a lot of computer science courses take A-level maths students, so there is a very viable route for girls into the course itself and related courses.”

Chinese media ‘racist’ video on India clash sparks anger

Screenshot of Xinhua video on Doklam standoff

Chinese state media have released a propaganda video that lambasts India over a border dispute, sparking accusations of racism.

, accusing India of committing “sins”, features a Chinese actor in a Sikh turban, speaking in a mock Indian accent.

Xinhua published the clip on Wednesday from a chat show discussing a border stand-off between the two countries.

It has been met with both bewilderment and anger in India, and amongst Sikhs.

Titled “7 Sins of India”, the video stars female presenter, Dier Wang, who lists out China’s grievances against India in the in the Doklam area, which borders China, India and Bhutan.

It is the latest episode of an online series called The Spark, an English-language online chat show recently launched by Xinhua.

Speaking in an amused yet indignant tone, she accuses India of “trampling international law” and “inventing various excuses to whitewash its illegal moves”.


Her monologue is interspersed with dialogue from an “Indian”, depicted by a Chinese actor wearing a turban, sunglasses, and an obviously ill-fitting beard.

In what appear to be attempts at humour, he waggles his head and speaks English in an exaggerated Indian accent, amid canned laughter.

In another scene he points a pair of scissors at another actor who is supposed to represent Bhutan – a clear reference to the Chinese view that India is “bullying” the tiny Himalayan nation.


The video appears to be solely targeted at a foreign audience. It is delivered entirely in English and appears on Xinhua’s YouTube, Twitter and Facebook feeds – services which are banned in China.

Chinese reports say the online chat show aims to “comment on hot domestic and international topics from China’s perspective and with an international vision”.

Previous episodes have also focused on the stand-off and Sino-Indian relations, as well as relations with the US and President Donald Trump, but were more sober than this one.

Indian news outlets have rounded on the video, slamming it as racist.

said Xinhua released “a racist video parodying Indians” which “particularly targets the Sikh minority”.

News portal said it was “yet another attempt by Chinese media to push its aggressive rhetoric on the stand-off”, while accused Chinese media of going a “step further” in mocking India.

The UK-based Sikh Press Association said it was “sad to see just how low Chinese media have stooped in using Sikh identity as a pawn in their state propaganda against India,” pointing out that Sikhs make up less than 2% of India’s population.

The video also prompted criticism from social media users.

Skip Twitter post by @ananthkrishnan

FYI @XHNews: It's not okay in the 21st century to have someone dress up in a turban, mock an Indian accent. Shocking from official agency. pic.twitter.com/1oC0MsOG59

— Ananth Krishnan (@ananthkrishnan) August 16, 2017

Report

End of Twitter post by @ananthkrishnan

Skip Twitter post by @jojjeols

Propaganda is not enough for Xinhua, it now also makes racist videos about India. This is really unbelievable coming from state news wire. https://t.co/doU7bPO8J1

— Jojje Olsson (@jojjeols) August 17, 2017

Report

End of Twitter post by @jojjeols

But it has also generated some debate on the Doklam stand-off, with many on Facebook arguing about which country has sovereignty over the disputed territory.

The conflict began in mid-June when India opposed China’s attempt to extend a border road through a plateau known as Doklam in India and Donglang in China.

The plateau, which lies at a junction between China, the north-eastern Indian state of Sikkim and the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, is currently disputed between Beijing and Bhutan. India supports Bhutan’s claim over it.

India and China fought a war over the border in 1962, and disputes remain unresolved in several areas, causing tensions to rise from time to time.

Each side has reinforced its troops and called on the other to back down.

On Wednesday, Indian officials said another border confrontation had flared up, this time in

Peanut allergy treatment ‘lasts up to four years’

Peanut

An oral treatment for peanut allergy is still effective four years after it was administered, a study has found.

Children were given a probiotic, with a peanut protein, daily for 18 months.

When tested one month later, 80% could tolerate peanuts without any allergic symptoms and after four years, 70% of them were still able to eat peanuts without suffering any side-effects.

Food allergies have risen dramatically in recent decades, with peanut allergy one of the most deadly.

Lead researcher Prof Mimi Tang, of Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Melbourne, said half the children were consuming peanuts regularly while others were only eating them infrequently.

“The importance of this finding is that these children were able to eat peanuts like children who don’t have peanut allergy and still maintain their tolerant state, protected against reactions to peanuts,” she said.

Prof Tang said it was the first time a treatment for peanut allergy had been shown to be effective for this long.

The probiotic used is called Lactobacillus rhamnosus, which has been associated with preventing certain allergic symptoms.



  • There is often confusion about when peanuts are safe as the guidelines used to advocate avoidance
  • Peanuts are now thought to be
  • If there is no family history of allergies or eczema then health officials say peanut butter and other ground or crushed nuts are OK
  • If there is a heightened risk then parents should consult a doctor
  • This research suggests careful introduction of peanut may help such children, but parents should not do this on their own
  • No child under five should eat a whole nut

The Australian research team now wants to assess whether the treatment has improved the children’s quality of life, as some 250 million people worldwide are affected by food allergy – a number which has more than trebled in the last 20 years.

Peanut allergy, which is one of the most common causes of death from food allergy, has increased at the greatest rate.

Prof Tang said the findings, published in suggest “the exciting possibility that tolerance is a realistic target for treating food allergy”.

She added: “This is a major step forward in identifying an effective treatment to address the food allergy problem in Western societies.”

Android newbie HMD’s Nokia 8 flagship lets you livestream ‘frontbacks’

Rebooting the venerable Nokia smartphone brand has not been a rush job for HMD Global, the Foxconn-backed company set up for the purpose of licensing the Nokia name to try to revive the brand’s fortunes on smartphones.

But after starting with basic and mid-tier smartphones, it’s finally outted a flagship Android handset, called the Nokia 8, which it will be hoping can put some dents in Samsung’s high end. And/or pull consumers away from Huawei’s flagships handsets — or indeed the swathe of Chinese OEMs surging up the smartphone market share ranks.

With the Nokia 8, HMD is putting its flagship focus on content creators wanting to livestream video for their social feeds.

Competition in the Android OEM space has been fierce for years and there’s no signs of any slack appearing so HDM faces a steep challenge to make any kind of dent here. But at least it now has an iron in the fire. As analyst CCS Insight notes, the handset will be “hugely important in getting Nokia-branded smartphones back on the mobile phone map”.

Specs wise, the Nokia 8 runs the latest version of Android (Nougat 7.1.1) — which HMD is touting as a “pure Android experience”, akin to Google’s Pixel handsets. (There’s a not-so-gentle irony there, given Nokia’s history in smartphones. But clearly HMD is going full in on Android.)

On the hardware front, there’s a top end Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, plus 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal memory (expandable thanks to a MicroSD card slot). While the 5.3 inch ultra HD resolution display puts it on the verge of phablet territory — and squarely within the current smartphone screen size sweet spot.

Also on board: dual rear cameras, both 13MP (one color, one B&W), and a 13MP front facing lens — all with f/2.0; using Zeiss optics; and with support for 4K video.

The flagship camera feature — and really phone feature too — is the ability to livestream video from both front and back cameras simultaneously.

HMD is trying to coin a hashtaggable word to describe this: “bothie” (as opposed to a selfie)…

Hello #Bothie! The world’s first smartphone to broadcast live with both cameras simultaneously. Meet the #Nokia8. pic.twitter.com/nMLl8h6YZe

— Nokia Mobile (@nokiamobile) August 16, 2017

This split screen camera feature can also be used for photos — so they’ve basically reinvented Frontback. Well done.

“Content creators can natively broadcast their unique #Bothie stories to social media through the Dual-Sight functionality located within the camera app. Fans can also enjoy unlimitedphoto [<16MB in size] and video uploads to Google Photos,” HMD writes.

This could prove a sticky feature for social media lovers — perhaps especially the dual video option, which lets people share twin perspective video direct to Facebook and YouTube via the camera app.

Or it could prove a passing fad, like Frontback. Time will tell. CCS Insight describes it as an “interesting approach” but also cautions on whether consumers will take to it.

Commenting on the feature in a statement, HMD’s Juho Sarvikas, chief product officer, said: “We know that fans are creating and sharing live content more than ever before, with millions of photos and videos shared every minute on social media. People are inspired by the content they consume and are looking for new ways to create their own. It’s these people who have inspired us.”

Elsewhere on the device, there’s a spatial surround sound recording tech that uses three microphones and is apparently drawing on Nokia’s Ozo 360 camera division, plus USB type C charging port; a 3.5mm headphone jack; and a non-removable 3090 mAh battery.

The handset, which is clad in an aluminium unibody casing and has a fingerprint reader on the front for device unlocking and authentication, is described as splashproof rather than waterproof.

Global RRP for the Nokia 8 is €599, with a rollout due to start in September. The handset comes in a choice of four colors: Polished Blue, Polished Copper, Tempered Blue and Steel.

Chatbot helps students choose courses

The Leeds Beckett chatbot

Leeds Beckett University has launched a chatbot to help prospective students find the right course.

It follows the publication of A-level results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Using Facebook Messenger’s chatbot technology, students would be able to “assess their suitability” for different courses, the university said.

But if they would prefer to speak to a human, “phone lines will continue to be open throughout the clearing process”.

The university’s head of digital experience and engagement, Dougal Scaife, said: “We know that our prospective students already use lots of messaging software for communicating with their friends, such as Snapchat, WhatsApp, as well as texting, so developing a chatbot was a natural evolution in order to engage with our prospective students in a medium that is ubiquitous, familiar, and comfortable for them.”

Pamela Clark-Dickson, an analyst at research firm Ovum, thinks it is a good use of the technology.

“More and more organisations are using chatbots and for quite simple tasks they can be useful and effective.”

“It frees up human agents to deal with more complex enquiries.”

Leeds Beckett is not the first university to employ chatbot technologies.

Georgia Tech University used a chatbot to answer questions from students enrolled in an artificial intelligence course last year.

It is dubbed Jill Watson because it is based on IBM’s Watson technology.

The chatbot was one of nine teaching assistants answering thousands of questions on the course’s online forum.

And Prof Ashok Goel, who hired Jill Watson, did not reveal that she was not human until after the students had completed their final exams.

China cracks down on VPN vendors

Chinese net user

China’s latest crackdown on those attempting to skirt state censorship controls has seen it warn e-commerce platforms over the sale of illegal virtual private networks (VPNs).

Five websites, including shopping giant Alibaba, have been asked to remove vendors that sell VPNs.

It is the latest in a series of measures from the Chinese government to maintain strict control over content.

Apple has previously been asked to remove VPN apps.

A virtual private network (VPN) uses servers abroad to provide a secure link to the internet. It allows users in China to access parts of the outside world like Facebook, Gmail or YouTube, all of which are blocked in the country.

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EXPLAINED: What is a VPN service?

China’s cyber-regulator the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has ordered the websites to carry out immediate “self-examination and correction”.

“The CAC has ordered these five sites to immediately carry out a comprehensive clean-up of harmful information, close corresponding illegal account.. and submit a rectification report by a deadline,” the regulator said in a statement.

Authorities in China have already taken down popular celebrity gossip social media accounts and extended restrictions on what news can be produced and distributed by online platforms.

As well as clamping down on dozens of local VPNs, the authorities have ordered Apple and other app stores to remove foreign VPN apps that allow users to access websites censored by the Chinese government.