2nd December 2019

Technology The £7,500 dress that does not exist

Technology The £7,500 dress that does not exist

Technology

Technology Mary Ren in digital dressImage copyright
Shogo Kimura

Image caption

Mary Ren in the digital dress bought by her husband

Earlier this year Richard Ma, the chief executive of San Francisco-based security company Quantstamp, spent $9,500 (£7,500) on a dress for his wife.

That is a lot of money for a dress, particularly when it does not exist, at least not in a physical form.

Instead it was a digital dress, designed by fashion house The Fabricant, rendered on to an image of Richard’s wife, Mary Ren, which can then be used on social media.

“It’s definitely very expensive, but it’s also like an investment,” Mr Ma says.

He explains that he and his wife don’t usually buy expensive clothing, but he wanted this piece because he thinks it has long-term value.

“In 10 years time everybody will be ‘wearing’ digital fashion. It’s a unique memento. It’s a sign of the times.”

Ms Ren has shared the image on her personal Facebook page, and via WeChat, but opted not to post it on a more public platform.

Image copyright
Carlings

Image caption

Carlings “sold out” its digital streetwear collections

Technology Digital collection

Another fashion house designing for the digital space is Carlings. The Scandinavian company released a digital street wear collection, starting at around £9 ($11), last October.

It “sold out” within a month.

“It sounds kinda stupid to say we ‘sold out’, which is theoretically impossible when you work with a digital collection because you can create as many as you want,” explains Ronny Mikalsen, Carlings’ brand director.

“We had set a limit on the amount of products we were going to produce to make it a bit more special.

Being digital-only allows designers to create items that can push boundaries of extravagance or possibilities.

“You wouldn’t buy a white t-shirt digitally, right? Because it makes no sense showing it off. So it has to be something that you really either want to show off, or an item that you wouldn’t dare to buy physically, or you couldn’t afford to buy physically.”

Image copyright
Carlings

Image caption

Carlings can take risks with a digital only collection

Carlings’ digital collection was produced as part of a marketing campaign for their real, physical products. But the firm thinks the concept has potential – a second line of digital garments is planned for late 2019.

The Fabricant releases new, free digital clothes on its website every month, but consumers need the skills, and software, to blend the items with their own pictures.

This also means the company has to find another way to make money until digital fashion becomes more popular.

More Technology of Business

“We make our money by servicing fashion brands and retailers with their marketing needs, selling tools, and creating content that uses that aesthetic language of digital fashion,” says The Fabricant founder Kerry Murphy.

It is not entirely clear who is buying the digital garments from Carlings, or downloading clothes from The Fabricant.

Mr Mikalsen says Carlings has sold between 200-250 digital pieces, but a search to find them on Instagram only resulted in four people who independently purchased from the collection and had no involvement with the company.

However, some of the those clothes might have only been shared privately.

Image copyright
The Fabricant

Image caption

Some people want the perfect outfit for a particular location

Amber Jae Slooten, a co-founder and designer at The Fabricant, concedes it is mainly industry professionals, who use the CLO 3D software, that are downloading their clothes.

“But it’s also just people are very curious to see what the files look like. People just want to own the thing, especially since that one dress sold for $9,500.”

Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at market research company NPD Group, calls the emergence of digital fashion an “amazing phenomenon”, but is yet to be convinced about its long-term impact.

“Do I believe it’s going to be something huge and stay forever? No.”

He says the technology works for people who want the perfect image. “If you don’t like what you’re wearing, but you love where you are, you now have the ability to transition your wardrobe, and digitally enhance the photograph to make it look like you’re wearing the latest and greatest.”

Image copyright
EPIC GAMES

Image caption

The digital fashion collections have been inspired by the outfits in games like Fortnite

Players of computer games have long been willing to spend money on outfits, or skins, for their in-game characters. That partly inspired The Fabricant to work in the digital space.

“The only reason we made the collection the way we did – inspired from Fortnite – was because of the whole link between buying skins and buying digital clothing,” Mr Mikalsen says.

“When it comes to technology and the way people are living their lives, we have to be aware of that the world is changing.”

Designers working on skins for games face extra challenges – they have to make sure it fits the story and the character.

Once the outfit is designed, which can take one try or 70, the hardest part starts according to in-games cosmetics consultant Janelle Jimenez.

The skins have to work in the game – a medium that, unlike digital fashion, often involves movements such as walking, fighting or dancing.

“For a game like League of Legends, you have to do 3D, there’s sound effects, there’s animations, all of these things have to come together to make the character feel like they’re sort of expressing a different fantasy of themselves.

“It’s less like changing clothes and more like seeing an actor playing a different role.”

Image copyright
Carlings

Image caption

Buyers of digital fashion don’t have to worry about taking something back if it doesn’t fit

The influence of games and shifts in customer tastes gives some in the fashion industry confidence that digital clothes, in some capacity, will have long-term impact.

“Digital fashion will become an important part of every fashion business’ future business model,” says head of the Fashion Innovation Agency at the London College of Fashion, Matthew Drinkwater.

“It’s not going to replace everything, but it will be an important part of that.”

2nd December 2019

Environment Hayabusa-2: Japan spacecraft leaves asteroid to head home

Environment Hayabusa-2: Japan spacecraft leaves asteroid to head home

Environment

environment An image of the Ryugu asteroidImage copyright
Jaxa/AFP

Image caption

The Ryugu asteroid is 900m (2,950ft) wide

Japan’s Hayabusa-2 spacecraft has departed from a faraway asteroid and begun its year-long journey back to Earth.

The spacecraft left its orbit around Ryugu on Wednesday with samples of the asteroid in tow.

Hayabusa-2 is expected to return to Earth in late 2020, completing its successful multi-year mission.

Japan’s space agency, Jaxa, said the collected samples could shed light on the origins of the Solar System.

Hayabusa-2 first launched in 2014. Three and a half years later, it reached the asteroid Ryugu, located about 300 million km (190 million miles) from Earth.

Following its arrival in June 2018, the spacecraft made touchdowns twice, collecting data and rock samples from the Ryugu – a primitive space rock leftover from the early days of the Solar System.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionSpace pioneers: Rovers put on an asteroid

The first touchdown – which happened in February – included firing a “bullet” into the rocky surface to kick up rock samples, which were then caught by the sampler horn that extends from the bottom of the spacecraft.

The second touchdown happened in July, after the Hayabusa-2 first “bombed” the asteroid to create an artificial crater. Later, it returned to land in the crater and collect the fresh rubble, including rock samples from beneath the surface.

Scientists believed these would be more pristine samples, since they would not have been exposed to the harsh environment of space. They were the first underground samples collected from an asteroid in space history.

Image copyright
Jaxa/AFP

Image caption

Jaxa staff and researchers celebrated from mission control during the departure operation

The Hayabusa-2 is expected to return to Earth in December 2020, dropping a capsule containing the rock samples in the South Australian desert.

The yearlong return journey is much shorter than the three and a half years it took the spacecraft to reach Ryugu, thanks to the asteroid now being much closer to Earth than it was in 2014.

While asteroids are some of the oldest objects in space, Ryugu belongs to a particularly primitive type of space rock, and may contain clues about the conditions and chemistry of the early days of the Solar System – some 4.5 billion years ago.

1st December 2019

In_pictures French official ‘drugged women to watch them urinate’

In_pictures French official ‘drugged women to watch them urinate’

In_pictures

in_pictures A colonnade in the garden of the Palais-Royal, ParisImage copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

France’s Ministry of Culture is based at the Palais-Royal in Paris

A senior official in the French Ministry of Culture has been charged with drugging women with diuretics in order to watch them urinate.

French judicial sources said the man was accused of sexual assault and drugs offences involving more than 200 women.

The offences are said to have happened when the women attended job interviews at the ministry between 2009 and 2018.

The official is also accused of taking secret pictures of the women’s legs under the desk using his mobile phone.

French newspaper Libération quoted five women (in French) who said they were offered tea or coffee during the interviews and then taken on walking tours of heritage sites near the ministry in Paris.

When they became overcome with a desire to urinate, the man took them to the embankment of the River Seine and offered to shield them with his coat while they relieved themselves beneath a bridge.

“I urinated on the floor, almost at his feet. I was humiliated and ashamed,” one said.

One of the women said she was admitted to hospital with a urinary tract infection following the encounter.

Libération said the official kept a log of the incidents on an Excel spreadsheet.

The case came to light when a woman caught the official photographing her legs under the desk and reported him to his superiors.

The ministry reported him to the police, who found details on his computer of the women he had targeted. He was suspended in October 2018 and fired three months later when an investigation was opened by the Paris prosecutor’s office, Libération reported.

The police investigation revealed that the women’s drinks had been spiked with a powerful diuretic, AFP news agency said.

French Culture Minister Franck Riester told Europe 1 radio that he was “floored” by the “crazy case of a pervert”.

The culture ministry said it began disciplinary proceedings as soon as it was told of the man’s actions, but two of the women quoted by Libération said they had made complaints that had gone unheeded.

1st December 2019

In_pictures Africa’s top shots: 15-21 November 2019

In_pictures Africa’s top shots: 15-21 November 2019

In_pictures

A selection of photos from across Africa this week:

in_pictures Fishermen from sea in Abidjan, Ivory Coast - Wednesday 20 November 2019Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

Ivorian fishermen return to shore in the main city of Abidjan on Wednesday…

in_pictures Miss Nappy contestants hold out bowls during the event in Abidjan, Ivory Coast - Saturday 16 November 2019Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

In the city on Saturday, women take part in a beauty contest known as Miss Nappy. The term “nappy” is used across Francophone Africa to mean natural hair.

in_pictures A giant puppet of Amílcar Cabral seen on the streets of Bissau, Guinea-Bissau - Thursday 21 November 2019Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

A giant puppet of the late Amílcar Cabral, who led the fight against Portuguese colonial rule in Guinea-Bissau, is out on the streets of the capital amid election campaigning on Thursday…

in_pictures People clinging on to a billboard during a rally for presidential candidate Idrissa Djalo in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau - Tuesday 19 November 2019Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

After weeks of political turmoil, the nation heads to the polls this coming Sunday. There are 12 presidential candidates – all hoping to get more than 50% of the vote.

in_pictures Voters pose with their identity documents during the Sidama referendum in Hawassa, Ethiopia - Wednesday 20 November 2019Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

It is all smiles in the Sidama zone of southern Ethiopia on Wednesday during a referendum on whether the people living there should have their own regional state.

in_pictures Umbrellas seen during an anti-government protest in Algiers, Algeria - Friday 15 November 2019Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

On Friday, demonstrators in Algeria march amid heavy rain in the capital, Algiers, calling for a boycott of the election set for December – eight months after Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned as president.

in_pictures Supporters of ex-President Omar al-Bashir demonstrating in Khartoum, Sudan - Saturday 16 November 2019Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

Sudan has also seen the departure of a long-time leader this year. But these women are supporters of Omar al-Bashir, protesting outside a court in the capital, Khartoum, on Saturday where the ex-president is facing trial.

in_pictures Children releasing red and green balloons in Marrakesh, Morocco - Wednesday 20 November 2019Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

Joy is in the air on Wednesday in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh, where children release balloons during events to mark World Children’s Day.

in_pictures A market woman folding cloth at her stall in Monrovia, Liberia - Tuesday 19 November 2019Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

The day before in a market in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, a woman folds African print cloth, known as “lappas”, the European Pressphoto Agency reports.

in_pictures Egyptian actress Menna Shalaby (L) receives an award for excellence from Tunisian actress Hend Sabry (R) in Cairo, Egypt - Wednesday 20 November 2019Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

It is all glitz and glamour at the Cairo International Film Festival on Wednesday, where Egyptian actress Menna Shalaby (L) receives an award for excellence from Tunisian actress Hend Sabry.

in_pictures A woman in a pink head scarf with reflective sunglasses dances at the Dunes Electronique music festival in Ong Jmal, Tunisia - Saturday 16 November 2019Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

A woman dances on Saturday at the Dunes Electronique music festival held in Ong Jmal in south-western Tunisia…

in_pictures People around a fire at the Dunes Electronique music festival in Ong Jmal, Tunisia - Saturday 16 November 2019Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

It is a two-day festival in the Sahara desert, which was had a three-year hiatus because of jihadist violence in the region…

in_pictures Men dancing at the Dunes Electronique music festival in Ong Jmal, Tunisia - Saturday 16 November 2019Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

It takes place on a former Star Wars film set, where US director George Lucas created the desert planet of Tatooine.

in_pictures Police officers watch supporters of Zimbabwe's Movement For Democratic Change (MDC) gathering outside the party's headquarters in the capital, HarareImage copyright
EPA

Image caption

Police officers watch supporters of Zimbabwe’s Movement For Democratic Change (MDC) gathering outside the party’s headquarters in the capital, Harare, on Thursday…

in_pictures A riot police officer attacks a woman in Harare, Zimbabwe - Wednesday 20 November 2019Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

The opposition party supporters had come to listen to a speech by their leader, but officers forcefully dispersed the crowd.

in_pictures Farmer use oxen to plough a field in Chishawasha, Zimbabwe - Tuesday 19 November 2019Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

A day earlier in Chishawasha, near Harare, Zimbabwean farmers start to prepare fields for the planting of maize.

in_pictures Foreign nationals seeking refugee inside the Methodist Church in Cape Town, South Africa - Friday 15 November 2019Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

Migrants in South Africa take refuge in the Methodist Church in Cape Town on Friday. They want to be removed to another country because of recent xenophobic violence.

in_pictures Cyclists seen in Johannesburg riding over the Mandela Bridge in Johannesburg, South Africa - Sunday 17 November 2019Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

And cyclists ride over the Mandela Bridge in South Africa’s main city of Johannesburg on Sunday during a 94.7km (58.8-mile) race known as the 947 Cycle Challenge.

Pictures from AFP, EPA and Reuters

1st December 2019

Technology China due to introduce face scans for mobile users

Technology China due to introduce face scans for mobile users

Technology

Technology People on mobile phones outside a Nike store in ShanghaiImage copyright
AFP

Image caption

China has for years been trying to enforce rules to ensure that everyone using the internet does so under their “real-name” identities

People in China are now required to have their faces scanned when registering new mobile phone services, as the authorities seek to verify the identities of the country’s hundreds of millions of internet users.

The regulation, announced in September, was due to come into effect Sunday.

The government says it wants to “protect the legitimate rights and interest of citizens in cyberspace”.

China already uses facial recognition technology to survey its population.

It is a world leader in such technologies but its intensifying use across the country in recent years has sparked debate.

Technology What are the new rules?

When signing up for new mobile or mobile data contracts, people already are required to show their national identification card (as required in many countries) and have their photos taken.

But now, they will also have their faces scanned in order to verify that they are a genuine match for the ID provided.

China has for years been trying to enforce rules to ensure that everyone using the internet does so under their “real-name” identities.

In 2017, for example. new rules required internet platforms to verify a user’s true identity before letting them post online content.

The new regulation for telecom operators was framed by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology as a way to “strengthen” this system and ensure that the government can identify all mobile phone users. Most Chinese internet users access the web via their phones.

Jeffrey Ding, a researcher on Chinese artificial intelligence at Oxford University, said that one of China’s motivations for getting rid of anonymous phone numbers and internet accounts was to boost cyber-security and reduce internet fraud.

But another likely motivation, he said, was to better track the population: “It’s connected to a very centralised push to try to keep tabs on everyone, or that’s at least the ambition.”

Technology Are people worried?

When the regulations were announced in September, the Chinese media did not make a big deal of it.

But online, hundreds of social media users voiced concerns about the increasing amount of data being held on them.

“People are being more and more strictly monitored,” one user of the Sina Weibo microblogging website said. “What are they [the government] afraid of?”

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionIn your face: China’s all-seeing surveillance system

Many others complained that China had already seen too many data breaches. “Before, thieves knew what your name was, in the future they’ll know what you’ll look like,” said one user, receiving more than 1,000 likes. Another criticised the policy, saying: “This is being implemented without the consent of the public.”

Another said they often received scam calls from people who knew their name and address, and asked: “Will they be able to tell what I look like now?”

But others were less cynical, saying that the move was simply in line with “technological progress”.

China already extensively censors and polices the web, removing and blocking content it does not want its citizens to see and talk about.

Technology How widespread is facial recognition in China?

China is often described as a surveillance state – in 2017 it had 170 million CCTV cameras in place across the country with the goal of installing an estimated 400 million new ones by 2020.

The country is also setting up a “social credit” system to keep score of the conduct and public interactions of all its citizens in one database.

The aim is that by 2020, everyone in China will be enrolled in a vast national database that compiles fiscal and government information to give a “ranking” for each citizen.

Facial recognition plays a key role in the surveillance system and it has been lauded as a way of catching fugitives. Last year, media noted that police were able to pick a fugitive out of a crowd of 60,000 at a concert using the technology.

In the western region of Xinjiang, where up to a million Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities have been detained for what the authorities call “re-education”, surveillance cameras use facial recognition to specifically track Uighurs, based on their appearance, the New York Times reported earlier this year.

But facial recognition is increasingly becoming a part of daily life and commercial transactions in China. It’s used more and more, for example, to pay in shops and supermarkets.

However there has been some blow-back. Earlier this year, a university professor sued a wildlife park for making facial recognition mandatory for visitors – sparking a wider debate about the state’s mass collection of data on its citizens.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionThe BBC visits the camps where China’s Muslims have their “thoughts transformed”

In September, the Chinese government said it planned to “curb and regulate” the use of facial recognition technology in schools after reports a university was trialling using it to monitor the attendance and behaviour of students.

Mr Ding said it was clear that there is increasing backlash against China’s widespread adoption of facial recognition technology.

Such criticism used to focus on fears of data theft, hacking and abuses by commercial companies, he said. However, increasingly, citizens seem willing to criticise how the Chinese government might exploit such data to track the population.

1st December 2019

In_pictures Iraq protests: Capital Baghdad blocked as unrest escalates

In_pictures Iraq protests: Capital Baghdad blocked as unrest escalates

In_pictures

in_pictures Iraqi protesters burn tyres in Baghdad. Photo: 3 November 2019Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

Protesters have been erecting burning barricades across Baghdad

Protesters have blocked the main thoroughfares in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, as mass anti-government protests continue.

Demonstrators were seen parking cars across key junctions of the city as police looked on without intervening.

Since 1 October, tens of thousands of people have taken part in two waves of protests to demand more jobs, an end to corruption, and better services.

More than 250 have been killed in clashes with security forces.

Last week, Iraqi President Barham Saleh said Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi would resign if political parties could agree on his replacement.

In_pictures What’s happening in Baghdad?

On Sunday, protesters shut down the main roads of the capital. They continued to defy a curfew introduced in late October.

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

Protesters have been erecting barricades to block traffic in Baghdad

Image copyright
AFP/Getty Images

Image caption

The epicentre of the unrest has been Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square

Students staged sit-ins at their schools and government offices were closed on the first day of the working week in the Muslim nation.

“We decided to cut the roads as a message to the government that we will keep protesting until the corrupt people and thieves are kicked out and the regime falls,” Tahseen Nasser, a 25-year-old protester, was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

“We’re not allowing government workers to reach their offices, just those in humanitarian fields,” he said.

Alaa Wissam, a 25-year-old architect, said young people were heading to the square to volunteer their help. “This thing will help young people to have a role in the change that is happening,” she said.

Riot police deployed along the bridges fired tear gas at protesters. Amnesty International has criticised Iraqi forces for using two types of military-grade tear gas canisters that have pierced protesters’ skulls and lungs.

The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights said that Siba al-Mahdawi, an activist and doctor who provided medical care to protesters, was abducted on Saturday night by an unknown group. The Commission called on the government to reveal her whereabouts.

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

Protesters want a change of government

The epicentre of the unrest has been Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square. Protesters there have been attempting to cross a nearby bridge to the fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings and foreign embassies.

Similar protests have taken place in the city of Kut, south-east of Baghdad. Many government offices and schools were shut on Sunday in a number of cities and towns further south.

In_pictures What’s the background?

Mr Abdul Mahdi, a veteran Shia Islamist politician with a background in economics, became prime minister just over a year ago, promising reforms that have not materialised.

On 1 October, young Iraqis angered by his failure to tackle high unemployment, endemic corruption and poor public services took to the streets of Baghdad for the first time.

The protests escalated and spread across the country after security personnel responded with deadly force.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionHow tuk-tuks are saving lives in the Iraq protests

After the first wave of protests, which lasted six days and saw 149 civilians killed, Mr Abdul Mahdi promised to reshuffle his cabinet, cut the salaries of high-ranking officials, and announced schemes to reduce youth unemployment.

But the protesters said their demands had not been met and returned to the streets in late October.

1st December 2019

In_pictures Africa’s top shots: 22-28 November 2019

In_pictures Africa’s top shots: 22-28 November 2019

In_pictures

A selection of the week’s best photos from across the continent and beyond:

in_pictures A couple leaning against a car in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau - Sunday 24 November 2019Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

A couple in Guinea-Bissau lean against a taxi in the capital, Bissau, after voting in the presidential poll on Sunday…

in_pictures Fishermen unload their catch at a port in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau - Monday 25 November 2019Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

The next day, fishermen in the port in Bissau unload their catch. None of the 12 candidates won more than 50% of the vote, so a run-off between the top two will be held next month.

in_pictures Dancers on stage at the Afrima ceremony in Lagos, Nigeria - Sunday 24 November 2019Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

Dancers perform during the All Africa Music Awards (Afrima) in the Nigerian city of Lagos on Sunday…

in_pictures Congolese musician Awilo Longomba on stage with dancers at the Afrima ceremony in Lagos, Nigeria - Sunday 24 November 2019Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

Also on stage dazzling the crowd during the Afrima ceremony is Awilo Longomba, a music star from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

in_pictures Someone in traditional dress looking like a zebra during a carnival in Dakar, Senegal - Saturday 23 November 2019Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

At a carnival in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, on Saturday someone dresses up to perform in a traditional lion hunting game…

in_pictures Someone in traditional dress looking like a lion during a carnival in Dakar, Senegal - Saturday 23 November 2019Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

The event is aimed as showing the diversity of Senegal’s culture with traditional costumes, dancing, music and food to be enjoyed.

in_pictures A woman boxing during a mixed martial arts class in Giza, Egypt - Sunday 24 November 2019Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

On Sunday, a woman boxes during a mixed martial arts class in Giza, south-west of Egypt’s capital, Cairo…

in_pictures A woman kick-boxing during a mixed martial arts class in Giza, Egypt - Sunday 24 November 2019Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

Some of the women attending the class joined to defend themselves against potential harassment, the European Pressphoto Agency reports.

in_pictures Women taking part in a march to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in Khartoum, Sudan - Monday 25 November 2019Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

The next day, Sudanese women march in the capital, Khartoum, to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

in_pictures Passengers ride on board a train in Khartoum, Sudan - Tuesday 26 November 2019Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

Passengers ride on board a train in Khartoum heading from the north of the city to the centre on Tuesday. The government reportedly inaugurated two new train lines last week.

in_pictures A woman carrying two plastic containers on a motorbike taxi in Monrovia, Liberia - Tuesday 26 November 2019Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

On the same day in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, a woman takes a ride on a motorbike taxi with some large containers.

in_pictures A fisherman on a fishing boat on Lake Wegnia in Koulikoro region, Mali - Saturday 23 November 2019Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

A fisherman is seen crossing Lake Wegnia in Mali on Saturday.

in_pictures A giant duck puppet created by Wydad Casablanca football fans seen at a stadium in Casablanca, Morocco - Saturday 23 November 2019Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

During a football derby between Raja and Wydad in the Moroccan city of Casablanca on Saturday, Wydad fans control a giant duck puppet to cheer on their team.

in_pictures Anti-election protesters in Algiers, Algeria - Tuesday 26 November 2019Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

Protesters in Algeria’s capital, Algiers, hold placards reading “No” in Arabic as they call for a boycott of presidential elections due to be held next month.

in_pictures Religious leaders from Ethiopian-Jewish community leading prayers in Jerusalem, Israel - Wednesday 27 November 2019Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

The next day, religious leaders from the Ethiopian-Jewish community in Jerusalem lead prayers during a holiday to celebrate their arrival in Israel over the last few decades.

in_pictures Femi Kuti and British band Coldplay performing in Amman, Jordan - Saturday 23 November 2019Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

Nigerian musician Femi Kuti performs with British band Coldplay at the historic Citadel in Jordan’s capital, Amman, on Saturday.

in_pictures Children amid destroyed homes in a camp for displaced people in Maban, South Sudan - Monday 25 November 2019Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

On Monday, South Sudanese children stand among the rooftops of homes destroyed by floodwaters in a camp in Maban for those who have fled their homes…

in_pictures A man hanging out fish to dry in Maban, South Sudan - Tuesday 26 November 2019Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

The next day, a man hangs out to dry fish caught in a stream formed as a result of flooding in Maban.

in_pictures Yoga students training outside in Johannesburg, South Africa - Thursday 28 November 2019Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

People training to become yoga teachers practise together in the South African city of Johannesburg on Thursday.

in_pictures South Africa rugby captain Siya Kolisi taking a selfie at Anfield in Liverpool - Wednesday 27 November 2019Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

And South Africa’s Rugby World Cup-winning captain Siya Kolisi takes a selfie at Anfield, home ground of English Premier League football team Liverpool, during the Champions League match against Italian side Napoli on Wednesday.

Pictures from AFP, EPA and Reuters

1st December 2019

Environment Gritting roads: Does it harm the environment?

Environment Gritting roads: Does it harm the environment?

Environment

environment A gritter spreading salt on a roadImage copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Councils have a statutory duty to keep the main routes clear of snow and ice

Using rock salt to de-ice roads is harmful to wildlife and alternatives should be explored, a scientist says.

Dr Dan Forman, a lecturer at Swansea University, said amphibians living in stagnant water by the sides of roads were vulnerable to changes in salinity.

He also said plants usually seen on the coast were growing inland.

The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) accepted there were some negative impacts but said rock salt was diluted by snow and rainfall.

Councils have a statutory duty to keep the busiest routes clear of snow and ice.

To fulfil this duty, last year councils in Wales spent between £6m and £7.5m on up to 250,000 tonnes of rock salt – simply salt, which reduces the melting temperature of ice, and an anti-caking agent.

This is enough to see councils “through the harshest of winters”, according to Dilwyn Jones, of the WLGA, which represents local authorities in Wales.

The Welsh Government, which subcontracts motorway and trunk road gritting to councils, said it spent on average £5.4m on rock salt and its delivery in the past five years.

Prices can vary “dramatically”, Mr Jones added, for example if we have a particularly harsh winter or there are shortages of salt.

Most local authorities buy salt from a salt mine in Cheshire – the UK’s largest – while some buy it from Northern Ireland.

Image caption

Winsford Mine runs under Cheshire four miles east-to-west and three miles north-to-south

Wales has almost 22,000 miles (35,405km) of road, including almost 2,800 miles (4,506km) of motorway and A-road.

And according to analysis by the Ordnance Survey, you are never further than 2.6 miles (4.2km) from a road in Wales.

The extent to which our landscape is dominated by roads, when coupled with our reliance on salt to keep them safe, has an impact on the natural world, according to Dr Forman.

Image copyright
Swansea University

Image caption

Dr Dan Forman believes the widespread use of salt to de-ice roads is contributing to a decline in the populations of amphibians

“Amphibian populations are declining, particularly in ditch systems and on the edge of roads,” he said.

“Sites can become so heavily laden with salt that the amphibians are unable to spawn, and either leave or die.”

Those creatures at risk include frogs, toads and tadpoles, he said, and the way amphibians maintain chemical balance is through their skin.

Any changes to the salinity – or saltiness – of the water they inhabit can have a drastic effect on their ability to survive, and the problem is more pronounced in Wales, as Dr Forman explained.

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Amphibians such as frogs and toads maintain chemical balances through their skin and are sensitive to increased salinity

“Because Wales is a western facing country, our amphibians come out much, much earlier and start spawning around January, February or March.

“It does get cold and can snow at that time of year so gritters can be out in force during that time.

“All of our amphibians aren’t doing particularly well and the use of rock salt is a contributing factor.”

And there are other effects too.

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Getty Images

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Plants usually seen on the coast, such as wild carrot, are growing next to roads inland, Dr Forman says

Dr Forman said salt can affect a plant’s ability to photosynthesise (produce energy from light), and the increased salinity of soil near inland roads has changed habitats.

“In Wales, you are seeing coastal plants growing on road verges in mid Wales,” he said.

“For example, Danish scurvy grass, wild carrot, and bladder campion would traditionally be found on the cliffs and coastline of Wales.”

There is also evidence salt water run off from roads can find its way into groundwater, contaminating the water supply, according to research carried out by Cardiff scientist Dr Mark Cuthbert.

Mr Jones accepted rock salt “can have negative effects on aquatic ecosystems”, and that “at high concentrations, salt can be fatal to some aquatic animals”.

But, he added “snow and rain dilutes the effect and it is generally considered to be an acceptable and cost-effective way of keeping roads safe in icy and wintry conditions”.

Environment So what are the alternatives?

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Getty Images

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The Welsh Government says there is no evidence the amounts of salt currently used are damaging to the environment

The Welsh Government said there is “no current compelling argument” that the amount of salt currently used for de-icing damages the environment.

A spokesman added there has been a move towards “pre-wetting” – mixing salt into water before spreading – which reduces the amount required.

Dr Forman does not dispute the need to keep the roads safe, but wants to see a move away from the use of salt as a de-icer.

“There are alternatives to rock salt, so there is a move now to use sawdust, sand and other material which can be mixed with rock salt, reducing the amount of salt used,” he said.

“We need to look at these alternatives.”

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1st December 2019

In_pictures Harry Potter: How one drag queen became 31 JK Rowling characters

In_pictures Harry Potter: How one drag queen became 31 JK Rowling characters

In_pictures

in_pictures Jaremi Carey / Phi Phi O'Hara as Harry Potter charactersImage copyright
Jaremi Carey

Some people might know Jaremi Carey as drag queen Phi Phi O’Hara.

Others might recognise him as Hermione Granger, Professor McGonagall, Dobby, Sirius Black or Rubeus Hagrid from the Harry Potter movies.

That’s because he’s spent October 2019 sharing photos of his transformations into some of JK Rowling’s fantasy characters on social media.

“I’m a Harry Potter fan first off, so it wasn’t a stretch for me to do,” Jaremi tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

He’d already been performing as Helena Bonham Carter’s character, Bellatrix Lestrange, in his live shows, and the idea for something bigger and more magical came to him during a trip to the UK.

In_pictures ‘I loved it, but I hated the process’

“When I was in London, I did the Harry Potter tour and I was gifted all these wands and asked if I would do anything with them,” he says.

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Jaremi Carey

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It wasn’t just the good guys who were represented in Jaremi’s month-long project

What he’s done this month follows his 2016 project to present 365 drag looks in one year.

He started work on his Harry Potter project in August, leading to two months work preparing the costumes before kicking-off Halloween month with his Dolores Umbridge makeover.

Other characters he’s portrayed include Moaning Myrtle, Draco Malfoy, Lord Voldemort, Luna Lovegood and of course, Harry Potter himself.

Some of the looks he created with wigs, costumes and make-up while others required prosthetics which covered his entire face.

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Jaremi Carey

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Hermione, Harry and Dobby were part of Jaremi’s October transformation

But there was one character that he discovered he didn’t need much make-up wizardry to turn into.

“My personal favourite is probably Professor Sprout,” he says.

“I do have makeup on in the photo – but it’s just me making a silly face and it happens to look a lot like hers.”

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Jaremi Carey

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Jaremi says he transformed easily into Miriam Margolyes’ character

And the one that caused the biggest problems was Peter Pettigrew.

“I hated Pettigrew. I love the outcome but during it I don’t think I’ve cussed so much in my entire life,” he says.

“I was gluing hair to my body and to my fingers – it was just disgusting. It was the only prosthetic that I couldn’t breathe out of through my nose.

“It came out great. I loved it, but I hated the process.

“I felt bad because my husband took every single one of the pictures and I was like: ‘Hurry up, take this, move that light, hurry up, do it’ – because I just couldn’t handle it.”

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Jaremi Carey

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Jaremi says the process of making himself up as Peter Pettigrew was “disgusting”

There was, sadly, one character that ended up on the drag scrapheap: Fawkes, Albus Dumbledore’s pet phoenix.

“It looked like a flaming hot Cheetos bird. It was really bad,” he says.

During October, Jaremi says he’s had approval from Dawn French (who played the second ‘Fat Lady’ in the Harry Potter movies) and Chris Rankin, the actor who played Percy Weasley.

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Jaremi Carey

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Jaremi has had the seal of approval from at least one Weasley actor

“I’m Weasley approved!” Jaremi says.

To finish off the series, the drag star had one final trick up his sleeve.

His final photo features him as none other than Harry Potter’s creator JK Rowling.

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Jaremi Carey

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In his final photo, Jaremi is made-up as Harry Potter creator JK Rowling

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Listen to Newsbeat live at 12:45 and 17:45 weekdays – or listen back here.

1st December 2019

In_pictures Why Chinese farmers have crossed border into Russia’s Far East

In_pictures Why Chinese farmers have crossed border into Russia’s Far East

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in_pictures A farm worker in Maksimovka, Amur Region

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Chinese farmers are trying to bring workers across the border into Russia

The farm in Maksimovka is surrounded by high metal fences. The Chinese migrants who work there only leave the site to go shopping. At the centre of this village in Russia’s Far East sits an old abandoned building – there is no lock on the door and inside, the floor is littered with papers dating back to the 1980s and 90s.

Here lie clues to why a farm that once provided work to some 400 Russians was unable to survive.

Like many of the collective farms in rural Russia, the Mayak farm collapsed with the old Soviet Union.

That is when the Chinese workers arrived, in five border regions, and Russians have not always been happy to welcome their new neighbours.

in_pictures Little remains of the old collective farm at Mayak, apart from a monument to those killed in World War Two

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Little remains of the old farm at Mayak, apart from a monument to those killed in World War Two

“Working in Russia is much the same as in China. You get up in the morning and go to work,” says Chom Vampen.

He is one of thousands of Chinese who have moved to this vast, under-populated part of Russia since the early 1990s.

Most seek work at Russian- or Chinese-owned farms or buy the lease on the land to develop their own agricultural enterprises.

As Russia’s relations with the West have deteriorated, President Vladimir Putin has welcomed China’s growing footprint here.

in_pictures Chinese farm workers from Maksimovka

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Chinese farm workers from Maksimovka

Mayak’s chairman, Yevgeny Fokin, leased thousands of hectares to Chinese entrepreneurs, attracted by low rents and large farms.

“We gave the shares to Fokin, thinking it would be better if the land belonged to the collective. But he gave it all to the Chinese and left, and we lost everything,” a local resident of Maksimovka village, Tatyana Ivanovna, said.

“No way,” says Mr Fokin. “There was nothing unusual about it.”

in_pictures Map of Maksimovka

In_pictures How Chinese companies took over

Chinese companies first appeared in Russia’s Far East in the early 2000s, but Beijing’s interest in the region increased after the global financial crisis of 2008.

“There was panic, [the Chinese] were looking at where to invest,” the head of a Chinese-owned farm told BBC Russian, preferring not to give his name.

Chinese investment was followed by an influx of Chinese migrants.

“We have little land and a lot of people,” said one Chinese farmer.

in_pictures Chinese presence in Russia's Far East graphic

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Based on data released by the state land register, BBC Russian calculated that Chinese citizens either owned or leased at least 350,000 hectares (3,500 sq km) of Far Eastern land in Russia. In 2018, around 2.2 million hectares of Russian land in the region was used for agricultural purposes.

The actual proportion could be higher, the BBC has learned.

in_pictures Land farmed by Chinese in border regions

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Chinese farmers are, according to BBC research, represented in 40% of the Far East, most significantly in the Jewish autonomous region of Birobidzhan.

Regional governor Alexander Levintal said that in many cases land officially leased by Russians was in reality managed by Chinese nationals.

“Almost all the land that belonged to collectives was handed over to the Chinese,” said the head of the Jewish autonomous region’s peasant association, Alexander Larik.

In_pictures Why relations are uneasy

Most of the farms run by Chinese migrants resemble fortresses. At Babstovo, a half-hour drive from the Chinese border, lies Friendship farm, which is surrounded by a high fence and a red flag.

in_pictures A Chinese tractor driver

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Chinese workers here are main seasonal and rarely settle in Russia

But things are different in the village of Opitnoye Polye, where Xin Jie employs Russian as well as Chinese workers.

Like many Chinese here, he adopted a Russian name and is now known as Chinese Dima.

Chinese Dima moved to Russia in the 1990s and leased more than 2,500 hectares of land to develop a soya plantation. He is actively involved in the community, buying presents for nursery school children and sending his tractor to help clear the snow in remote villages in the winter.

Few have integrated quite as well.

in_pictures Migration from Russia's Far East

Conflicts between Russians and Chinese are not uncommon. In 2015, three Russians entered a Chinese factory in the Far Eastern Amur region and threatened a Chinese guard with a stick, demanding he give them food.

A few days later, when they returned to steal a tractor engine, they were confronted by the same Chinese guard who this time carried an axe.

They were given prison sentences ranging from five to nine years.

Most Chinese cross the border for seasonal work, for sowing or harvesting, and then return home.

But many Russians are unhappy with the Chinese influx. More than one in three people said they viewed China’s Russia policy as expansion, according to a poll conducted in 2017 by the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Almost half said that China threatened Russia’s territorial integrity, while a third believed that it endangered their country’s economic development.

in_pictures A Chinese woman hangs out the washing on a farm at Dimitrovo

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A Chinese woman hangs out the washing on a farm at Dimitrovo

“They leave at seven in the morning and return after dark. I don’t see them and they don’t see me,” says Ivanovich of his Chinese neighbours in the village of Dimitrovo.

But some Russians have struck up friendships with the Chinese.

“They bring beer, we drink. I give them eggs and honey,” says Alexander.

In_pictures Why Russian workers struggle to compete

Chinese farm workers in Russia’s Far East often have a better reputation than their Russian counterparts.

“The Chinese do not drink and they have nowhere to run; they come here for the season. Our citizens come to work for a week, plead for money and then go on a bender,” complained one Russian agricultural boss who declined to give his name.

Mr Larik, of the peasant association in the Jewish autonomous region, said Chinese farm owners generally preferred hiring Chinese migrants and gave Russian nationals low-skilled jobs.

A Chinese farmer who asked to stay anonymous complained about the drinking habits of Russian employees.

“All Russians drink. Today you pay them, tomorrow they do not show up. There are problems with discipline,” he said.

in_pictures Residents in Maksimovka complain that young people tend to head to the cities, leaving only pensioners behind

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Residents in Maksimovka complain that young people tend to head to the cities, leaving only pensioners behind

Russia has a poor record of protecting workers’ rights, especially in the agriculture industry, which is generally low paid.

Not everyone here has a low opinion of local workers.

“What is the difference between Russian and Chinese workers? Russian workers are smarter than the Chinese,” says Chom Vampen.

Translation by Katherine Zeveleva.

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