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Future is now: Nike’s next self-lacing shoe hitting shelves

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Nike’s latest performance basketball shoe, from concept to reality, took about three years to put together.

Or 30 years, depending on how you count.

The Nike Adapt BB — a self-lacing smart shoe that can be controlled by a smartphone — gets released to the public on Sunday, a date that just happens to coincide with the NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte. It has a motor embedded within the shoe, a hefty $350 US pricetag and wearers will need to give them some time on a wireless charging pad every couple weeks or so.

But Nike also insists that this isn’t just a gadget or gizmo for the feet, something techies and sneakerheads will get because of the coolness factor. It was also made with the baller — some of the world’s best ballers, to be precise — in mind. Even with the tech features, it weighs about as much as a more conventional high-end basketball shoe does.

“The footwear component of the design, it is intended and it is designed in the same vein as our highest performing basketball products,” said Jordan Rice, part of Nike’s smart systems team that made the Adapt happen. “So higher ability, high life.”

A small number of NBA players are already in the Adapt, including Boston’s Jayson Tatum, Dallas rookie Luka Doncic, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma and New York’s Frank Ntilikina. Some future NBA players have been exposed to it as well; the Duke men’s basketball team has given them a test drive.

“It’s a sneaker, it’s a good shoe,” Duke standout Cam Reddish said. “I didn’t break it in enough for me to wear in a game, but it’s a phenomenal sneaker.”

Rice said it took almost three years from the concept of the Adapt to go from first drawing to first game, though others would insist the idea goes all the way back to 1989.

The self-lacing shoe was something that Nike developed at the behest of those looking to add futuristic touches to “Back to the Future Part II,” released 30 years ago. In the film Michael J. Fox’s character, Marty McFly, pulls on a pair of grey Nike high-tops that light up and lace themselves at a touch of a button — purportedly the sort of thing that everyone in the world will be wearing in 2015.

“Power laces! All right!” McFly says as the shoe tightens around his foot and ankle.

Life imitated art.

Buttons on the side of the sole can adjust the tension of the laces, or how the shoe wraps around the foot. When synced to an app — with the highest level of security and encryption in mind — the colours of the shoes can be changed as well at any time at the touch of a phone.

The idea is to have a true custom fit for every foot. In time, the app could also collect performance data.

“What that could look like in the future is something that’s much more integrated with digital services but feels real time and feels contextual,” Rice said.

Nike has been in the self-lacing game before, coming out three years ago or so with shoes that Tinker Hatfield — the legendary Nike designer who came up with the concept seen in the movie — called E.A.R.L., or electro adaptive reactive lacing.

“It’s the future,” Hatfield said at a Nike event in 2016.

Nike apparently thinks the future — or a better future — is now.

“There’s just something cool about it,” Tatum said. “It’s like a glove.”

Tatum was among a small group of pros who were brought to Nike’s Oregon headquarters to test the shoes out a few months ago, the list of players also including WNBA stars Kelsey Plum and Breanna Stewart. But the real testing — since the shoes basically are a piece of electronics — went well beyond some of the world’s best players seeing how they hold up to running and jumping and cutting.

They were soaked in water overnight, sprayed with water cannons for 20 minutes at a time, hammered with thousands of pounds of force in extreme conditions. The shoes still performed, and the bells and whistles still worked.

Put simply, they’re ready for sweat.

“They’re tested to such an extent,” Rice said. “You know, this is one of the most tested products that Nike’s actually ever produced.”



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Russia’s Gazprombank freezes accounts of Venezuela’s PDVSA: source

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FILE PHOTO: Cutouts depicting images of oil operations are seen outside a building of Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA in Caracas, Venezuela January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian lender Gazprombank has decided to freeze the accounts of Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA and halted transactions with the firm to reduce the risk of the bank falling under U.S. sanctions, a Gazprombank source told Reuters on Sunday.

While many foreign firms have been cutting their exposure to PDVSA since the sanctions were imposed, the fact that a lender closely aligned with the Russian state is following suit is significant because the Kremlin has been among Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s staunchest supporters.

“PDVSA’s accounts are currently frozen. As you’ll understand, operations cannot be carried out,” the source said. Gazprombank did not reply to a Reuters request for a comment.

Reuters reported this month that PDVSA was telling customers of its joint ventures to deposit oil sales proceeds in its Gazprombank accounts, according to sources and an internal document, in a move to try to sideline fresh U.S. sanctions on PDVSA.

Washington says the sanctions, imposed on Jan. 28, are aimed at blocking Maduro’s access to the country’s oil revenue after opposition leader Juan Guaido proclaimed himself interim president and received widespread Western support.

Gazprombank is Russia’s third biggest lender by assets and includes among its shareholders Russian state gas company Gazprom.

The bank has held PDVSA accounts for several years. In 2013, PDVSA said it signed a deal with Gazprombank for $1 billion in financing for the Petrozamora company. The source said that Petrozamora accounts were frozen, too.

Russian officials have said they stand by Maduro and have condemned opposition actions as a U.S.-inspired ploy to usurp power in Caracas.

But Russian firms find themselves in a quandary, caught between a desire to endorse the Kremlin line and back Maduro, and the fear that by doing so they could expose themselves to secondary U.S. sanctions which would harm their businesses.

Reporting by Tatiana Voronova; Writing by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Christian Lowe and Mark Potter



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Airbus warns of no-deal Brexit, says has spent tens of millions preparing

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A logo of Airbus is seen on a flag at Airbus headquarters in Blagnac, near Toulouse, France, February 14, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

LONDON (Reuters) – Airbus said on Sunday it would have to make “difficult decisions” about future investment if Britain crashes out of the European Union without a deal, adding it had already spent tens of millions of euros in preparations.

“There is no such thing as a managed ‘no deal’, it’s absolutely catastrophic for us,” senior vice president Katherine Bennett told the BBC’s Andrew Marr.

“Some difficult decisions will have to made if there’s no-deal (…) we will have to look at future investments.”

She said Airbus had already spent “tens of million of euros” on preparing for Brexit, for example on stockpiling parts and securing IT systems.

Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Mark Potter



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Public agencies paid millions to national translation firm that stiffs its workers

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Government agencies have given millions of dollars in business to one of Canada’s biggest translation firms in recent years in the face of mounting evidence the company was shortchanging its contract workers — and, in some cases, despite warnings from their own staff.

From 2014 to 2017, federal, provincial and municipal governments and agencies spent at least $4.7 million on language services from Able Translations, public records show — everything from interpretation at legal proceedings to translation of medical records. 

Over the same period, the Mississauga, Ont.-based company weathered multiple news stories about its non-payment of freelancers, coupled with a mounting toll of lawsuits, largely from those very workers.

The cautionary signs came as early as 2013 that Able Translations was starting to stonewall the freelance translators and interpreters to whom it parcels out work.

But a number of those agencies only cut ties with the company last year, while some continue to use its services even as it’s on the brink, according to a CBC investigation into the firm’s financial delinquency.

They can see by their own eye that [Able] hurt workers, but they don’t care– Sunny Zhang , Mandarin interpreter

“That’s the ridiculous part of it,” said Sunny Zhang, a Mandarin interpreter and translator from Calgary who won a court judgment and is owed $8,300.

Most of Zhang’s unpaid invoices to Able Translations are for work she did for public-sector clients such as Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), the Alberta Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) and Alberta Health Services.   

Government agencies “can see by their own eye that [Able] hurt workers, but they don’t care.”

‘Keeps coming up’

As CBC revealed earlier this week, Able Translations owes more than $1 million to dozens of translators and other suppliers from as far afield as Korea and Egypt, as well as to the taxman. It has been sued 245 times in the last five years by translators and other creditors — among them, the Canada Revenue Agency, which obtained seizure orders for the company’s assets and put liens on the president’s home and luxury cars.

Able’s office, in a business park in Mississauga, Ont., is closed to visitors except ‘By appointment only,’ according to a sign posted in the window. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

While most of those developments arose out of the public eye, a number of the biggest public agencies using Able had their own indications all was not well, judging from more than a thousand pages of records CBC obtained under access-to-information laws.

“We are hearing more and more interpreter concerns regarding not being paid for their services. This issue keeps coming up,” wrote Fahreen Rayani, an Alberta WCB employee, to Able’s vice-president and co-owner, Annabelle Teixeira, on Feb. 17, 2016.

The previous autumn, CBC News and the Toronto Star had published stories about workers’ troubles in getting paid by Able. The stories were cited in complaint emails a number of interpreters sent to the WCB.

“They are notorious for late payments,” one wrote. “I have sent numerous letters of complaint regarding pay … I have never received a response to my emails.”

Able provided the WCB with a variety of explanations for why interpreters weren’t getting their money. Vice-president Teixeira wrote that sometimes, Able would mail out a cheque, but an interpreter just wouldn’t cash it. Other times, “either Canada Post does not deliver it or the interpreter moves and does not inform us.” In yet other cases, interpreters hadn’t invoiced yet, Teixeira said.

She attributed at least one non-payment to “irregularities” with a cheque, and said that generally, mail is slow getting to Alberta from Ontario.

In total, there were at least 10 complaints to the Alberta WCB about Able’s payment practices by fall 2016, when the WCB decided to extend Able’s contract to provide language services by six months.

‘Cheques have bounced’

Still more complaints arrived through the end of 2016 and into the new year, including one in February 2017 from a group of interpreters who stated, among several grievances, that “the company cheques have bounced.”

Teixeira responded at length to the Alberta WCB, concluding, “Finally, we have never had a cheque returned NSF” (non-sufficient funds).

In fact, that was not true. Court records from a lawsuit against Able in Ontario show that nine months earlier, it had bounced a cheque to a Mandarin interpreter from Toronto.

Despite all the complaints, at the end of March 2017, the WCB again extended Able’s contract  — along with those of its five other translation suppliers — this time by two years.

The organization said in a statement to CBC News that it has “significant demand” for translators for its clients, who often develop “long-standing, trusting relationships” with their interpreters, all of which weighed on the decision about whether to keep using Able’s services.

The WCB added that Able was “responsive” when presented with translators’ complaints about not getting paid, “so we chose to work on resolving complaints while allowing their contractors to continue working with our clients.”

The public agency said its global budget for language services is about $1.4 million a year, and of that, Able Translations’ slice ranged from as high as 65 per cent in 2016 to a more typical 20 per cent since then.

That is, until it prematurely terminated its agreement with Able Translations last May. “We determined they could not consistently deliver on their commitment to ensure their contractors were paid promptly,” the WCB statement said.

Ontario board had warnings, too

Ontario’s workers compensation agency, meanwhile, was aware of potential payment issues at Able as early as October 2013, when a translator wrote in. “Able Translations have not been paying for my services since May,” they said. “I have been sending emails asking for payments and they have ignored and not respond[ed] to my emails. I am not the only service provider that they are not paying.”

The WSIB’s manager of language services then emailed a colleague: “I spoke to the owner and president of Able Translations and he will investigate. I don’t believe there is anything more for us to do … It is an internal issue for them, not us.”

A handful more complaints trickled in in 2014 and 2015. About five months later, in April 2016, the WSIB extended its contract with Able Translations for two more years.

Then, in early 2017, another news report came out about Able’s workers struggling to get paid. It prompted a senior WSIB manager to suggest “we should be cancelling the contract,” internal emails show.

But that didn’t happen, at least not right away. The WSIB finally terminated its agreement last April. All told, from 2014 through the end of 2017, it gave $448,892 in business to Able Translations.

“We expect all of our vendors to conduct business in an ethical manner, which includes fair treatment of employees and proper payment practices,” the WSIB said in a statement.

Hospital looking elsewhere

CBC emailed Able Translations a list of questions about its business relationships and practices in November. Teixeira replied that “your research is incorrect in many details. I will provide further details for your review later this week.”

Despite weekly reminder emails and calls, she never did.

Over the years, the company has had contracts with numerous public bodies, including the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada,  Alberta Employment and Immigration and Ontario’s Finance and Natural Resources ministries, but no longer.

It still does business with the University Health Network (UHN) in Toronto, one of the country’s largest hospital and health research organizations.

‘We should not be doing business with companies that don’t pay their workers,’ said Gillian Howard of the University Health Network in Toronto. But she also said, ‘there aren’t lots of companies that provide the breadth and depth of translation that Able does.’ (CBC)

Access-to-information records show UHN paid $2.4 million to Able between 2014 and 2017 for interpretation services, largely at its network of workplace injury clinics.

UHN spokesperson Gillian Howard said the health organization recognizes “we should not be doing business with companies that don’t pay their workers,” and is diverting as much business as it can to other firms. 

But she said UHN needs access to interpreters in more than 100 languages, and “there aren’t lots of companies that provide the breadth and depth of translation that Able does.”


Have a tip on this or any other story? Email zach.dubinsky@cbc.ca or call 416-205-7553.



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