Google says ‘no changes’ to mapping platform in China after report

The Google mobile phone icon. (AP)
Updated 16 January 2018
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Google says ‘no changes’ to mapping platform in China after report

BEIJING: Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Tuesday it has made “no changes” to its mapping platform in China, denying an earlier media report that claimed it was re-launching the function in China, where many of its services are blocked.
Japan’s Nikkei reported earlier that Google had set up a China-specific version of the Google Maps website for the first time in eight years and introduced a map application for Chinese iPhones for the first time. (http://s.nikkei.com/2DcmYjU)
Google, however, stated that the Google Maps browser has been available in China for many years while there is no Maps application offered in the country.
“There have been no changes to Google Maps in China. Maps has been accessible on desktop for years, but does not have an official presence in Android or iOS app stores in China,” Google Spokesman Taj Meadows said in comments sent to Reuters.
A Chinese version of Google Maps was accessible on Tuesday on mobile and desktop browsers with certain functions available, but Reuters was unable to find a Google Maps app available in Chinese app stores.
Nikkei reported users could find an app, but if they tried to use features like navigation they were automatically transferred to an app from AutoNavi, a mapping company owned by China’s Alibaba Group Holding.
AutoNavi did not immediately respond to a request from Reuters for a comment.
Google has tried to re-enter the China market, where its main search platform is blocked along with its popular video platform YouTube, limiting its access to China’s Internet users.
Google joined an investment in Chinese live-stream mobile game platform Chushou earlier this month after ramping up an artificial intelligence (AI) push last year, including launching an AI lab in December and hosting a match of the board game Go between its AI project Alpha Go and Chinese Go champion Ke Jie.
Last month, Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai spoke at a high-profile tech event in China organized by the Cyberspace Administration of China, which oversees Internet censorship.
A full Google Maps app has not been available in China since the company pulled many of its services in 2010 after refusing to self-censor its search results. Since then, it has maintained a limited presence in the world’s top smartphone market.


America revisits ‘Pizza Bomber’ mystery with new Netflix series

Updated 26 May 2018
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America revisits ‘Pizza Bomber’ mystery with new Netflix series

WASHINGTON: As bank heists in America go, this was one of the weirdest: in 2003, a pizza delivery man walks into a bank with a bomb around his neck and a note demanding a quarter of a million dollars.
Police in Pennsylvania apprehend him, but shortly thereafter, the explosive device goes off, ripping a hole in his chest that kills him minutes before the bomb squad arrives.
Netflix has now come out with a mini-series on the robbery and returns to a question that has divided opinion for 15 years: was that man, one Brian Wells, a willing accomplice, or was he the unwitting victim of a bizarre plot?
The four fast-moving episodes of “Evil Genius,” directed by Barbara Schroeder and Trey Borzillieri, look back at all the puzzles that made up this heist in Erie, a small city in the Great Lakes region.
It all begins when Wells, 46, walks into a branch of PNC Bank with a gun shaped like a cane. Around his neck is a collar with a bomb on a timer.
He hands over a note demanding $250,000, but was given just over $8,000, and leaves sucking on a lollipop he grabbed from the counter.
In his hand he carries pages of rambling, hand-written instructions for a sort of a scavenger hunt for keys and combinations hidden around Erie that would remove the collar.
But he never got as far as that hunt. Wells was apprehended near the bank, and handcuffed. Police realized he was wearing a bomb, and kept their distance.
That scene was filmed and broadcast by TV stations around the world.
“I don’t know if I have enough time now,” Wells told police. He said he had been tricked while delivering pizzas.
“I am not lying,” Wells said as he sat on the sidewalk. “It’s gonna go off.”
The collar starts to beep. Wills gets more and more agitated. Then it explodes and kills him.
To recover the explosive device, police had to cut off Wills’ head.
Then, in the following days, odd things start happening in Erie.
Robert Pinetti, a former colleague of Wells, is found dead in his home, apparently the victim of a drug overdose.
Then another man, Bill Rothstein, tells police there is a body in his refrigerator.
The body is that of James Roden, boyfriend of one Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, whom Rothstein describes as a woman who manipulates people.
Diehl-Armstrong, once a brilliant student noted for her striking good looks, suffers from bipolar disorder. Twenty years earlier, she was accused of murdering her then-boyfriend, but argued she had acted in self-defense and was acquitted at trial.
It gets even more complicated, so pay attention.
According to a drug addict named Kenneth Barnes, Diehl-Armstrong planned the bank heist so as to get money to hire him as a hitman to take out her own father, whom she accused of spending the money due her as part of her inheritance.
Rothstein, a former boyfriend of Diehl-Armstrong and a mechanically-gifted eccentric, allegedly designed the bomb.
Diehl-Armstrong is therefore the “Evil Genius,” as the Netflix series is entitled.
Obsessed by this woman, co-director Borzillieri communicated with her for more than 10 years, in writing and over the phone, to better understand the case — becoming particularly focused on the subject of Brian Wells.
“In the beginning, very much like the residents of Erie and law enforcement, I believed that he was involved in this case and did so for a good long while,” said Borzillieri.
“By the end of the journey, my opinion is that he was innocent,” he told AFP.
A long FBI probe found that Wells was a “co-conspirator” — a conclusion which meant that the others involved in the plot could not legally face the death penalty for his murder.
“I think the whole plan initially started out as a way for them all to make some money. But it developed into more than just making money. It became almost a game to them. A diabolical, maniacal game,” said FBI special agent Jerry Clark.
Diehl-Armstrong, who died of cancer last year aged 68, also fascinated Schroeder, who is a journalist.
“Marjorie can be abrasive and off-putting, but she is also fascinating. She is like a train wreck where you have to turn your head and look and then she keeps your attention because she is eloquent,” said Schroeder.
“She was the most fascinating female I have ever come across.”
The last episode of Evil Genius adds a reasonable clue to the so-called Pizza Bomber mystery — previously unheard testimony from a prostitute named Jessica Hoopsick.
Hoopsick claimed she became friends with Wells and developed feelings for him, despite the fact that he was also a paying client, and says she wants to resurrect his reputation and name.
She says she was paid by Diehl-Armstrong and her people to recruit an easy target for their heist plans. She says she suggested Wells.
“He had no idea what would happen to him,” Hoopsick says in the Netflix series.