Fitness Superstar Shaun T: Keys To Workout Motivation Include Fun — And Selfishness

Shaun T attends the Sweat USA America’s All-Star Fitness Festival at the Miami Beach Convention Center in 2013. At some live events, thousands of people turn out to work out with the fitness superstar.

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Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for Vital Sports & Entertainment

In the world of streaming workout videos, Shawn T is like Jay-Z or Mick Jagger. He’s a superstar. Millions of people have done his workout programs. One is called “Insanity.” Another, “Focus T25,” aims to get you in shape in just 25 minutes a day without leaving your house.

In our ever more digital world there are all kinds of apps and other quick ways to fit fitness into your life. But you still have to do the exercise. And in his new book, T is for Transformation, Shaun T tells the story of his life and the lessons he’s learned about finding that motivation.

With his sculpted muscles and abs, Shaun T is the picture of fitness. In his workout videos he’s funny and happy. But it wasn’t always like this.

“The first thing I remember as a kid was being washed in the sink of our west Philadelphia apartment,” Shaun T says. Back then, 40 years ago, he was a toddler named Shaun Thompson. “I was so small, but I soon began to realize that where we lived wasn’t necessarily the best place in the world.”

Shaun T grew up poor and had a rough childhood in a violent neighborhood. The family was on food stamps. And they had so little food he’d sneak bread into his underwear and eat it at night in bed.

Being hungry stays with you. And when he got a scholarship to a state college, that came with a dining hall meal plan card, which meant free food.

“When you give someone who grew up on food stamps a meal card, I could just go and eat and eat. And then when I found out that you can use this food card at Domino’s, late night cravings became a whole new thing. I was like, ‘Whhhhaaat?’ ”

Shaun T gained 50 pounds his freshman year. He didn’t like that. But he says he was too embarrassed to go to the gym, even though he ran track in high school. “I was extremely unhappy with the way that I looked and the way that I felt,” he says.

But he finally got on the treadmill. And he took some dance fitness classes. And as soon as he’d lost just a few pounds, he says he loved how that made him feel. So much so that he switched his major to sports science. And then he went to the manager of the school rec center and told her, “I want to teach a class.”

Shaun T had no experience. But his fellow students liked him. And 90 of them signed up for his first class in the rec center. He turned on the hip-hop song “Space Jam,” from the 1996 movie with Michael Jordan, put it on repeat, and got everyone doing his halfway-thought-out hip hop aerobics routine. The students loved it.

“I was like are you kidding me? This is the most amazing thing. I could teach and have fun, and all of these people are not only doing what I’m doing but most of them were afraid to dance and they’re actually doing it and they’re stepping outside their comfort zone. And I’m looking at these people and I’m like, ‘This is it. I want to do this for the rest of my life.’ ”

And that’s what Shaun T has done. First classes, at small workout studios. He taught a class for workers at a nuclear power plant in New Jersey. He’d teach anywhere he could. Later he moved to LA and started doing videos. Today, the company that distributes his workouts, Beachbody LLC, says Shaun T has sold more than $1 billion worth of fitness videos.

Shaun T attends the 20th Annual Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in 2015 in the Queens borough of New York City.

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Shaun T says to stay motivated, it can help to mix it up. For example, sign up for a dance class or a basketball league. He does his own workouts, “but I also play tennis. But I also get my friends I’m like, ‘Yo, let’s play volleyball today.’ It doesn’t always have to be the same thing. Like create it for yourself and it will be so much fun.”

And he says, focus on the fun, not about how much you weigh. “My goal for people out there is just just do things that make you feel good. ‘Cause the weight will come off but the happiness is what’s most important.”

Of course, it can often be more complicated than that for people, including Shaun T. Growing up in that violent neighborhood, he says he suffered abuse from his stepfather and went through things that, later in life, it took him years of therapy to really work through and understand. He encourages others to consider doing the same if they think they might have unresolved baggage holding them back from their health and fitness goals, or other goals for that matter.

“You get stronger by unpacking the baggage, not by packing it into the closet,” he says. But he adds, “It’s just really important for people to understand that your biggest struggles are also the motivators to your biggest strengths.”

Shaun T’s struggles back then got him to do something that took courage when he was 14 years old and about to start high school. He decided to leave his family and go live with his grandparents in New Jersey. His grandfather was a former boxer and a minister and this family was stable and loving. It was a big change and it made a big difference. “I didn’t start living until I was 14 years old,” Shaun T says. “From that point forward my grandparents were my angels, they were just like the best ever.”

In his book, Shaun T says even if it’s in a less dramatic way, changing the people around you can make a difference. If most of your friends are couch potatoes, he recommends spending more time with people who exercise and who will support you and encourage you to live a healthier life.

On a more counterintuitive note, he says, “selfishness gets a bad rap.” He says some people spend so much time doing things for other people — their family, their friends — and they feel guilty taking any time at all just to take care of themselves. He says obviously don’t abandon your loved ones, but you’ll be a happier person if you take time the time you need. He says it’s usually OK to take 25 minutes to do that workout. “Be selfish, because all the people in your life will benefit if you are,” he says.

Of course when it comes to health and fitness, what you eat is important too. Shaun T says one of those giant sugar-frosted cinnamon buns has so many calories you’d have to work out like a maniac for two hours to burn it off. But there too he says, enjoy yourself. Eat healthy 85 percent of the time and enjoy some pizza or a doughnut the rest of the time. But, he says, cut the doughnut in half.

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Trump Wishes We Had More Immigrants From Norway. Turns Out We Once Did

Norwegian immigrants on their way to America on the SS Hero in 1870.

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In the Thursday meeting in which President Trump complained about “having all these people from shithole countries come here” — and singled out Haiti, El Salvador and Africa as examples — he also added that, “we should have more people from Norway.”

In fact there was a time when we did.

From 1870 to 1910 a quarter of Norway’s working-age population emigrated, mostly to the United States. You read that right — one-fourth of its workers left the country.

Back then Norway was quite poor. Wages were less than a third of what they were in the United States. And the wave of emigration out of the country quickly benefited those who remained. That’s because it reduced the supply of workers in Norway, so those left behind could demand higher wages. And this helped narrow Norway’s wage gap with the U.S. by 25 percent over that same 40-year period, putting Norway on the path toward its status today as one of world’s most prosperous nations.

Those are the findings of a paper published in European Review of Economic History back in 1997 by two economists. It’s considered a seminal work because the authors — Alan Taylor of the University of California Davis and Jeffrey Williamson — then of Harvard University, now professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, Madison — combed through paper archives to piece together the first truly comprehensive picture of wage differentials across European countries and the United States during that time.

“They were the pioneers really — the first to do that,” says Michael Clemens, an economist at the Center for Global Development, a D.C. thinktank, who specializes on the role of migration in reducing poverty.

Then in 2008 a wealth of new data became available about Norway that added yet another twist to the picture: It turns out that the immigrants that Norway sent to the U.S. during that great migration wave of the 1870s were its poorest and least educated citizens. Researchers were able to determine this thanks to newly digitized census data from Norway. (Other European countries have embarked on similar efforts but Norway, with only around 2 million residents in its early census data, finished the task first. That has made Norway the go-to nation for researchers of historical economics.)

Leah Boustan, an economist at Princeton University and several collaborators have done some of the most ground-breaking work of this kind.

“We created direct name matches between people who appear in the 1865 Norway census as children,” Boustan explains, “and then we looked at the 1900 census in Norway and the 1900 census in the United States. If we found you in the 1900 U.S. census we knew you had migrated.”

From this information they determined that those who left Norway came from “some of the lowest skilled families. They are coming from either rural areas or they are [the children of fathers holding] lower skilled laborer positions in cities,” she says.

And on arrival in the United States these Norwegian immigrants remained at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. Compared to immigrants from the 15 other European nations that contributed to this great wave of arrivals, “the Norwegians held the lowest paid occupations in the U.S.,” says Boustan.

“They tended to be farm laborers. They were also fishermen. If they were in cities they were just sort of in the manual labor category — what today you would think of as a day laborer.”

“When you look at the people leaving Norway you do pick up quite a bit of evidence of the poor, huddled masses,” she says, referring to the famous Emma Lazarus poem at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.

And although their descendants would eventually catch up to the rest of the U.S. population, it took a while. Twenty years after their arrival in the United States, the Norwegian immigrants were still making 14 percent less than native-born workers.

In other words, they shared a lot in common with many of today’s immigrants from … El Salvador, Haiti and Africa.

Editor’s note: NPR has decided in this case to spell out the vulgar word that the president reportedly used because it meets our standard for use of offensive language. It is “absolutely integral to the meaning and spirit of the story being told.”

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Spy Bosses Helped Trump Draft Tweet Backing Surveillance Program

Top intelligence bosses scrambled to the White House on Thursday morning after President Trump complained on Twitter about a controversial spy bill they then urged him to support.

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The nation’s top spy bosses scrambled to the White House early Thursday to urge President Trump to restate his support for a controversial surveillance law after he spent the morning trashing it on Twitter.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster all convened in the Oval Office with the president to urge him to row back his criticism. House Speaker Paul Ryan also joined in by telephone.

The men helped coach the president in wording the conclusion of a thread that began with a condemnation of the law that the president’s administration supports.

The emergency meeting of the top national security and congressional leaders was described by people familiar with the hasty conference.

Ryan and the spy service leaders implored the president not to undermine efforts to reauthorize the surveillance program known as Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, which was up for a vote in the House later in the day.

Trump’s administration wanted lawmakers to pass the measure. The White House issued a statement in support of it on Wednesday evening. But hours later, when Trump viewed a TV report about Section 702 on “Fox and Friends,” he began posting on Twitter with complaints about it.

“‘House votes on controversial FISA ACT today,'” he said in a tweet at 7:33 a.m. “This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?”

When intelligence agency and congressional leaders saw that post, only hours before the scheduled House vote, they scrambled to urge Trump to follow up restating his official support.

Pompeo, Coats, McMaster, Kelly and Ryan tried to explain how the nation’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies use Section 702 and how important it is to their work, according to an individual familiar with the matter.

Everyone in the meeting then helped come up with language for another tweet that Trump could send backing the program and urging lawmakers to reauthorize it. That’s the second tweet the president sent from his Twitter account, the individual said.

“With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get smart!” Trump wrote.

The CIA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence also declined to comment.

A U.S. official confirmed that Coats met with the president Thursday morning to explain the importance of Section 702.

“He was there before the second tweet went out,” said the official, who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive intelligence matters. “He was one of the senior officials handling the FISA Section 702 issue.”

The program permits U.S. spy agencies to collect the communications of foreign intelligence targets located overseas without a warrant. And if the National Security Agency is monitoring a foreigner in a foreign country who communicates with an American, the NSA can vacuum up the American’s conversation without asking for authorization from a judge.

National security officials say it is a critical program used to protect the country from everything from terrorists to nuclear proliferation, while civil liberties advocates say it needs more privacy guarantees for Americans whose communications with foreigners are swept up by the program.

The nation’s other top intelligence officials last year described Section 702 as their top legislative priority. Without it, they say, the U.S. would lose a critical tool used in the fight against terrorism, espionage, nuclear proliferation and cyber attacks.

The House ultimately passed the legislation on Thursday by a vote of 256 to 164. The bill still must still pass the Senate or the surveillance authority will expire next week.

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GM Says Car With No Steering Wheel Or Pedals Ready For Streets In 2019

The Cruise AV is designed to operate on its own, with no driver, steering wheel, pedals or other manual controls.


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General Motors

General Motors says it is ready to mass-produce a self-driving car that has no steering wheel, pedals or any other manual controls.

The car company said Friday that it has filed a petition with the Department of Transportation for the fourth-generation Cruise AV to hit the streets in 2019.

GM maintains that the car “will comply with federal safety laws;” the petition is asking for a waiver for laws that it cannot meet “because they are human-driver-based-requirements.”

For example: “A car without a steering wheel can’t have a steering wheel airbag,” as GM President Dan Ammann told The Verge.

With no steering wheel or pedals, the car’s dashboard appears jarringly symmetrical in model photos released by the company. The vehicle maintains the conventional design of two rows of forward-facing seats.

Some critics, such as Jalopnik’s Jason Torchinsky, have suggested GM should have been more experimental: “There’s just no reason to keep these rigid interior design rules when you’re not required (or able) to drive! … There should at least be an option to swivel the front seats around, or allow the seats to all face inwardly.”

It’ll be possible for humans to stop the car – GM says customers having an emergency “may end the ride by making a stop request, and the vehicle will pull to the side of the road at the next available safe place.”

The cars are undergoing testing on the roads of San Francisco and the Phoenix suburbs. GM says San Francisco provides rigorous challenges to the vehicles – for example, in the Northern California city it faces more than 7 times more emergency vehicles than in Phoenix.

As NPR’s Sonari Glinton reported this week, along with Tesla, many other car companies are rolling out new electric and driverless models:

“Mercedes-Benz will make an electric or hybrid version of all its cars by 2022, and they’re not alone. Volvo will go all electric by next year. Ford has plans for an electric F-150 truck and an electric Mustang. GM will launch 10 electric or hybrid cars in the country by 2020. And [Mercedes Benz’ Christoph] von Hugo says the coolness of self-driving cars will help convince the public that the coming EVs will be worthwhile.”

Waymo, a company that used to be part of Google, has also “made a limited number of autonomous vehicles without steering wheels and pedals,” according to The Associated Press. That company has started a program for people to ride in self-driving cars in parts of Phoenix.

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New Rules May Make Getting And Staying On Medicaid More Difficult

Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, at a White House press conference in May. More people moving off Medicaid, she says, would be a good outcome.

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Kentucky got the green light from the federal government Friday to require people who get Medicaid to work. It’s a big change from the Obama administration, which rejected overtures from states that wanted to add a work requirement.

Medicaid’s chief federal officer is Seema Verma; her home state of Indiana submitted plans for a work requirement last year, and the approval letter could come any day now. Under the proposal, people would have to average 20 hours a week of work or another qualifying activity — such as volunteering or getting an education — to get Medicaid.

The goal is to increase employment among Medicaid recipients. But Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University, says there’s a problem with that — most people on Medicaid are already working, or looking for work. Or they’re caring for a child or family member, or they’re sick or disabled.

Many of those people would be exempt from a work requirement, and states could also make some allowances for people battling addiction. When you consider all those exemptions, says Rosenbaum, “There is this very, very tiny slice of [of the population] who can work and simply choose not to work and apply for public assistance.”

And even if states create programs that help people find jobs, and provide things like childcare and transportation, Rosenbaum says, there’s no evidence that they would lead to more employment. And those programs are expensive.

“If you do a work program, it costs real money,” she says, “and the federal government has said, ‘we won’t pay any of those costs.’ “

What’s more likely, Rosenbaum says, is that states will basically say, ‘Get a job on your own, or get off Medicaid.’ “

And what that does, she says, is create a hurdle for everybody on Medicaid. People who are working are going to have to prove they are employed, so even people with jobs could stand to lose their insurance because of red tape. In fact, the state of Indiana’s own projections show that with a work requirement, Medicaid will cover fewer people and cost more.

Adam Mueller is an attorney at Indiana Legal Services, which helps people navigate that state’s Medicaid program. He says people already lose coverage because the program can be confusing, and there are administrative errors.

“Somewhere along the way, paperwork gets lost; there’s a miscommunication,” he says, “Folks have sometimes had difficulty proving something as easy as residency.”

And people on Medicaid often deal with crises – they may move a lot, or change phone numbers, which makes it hard to keep track of paperwork. Adding a work requirement on top of all that, Mueller says, would make staying enrolled even harder.

“There are a lot of things that can trip folks up, and that could lead to falling through the cracks,” he says.

Judith Solomon, of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, points out that expanded Medicaid helps some employers, too.

“We have an economic structure where there are people whose employment doesn’t provide health care,” she says.

If employees lose Medicaid, get sick and can’t make it to work, she says that’s bad for business.

Verma told reporters during a conference call Thursday that the requirement is supposed to help people.

“People moving off of Medicaid is a good outcome,” she said, “because we hope that that means they do not need the program anymore, that they have transitioned to a job that provides health insurance or that they can afford insurance on their own. This policy helps people achieve the American dream.”

But advocates say the main purpose of Medicaid is to provide health insurance, not increase employment. And until now, the federal government agreed.

Susan Jo Thomas heads Covering Kids and Families of Indiana, which advocates for health coverage in the state. Under Medicaid’s new management, she says, the philosophy surrounding work requirements has changed.

“I don’t know if it jibes with my view of Medicaid, but my view of Medicaid now is irrelevant,” she says. “It’s what Seema Verma and the administration and the folks who are at CMS decide.”

Thomas says she is taking more of a wait and see approach — the details of the work requirement have yet to be ironed out. She says if too many people lose insurance, she’ll be raising concerns with the state.

This story is part of NPR’s reporting partnership with Side Effects Public Media, WFYI and Kaiser Health News.

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Give Us Your Moments Of Love; We'll Give You A Poem

Love can be hard to put into words. Poets have been trying for millennia.

For Valentine’s Day, Morning Edition is offering a love poem request line. Tell us about a moment in your life regarding love or relationships, and NPR’s Rachel Martin and author Kwame Alexander will find you a poem that captures that feeling.

Maybe it’s that moment when you fell in love later in life than you expected. Maybe it’s the moment in the midst of the chaos of raising a family when you lock eyes with your spouse and understand the spark is still there. Maybe it’s the moment you finally realized you could move on after losing a loved one.

Share your moment with us, and we’ll share the poems we find for you on air and on NPR.org on Valentine’s Day.

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Scientists Say A Fluctuating Jet Stream May Be Causing Extreme Weather Events

Waves crash onto the beach near Brighton Pier in England, in January 2007. Gale force winds and heavy rain brought disruption to large parts of the country. Severe weather events like this one may be linked to more frequent fluctuations in the polar jet stream, according to a new study.

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A new study suggests thatthe polar jet stream has been fluctuating more than normal as it passes over the parts of the Northern Hemisphere, and that’s affecting weather in Europe and North America.

The jet stream is like a river of wind that circles the Northern Hemisphere continuously. That river meanders north and south along the way, however. When those meandersoccur over the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, it can alter pressure systems and wind patterns at lower latitudes in Europe and North America. And that affects how warm or rainy it is on those continents.

Researchers at the University of Arizona and the Swiss Federal Research Institute studied tree rings to get a fix on how widely and how often the jet stream meanders.

Biologist Valerie Trouet took samples from four species of trees in Europe, including Scots pine, dating back to 1725. These revealed what kind of weather Europe had each year. And that helped them establish the normal pattern of the jet stream’s fluctuations.

What surprised the scientists was that the jet stream’s meandering has become more frequent. “Since 1960 we get more years when the jet is in an extreme position,” Trouet says, either in its northernmost or southernmost position. She adds that this pattern of more frequent, extreme shifts north and south has never been seen before in her 290-year record.

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers say these more dramatic fluctuations may be responsible for some recent extreme weather events, not just in Europe, but also North America.

“Heat waves, droughts and floods affect people,” says Trouet. These “happen on top of already increasing temperatures and global warming — it’s a double whammy.”

In the U.S., she says, extreme summer heat in the Midwest is also associated with shifts in the jet stream.

When these shifts occur as the jet passes over the Pacific Ocean, they affect warmth and dryness in California and the Southwest.

While the researchers don’t attribute these more dramatic shifts to any one phenomenon, some climate scientists have suggested that oceans warmed by climate change cause changes in the behavior of the jet stream.

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'Africa Tech' Is Hard To Find At CES — But Worth Looking For

The E-Citizen app from Senegal uses photos and audio recordings. For example, click on a photo of a baby and select either French or a local dialect. You’ll hear how to register a newborn child.

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Kristy Totten for NPR

Africa Tech Now, billed as the “No. 1 event showcasing African entrepreneurship,” debuted at CES this year. The problem was, when I went to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to cover it for this blog,no one had heard of it. Not the media desk, the information booth or even the Moroccan and Egyptian aisles, which are obviously African but weren’t part of the expo I was looking for.

I guess it’s not surprising. Tech innovations from developing countries in Africa aren’t exactly making headlines.

Yet slowly and quietly, African countries have been ramping up their technology, much of it centered on social and economic issues like health monitoring and job creation. Governments are seeking tech-hub status, and investors have taken note.

Last year, the Nigerian startup Andela raised $40 million to connect African web developers with international employers, and investment groups are buying into other businesses.

When I finally did locate the Africa Tech Now display (after walking around hopelessly for an hour or two), I found a group of six startups from Mali, Senegal and Tunisia. Of the six, three were innovative, two had slick marketing materials but no product to show, and one was a nice idea but still has a way to go.

Here are the highlights:

Social media for folks who can’t read

Most social media relies on reading and typing, but what if it was voice-based? That’s the idea behind Lenali, an app created by computer scientist Mamadou Gouro of Mali.On Lenali, users can select their dialect, type in or record their name, post vocally and comment vocally without having to read anything. Posts could be anything from personal updates to photos to news. Gouro even thinks people could use Lenali to boost their business. A mango vendor could post a photo, add audio that tells his or her location and ask people who want more info to comment by voice posts. “Everything is done without the need for writing skills,” Gouro says, though the app does accept written posts as well. There is one drawback — the app can’t read posts aloud. So users would have to rely on friends to post voice comments if they need something read or translated. “There’s artificial intelligence, but we use natural intelligence,” he says.

Help for Senegalese who don’t parlez Francais

In Senegal, most information is written in French — it’s the official language, after all. The problem is, not everyone reads French. Instead, they may speak the local language Wolof, which has many dialects. And some may not be able to read in any language. The E-Citizen app uses photos and audio recordings in local dialects to help people navigate health, courts, jobs, taxes and other social systems. For example, clicking on a photo of a baby tells you in the language you select how to register your newborn child.Clicking on a photo of construction workers lists job opportunities.Currently, E-Citizen works in two local dialects and French. Entrepreneur Mamadou Diagne hopes to add more dialects in the next two years, and eventually he wants to create kiosks so people without devices can use the app, too.

Power in a box

Electricity is hard to come by in rural Mali, so engineer Abdoulaye Gackou has created the Yeelen Solar Box, a solar-energy generator that can provide electricity to 10 homes. It’s mobile, made from recycled material and runs for 24 hours on a single charge. The box is still in its prototype phase but should be available in the next year for around $1,820.

As for the other vendors:

From Senegal, 2v360 provides 360-degree photography to real estate and tourism businesses, to give potential visitors a more immersive view of properties. The website is impressive, but a rep said the company still has a lot of work to do.

A wireless modem company from Tunisia called SpeedAir supposedly connects to drones, robots and smart cities, but there wasn’t information beyond the booth’s backdrop.

And finally, the Hicchair from Tunisia is a hand-sewn seat cushion loaded with sensors that’s supposed to detect bad posture and send results to smartphones. Sadly, the Hicchair rep’s phone was dead, so he couldn’t give me a demo.

The Hicchair, from Tunisia, is supposed to determine if you’re sitting with proper posture and then send the findings to a smartphone.

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Kristy Totten for NPR

Despite the sparse turnout, hope ran high at the event, and Africa Tech Now’s vendors were optimistic about their countries turning a tech corner.

“We’re pretty much doing everything we can, and the government is trying to help as much as they can,” said Hicchair CEO Sai Khalil.

In the meantime, he’ll continue to look for funding. And a demo phone that won’t conk out.

Kristy Totten is a producer at Nevada Public Radio. Find her on Twitter @kristy_tea

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