Young word nerds face off as U.S. Spelling Bee finals start

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. Forty-five young spellers began facing off on Thursday in the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, with tougher rules in place aimed at preventing a third consecutive tie in the long-running contest.Erin Howard, a fifth-grader from Huntsville, Alabama, was the first up in the finals. "Greetings, inhabitants of this Planet Earth," she said to the ballroom audience in a Washington suburb. Hands on thighs, Erin misspelled "Cheltenham," a publishing typeface. "OK, thanks," she said, when a bell rang, signaling she was out.The winner, who will emerge from spelling rounds through the day and a championship final televised by cable channel ESPN at 8 p.m. EDT (midnight GMT Friday) will take home $40,000 in cash and other prizes. The finalists were winnowed from 285 spelling whizzes after two days of written and oral tests. The Bee, which has been a U.S. institution since 1925, has toughened rules to bar ties for winners. Of the five ties in its history, one was in 2014 and another was last year, when eighth-graders Gokul Venkatachalam of Chesterfield, Missouri, and Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas, were co-winners. (Editing by Alan Crosby and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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Kristen Stewart 'at home' with film industry culture in France

CANNES, France Kristen Stewart, who stars in French director Olivier Assayas's independent film, "Personal Shopper", at the Cannes Film Festival, says she is more at home with France's cinematic culture than Hollywood's as the focus is less on making money.The Twilight star told Reuters on Wednesday that she likes the risk involved in making films with "a culture that's felt"."What is really obvious and apparent is the difference between why people make movies in France and why people make movies in the States," she told Reuters on Wednesday. "I like the fact that people aren't dying to make a bunch of money and win a popularity contest, they're actually just desirous of telling stories - so I feel at home here." Stewart became the first American actress to win a Cesar, France's Oscar equivalent, with a Best Supporting Actress award in 2015 for "Clouds of Sils Maria", also directed by Assayas. "I realized when I saw her, talked to her, listened to her that she had unique actress qualities," Assayas told Reuters. Stewart is no newcomer to independent cinema. She starred in independent movies before, in-between and after the Twilight series, between 2008 and 2012, including Jake Scott's "Welcome to the Rileys" and Walter Salles's "On The Road". "'Twilight' may have sort of distracted people from what I had been doing for a long time - but even within that series there were five Twilight films and in between each one of them I did an independent movie," she said.The 26-year-old said that she is looking forward to working with Assayas again."I feel like there is no way in hell that we're not going to explore another subject together I just don't know when that's going to be," she said. "This was lucky that it was in such a condensed period - he has other things to do and other stories to tell and I'll go do the same for a bit but hopefully we find each other again." Stewart also co-stars with Jesse Eisenberg in Woody Allen's out-of-competition film, "Cafe Society", at Cannes. (Editing by Louise Ireland)

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Canadian oil production trickles back as wildfire threat eases

EDMONTON, Alberta Oil sands companies around the Canadian energy center of Fort McMurray began to restart operations on Tuesday after an out-of-control wildfire forced a week-long shutdown.Top provincial and industry officials said production in much of the region should ramp up soon. Facilities north of Fort McMurray that had been shuttered largely because of heavy smoke rather than fire were seen as likely to come back on line in a matter of days in many cases.While the fire continued to grow on Tuesday, officials said it was moving to the south and east, away from the area's largest oil production facilities and into sparsely populated areas. A handful of smaller facilities remained under fire threat, however, and some could not yet be reached for damage assessments.Royal Dutch Shell Plc became the first company to resume its operation in the center of Canada's oil sands region. Enbridge Inc began inspecting its facilities and prepared to restart operations shuttered during the blaze."While thousands of lives will never be the same, we can take small steps to getting back the rhythm of northeast Alberta," Alberta Premier Rachel Notley told reporters after meeting with executives from companies including Suncor Energy Inc, ConocoPhillips Canada and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers."For many in Fort McMurray, that means rolling up the sleeves, and returning to work doing what they love, which is working in the energy sector," she said in Edmonton.Steve Williams, chief executive of Suncor, said the industry has plenty of housing available at project sites north of the city. Despite last week's mass evacuation, gathering a sufficient workforce would not be a barrier to restarting operations. "We have a huge capability for moving significant numbers of people," Williams said at the press conference. "In that sort of 48-72 hour period immediately following the evacuation ... we were able to evacuate significantly more than 20,000 people." The meeting came a day after Notley led an inspection tour of Fort McMurray, which found that the town was less damaged than initially feared with about 90 percent of its buildings surviving the blaze. But its 88,000 residents, who last week were hurriedly evacuated as far away as the provincial capital Edmonton, 380 km (235 miles) to the south, will not be able to return to their homes for weeks. Energy industry officials have been grappling with transportation problems for staff because the specialists who run the oil production sites were also among the residents displaced by the blaze. Shell said it will fly staff in and out of the region, while Imperial Oil Ltd said its Kearl oil sands mining project will remain shut until the company worked out the logistics of moving people and materials to and from the remote site.But Notley said some movement of goods and materials by road through Fort McMurray had resumed earlier on Tuesday.Syncrude restarted power generation at its oil sands mine in Aurora, about 80 km (50 miles) north of Fort McMurray, as it began planning to resume operations, a spokeswoman said. TOWN STILL SMOLDERINGThe blaze grew moderately on Tuesday to 229,000 hectares (560,000 acres) and spread east through terrain with no communities. It merged with another fire burning near Campbell Lake, some 50 km (30 miles) east of Fort McMurray. One area remaining under threat was Hangingstone, about 60 km (36 miles) south of Fort McMurray, and home to at least two smaller facilities run by Athabasca Oil Co. and Japan Canada Oil Sands Ltd. Both are shut, but between them account for only about 17,000 barrels per day of output, a fraction of the roughly 1 million barrels a day that has been lost to the fire, half of Canada's daily production.Notley said she believed facilities at Hangingstone were intact, but the area was not yet accessible due to the fire threat. The largest-producing oil projects in the Fort McMurray area are about 20 km (12 miles) north of the town and not in the fire's current path. Suncor's Williams said those facilities had not incurred damage and were closed due to smoke, not fire.He said Suncor would not suffer any material losses from the blaze.The inspection of Fort McMurray revealed blocks of homes reduced to blackened foundations, front steps and metal barbecues. Notley said 2,400 structures had burned within the city while almost 25,000 were saved.Officials warned it was not safe for residents to return to the town, with parts still smoldering and large areas without power, water and gas. Notley said repair crews will need weeks to make the city safe.Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons he would go to Fort McMurray on Friday. Canada's labor minister told reporters on Tuesday that the federal government would ensure that people put out of work by the blaze receive unemployment payments.Canadian crude prices slipped on Tuesday, trading below the U.S. crude benchmark, as signs of resuming production eased supply concerns. Nearly all of Fort McMurray's residents escaped the fire safely, although two teenagers died in a car crash during the evacuation. (Additional reporting by Rod Nickel in Lac La Biche; Ethan Lou and Allison Martell in Toronto; and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Writing by Dan Burns and Scott Malone; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Cynthia Osterman)

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Michelle Obama helps Prince Harry launch second Invictus Games

ORLANDO, Florida Britain's Prince Harry and U.S. first lady Michelle Obama mixed with headline acts from music and film to launch the second edition of the Invictus Games for wounded military personnel on Sunday.British singers James Blunt and Laura Wright performed at the two-hour ceremony before Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman led the crowd at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Champion Stadium in reciting the Invictus Games pledge.Former U.S. President George W Bush, the honorary chairman of this year’s Games, also spoke on stage to the near 500 athletes from 14 different countries who will compete over four days from Monday in 11 Paralympic sports.Harry, who started the Games two years ago in London, paid tribute to the courage of the athletes, who paraded through an interactive 3-D cube decorated in their country's colors to warm applause. "When we give a standing ovation to the competitor with the missing limbs, let's also cheer our hearts out for the man who overcame anxiety so severe he couldn't leave his house," the 31-year-old royal told the crowd. "Let's cheer for the woman who fought through post-traumatic stress." That spirit was echoed by Obama, who thanked U.S. veterans for their service. "I'm here and honor all of you: our extraordinary service members, our veterans, and of course our military families. You all are amazing. Truly amazing," she said. (Reporting by Gavino Garay. Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore. Editing by Ed Osmond)

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Apple wins dismissal of lawsuit over MacBook logic boards

Apple Inc won the dismissal on Thursday of a lawsuit accusing it of defrauding consumers by selling MacBook laptop computers that contained "logic boards" it knew were defective, and which routinely failed within two years.U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco said the plaintiffs, Uriel Marcus and Benedict Verceles, failed to show that Apple made "affirmative misrepresentations," despite citing online complaints and Apple marketing statements calling the laptops "state of the art" or the "most advanced" on the market."Plaintiffs have failed to allege that Apple's logic boards were unfit for their ordinary purposes or lacked a minimal level of quality," Alsup wrote. "Both plaintiffs were able to adequately use their computers for approximately 18 months and two years, respectively."Alsup gave the plaintiffs until Jan. 22 to amend their lawsuit, which sought class-action status, against the Cupertino, California-based company. Omar Rosales, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Apple did not immediately respond to a similar request.The plaintiffs claimed that Apple's sale of MacBooks since May 20, 2010, violated consumer protection laws in California and Texas, where the lawsuit began last May before being moved.They also contended that Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook was told about the defective logic boards in 2011, but did nothing. Logic boards contain computer circuitry and are sometimes known as motherboards.A separate and still pending lawsuit in California accuses Apple of defrauding consumers by selling MacBook Pro laptops in 2011 that contained defective graphic cards, causing screen distortions and system failures. MacBooks are part of Apple's Mac line of desktop and laptop computers. The company reported unit sales in that business of 18.91 million in its latest fiscal year.The case is Marcus et al v. Apple Inc, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 14-03824. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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