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News at noon: We help you figure out that Echo you're hearing; a Q&A with a waterboarding expert; don't fault players for skipping bowl games; and a Proper review for latest downtown St. Petersburg dining spot

Google is releasing Home on Friday in the hope of riding the coattails of Echo, the Amazon gadget that is powered by the virtual assistant called Alexa. [Associated Press]

Google is releasing Home on Friday in the hope of riding the coattails of Echo, the Amazon gadget that is powered by the virtual assistant called Alexa. [Associated Press]

Home hubs, or smart speakers that you can order around with voice commands, were expected to be a top gift this holiday season. But it can be a little hard getting used to having a disembodied voice in your house, and figuring out what to use it for. Here are a few basic tips to help you go beyond the setup menu and get the most from these gadgets.

Q&A: PASCO PSYCHOLOGIST BEHIND WATERBOARDING CALLS FOR SOUL SEARCHING ON SECURITY

When CIA officials learned about a possible jihadi attack against the United States, they turned to a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel now living in Pasco County to help create new ways of interrogating top al-Qaida captives. Earlier this month, in a wide-ranging two-hour interview, James Mitchell, 65, talked to the Tampa Bay Times about waterboarding, his response to critics, and advice for President-elect Donald Trump — his choice for president.

FENNELLY: REAL INJUSTICE IS MIXON PLAYING IN BOWL GAME, NOT FOURNETTE AND MCCAFFREY SKIPPING OUT

[Steve Sisney | The Oklahoman via AP]

Oklahoma football player Joe Mixon walks to the podium after passing head coach Bob Stoops as he speaks out for the first time since the release of a 2014 video showing him striking Amelia Molitor, at a press conference in Norman, Okla., on Friday, Dec. 23, 2016.

People are calling out Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey, calling them quitters for sitting out their teams' bowl games, Martin Fennelly writes. Yet it's OK for Joe Mixon, shown on video punching a woman, to suit up for Oklahoma. Fournette and McCaffrey are merely trying to maximize their financial potential, which is the American way. It's what their universities do every time they sell those players' jerseys — and the players don't get a dime.

FOLLOW LIVE: ST. PETERSBURG BOWL

College football has returned to Pinellas County as Miami of Ohio (6-6) faces Mississippi State (5-7) in the St. Petersburg at Tropicana Field (11 a.m., ESPN, 620-AM). Check our live scoreboard for in-game updates.

NO AGE LIMITS ON KAYAKING: MEET SOME WOMEN WHO 'DITCH THE PILLS, GRAB A PADDLE'

[LARA CERRI | Times]

A group of senior citizens, led by Treasure Island resident Mary Meyers, 83, (second from left) pull over for lunch on the Rainbow River Friday, Nov. 4, 2016.

In November, Mary Meyers, 83, and half-dozen girlfriends — with an average age of about 79; one is 88 — got together to kayak four central Florida rivers in four days. Based at a cabin in Dunnellon, they paddled some of Florida's prettiest rivers, including the Weeki Wachee, Santa Fe, Withlacoochee and Rainbow. Check out their story and photos of their excursions.

ALL EYES PHOTO GALLERY: A TRIBUTE TO POP STAR GEORGE MICHAEL

George Michael shot to stardom at an early age in the teen duo WHAM! and moved smoothly into a solo career. Photos and videos from that era show Michael with long locks, piercing eyes and a show-stopping smile. He was made for MTV, which was emerging as a dominant force, and he had a powerful video presence, borrowing some of his dance moves from Elvis Presley and sometimes styling himself as a motorcycle rebel who would have made James Dean or Marlon Brando proud. Check out this gallery of photos from throughout his career.

EPILOGUE: JOHNNIE B. MACK GAVE 'ENDESS' TIME TO CRIME WATCH AND OTHER VOLUNTEER EFFORTS IN ST. PETERSBURG

[Photo by James Branaman]

Johnnie B. Mack, center, is surrounded by former St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer, right, and then-Assistant Police Chief Cedric Gordon at a 2012 awards ceremony at Studio@620. Mack died Dec. 6, 2016 at age 91.

What Johnnie B. Mack lacked in height, her friends and family will tell you she more than made up for with her love and care for her community. For the 4-foot-11 Ms. Mack, it was a priority to protect the Fruitland Heights neighborhood where she lived for nearly six decades south of downtown St. Petersburg. In expressing her concern for her community, Ms. Mack became the coordinator of the Fruitland Heights' neighborhood crime watch — one of the first to coordinate a watch in the predominantly black neighborhoods south of downtown. She died on Dec. 6 at the age of 91, leaving behind a legacy of community service in the city.

TAMPA WOMAN DIES AFTER ELECTRIC RAZOR SCOOTER STRUCK FROM BEHIND IN TOWN 'N COUNTRY

A Tampa woman was killed Christmas night when her scooter, which did not have rear lights, was struck from behind in Town 'N Country. According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, 20-year-old Isabel Alarcon Mateus was riding a Razor electric scooter southbound in the inside lane on Sheldon Road, near W Hamilton Avenue, around 11:30 p.m. when she was struck by a southbound 2003 Pontiac Vibe driven by 47-year-old Brian Edward Joyner.

RECOUNTS OR NO, U.S. ELECTIONS ARE STILL VULNERABLE TO HACKING

Pennsylvania is one of 11 states where the majority of voters use antiquated machines that store votes electronically, without printed ballots or other paper-based backups that could be used to double-check the balloting, according to the Associated Press. There's almost no way to know if they've accurately recorded individual votes — or if anyone tampered with the count. Paperless digital voting machines, used by roughly 1 in 5 U.S. voters last month, present one of the most glaring dangers to the security of the rickety, underfunded U.S. election system.

FINGER FOOD RECIPES FOR NEW YEAR'S EVE

[EVE EDELHEIT | Times]

A Cranberry Nut Cheese Ball will look elegant on your table. It's easy to make, too.

You're going to need something to soak up all that bubbly, food editor Michelle Stark writes. To pair with the sparkling libations of New Year's Eve, consider these finger foods. They're as simple to eat as they are to make, with hardly a need for utensils.

RESTAURANT REVIEW: PROPER BRINGS MORE BARBECUE, AND OTHER SOUTHERN FARE, TO DOWNTOWN ST. PETERSBURG

Five years ago Stephen Schrutt opened the burger-centric Avenue, his anchor on First Avenue S. Then he turned his sights to Kings Street Food Counter, a hipster-retro diner in the 900 block of Central. Then, several weeks ago, after an epically long renovation, he unveiled Proper Kitchen & Cocktails right next door to the Avenue. And any day he opens Park & Rec in the space that until recently was World of Beer. That's essentially three restaurants in a row, each with its own discrete identity. Check out Laura Reiley's review of his latest venture.

BEST OF 2016: TAMPA BAY'S BEST LOCAL MUSIC, INCLUDING POLYENSO, UNDEROATH, MERCHANDISE AND MORE

Times pop music/culture critic Jay Cridlin is switching things up with his list dedicated to the year in local music. It's far from comprehensive, and it's not a simple best-albums or best-songs list. It's just a compendium of 14 great things about the Tampa Bay music scene, past and present, in 2016. It's a little bit of everything.

News at noon: We help you figure out that Echo you're hearing; a Q&A with a waterboarding expert; don't fault players for skipping bowl games; and a Proper review for latest downtown St. Petersburg dining spot 12/26/16 [Last modified: Monday, December 26, 2016 12:54pm]
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