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Nebraska outside hitter Annika Albrecht goes up for a kill as Rutgers middle blocker Jasmine Stackhouse (18) and setter Talia Holze (12) attempt a block during the third set Sunday at the Devaney Sports Center. Nebraska won in three sets.

ERIC GREGORY, Journal Star 

Zeman Elementary music teacher Megan O'Brien works with a fifth-grade music class Tuesday morning as they study the ukulele. 

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Ukuleles strum way into LPS classrooms

Move over, recorder — you bastion of fourth-grade instrumental music — there’s a new kid in town who’s hip and cool and the perfect accompaniment for songs from "Moana.”

Associated for many years with Hawaiian culture and stripped of coolness by Tiny Tim, the ukulele has made a comeback.

And in recent years the instrument has found its way into Lincoln Public Schools classrooms, like Megan O’Brien’s.

O'Brien knew she wanted to use ukuleles with students before she’d graduated from college. She and a friend discovered the instrument while at a local music store looking at guitars. The music education majors bought them, learned to play — and quickly realized they would be perfect for the classroom.

Now in her third year at Zeman Elementary, O’Brien got a grant to buy 27 of the instruments halfway through her first year.

All her students learn to play, beginning in kindergarten, when they learn rhythms by strumming their ukuleles. As they get older, they learn chords and songs. They also learn to pick and play melodies.

Photos: Ukuleles at Zeman

By fifth-grade, they’re ukulele virtuosos, like the 20-some students on Tuesday strumming the ukulele and singing a song they wrote about unity — a song littered with C and F chords, and even an appearance of the more difficult D.

“The best part, I think, is it’s just so exciting,” said O’Brien. “(Students) have a quick success rate — they very quickly feel they are good at something. They learn two chords and already they’re singing a whole list of songs.”

And those songs aren't just "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" or "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." There's a little Jason Mraz and, of course, "Moana."

Her friend, who teaches at Huntington Elementary, has also gotten a grant to buy the instruments for her classroom.

Lance Nielsen, music curriculum specialist for the district, said he’s purchased ukuleles for teachers to use in class, and other teachers — like O’Brien — have found grants to purchase them for their classrooms.

He estimated about 200 ukuleles are being used at LPS, in at least 11 schools, though relatively few classrooms have them for all students. They are primarily in elementary and middle schools; at least two middle schools have after-school ukulele clubs.

And it’s not all that uncommon to walk down the halls of a high school and see a student strumming a ukulele by his or her locker, Nielsen said.

“It’s kind of the hip instrument right now,” he said, in part because it’s small and easy to learn.

The ukulele has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in American culture in recent years, after being assigned to oblivion for many years by the advent of rock 'n' roll and Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through The Tulips.”

The diminutive instrument, which looks like a small guitar with four strings, was first introduced to Hawaii by a Portuguese immigrant in the 1800s and enjoyed mass popularity, especially in the 1920s and again in the 1950s.

Beginning in the late 1990s, popular musicians began to rediscover the ukulele, and Hawaiian artists like Israel Kamakawiwio'ole helped the little instrument regain its status as cool.

And they began to find their way into schools.

This fall, LPS invited James Hill — a professional ukulele player from Canada — to work with teachers on how to use the ukulele in the classroom. He also performed for students.

In Canada, the instrument has been a mandatory part of the fourth-grade music curriculum in many schools since the 1970s and Hill co-authored a series of instructional method books.

If you still think fondly of the recorder you got in fourth grade, don’t despair. Nielsen said the ukulele will supplement, not replace, the recorder. The latter, he said, is still a good introduction into woodwind instruments.

The ukulele, like the xylophones used in many classes, is another way to help spark students’ interest in music.

“That’s powerful right there,” Nielsen said. “It’s one of my own personal goals in this position (overseeing music instruction in the district): How can we reach all kids,” he said.

The year after O’Brien introduced ukuleles to her students, they became the hot item on Christmas lists, and some of her students now bring their own to class.

“I think it’s a lifelong instrument,” she said.

ERIC GREGORY, Journal Star 

Zeman Elementary fifth-grader Claire Usher (foreground) and her classmates work with music teacher Megan O'Brien on an original composition Tuesday morning as they study the ukulele. 

Cybercrimes present unique challenges for investigators

ATLANTA — The federal investigators looking into the breach that exposed personal information maintained by the Equifax credit report company are used to dealing with high-profile hacks and the challenges they present.

The U.S. attorney's office and FBI in Atlanta have prosecuted developers and promoters of the SpyEye and Citadel malware toolkits, used to infect computers and steal banking information. They've helped prosecute a hack into Scottrade and ETrade that was part of an identity theft scheme, and aided the international effort that in July shut down AlphaBay, the world's largest online criminal marketplace.

The U.S. Attorney's office has confirmed that, along with the FBI, it is investigating the breach at Atlanta-based Equifax, which the company said lasted from mid-May to July and exposed the data of 145 million Americans. Neither agency would discuss Equifax, but the leaders of their cybercrime teams shared insights about the difficulties of cybercrime cases.

"They are challenging, and the success stories are rare," said prosecutor Steven Grimberg, who leads the Atlanta U.S. attorney's office cybercrime unit, created last year to fight the growing threat. For every conviction there may be 10 times as many that don't end successfully, he said.

Atlanta has become a hub for cybercrime prosecution in large part because of a proactive and aggressive local FBI team, and because U.S. attorneys have committed the necessary resources in recent years, Grimberg said.

Who's behind the keyboard?

Identifying who's responsible is a key difficulty: Cybercriminals use aliases and operate on the dark web, in corners of the internet reached using special software, where access is invite-only.

Investigators have infiltrated some of these online forums and can sometimes engage cybercriminals there, said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Chad Hunt, who oversees one of FBI Atlanta's cyber investigation squads. Once they obtain some information, they can use search warrants to get other data, such as business records or credit card transactions, to match the online alias to a real person.

Even extremely sophisticated cybercriminals sometimes slip up or collaborate with someone who's less careful, Hunt said.

Uncooperative foreign governments

Even when a cybercriminal's identity is pinpointed, arrests can take time. Many operate in countries that won't extradite to the U.S. But the FBI continues monitoring these suspects and can catch them if they travel, said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Ricardo Grave de Peralta, who oversees the Atlanta office's cyber investigation squads.

"A lot of these people are in places that aren't so great and they like to go on vacation, and we're happy to meet them in a third location and perhaps bring them to a second vacation here in the United States, all expenses paid," he said with a smile.

Even with friendly foreign governments, extraditions can take time: Often, the merits of a case essentially are litigated in the process, so that authorities in the other country are satisfied the incriminating evidence is solid, Grimberg said.

Deals and cooperation

Once confronted with evidence against them, some cybercriminals decide to plead guilty and work with prosecutors instead of going to trial.

Their language skills, technical expertise and ability to communicate on online forums and sites open exclusively to cybercriminals make their cooperation invaluable, sometimes leading directly to new prosecutions, Grimberg said.

The government is committed to being as transparent as possible about that cooperation, especially when people get lighter sentences as a result, Grimberg said.

Meaningful sentences

Prosecutors said the SpyEye malware caused close to $1 billion and Citadel more than $500 million in harm to individuals and financial institutions worldwide.

Because the scope of harm can be huge, federal sentencing guidelines often allow for a life-in-prison sentence.

Prosecutors ask for sentences tough enough to send a warning to others, and to discourage the person from returning to cybercrime when they get out. But because cybercriminals frequently are young, have no criminal history and the crimes aren't violent, prosecutors rarely ask for life, Grimberg said.

One hacker involved in SpyEye's development got nine-plus years in prison while another got 15 when sentenced last year, and a Citadel developer got five in July. They weren't ordered to reimburse victims.

That highlights another challenge: Despite financial losses, prosecutors frequently ask judges to find that it is impractical or overly cumbersome to impose restitution. Tracing the affected IP addresses to identify possible victims would be difficult, Grimberg said, and U.S. authorities can't force them to pay once they return to their home countries.

Working with the private sector

Investigators and prosecutors in Atlanta work to establish relationships with companies before anything bad happens, which can make them more comfortable if there is a problem. But companies may hesitate to contact law enforcement because they worry about reputational damage, actions from civil authorities, lawsuits and the exposure of trade secrets or sensitive information.

The former head of Equifax told members of Congress last month that the company was cooperating with the FBI and state agencies, but Equifax has suffered at least some of these consequences after failing to repair a known security weakness for months this year.

His Asia trip winding down, Trump meets with allies

MANILA, Philippines — President Donald Trump is winding down his lengthy Asia trip with an international summit and a trio of meetings with Pacific Rim allies, including his host in the Philippines who is overseeing a bloody drug war.

Trump, in Manila, attended the opening ceremonies of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations conference, which began with pageantry, including a group photo of the leaders and the summit's traditional handshake. That cross-body shake, during which each leader shakes the opposite hands of those next to him, briefly baffled Trump, who then laughed as he figured out where to place his arms.

One of the leaders on his flank: with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has overseen a bloody drug war that has featured extrajudicial killings. The two men also are slated to hold longer, formal talks later today and White House aides signaled that Trump is not expected to publicly bring up human rights in their discussions.

Trump also will meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, which plays a key role in the U.S. vision of an Indo-Pacific region that attempts to de-emphasize China's influence. And he will meet with Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull, with whom he had a contentious phone call this spring.

Trump's discussions will largely center on trade and North Korea but he remains dogged by things he has said, and not said, about Russia.

He tried to have it both ways on the issue of Russian interference in last year's presidential race, saying he believes both the U.S. intelligence agencies when they say Russia meddled and Putin's sincerity in claiming that his country did not.

"I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election," Trump said Sunday in Hanoi, Vietnam.

"As to whether I believe it, I'm with our agencies," Trump said. "As currently led by fine people, I believe very much in our intelligence agencies."

But just a day earlier, he had lashed out at the former heads of the U.S. intelligence agencies, dismissing them as "political hacks" and claiming there were plenty of reasons to be suspicious of their findings that Russia meddled to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Former CIA director John Brennan, appearing Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" with former national intelligence director James Clapper, said Trump was deriding them in an attempt to "delegitimize" the intelligence community's assessment.

"I think Mr. Putin is very clever in terms of playing to Mr. Trump's interest in being flattered. And also I think Mr. Trump is, for whatever reason, either intimidated by Mr. Putin, afraid of what he could do or what might come out as a result of these investigations," Brennan said.

Clapper called the threat from Russia "manifest and obvious."

"To try to paint it in any other way is, I think, astounding and, in fact, poses a peril to this country," he said on CNN.

Brennan said Trump's ambiguity on Russia's involvement was "very, very worrisome from a national security standpoint."

"I think he's giving Putin a pass and I think it demonstrates to Putin that Donald Trump can be played by foreign leaders who are going to appeal to his ego and play upon his insecurities," Brennan said.

Questions about whether Trump believes the assessment about Russian election-meddling have trailed him since January, when he said for the first time, shortly before taking office, that he accepted that Russia was behind the election-year hacking of Democrats that roiled the White House race.

A special counsel's examination of potential collusion between Moscow and Trump campaign aides so far has led to indictments against Trump's former campaign chairman and another top aide for crimes unrelated to the campaign, and a guilty plea from a Trump foreign policy adviser for lying to the FBI.

Multiple congressional committees also are investigating.

Trump told reporters traveling with him to Hanoi on Saturday that Putin had again vehemently denied the allegations. The two spoke during an economic conference in Danang, Vietnam. Trump danced around questions about whether he believed Putin but stressed Putin's denials.

"Every time he sees me, he says: 'I didn't do that.' And I believe — I really believe — that when he tells me that, he means it," Trump said, arguing that it makes no sense for him to belabor the issue when Russia could help the U.S. on North Korea, Syria and other issues.

Trump originally was slated to depart Manila for Washington today. He added a day to the schedule amid criticism that he would have missed the final summit.