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Summer is the season of downtime, relaxation and, hopefully, some vacation. NPR is working on a series about how technology has changed our summers. We want to hear your stories about how your vacations have been affected, for better or worse, by tech.

Your responses may be used in an upcoming story, on air or on NPR.org. A producer may reach out to you to follow up on your response, too.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Have you ever noticed something most virtual assistants have in common? They all started out female.

One of the most famous, Amazon's Alexa, got her name because of CEO Jeff Bezos' preference. "The idea was creating the Star Trek computer. The Star Trek computer was a woman," says Alex Spinelli, who ran the team that created the software for Alexa.

Spinelli is now the chief technology officer of LivePerson. His boss, CEO Robert LoCascio, is bothered by that story about Alexa.

Animator, director, screenwriter, producer, songwriter — Rebecca Sugar is a true Renaissance woman.

The 30-year-old Maryland native is the force behind “Steven Universe,” the first Cartoon Network show created independently by a woman. The show is now in its fifth season and has become something of an empire.

Walla Walla County in Washington state might just be the only place on Earth where you have to brake for bees.

"You can see the signs here," says Mike Ingham, as he drives by a 20 mph speed limit sign with a smaller one below stating "Alkali Bee Area."

"There's actually a county ordinance to slow the cars down who go by here, because a speeding car can kill a lot of alkali bees," Ingham says.

This piece combines and updates two posts from spring 2018.

During the summer, it's safe to assume children are using technology more than usual.

There's new evidence to support a decades-old strategy for preventing the tick bites that lead to all sorts of nasty diseases, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

The remedy involves spraying your clothing with permethrin — a pesticide that's chemically similar to extracts of the flowering chrysanthemum plant.

On the floor of a Zen Buddhist worship space in an apartment building in Washington, D.C., about 15 people recently sat on meditation cushions. They chant sutras and meditate, in complete silence, for a full 30 minutes.

And then one of the lay leaders of the All Beings Zen Sangha, or congregation, conducted a "little exercise."

"It's very simple," said Mark Stone. "If you could take out your screens, stay on them for 12 minutes, doing what you usually do."

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Many spiders fly long distances by riding "balloons" of silk, and a new study suggests that they're propelled by more than just the wind.

Electric fields at strengths found in nature can also trigger the spiders' ballooning behavior. And electrostatic forces can lift up the spiders even when the air is still, according to a newly published report in the journal Current Biology.

If you squint, the image above bears a pretty strong resemblance to what you might see at a July 4 fireworks display.

But it's actually, dare we say, far cooler. Or hotter: The image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope is a cluster of "huge, hot" stars called NGC 3603, about 20,000 light years away in the constellation Carina.

Rhino embryos created in a lab are raising hopes that high-tech assisted reproduction may help save the northern white rhino, the most endangered mammal in the world.

Only two of these rhinos are still alive, both females living in a sanctuary in Kenya and protected around the clock by armed guards.

Scientists think they can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by tweaking the food that cows eat. A recent experiment from the University of California, Davis suggests that adding seaweed to cattle feed can dramatically decrease their emissions of the potent gas methane.

You may be just a few hours away from the Fourth of July holiday. Now, may we present to you a video of a bear that is truly channeling the spirit of a mellow summer BBQ.

This encounter happened on Friday afternoon, just as Mark Hough of Altadena, Calif., was settling into a relaxing margarita. Suddenly, a bear appeared in his backyard.

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