Deputy PM: Luxembourg’s Space Mining Mission Begins Tuesday

When Luxembourg’s new law governing space mining comes into force on Tuesday, the country will already be working to make the science-fiction-sounding mission a reality, the deputy prime minister said.

The legislation will make Luxembourg the first country in Europe to offer a legal framework to ensure that private operators can be confident about their rights over resources they extract in space.

The law is based on the premise that space resources are capable of being owned by individuals and private companies and establishes the procedures for authorizing and supervising space exploration missions.

“When I launched the initiative a year ago, people thought I was mad,” Etienne Schneider told Reuters.

“But for us, we see it as a business that has return on investment in the short-term, the medium-term, and the long-term,” said Schneider, who is also Luxembourg’s economy minister.

Luxembourg in June 2016 set aside 200 million euros ($229 million) to fund initiatives aimed at bringing back rare minerals from space.

While that goal is at least 15 years off, new technologies are already creating markets that space mining could supply, said Schneider.

He said firms could soon make carrying materials to refuel or repair satellites economically feasible or supply raw materials to the 3-D printers now being tested on the International Space Station.

Lifting each kilogram of mass from Earth to orbit costs between 10,000 and 15,000 euros ($11,000 to $18,000), according to Schneider, but firms could cut these costs by recycling the debris of old satellites and rocket parts floating in space.

The small European country, best known for its fund management and private banking sector, will on Tuesday begin the work of making such deals, with the security of a legal framework in place, said Schneider.

Luxembourg has already managed to attract significant interest from pioneers in the field such as U.S. operators Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, and aims to attract research and development projects to set up there.

A similar package of laws was introduced in the United States in 2015 but only applies to companies majority owned by Americans, while Luxembourg’s laws will only require the company to have an office in the country.

“I am already in discussions with fund owners for more than 1 billion euros which they want to dedicate to space exploration over here in Luxembourg,” Schneider said. “In 10 years, I’m quite sure that the official language in space will be Luxembourgish.”


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Chemical Industry and US Call for Global Culture of Chemical Security

Securing petrochemical plants and keeping chemicals out of the hands of terrorists were the topics of discussion at a recent Chemical Sector Security Summit in Houston, Texas. Security experts say the countries that are producing chemicals are shifting and that is one of many reasons developed and developing nations need to share best security practices. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee reports from Houston, a petrochemical hub in the United States.


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Crocodile Industry Hopes to Boost Australia Aboriginal Communities

The crocodile industry in Australia’s Northern Territory, a new report says, is worth more than four times the previous estimate of US $80 million. Officials hope the findings will give poorer aboriginal communities the chance to develop crocodile farming industries.

The saltwater creature is the world’s largest reptile. In Australia, they were once hunted to the brink of extinction, mainly for their skins, which were used to make durable leather goods and clothes.

They have been a protected species since the early 1970s, and their numbers in Australia’s tropical north have soared.

Economic opportunities

The Northern Territory regional government now sees economic opportunities for indigenous communities, where officials want to see an expansion of crocodile egg collection programs.

The eggs would help to stock crocodile farms owned by aboriginal groups, or traditional owners of land, which would supply reptile skins to big fashion houses including Louis Vuitton and Gucci, as well as supplying crocodile meat.

“We are looking at direct investments into rangers to make sure that we see on country a growth in the crocodile industry, so the harvesting of eggs, the growing of the crocodile locally and remotely, which is a very important and valuable use of traditional country done by traditional owners,” said Michael Gunner, the Northern Territory’s chief minister.

Hunting for sport?

An independent Australian MP, Bob Katter, has said that as crocodile numbers increase, so does the threat to people. He believes big game trophy hunters should be allowed to shoot them for sport. Katter has argued that crocodile safaris would boost the incomes of indigenous communities.

While the Northern Territory government supports crocodile safaris, the final decision rests with Australia’s federal government, which has refused to allow them. Conservationists have insisted that the shooting of iconic animals for profit in Australia is abhorrent and should never be allowed.


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Apple Accused of Bowing to Chinese Censors

Apple, Inc. has confirmed that it is removing some applications providing virtual personal networks, or VPNs, from its China App Store, to comply with new Chinese regulations — a move critics say is capitulating to internet censorship.

Apple confirmed the move in an email to National Public Radio on Saturday, after several VPN providers announced that their apps had been removed from the China App Store.

Software made outside China can sometimes be used to get around China’s domestic internet firewalls that block content that the government finds objectionable. Critics call China’s “great firewall” one of the world’s most advanced censorship systems.

VPN apps pulled

“Earlier this year,” Apple said, “China’s MIIT [Ministry of Industry and Information Technology] announced that all developers offering VPNs must obtain a license from the government. We have been required to remove some VPN apps in China that do not meet the new regulations.”

App maker Express VPN said in a blog post that its app was removed from the China Apple Store, and it noted that “preliminary research indicates that all major VPN apps for iOS [Apple operating systems] have been removed.”

The statement continued, “We’re disappointed in this development, as it represents the most drastic measure the Chinese government has taken to block the use of VPNs to date, and we are troubled to see Apple aiding China’s censorship efforts.”

Another company, Star VPN, also announced it had been contacted by Apple with the same notice.

China successful

Golden Frog, a company that makes security software, told the New York Times that its app also had been taken down from the China App Store.

“We gladly filed an amicus brief in support of Apple and their backdoor encryption battle with the FBI, so we are extremely disappointed that Apple has bowed to pressure from China to remove VPN apps without citing any Chinese law or regulation that makes VPN illegal,” said Sunday Yokubaitis, president of the company.

The Times reports that this is the first time China has successfully used its influence with a major foreign technology platform such as Apple, to flex its muscle with software makers.

China is Apple’s largest market outside the United States.


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Silicon Valley’s Hot Café: Where Digirati Pitch Ideas Over Venezuelan Coffee

Silicon Valley is the tech industry’s epicenter, but what is the epicenter of Silicon Valley?

It might just be Coupa Café in downtown Palo Alto, Calif.

For the tech community, this café is a meeting place of the who’s who of Silicon Valley, where the likes of the late Steve Jobs of Apple, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google co-founder Sergey Brin have all been spotted. Up-and-coming startup founders are able to buy their lattes with the digital currency Bitcoin before their pitch sessions with leading industry venture capitalists.

The café is so well known among techies that a cup with the Coupa logo was featured as a prop in the 2010 film The Social Network.

“I remember seeing Mark Zuckerberg sitting here and having meetings and people coming up,” said Eric Sokol, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University.

While Silicon Valley is famous for companies such as Facebook, Twitter and other billion-dollar empires built in cyberspace, some folks in the valley still believe real-world human connections can make a difference.

Making connections

Just from frequenting the café, Sokol says, he became an adviser to a health care related startup and a new venture capitalist fund. Both came about when other patrons at the café overheard conversations he was having, he said.

That’s the kind of “crazy nest of connections” that can occur at Coupa, he said.

The Venezuelan-born Jean Paul Coupal founded the café with his mother and sister in 2004 with the hopes of bringing a bit of his homeland to Silicon Valley — Venezuelan coffee, crepes and Venezuelan arepas. The family puts its touch on all aspects of the business — Coupal’s sister and mother personally painted each of the eight cafés.

While the beautifully decorated walls and rich cuisine may be what initially attracted the tech community, the café’s tech focus has kept it in the vanguard of this café-saturated region.

In 2013, Coupa Cafe began accepting Bitcoins, a digital payment system, allowing customers to pay for their lattes and arepas with the currency.

“We want to be part of the technology,” Coupal said.

The pre-office

And there’s another perk: The café allows patrons to stay all day, which makes it attractive for entrepreneurs who are in the pre-office-space stage.

“A lot of the startups in the area come and they like to work at Coupa, coding all day,” Coupal said. “We’ve seen a lot of products that got developed at Coupa.”

With Stanford and other colleges nearby, the possibility of a life-changing chance encounter is not lost on local students interested in tech.

“I am currently teaching myself JavaScript here at Coupa right now,” said Katie Kennedy, a local community college student. “If someone happened to look over my shoulder and saw what I was doing, I would definitely not say no to any help.”

Now, there are eight Coupa Cafe locations. This one, the original on Ramona Street, is in a building from the 1930s.

“The food’s good, the coffee’s good,” Sokol said. “I wish I had stock, but I don’t in Coupa. And I don’t know, it just has the right atmosphere, the right mix of people. It’s got an energy about it, I guess.”

Cafe Coupa shows that being at the right place at the right time can change a café’s fate as much as a techie’s life.


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Silicon Valley’s Hot Cafe: Where Digirati Pitch Ideas Over Venezuelan Coffee

There’s a café in the heart of Silicon Valley where the biggest names in tech are known to take their lattes, attracting startup founders who frantically make their pitches to the venture capitalists holding court at the wooden tables. Coupa Café in Palo Alto, California, has a certain electric buzz, as Deana Mitchell reports.


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Mainstream Model 3 Could Make or Break Tesla Dreams

For Tesla, everything is riding on the Model 3.

The electric car company’s newest vehicle was delivered to its first 30 customers, all Tesla employees, Friday evening. Its $35,000 starting price, half the cost of Tesla’s previous models, and range of up to 310 miles (498 km) could bring hundreds of thousands of customers into the automaker’s fold, taking it from a niche luxury brand to the mainstream. Around 500,000 people worldwide have reserved a Model 3.

Those higher sales could finally make Tesla profitable and accelerate its plans for future products like SUVs and pickups.

Or the Model 3 could dash Tesla’s dreams.

Much could go wrong

Potential customers could lose faith if Tesla doesn’t meet its aggressive production schedule, or if the cars have quality problems that strain Tesla’s small service network. 

The compact Model 3 may not entice a global market that’s increasingly shifting to SUVs, including all-electric SUVs from Audi and others going on sale soon. And a fully loaded Model 3 with 310 miles of range costs a hefty $59,500; the base model goes 220 miles (322 km) on a charge.

Limits on the $7,500 U.S. tax credit for electric cars could also hurt demand. Once an automaker sells 200,000 electric cars in the U.S., the credit phases out. Tesla has sold more than 126,000 vehicles since 2008, according to estimates by WardsAuto, so not everyone who buys a Model 3 will be eligible.

“There are more reasons to think that it won’t be successful than it will,” says Karl Brauer, the executive publisher for Cox Automotive, which owns Autotrader and other car buying sites.

Always part of Tesla plans

The Model 3 has long been part of Palo Alto, California-based Tesla’s plans. In 2006, three years after the company was founded, CEO Elon Musk said Tesla would eventually build “affordably priced family cars” after establishing itself with high-end vehicles like the Model S, which starts at $69,500. This will be the first time many Tesla workers will be able to afford a Tesla.

“It was never our goal to make expensive cars. We wanted to make a car everyone could buy,” Musk said Friday. “If you’re trying to make a difference in the world, you also need to make cars people can afford.”

Tesla started taking reservations for the Model 3 in March 2016. Musk said more than 500,000 people have put down a $1,000 deposit for the car. People ordering a car now likely won’t get it until late 2018. Cars will go first to employees and customers on the West Coast; overseas deliveries start late next year, and right-hand drive versions come in 2019.

Challenges to deliver

But carmaking has proved a challenge to Musk. Both the Model S and the Model X SUV were delayed and then plagued with pesky problems, like doors that don’t work and blank screens in their high-tech dashboards.

Tesla’s luxury car owners might overlook those problems because they liked the thrill of being early adopters. But mainstream buyers will be less forgiving.

“This will be their primary vehicle, so they will have high expectations of quality and durability and expect everything to work every time,” said Sam Abuelsamid, a senior researcher with Navigant Research.

The Model 3 was designed to be much simpler and cheaper to make than Tesla’s previous vehicles. It has one dashboard screen, not two, and no fancy door handles. It’s made primarily of steel, not aluminum. It has no instrument panel; the speed limit and other information normally there can be found on the center screen. It doesn’t even have a key fob; drivers can open and lock the car with a smartphone or a credit cardlike key.

‘Manufacturing hell’

Still, Musk said he’s expecting “at least six months of manufacturing hell” as the Model 3 ramps up to full production. Musk wants to be making 20,000 Model 3s per month by December at the carmaker’s Fremont factory.

Musk aims to make 500,000 vehicles next year, a number that could help Tesla finally make money. The company has only had two profitable quarters since it went public in 2010. But even at that pace, Tesla will remain a small player. Toyota Motor Corp. made more than 10 million vehicles last year.

Abuelsamid said even if it doesn’t meet its ambitious targets, Tesla has done more than anyone to promote electric vehicles.

“A decade ago they were a little more than golf carts. Now all of a sudden, EVs are real, practical vehicles that can be used for anything,” he said.


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Chemical Industry and U.S. Call for Global Culture of Chemical Security

Securing petrochemical plants and keeping chemicals out of the hands of terrorists were the topics of discussion at a recent Chemical Sector Security Summit in Houston, Texas. Security experts say the countries that are producing chemicals are shifting and that is one of many reasons developed and developing nations need to share best security practices. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee reports from Houston, a petrochemical hub in the United States.


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Hackers Scour Voting Machines for Election Bugs

Hackers attending this weekend’s Def Con hacking convention in Las Vegas were invited to break into voting machines and voter databases in a bid to uncover vulnerabilities that could be exploited to sway election results.

The 25-year-old conference’s first “hacker voting village” opened on Friday as part of an effort to raise awareness about the threat of election results being altered through hacking.

Hackers crammed into a crowded conference room for the rare opportunity to examine and attempt to hack some 30 pieces of election equipment, much of it purchased over eBay, including some voting machines and digital voter registries that are currently in use.

Showdown between hackers

“We encourage you to do stuff that if you did on election day they would probably arrest you,” said Johns Hopkins computer scientist Matt Blaze, who organized the segment in a conference room at the Caesar’s Palace convention center.

The exercise featured a “cyber range” simulator where blue teams were tasked with defending a mock local election system from red team hackers.

Concerns about election hacking have surged since U.S. intelligence agencies claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hacking of Democratic Party emails to help Republican Donald Trump win the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Russians targeted 21 state elections

A Department of Homeland Security official told Congress in June that Russian hackers had targeted 21 U.S. state election systems in the 2016 presidential race and a small number were breached, but there was no evidence that any votes had been manipulated.

Russia has denied the accusations.

Jake Braun, another organizer, said he believed the hacker voting village would convince participants that hacking could be used to sway an election.

“There’s been a lot of claims that our election system is unhackable. That’s BS,” said Braun. “Only a fool or liar would try to claim that their database or machine was unhackable.”

Call for paper ballots

Barbara Simons, president of advocacy group Verified Voting, said she expects Russia to try to influence the U.S. 2018 midterm election and 2020 elections. To counter such threats, she called for requiring use of paper ballots and mandatory auditing computers to count them.

More than 20,000 people were expected to attend the three-day Def Con convention.

The hacker voting village was one of about a dozen interactive areas where participants could study and practice hacking in fields such as automobiles, cryptology and healthcare.

 


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Honolulu Targets ‘Smartphone Zombies’ With Crosswalk Ban

A ban on pedestrians looking at mobile phones or texting while crossing the street will take effect in Hawaii’s largest city in late October, as Honolulu becomes the first major U.S. city to pass legislation aimed at reducing injuries and deaths from “distracted walking.”

The ban comes as cities around the world grapple with how to protect “smartphone zombies” from injuring themselves by stepping into traffic or running into stationary objects.

Starting October 25, a Honolulu pedestrian can be fined between $15 and $99, depending on the number of times police catch him looking at a phone or tablet device as he crosses a street, Mayor Kirk Caldwell told reporters gathered near one of the city’s busiest downtown intersections Thursday.

“We hold the unfortunate distinction of being a major city with more pedestrians being hit in crosswalks, particularly our seniors, than almost any other city in the county,” Caldwell said. Honolulu data on distracted-walking incidents were not immediately available.

Caldwell signed the legislation Thursday after it was passed in a 7-2 vote by the City Council earlier this month, city records show.

People making calls for emergency services are exempt from the ban.

Injury toll

More than 11,000 injuries resulted from phone-related distraction while walking in the United States between 2000 and 2011, according to a University of Maryland study published in 2015.

The findings pushed the nonprofit National Safety Council to add “distracted walking” to its annual compilation of the biggest risks for unintentional injuries and deaths in the United States, highlighting the severity of the issue.

“Cellphones are not just pervading our roadways but pervading our sidewalks, too,” Maureen Vogel, a spokeswoman for the council, said in a phone interview on Friday.

Efforts to save pedestrians from their phones extend beyond America’s shores. London has experimented with padding lamp posts to soften the blow for distracted walkers, according to the Independent newspaper.

In Germany, the city of Augsburg last year embedded traffic signals into the ground near tram tracks to help downward-fixated pedestrians avoid injury, local media reported.

Opponents of the Honolulu law argued it infringes on personal freedom and amounts to government overreach.

“Scrap this intrusive bill, provide more education to citizens about responsible electronics usage, and allow law enforcement to focus on larger issues,” resident Ben Robinson told the City Council in written testimony.


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