World’s First Commercial 3D-Printed Concrete Homes Planned

The world will soon have its first batch of commercially available 3D-printed concrete homes. A consortium of the Dutch municipality of Eindhoven, Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), and three private firms has joined forces to build five of these unique homes in the hub city of Eindhoven in the Netherlands. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more.


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Tesla’s Slow Disclosure Raises Governance, Social Media Concerns

Tesla’s handling of Chief Executive Elon Musk’s proposal to take the carmaker private and its failure to promptly file a formal disclosure has raised governance concerns and sparked questions about how companies use social media.

Musk stunned investors last Tuesday by announcing on Twitter that he was considering taking Tesla private in a potential $72 billion transaction and that “funding” had been “secured.”

Tesla’s shares closed up 11 percent before retrenching after the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had asked Tesla why Musk announced his plans on Twitter and whether his statement was truthful.

Musk provided no details of his funding until Monday, when he said in a blog on Tesla’s website that he was in discussions with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and other potential backers but that financing was not yet nailed down.

Musk said his tweet and blogs were issued in his personal capacity as a private bidder for Tesla’s stock. A Tesla spokesman pointed Reuters to Musk’s blog in response to a request for comment.

Putting aside whether Musk misled anyone, the unorthodox manner in which he announced the news and Tesla’s failure to promptly clarify the situation with a regulatory filing is a corporate governance lapse that raises questions about how companies use social media to release market-moving news, securities lawyers said.

“Management buyouts or other take-private transactions already suffer from serious information asymmetry between management and public shareholders,” said Gabriel Rauterberg, a University of Michigan law professor.

SEC rules typically require companies to file an 8-K form within four business days of a significant corporate event.

While several securities lawyers said Musk’s tweets alone did not trigger this obligation, such a filing would be prudent given the unusual circumstances, David Axelrod, a partner at law firm Ballard Spahr LLP, said.

“An 8-K would provide some more details, it would say what stage negotiations are in, and provide more information than 53 characters in a tweet,” he added.

Full and fair disclosure

SEC guidelines published in 2013 allow companies and their executives to use social media to distribute material information, provided investors have been alerted that this is a possibility. Tesla did this in a 2013 filing.

But such disclosures have to be full and fair, meaning the information is complete and accessible by all investors at the same time, a bar that Musk’s tweets may not have met.

“Twitter is not designed to provide full and fair disclosure. That doesn’t mean that you couldn’t, but in a series of 20 to 30 characters I’m not sure you’re getting full disclosure,” said Zachary Fallon, a former SEC attorney and principal at law firm Blakemore Fallon.

The SEC declined to comment Monday.

Securities lawyers said there was also a question mark over whether Musk selectively disclosed information on the possible terms of the deal when he subsequently replied to followers, two of whom claim in their handles to be investors.

Those tweets were not immediately visible to all followers of Musk’s main feed until he retweeted them.

History of Twitter use

The 47-year-old billionaire’s history of joking about Tesla and using twitter to bait his critics also appears to have undermined trust in Musk’s feed as a reliable source of company information, with many investors initially believing Tuesday’s tweet was a prank.

In his blog, Musk said he made the announcement on Twitter to ensure all investors were aware of his plan before speaking with the company’s largest shareholders.

But his claim to have done so as a private person presents a potential conflict of interest, said Nimish Patel, a lawyer with Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp.

“If you’re speaking on behalf of the company using resources like Twitter and the company website, while at the same time saying you’re a private individual expressing your own personal views, you are being inconsistent and creating confusion for investors. And when there’s confusion, the SEC is likely going to get involved,” he added.


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How to Find and Delete Where Google Knows You’ve Been

Even if you have “Location History” off, Google often stores your precise location. Here’s how to delete those markers and some best-effort practices that keep your location as private as possible.

But there’s no panacea, because simply connecting to the internet on any device flags an IP address that can be geographically mapped. Smartphones also connect to cell towers, so your carrier knows your general location at all times.

To prevent further tracking

For any device:

Fire up your browser and go to myactivity.google.com. (You’ll need to be logged into Google) On the upper left drop-down menu, go to “Activity Controls.” Turn off both “Web & App Activity” and “Location History.” That should prevent precise location markers from being stored to your Google account.

Google will warn you that some of its services won’t work as well with these settings off. In particular, neither the Google Assistant, a digital concierge, nor the Google Home smart speaker will be particularly useful.

On iOS:

If you use Google Maps, adjust your location setting to “While Using” the app; this will prevent the app from accessing your location when it’s not active. Go to Settings Privacy Location Services and from there select Google Maps to make the adjustment.

In the Safari web browser, consider using a search engine other than Google. Under Settings Safari Search Engine, you can find other options like Bing or DuckDuckGo. You can turn location off while browsing by going to Settings Privacy Location Services Safari Websites, and turn this to “Never.” (This still won’t prevent advertisers from knowing your rough location based on IP address on any website).

You can also turn Location Services off to the device almost completely from Settings Privacy Location Services. Both Google Maps and Apple Maps will still work, but they won’t know where you are on the map and won’t be able to give you directions. Emergency responders will still be able to find you if the need arises.

On Android:

Under the main settings icon click on “Security & location.” Scroll down to the “Privacy” heading. Tap “Location.” You can toggle it off for the entire device.

Use “App-level permissions” to turn off access to various apps. Unlike the iPhone, there is no setting for “While Using.” You cannot turn off Google Play services, which supplies your location to other apps if you leave that service on.

Sign in as a “guest” on your Android device by swiping down from top and tapping the downward-facing caret, then again on the torso icon. Be aware of which services you sign in on, like Chrome.

You can also change search engines even in Chrome.

To delete past location tracking:

For any device:

On the page myactivity.google.com, look for any entry that has a location pin icon beside the word “details.” Clicking on that pops up a window that includes a link that sometimes says “From your current location.” Clicking on it will open Google Maps, which will display where you were at the time.

You can delete it from this popup by clicking on the navigation icon with the three stacked dots and then “Delete.”

Some items will be grouped in unexpected places, such as topic names, google.com, Search, or Maps. You have to delete them item by item. You can wholesale delete all items in date ranges or by service, but will end up taking out more than just location markers.

 


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‘Everybody Should See This’: Perseids Light up Bosnian Sky

A meteor shower lit up the skies above eastern Bosnia Saturday night, giving star gazers a rare opportunity to see a display of shooting stars with the naked eye.

“I think that everybody should see this,” said Miralem Mehic, a Bosnian from an international group of star gazers who watched the light show at the Sand Pyramids, an area of naturally occurring sand columns, near the town of Foca.

The so-called Perseids meteor shower returns to the skies every August and are best viewed in the northern hemisphere in isolated areas where there is little light pollution.

They arise when the Earth passes through the debris of Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1862.

Meteors are parts of rock and dust that hit the Earth’s atmosphere, heat up and glow. Most vaporize as they descend, but some explode.

“This year the moon is young and will not obstruct the vision, so we will be able to see 100 ‘shooting stars’ an hour,” Muhamed Muminovic, a member of the Sarajevo Orion astrological society, told Reuters.


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NASA Sends Parker Solar Probe to ‘Go Touch the Sun’

A NASA spacecraft rocketed toward the sun Sunday on an unprecedented quest to get closer to our star than anything ever sent before.

The Parker Solar Probe will fly straight through the wispy edges of the corona, or outer solar atmosphere, that was visible during last August’s total solar eclipse. It eventually will get within 3.8 million (6 million kilometers) of the sun’s surface, staying comfortably cool despite the extreme heat and radiation, and allowing scientists to vicariously explore the sun in a way never before possible.

No wonder scientists consider it the coolest, hottest mission under the sun, and what better day to launch to the sun than Sunday as NASA noted.

“Fly baby girl, fly!!” project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University tweeted just before liftoff. She urged it to “go touch the sun!”

Protected by a revolutionary new carbon heat shield and other high-tech wonders, the spacecraft will zip past Venus in October. That will set up the first solar encounter in November. Altogether, the Parker probe will make 24 close approaches to the sun on the seven-year, $1.5 billion undertaking.

​Parker watches namesake go

For the second straight day, thousands of spectators jammed the launch site in the middle of the night as well as surrounding towns, including 91-year-old astrophysicist Eugene Parker for whom the spacecraft is named. He proposed the existence of solar wind, a steady, supersonic stream of particles blasting off the sun, 60 years ago.

“All I can say is, ‘Wow, here we go.’ We’re in for some learning over the next several years,”  Parker said.

It was the first time NASA named a spacecraft after someone still alive, and Parker wasn’t about to let it take off without him. Saturday morning’s launch attempt was foiled by last-minute technical trouble.

“I’m just so glad to be here with him,” said NASA’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen. “Frankly, there’s no other name that belongs on this mission.”

The Delta IV Heavy rocket thundered into the pre-dawn darkness, thrilling onlookers for miles around. NASA needed the mighty 23-story rocket, plus a third stage, to get the diminutive Parker probe, the size of a small car and well under a ton, racing toward the sun.

From Earth, it is 93 million miles to the sun (150 million kilometers), and the Parker probe will be within 4 percent of that distance. That will be seven times closer than previous spacecraft.​

Speed record on agenda

Parker will start shattering records this fall.On its very first brush with the sun, it will come within 15.5 million miles (25 million kilometers), easily beating the current record set by NASA’s Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976. By the time Parker gets to its 22nd orbit of the sun, it will be even deeper into the corona and traveling at a record-breaking 430,000 mph (690,000 kilometers per hour).

Nothing from Planet Earth has ever hit that kind of speed.

Even Fox has difficulty comprehending the mission’s derring-do.

“To me, it’s still mind-blowing,” she said. “Even I still go, ‘Really? We’re doing that?’”

Zurbuchen considers the sun the most important star in our universe — it’s ours, after all — and so this is one of NASA’s big-time strategic missions. By better understanding the sun’s life-giving and sometimes violent nature, Earthlings can better protect satellites and astronauts in orbit, and power grids on the ground, he noted. In today’s tech-dependent society, everyone stands to benefit.

With this mission, scientists hope to unlock the many mysteries of the sun, a commonplace yellow dwarf star around 4.5 billion years old. Among the puzzlers: Why is the corona hundreds of times hotter than the surface of the sun and why is the sun’s atmosphere continually expanding and accelerating, as the University of Chicago’s Parker accurately predicted in 1958?

“The only way we can do that is to finally go up and touch the sun,” Fox said. “We’ve looked at it. We’ve studied it from missions that are close in, even as close as the planet Mercury. But we have to go there.”

The spacecraft’s heat shield will serve as an umbrella, shading the science instruments during the close, critical solar junctures. Sensors on the spacecraft will make certain the heat shield faces the sun at the right times. If there’s any tilting, the spacecraft will correct itself so nothing gets fried. With a communication lag time of 16 minutes each way, the spacecraft must fend for itself at the sun. The Johns Hopkins flight controllers in Laurel, Maryland, will be too far away to help.

​Technology catches up to the dream

A mission to get close up and personal with our star has been on NASA’s books since 1958. The trick was making the spacecraft small, compact and light enough to travel at incredible speeds, while surviving the sun’s punishing environment and the extreme change in temperature when the spacecraft is out near Venus.

“We’ve had to wait so long for our technology to catch up with our dreams,” Fox said. “It’s incredible to be standing here today.”

More than 1 million names are aboard the spacecraft, submitted last spring by space enthusiasts, as well as photos of Parker, the man, and a copy of his 1958 landmark paper on solar wind.

“I’ll bet you 10 bucks it works,” Parker said.


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Samsung’s New Phone Shows How Hardware Innovation Has Slowed

Samsung’s new smartphone illustrates the limits of innovation at time when hardware advances have slowed.

The new phone, the Galaxy Note 9, will be faster and will last longer without a recharge. But while earth-shattering new features are in short supply, it will carry an earth-shattering price tag: $1,000.

The minor improvements reflect a smartphone industry that has largely pushed the limits on hardware. Major changes tend to come every few years rather than annually, and this isn’t the year for anything revolutionary in the Note.

The new phone will get some automatic photo editing and a stylus that can serve as a remote control. But the highlights will be a bigger battery, a faster processor and improved cellular speeds.

“You don’t see massive breakthroughs anymore from a hardware perspective,” said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Creative Strategies. “Everything is a little bit better, but nothing’s revolutionary.”

A 21 percent boost in battery capacity from last year’s Note 8 should translate to more than a day of normal use without a recharge. Samsung has been conservative on battery improvements ever since its Note 7 phone in 2016 developed a tendency to burst into flame, prompting an expensive recall and delivering a hit to the company’s reputation.

Since then, Samsung has subjected its phones to multiple inspections, including X-rays and stress tests at extreme temperatures. The company is also sending phones to outside labs, including UL, for independent safety tests.

“We’re three generations removed now,” Samsung’s director of U.S. product marketing, Suzanne De Silva, said of the company’s renewed confidence in the battery. “This is the right innovation at the right time.”

Although Samsung’s Note phones are large, niche products intended for power users, they offer a preview of what’s to come in the mass-market Galaxy S line. A dual-lens camera, with better zooming, came to the Note 8 months before the S9 Plus got it, for instance. The Note also got curved edges before that became standard on Samsung’s flagship phones.

The new phones will come out Aug. 24 in the U.S. Borrowing from the iPhone’s playbook, the Note 9 will have the same price regardless of carrier. The starting price is $1,000, an increase from the Note 8, but on par with Apple’s top-of-the-line iPhone X. The Note 9 will get double the storage, at 128 gigabytes, compared with typical high-end phones, including the iPhone X. Samsung will also sell a 512-gigabyte version for power users for $1,250.

Even though the improvements from last year aren’t huge, Technalysis Research analyst Bob O’Donnell said they will come across as major for those who haven’t upgraded for a few years.

Thursday’s announcement in New York comes about a month before Apple is expected to unveil new iPhones. There’s been speculation — unconfirmed by Apple — that all new iPhones will ditch the home button and fingerprint sensor and rely entirely on facial-recognition technology found in the iPhone X. The Note 9 will still have a fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone. In a jab at Apple, Samsung executives also frequently emphasize that their phones have standard headphone jacks, which newer iPhones no longer do.

The camera in the Note 9 will use artificial intelligence to detect what’s in a scene — whether that’s food, flowers or a sunset — to automatically tweak images to make them pop. It’s much like applying filters with an app, except that the phone will do this itself, much the way Google’s Pixel phones already do.

As with the Pixel, the Note won’t be saving a version without the tweaks. Purists can turn the feature off to get images that reflect what the eye sees — an option unavailable with Pixel. The camera will also offer a warning if someone blinked in a shot, or if the image is blurry.

The Note’s stylus will now have Bluetooth, allowing people to control phones and apps from up to 30 feet away. This will let people control music or snap selfies just by clicking the stylus.

Samsung also said the popular shooter game “Fortnite” is coming to Android and will be exclusive to Samsung phones until Sunday.


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Drones Can Help Farmers Grow Healthier and More Abundant Crops

Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly referred to as drones, can become an important tool for farmers around the world within the next 10 years. Researchers at Texas A&M University in College Station are looking at different applications of precision farming with drone technology. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee has the details.


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Kids + Screen Time = Dry Eyes

If you’ve ever spent a lot of time in front of a computer, you’ve probably come away bleary eyed. That’s because you don’t blink as much when you are working on a computer, which could lead to dry eyes. With the popularity of video games and online activities, dry eye is becoming increasingly common in children and teens glued to their screens. The condition can cause permanent eye damage, but fortunately, as VOA’s Carol Pearson reports, there’s an app for that.


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Tesla Board Evaluating CEO Musk’s Idea to Go Private

Tesla Inc’s board said it was evaluating taking the company private, a day after Chief Executive Elon Musk surprised shareholders with the idea of launching the biggest leveraged buyout of all time.

In a statement on Tesla’s website on Wednesday, six of Tesla’s nine directors said the board had met several times over the last week to discuss such an idea and was “taking the appropriate next steps to evaluate this.”

Musk said on Twitter on Tuesday that he was considering taking the loss-making electric car-maker private at $420 a share, which would value a deal at more than $70 billion. He said funding was “secured,” without elaborating.

Tesla said on Wednesday the discussions had addressed the issue of how to fund such a deal, but gave no details. The statement did not address how the $420-per-share price was established.

Several securities attorneys told Reuters that Musk could face investor lawsuits if it was proven he did not have secure financing at the time of his tweet.

Public companies have four days to report certain material events that shareholders should know about to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Tesla’s shares were down 2.1 percent at $371.70 on Wednesday after closing up 11 percent on Tuesday.

Some Wall Street analysts were skeptical of Musk’s ability to gather the huge financial backing to complete such a deal, given that Tesla loses money, has $10.9 billion of debt and its bonds are rated junk by credit ratings agencies.

“Who gives $30 to $50 billion to buy back the shares?” asked NordLB analyst Frank Schwope. “And if you stay as a shareholder you get less information than before and you depend more and more on Elon Musk.”

The deal would be the biggest leveraged buyout of all time, beating the $45-billion record set by Texas power utility Energy Future Holdings.

The most obvious equity partners for Musk would be a sovereign wealth fund such as Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which sources said on Tuesday had taken a stake of just below 5 percent in Tesla, or a major technology investment fund such as SoftBank Group Corp’s Vision Fund, bankers said.

China’s Tencent Holdings Ltd, which took a 5-percent stake in Tesla last year, could also be a possible partner.

Surprise move

In a letter after his tweet on Tuesday, Musk fleshed out his idea, suggesting shareholders would get the option to sell their shares for $420 each or remain investors in a private Tesla, out of the glare of Wall Street and its need for positive quarterly results.

He said that would allow Tesla to “operate at its best, free from as much distraction and short-term thinking as possible.” Some on Wall Street shared that view.

“They’re being bombarded with questions that we don’t think are as relevant to the long-term value of the company,” said Sam Korus, an analyst for ARK Investment Management, which had 443,874 Tesla shares as of June 30. Korus said he would need more details from Musk to judge whether a buyout offer would be practical and at what price it would be attractive.

Musk has been under intense pressure this year to turn his money-losing, debt-laden company into a profitable higher-volume manufacturer, a prospect that has sent Tesla’s valuation higher than that of General Motors Co.

The company is still working its way out of what Musk called “production hell” at its home factory in Fremont, California, where a series of manufacturing challenges delayed the ramp-up of production of its new Model 3 sedan, on which the company’s profitability rests.

Going private is one way to avoid close scrutiny by the public market as Musk and the company face those challenges. Musk has feuded publicly with regulators, critics, short sellers and reporters, and some analysts suggested that less transparency would be welcomed by Musk.

The six board members who issued the statement on Wednesday included James Murdoch, chief executive of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc and Brad Buss, who was the chief financial officer of solar panel maker SolarCity until it was bought by Tesla in 2016.

Other board members mentioned in the statement included Robyn Denholm, Ira Ehrenpreis, Antonio Gracias and Linda Johnson Rice. Tesla’s other board members are Musk, his brother Kimbal Musk and venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson.


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Twitter Breaks With Tech Giants, Keeps Alt-Right InfoWars

After several social media outlets banned alt-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his show InfoWars earlier this week, Twitter announced it would be keeping Jones, sparking backlash from users.

“We didn’t suspend Alex Jones or Infowars yesterday. We know that’s hard for many but the reason is simple: he hasn’t violated our rules,” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey wrote. Jones, who has become notorious for hosting The Alex Jones Show on InfoWars, has more than 860,000 followers on Twitter.

On Monday, sites such as YouTube and Facebook banned Jones and his pages from their platforms, claiming that Jones’s videos violated the sites’ hate speech guidelines.

Jones has repeatedly used language incendiary towards Muslim and transgender people, and in July he appeared to threaten to shoot U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating President Trump and his White House on possible ties to Russia.

“[Mueller is] a demon I will take down, or I’ll die trying,” Jones said on a July broadcast, miming a gun-firing motion with his hands. “You’re going to get it, or I’m going to die trying, bitch.”

In the past, Jones has baselessly alleged the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting in Connecticut were hoaxes perpetrated by the U.S. government.

Several parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook shooting are suing Jones for defamation. In a court document, the parents of one of the slain children claimed Jones broadcast his personal information on his show. At the time of its removal, Jones’s YouTube channel had more than 2.4 million subscribers, with 1.5 billion views across all of its videos.

Twitter’s hateful conduct guidelines bar “wishes for the physical harm, death, or disease of individuals or groups” as well as “behavior that incites fear about a protected group.”

“We do not tolerate behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another person’s voice,” the site’s guidelines say.

While Dorsey acknowledged in a Tweet that accounts such as InfoWars can “sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors,” he also wrote that it “serves the public conversation best” for “journalists document, validate, and refute such information directly.”

Several journalists pushed back against Dorsey’s request.

“I am not getting paid to clean up your website for you,” wrote Matt Pearce, a journalist for The Los Angeles Times, in a response to Dorsey’s Tweet.

Twitter has banned significant alt-right personalities in the past.

In 2016, alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, who has ties to white nationalist groups, was permanently banned from the site after instigating racist and sexist harassment against American actress Leslie Jones, who is black.

And in 2017, Twitter suspended the account of James Allsup, a white nationalist who spoke at the “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier that year.

“We’re going to hold Jones to the same standard we hold to every account, not taking one-off actions to make us feel good in the short term,” Dorsey wrote Tuesday.


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