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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Online Suicide Searches Spike After Netflix Released ’13 Reasons Why’

Online searches about suicide and suicide methods spiked in the weeks following the release of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, a show that dramatizes the suicide of a teenage girl, according to a U.S. study released Monday.

Google searches about suicide were 19 percent higher than average in the 19 days following the show’s release on March 31, translating into 900,000 to 1,500,000 more searches, researchers reported in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine. 

The study did not examine whether the actual number of suicides increased following the series’ release, but researchers said the internet search trend is troubling.

Google search volumes for things like “how to commit suicide,” “commit suicide” and “how to kill yourself” all decisively spiked during the 19-day window after the show’s release. A 2009 study suggested “suicide search trends are correlated with actual suicides,” according to a letter accompanying the study in JAMA.

Many mental health experts concluded that Netflix acted unethically by releasing the series. In it, a high school girl leaves behind 13 cassette tapes that explain the decision to take her own life. The series, which some argue glamorizes suicide, has been renewed for a second season.

The San Diego State University researcher who led the study, John Ayers, called on Netflix to reconsider the show and the effects it is having on its teenage-skewing audience.

“Psychiatrists have expressed grave concerns because the show ignores the World Health Organization’s validated media guidelines for preventing suicide,” Ayers told VOA in an email. “Tragically, it is unsurprising then that we find the show has increased suicidal thoughts.

“The show’s makers must swiftly change their course of action, including removing the show and postponing a second season. If not, subscribers should consider canceling their subscriptions so not to support programming that can cause premature death. I am no longer a subscriber.”

Currently, the most violent episodes are prefaced with warnings. Netflix has also created a website equipped with suicide hotlines for each of the countries in which it can be streamed. In a statement, Netflix defended 13 Reasons Why, saying that the show has spurred an important conversation.

“We always believed this show would increase discussions around this tough subject matter,” Netflix said. “This is an interesting quasi-experimental study that confirms this. We are looking forward to more research and taking everything we learn to heart as we prepare for season two.”

The study analyzed Google trends between March 31, 2017, and April 18. They halted their research on that date because former National Football League player Aaron Hernandez committed suicide on April 19, a development that might have skewed the data.

Researchers used the period between January and March 2017 as a control to determine the expected volume of suicide-related Google search queries.

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Singapore Researchers Brewing Healthier Beer

Evidence of the role that a healthy gut plays in overall human health, both physical and even mental, is growing every day. To strengthen gut health, food researchers are trying to incorporate live bacteria, called probiotics, into all kinds of products, even beer.

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Child Advocates Urge Back-Seat Alarms as 2 Die in Arizona

A proposed new law that would require carmakers to build alarms for back seats is being pushed by child advocates who say it will prevent kids from dying in hot cars.

The law also would streamline the criminal process against caregivers who cause the deaths – cases that can be inconsistent but often heavier-handed against mothers.

The latest deaths came in Arizona on triple-digit degree days over the weekend, with two baby boys found forgotten in vehicles in separate incidents.

More than two dozen child and road safety groups are backing the Senate bill introduced last week aimed at preventing those kinds of deaths by requiring cars to be equipped with technology that can alert drivers if a child is left in the back seat once the vehicle is turned off. It could be a motion sensor that can detect a baby left sitting in a rear-facing car seat and then alert the driver, in a similar way that reminders about tire pressure, open doors and seat belts now come standard in cars.

“The technology would help because if you’re in a vehicle, your child is in the back seat, and you ignore that alarm: Go jail. Do not pass go. You had a chance,” said Janette Fennell of the advocacy group Kids and Cars. “You talk to any of the judges, they’ll tell you, they’re beyond the hardest things they have to deal with.”

Police say 1-year-old Josiah Riggins was in the car for hours Saturday, discovered dead only after his father drove roundtrip, twice, between their suburban home and a Phoenix church to drop off the mother and a sibling.

Zane Endress, who was 7 months old, died Friday in Phoenix after being left in the car in the driveway at home, as his usual daycare drop-off routine was lost by his grandparents.

“A simple sensor could save the lives of dozens of children killed tragically in overheated cars each year, and our bill would ensure such technology is available in every car sold in the United States,” bill sponsor Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said in a statement. “It can take mere minutes on a hot day for a car to turn into a deathtrap for a small child.”

No charges have been filed against the caregivers in either Arizona case, as police say the death investigations are underway. Detectives will determine criminality based on the caregiver’s neglect, intent and mindset, while also being sensitive to the family’s deeply felt loss of a child, Phoenix police Sgt. Mercedes Fortune said.

“Those are the very difficult questions. Each case is different. I can’t tell you there’s a set answer for any case because there really isn’t,” Fortune said.

Kids and Cars, which has tracked more than 800 children who have died in this way since 1990, said criminal cases vary greatly, even when the circumstances are identical. Fennell said 90 percent of cases involve pure accidents, most likely a child forgotten by an adult.

In this month alone, a Tennessee couple was charged in the death of their 11-month-old daughter. A nearly 2-year-old boy was found dead in his father’s BMW in south Florida.

The nonprofit’s analysis shows charges are filed about half of the time, though very rarely are the parents found guilty objectively because it was proven that the child was left behind to be harmed. There is also a noted gender bias: Mothers are more often charged than fathers, and among the convicted, women caregivers receive longer prison sentences than men, the study found.

“I think society feels sort of like moms are in charge, and they’re supposed to do everything,” Fennell said. “It’s also a defense mechanism. If I make monsters out of these people, then it could never happen to me.”

 

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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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Living Fossil Returns to Illinois Waters

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is reintroducing a living fossil into its waterways. The alligator gar is a fish so old, it’s thought to have evolved during the Early Cretaceous period, more than a 100 million years ago.

Alligator gar are the second largest freshwater fish in North America. Illinois fisheries biologist Randy Sauer says they disappeared from the state’s waterways in the 1990s, although they continued to thrive in southern U.S. rivers.

“We want to restore the ecosystem because it is important to have top predators to balance the species below them in order to keep check on some more abundant species,” he said.

Beyond that, alligator gar make for great big game fishing. The diamond-scaled animals, which breathe both air and water, can grow up to 2.7 meters and weigh more than 136 kilograms. In fact, Sauer says, their large size is what did them in originally in the state.

“It was pretty much extirpated out of its range because of misconceptions about it eating sport fish,” he said. “People would target it and put bounties on it.”

Everything is on the menu

The alligator gar is an opportunistic feeder, meaning it will eat whatever it encounters — from an occasional turtle or small duck to invasive species such as Asian and silver carp. Sauer hopes the re-introduction program will help the state’s efforts to control the carp.

Because gar can live up to 60 years, this program is going to take decades to fully expand.

“The (female) alligator gar does not sexually mature until 11 years, and the male not till 6 or 7 years,” Sauer said, “so at the outset of this project we’re probably going to stock more heavily than 10 or 20 years down the road when hopefully these fish will find each other and start doing the job on their own.”

To date, 7,000 alligator gar fingerlings have been fitted with tiny transponder tags so that they can be tracked and then released into Illinois waterways. As it rains and floods, biologists expect some of the fish to follow the rivers all the way down to join other populations in Louisiana and Texas.

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Big Fish, Big Hope for the Ecosystem

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is reintroducing a living fossil into its waterways. The alligator gar is a fish so old, it’s thought to have evolved during the Early Cretaceous period, over a hundred million years ago. Erika Celeste reports from Kaskaskia River State Fish and Wildlife Area.

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