Who Is Responsible for a Driverless Car Accident?

October 9th, 2015

Via: BBC:

Volvo says it will accept full liability for accidents involving its driverless cars, making it “one of the first” car companies to do so.

It joins Mercedes and also tech firm Google, who have made similar claims.

Volvo says it is trying to expedite regulation in the US, where “a patchwork” of rules is holding back the industry.

Uncertainty over liability for a driverless car crash is seen as one of the biggest barriers to adoption.

Wind Now Competes with Fossil Fuels, Solar Almost Does

October 9th, 2015

Disclosure: I sell solar power systems in NZ. I’m long Enphase Energy (ENPH).

Via: Fortune:

When it comes to electricity, it’s all about the cost. A new report shows how clean energy electricity is becoming mainstream.

Electricity generated by large wind farms is now cheap enough in many places around the world to compete effectively with electricity generated by coal and natural gas.

At the same time, solar panel farms aren’t quite low cost enough to be as competitive with fossil fuels as wind energy is. Still, the cost of electricity generated by solar panels has also come down significantly this year.

These are the findings of a new report from Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance research unit, which looks at the costs of electricity from various sources of energy around the world for the second half of 2015. The report focuses on the overall cost of electricity—from generation, to upfront investment, to the cost of financing—called the “levelised cost electricity,” or LCOE.

The new statistics are important because they show how, thanks to dropping technology costs and lower financing costs, clean energy is becoming mainstream. Wind farms and solar panel farms are no longer niche technologies.

As more countries and states enact market systems that put a price on carbon emissions, clean energy technologies will actually become cheaper than fossil fuel technologies. In fact, they already are in places like the U.K. and Germany, which have aggressive carbon policies.

These technology and market shifts will lead to one of the largest transformations ever for the world’s energy infrastructure.

Gene Patents Probably Dead Worldwide Following Australian Court Decision

October 9th, 2015

Via: Ars Technica:

Australia’s highest court has ruled unanimously that a version of a gene that is linked to an increased risk for breast cancer cannot be patented. The case was brought by 69-year-old pensioner from Queensland, Yvonne D’Arcy, who had taken the US company Myriad Genetics to court over its patent for mutations in the BRCA1 gene that increase the probability of breast and ovarian cancer developing, as The Sydney Morning Herald reports. Although she lost twice in the lower courts, the High Court of Australia allowed her appeal, ruling that a gene was not a “patentable invention.”

The court based its reasoning (PDF) on the fact that, although an isolated gene such as BRCA1 was “a product of human action, it was the existence of the information stored in the relevant sequences that was an essential element of the invention as claimed.” Since the information stored in the DNA as a sequence of nucleotides was a product of nature, it did not require human action to bring it into existence, and therefore could not be patented.

Although that seems a sensible ruling, the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry has been fighting against this self-evident logic for years.

Fukushima Thyroid Cancer Rate in Children 20 to 50 Times Normal

October 8th, 2015

Via: AP:

A new study says children living near the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer at a rate 20 to 50 times that of children elsewhere, a difference the authors contend undermines the government’s position that more cases have been discovered in the area only because of stringent monitoring.

Most of the 370,000 children in Fukushima prefecture (state) have been given ultrasound checkups since the March 2011 meltdowns at the tsunami-ravaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. The most recent statistics, released in August, show that thyroid cancer is suspected or confirmed in 137 of those children, a number that rose by 25 from a year earlier. Elsewhere, the disease occurs in only about one or two of every million children per year by some estimates.

“This is more than expected and emerging faster than expected,” lead author Toshihide Tsuda told The Associated Press during a visit to Tokyo. “This is 20 times to 50 times what would be normally expected.”

Syrian Forces Begin Ground Offensive Backed by Russian Air and Sea Power

October 7th, 2015

Via: Washington Post:

Russia’s Caspian Sea fleet on Wednesday launched a complex cruise missile strike against Syrian rebels from nearly 1,000 miles away, a potent exhibition of Moscow’s firepower as it backs a government offensive in Syria’s multi-faction civil war.

The bombardment was the first naval salvo of Russia’s week-old military intervention in Syria, where it has already launched more than 100 airstrikes against the Islamic State and factions of Islamist and U.S.-backed rebel forces opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

The attack showcased Russia’s advanced military capabilities and closer coordination with the governments of Iran and Iraq, whose airspace the missiles traversed before striking targets in Syria held by the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, an affiliate of al-Qaeda.

CITE: The $1 Billion City That Nobody Calls Home

October 7th, 2015

Via: CNN:

In the arid plains of the southern New Mexico desert, between the site of the first atomic bomb test and the U.S.-Mexico border, a new city is rising from the sand.

Planned for a population of 35,000, the city will showcase a modern business district downtown, and neat rows of terraced housing in the suburbs. It will be supplied with pristine streets, parks, malls and a church.

But no one will ever call it home.

The CITE (Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation) project is a full-scale model of an ordinary American town. Yet it will be used as a petri dish to develop new technologies that will shape the future of the urban environment.

The $1 billion scheme, led by telecommunications and tech firm Pegasus Global Holdings, will see 15-square-miles dedicated to ambitious experiments in fields such as transport, construction, communication and security.

CITE will include specialized zones for developing new forms of agriculture, energy, and water treatment. An underground data collection network will provide detailed, real-time feedback.

Who is Behind Al-Nusra Front (aka Al-Qaeda in Syria)?

October 7th, 2015

This is a flyer that the Russians are dropping on the Syrian cities Rastan and Talbiseh.

Via: Daily Mail:

Dire warning: The leaflets (pictured) being dropped by Russian jets warn people to get out of the zone of 'special operations' - and one implies that terror group al-Nusra Front are backed by America and Israel

Dire warning: The leaflets (pictured) being dropped by Russian jets warn people to get out of the zone of ‘special operations’ – and one implies that terror group al-Nusra Front are backed by America and Israel

Hacking Risks to Nuclear Power Plants

October 6th, 2015

haha. Somehow, I thought the control systems for nuclear power plants were air-gapped.

This article says that’s a, “Pervading myth.”

Via: Computer World:

The risk of serious cyber-attacks on nuclear power plants is growing, according to a new report by think-tank Chatham House. If you follow this type of news, then this is probably not a big shocker, but did you know there have been around 50 cyberattacks on nuclear plants?

One unnamed expert quoted in the Chatham report (pdf) claimed, “What people keep saying is ‘wait until something big happens, then we’ll take it seriously’. But the problem is that we have already had a lot of very big things happen. There have probably been about 50 actual control systems cyber incidents in the nuclear industry so far, but only two or three have been made public.” The report claimed that there is limited incident disclosure and a “need to know” mindset that further limits collaboration and information-sharing.

“In a worst-case scenario, cyberattacks could lead to a release of ionizing radiation with potentially disastrous impacts on local populations.” In fact, “something as simple as employees installing a personal device onto a nuclear facility’s internal network could open it up to attacks,” Caroline Baylon, a cybersecurity researcher at Chatham House, told Newsweek. She explained, “Let’s say the people in the plant want to install a router so they can check their emails. That might all of a sudden open up a vulnerability.”

It is also a “pervading myth” that nuclear power plants are air-gapped – not connected to the Internet – and can’t be hacked. Yet executives controlling the purse strings at some plants are in denial; a source said they consider a cyberattack just “a movie scenario, maybe in the future. They think it is just states against states, not everybody wants to hack us, and also it won’t happen here.”

U.S. Says BP to Pay $20 Billion in Fines for 2010 Oil Spill

October 6th, 2015

Via: Reuters:

BP Plc will pay more than $20 billion in fines to resolve nearly all claims from its deadly Gulf of Mexico oil spill five years ago, marking the largest corporate settlement of its kind in U.S. history, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said on Monday.

The agreement, first outlined in July, adds to the $43.8 billion BP had previously set aside for criminal and civil penalties and cleanup costs. The company has said its total pre-tax charge for the spill is now around $53.8 billion.

The total penalties Lynch announced on Monday sounded higher than the $18.7 billion deal reached to this summer, in part because she included $1 billion in restoration work BP had agreed to long beforehand.

BP’s shares rose nearly 3 percent in New York to $33.45 each. Investors have praised the agreement as essentially capping liabilities that could have been much larger.

New British Killer Drone Called “Protector”

October 6th, 2015

Maybe “Reaper Overkill Edition” didn’t do so well in focus groups.

Via: Janes:

The UK is to receive 20 new ‘Protector’ unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as part of a wider ramp-up of unmanned, surveillance, and special forces capabilities to combat militant Islam in the Middle East, Prime Minister David Cameron announced on 3 October.

Speaking to the Telegraph newspaper, Cameron said that the 10 General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B) medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAVs currently fielded by the Royal Air Force (RAF) will be replaced by double the number of the Protector UAVs “to keep us safe and to give us the intelligence and information and potentially give us the capacity to hit people who are potentially planning to hit us”.

There is no UAV known to be in development or service known as Protector, and Cameron provided little detail except to say that it will be able to fly longer distances, is quieter and can carry more sophisticated weapons and equipment than the incumbent Reaper.

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