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China’s Biggest Propaganda Agency Buys Ads on Facebook and Twitter to Smear Protesters in Hong Kong PSP Hacks

Pro-democracy protesters take part in a rally as they march on August 18, 2019 in Hong Kong.

Pro-democracy protesters take part in a rally as they march on August 18, 2019 in Hong Kong.
Photo: Getty Images

China’s largest state-run news agency, Xinhua News, is buying ads on Facebook and Twitter to smear protesters in Hong Kong, a new tactic being used to influence how the rest of the world perceives the pro-democracy demonstrators.

An estimated 1.7 million people in Hong Kong, roughly a quarter of its population, took to the streets on Sunday to denounce Beijing’s attempts to interfere in the semi-autonomous territory. But China has amassed soldiers across the border in Shenzhen and appears to be stepping up its propaganda efforts online through paid ads on Facebook and Twitter, as well as unpaid content on platforms like YouTube.

Xinhua News currently has five different Facebook ads that directly relate to the unrest in Hong Kong, and all of the ads started running on Sunday, August 18. One of the Facebook ads addresses Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi directly, calling on her to “fly to Hong Kong to see what the true facts are.” Pelosi has been critical of the Chinese government’s suppression of the demonstrators and called Beijing’s actions “cowardly.”

The anti-Pelosi Facebook ad uses viral video from an Australian traveler who was recently inconvenienced at the Hong Kong International Airport. Protesters helped shut down the airport over the course of two days, demanding freedom and apologizing to travelers for disrupting their flights. The Australian traveler, who appears to have given an interview to Chinese state media, told pro-democracy demonstrators they should “get a job” and even said they should “know their place,” though the latter isn’t featured in the Facebook ad.

The Australian traveler also said that “Hong Kong is a part of China,” something that’s controversial because Hong Kong currently operates under a “one country, two systems” arrangement. That arrangement allows Hong Kong to temporarily maintain democratic laws and traditions until the year 2047. That year is obviously well within the lifetimes of many young protesters, and has contributed to the young-old divide in the region. Some elderly Hongkongers have been the most outspoken against the protests, something that becomes clear in the pro-Beijing Facebook ads.

Another Facebook ad from Xinhua claims that Hong Kong’s economy is suffering over the protests and insists that the public wants someone to “restore order.” The ad shows pro-Beijing demonstrators calling for an end to the violence, heavily implying that it’s the protestors who have caused the most harm.

In reality, Hong Kong police have been the ones causing the most violence on the ground, shooting “nonlethal” rounds at point blank range, and firing tear gas regularly into crowds of non-violent protesters. One woman recently lost an eye after being shot by police, leading some allies to wear a bandage over their own eyes in a sign of solidarity. Xinhua’s propaganda video has also been posted to YouTube, though it’s unclear if the propaganda agency is buying paid ads on the platform.

Another propaganda ad from Xinhua focuses on the economic situation in Hong Kong. The ad shows photos of empty shopping malls with a caption that, yet again, calls for “order” to be restored—an ominous declaration from an authoritarian government like China’s, which currently holds anywhere from 800,000 to 3 million Muslims in concentration camps.

Xinhua is also promoting Twitter posts that suggest the violence is being perpetrated by the protesters and claims, again, that “order should be restored.” There’s obviously a pattern to all of this and Beijing wants to control the narrative by insisting that “order” is more important than democratic rights. And it’s no wonder why, with so much money at stake.

Another Chinese state media outlet, CGTN, even posted an embarrassing anti-democracy rap video to Twitter over the weekend that ends with President Donald Trump saying Hong Kong is part of China.

Trump has previously been reluctant to criticize China over its anti-democratic crackdown and now Chinese propagandists are using his own words against the protesters.

The protests in Hong Kong have been raging for eleven weeks now, initially set off by an extradition bill that would have allowed Beijing to snatch so-called criminals from Hong Kong. The big problem, however, is that Hong Kong is a haven for political dissidents and pro-democracy leaders in Asia. The extradition bill has been withdrawn by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, but the protesters want assurances that it won’t be reintroduced.

China’s Xinhua News has been on Facebook since 2012, despite the fact that Facebook is banned in mainland China. Twitter and YouTube are also banned, but the intended audience of these ads is clearly the international community. Protest organizers in Hong Kong have purchased their own ads in international newspapers, according to the Hong Kong Free Press, but it’s not clear whether they’re buying ads online as well.

The print ad, which appeared today in the New York Times and Canada’s Globe and Mail, among others, reads in part:

Amid tear gas and rubber bullets, this once vibrant and safe metropolis is at a crossroads. Since the protests against the controversial extradition bill started in June, Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedom have been eroded beyond recognition. This is the ugly truth that the Hong Kong government does not want you to know: Hong Kong is becoming a police state.

Instead of implementing political reform as promised, the Hong Kong government has turned into an apparatus of repression. Police brutality, endorsed by both the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, has now become part of our daily lives.

In the name of public order, the police dehumanize protesters as ‘cockroaches’ and deploy certain anti-riot measures prohibited by international standards. The police also batter passers-by, journalists and medical personnel. Police stations are shut whenever alleged thugs-for-hire indiscriminately attack protesters and ordinary citizens.

Arbitrary arrests and political prosecutions are becoming increasingly common. These are all tactics of the Hong Kong government to intimidate its own people into silence.

Bear witness to Hongkongers’ fight for freedom. Tell our story—especially if we can no longer do it ourselves. Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong.

It’s not clear how much money Facebook and Twitter are making from the Chinese propaganda ads and the tech giants did not respond to requests for comment this morning. We will update this article if we hear back.

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A Drop-In Upgrade Module for Cheap Rotary Tools

We’ve all seen them, the rotary tools that look almost, but not quite exactly, like a Dremel. They cost just a fraction of the real thing, and even use the same bits as the official Bosch-owned version. At first glance, they might seem like a perfect solution for the hacker who’s trying to kit out their workshop on a tight budget. There’s only one problem: the similarities between the two are only skin deep.

Recovering components from the original controller

As [Vitaly Puzrin] explains, one of the big problems with these clones are the simplistic electronics which have a tendency to stall out the motor at low RPM. So he’s developed a drop-in replacement speed controller for his particular Dremel clone that solves this problem. While the module design probably won’t work on every clone out there in its current form, he feels confident that with help from the community it could be adapted to other models.

Of course, the first step to replacing the speed controller in your not-a-Dremel is removing the crusty old one. But before you chuck it, you’ll need to recover a few key components. Specifically the potentiometer, filter capacitor, and the motor terminals. You could possibly source the latter components from the parts bin, but the potentiometer is likely going to be designed to match the tool so you’ll want that at least.

The microprocessor controlled upgrade board uses back EMF to detect the motor’s current speed without the need for any additional sensors; important for a retrofit module like this. [Vitaly] says that conceptually this should work on any AC brushed motor, and the source code for the firmware is open if you need to make any tweaks. But hacker beware, the current version of the PCB doesn’t have any AC isolation; you’ll need to take special care if you want to hook it up to your computer’s USB port.

On the other hand, if you’re willing to buy a cheap rotary tool just to crack it open and replace the electronics, you might as well just build your own. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can always abandon the electric motor and spin it up with a tiny turbine.

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Beware Of These Outdated Used Car Buying Tips

Illustration for article titled Beware Of These Outdated Used Car Buying Tips

Image: Justin Sullivan (Getty)

Buying a used car can be a bit more stressful than purchasing a new one. While it is possible to get a quality pre-owned vehicle, it requires a bit of patience and vigilance. However, you will want to be aware that there are some outdated but still prevalent strategies out there that may not give you the results you want.

Recently, we’ve seen a number of used car buying tips circulating from fairly respectable outlets like CNBC and Yahoo Finance, informing buyers on how to get the most for their money on a pre-owned car. While I strongly agree with some of the points, like understanding your budget and getting pre-approved for financing, once they start getting into the details of the shopping some of them miss they mark a bit.

Here are what I consider the top three errors that a lot of used car buyers make.

Don’t Rely On The CarFax

CarFax and other vehicle history report services like Autocheck can provide valuable information such as maintenance history or whether or not the car has been in a wreck. These data points can be good filters as to whether or not you want to pursue a car further.

However, these reports have shown to present inaccuracies or incomplete information. Sometimes accidents don’t get reported and therefore don’t appear on the report, and often it will seem like cars had more owners due to it being sold from one dealer group to another.

For the most part, this is common knowledge, but then you read something like this via CNBC:

You should also ask for the vehicle identification number (VIN), says Ricart. It’s a 17-digit number that’s assigned to every vehicle in the U.S. and allows you to pull a Carfax vehicle history report.

The report will cost about $40, but “is worth paying for,” he says. It provides key information about the car, including service and repair information, vehicle registration and reported accidents.”

While these reports do reveal some solid info you should not have to jump through hoops to get it—nor do I suggest paying for it. If you are researching multiple cars there is no reason to shell out $40 per report when the vast majority of dealers have these reports linked to their ad. And if a dealer doesn’t link a history report on their ad, that can sometimes be a red flag, so buyers should always request a copy from the dealer.

Don’t Trust The Dealer’s Inspection Process

There are a number of dealers that do their best to make sure they are selling a quality used car. Then there are other stores just looking for a quick buck. Both dealers will tell you that they have fully inspected and reconditioned the car prior to selling it, so who is telling the truth?

There is only one way to find out, and it’s not popping your head into the service area as CNBC’s expert says:

“If the dealer or seller claims they have inspected the vehicle, ask them where they do that… It’s good to actually see where the technicians are working on the car.”

I’m sorry to say most people probably won’t know what they’re looking at when they go into a service bay.

The best course of action is to have the car independently inspected by someone other than the dealership. Even if a car is a “certified pre-owned” model that supposedly meets a certain reconditioning standard, these inspections can be crucial. Technicians can miss things and some dealers play a little fast and loose with the certification process.

I was working with California client who wanted a BMW wagon, and I located a CPO example with low miles in Pennsylvania. Despite the fact that the car seemed pretty legit on paper, we used a local shop to inspect the car. The owner of the shop found that the car had a brake issue when slowing down from higher speeds. After some back and forth with the dealer, they agreed to replace the brake components prior to the sale.

Of course some dealers are going to put up some resistance on having their car sent out for an inspection, but usually, this is an indication that the dealer doesn’t want to be bothered with the effort and it doesn’t automatically mean the car is problematic. If that happens, there are a number of remote services than can send people to the dealership to provide an inspection and a report.

Don’t Negotiate In Person

I’m still amazed that in 2019 there are people that still insist that you negotiate a car deal like it’s 1999. Your time is valuable, and doing the marathon of back and forth with a dealer on a car deal only to maybe get to your goal is not a good use of your energy.

When it comes to negotiating a used car deal, Yahoo Finance cites a James Goodow , President & Managing Partner at Fennemore Craig, P.C.

According to Goodnow, you should make the first move. “In general, it’s best for you to anchor the parameters of the negotiation by making the first offer,” Goodnow said. “Dealers will generally not want to bid against their own prices, so don’t be afraid to put in an offer at or below the dealer invoice price.”

He also said buyers should be prepared for some back-and-forth before the car dealer reaches his final offer. “It’s nice to think that a dealer will cut to the chase,” Goodnow said. “But the reality is most won’t. It’s too ingrained in the car-buying culture.”

Goodow is an attorney, not a car salesperson or a car buying expert. How you negotiate a legal dispute is a bit different than coming to a price on a car. First of all, there is no “dealer invoice price” on a used car. The invoice is what a dealer will pay the manufacturer on a new car. Some dealers may have acquired that pre-owned car cheap via auction or maybe even “overpaid” a bit for someone’s trade to sweeten the deal for a new purchase. In either case it doesn’t really matter what the dealer paid for it. What matters most is what comparable vehicles are selling for.

Making a low-ball offer on a used car is going to set you up for a world of frustration because I have said it time and again that the margins on pre-owned are tighter today than most people realize. If the dealer thinks you are too far apart, they will often dig their heels in and not even counter-offer. However, if you can find a similar car for sale for a lower price that can be a leverage point.

But the negotiation should not have to happen in person. Use a combination of emails and phone calls to get where you want to be on the price and always get an itemized out the door in writing before you arrive because some dealers are a bit notorious for adding in a bunch of garbage fees. This method allows you to engage in multiple negotiations at once and you can easily kill a conversation with a store that is uncooperative.

All this work can be time-consuming and stressful, which is why outfits like CarMax, Carvana, and Vroom have grown in popularity because they claim to take some of the stress out of it. However, by choosing those avenues, customers might be trading convenience for value, and there is no guarantee that the inventory on their lots is substantially better than anywhere else.

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Norwegian is stopping its super-cheap $111 flights between Ireland and the US, blaming the ongoing Boeing 737 Max crisis

  • Norwegian Air is discontinuing low-cost flights between Ireland and North America over the grounding of Boeing 737 Max planes.
  • The company currently offers cheap transatlantic flights between Ireland and the US and Canada, which are available for as low as $111 (€99).
  • But the grounding of Boeing 737 Max planes after two fatal crashes means the routes are “no longer commercially viable” and will be stopped from September 15, the airline said.
  • Norwegian has sought to disrupt the industry with its low-cost, long-haul flights but is now suffering alongside many other airlines from the grounding of the Max.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Norwegian Air is stopping its flights between Ireland and the US and Canada over the ongoing grounding of the Boeing 737 Max.

Norwegian has offered flights between airports across Ireland and North America since 2017, then offering flights for as little as $69, providing a low-cost option for transatlantic travel as it sought to disrupt the aviation industry.

Booking on Wednesday to fly from New York’s Stewart International Airport direct to Dublin on Saturday, September 14, a one-way ticket would cost $111 (€99).

But the airline, one of Europe’s biggest budget airlines, said on Wednesday that the routes are “no longer commercially viable.”

Read more: P ilots joined a growing number of airlines in demanding payback from Boeing for its 737 Max disasters — here’s the full list

Matthew Wood, senior vice-president of Norwegian’s long-haul commercial division, said that the global grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max planes since March has led the airline to make the “difficult decision” to discontinue the flights from September 15.

Norwegian was one of the few airlines to fly the 737 Max on transatlantic routes, flying between airports in Cork, Dublin, and Shannon in Ireland, and airports in Canada and the US.

“The Max-8 … gives us the ability to open up routes between the Europe and the U.S. on a totally new fare basis.” Norwegian’s CEO Bjørn Kjos said when the routes launched, Forbes reported.

Investigators look at the debris from the crashed Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max plane in March 2019.
Jemal Countess/Getty Images

The 737 Max has been grounded around the world since two deadly crashes in October 2018 and March 2019, which killed a total of 346 people.

Wood said that the “continued uncertainty” about when the plane will return to the skies has meant that Norwegian’s position is “unsustainable.”

Many in the industry expected the plane to return to service during the summer, but the industry has faced more disruption than expected as more issues with the plane emerge and regulators are yet to review and approve Boeing’s fix to the plane. Exactly when it will return to service remains unknown.

Read more: What it’s like to fly Norwegian Air, the airline with the world’s longest low-cost route from London to Singapore

Norwegian, which had 18 Max planes in its fleet before the grounding, is one of many airlines that said it is seeking compensation from Boeing over their grounded planes and the delayed deliveries of new jets.

Wood said that Norwegian had been hiring replacement aircraft to run the service between Ireland and North America, but it would not be sustainable continue doing so.

Grounded Boeing 737 Max aircraft are seen parked in an aerial photo at Boeing Field in Seattle in July.
REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

Wood said that administrative staff at its Dublin base would not be affected, and said he hoped that job losses will be a “last resort.”

Norwegian will still fly to Oslo, Stockholm, and Copenhagen from Dublin.

Read more: Southwest plans to stop flying from Newark Airport and is yanking the 737 Max from its schedule until 2020

Other airlines have cancelled thousands of flights and cancelled other routes over the 737 Max grounding. Ryanair, one of the world’s largest airlines, said in July that it will cut cut 900 pilot and flight attendant jobs this year due in part to the 737 Max, as well as uncertainty over Brexit and increasing fuel prices.

Get the latest Boeing stock price here.


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Get a Free Iced Drink at Starbucks Today With Purchase PSP Hacks

Illustration for article titled Get a Free Iced Drink at Starbucks Today With Purchase

Photo: Shutterstock

If you are a person who likes free things and a person who likes iced coffee (or tea), then I have some pretty good news. Starting at 2 pm today (August 8th), Starbucks is running a BOGO deal on icy cold beverages.

As with any deal, there are some caveats. First, you’ll either need to go here to get your coupon, or you’ll need to download the Starbucks app. (You do not, however, have to be a rewards member.) After doing so, the offer should be waiting in your inbox. Also, to get your free iced beverage, the first cold coffee or espresso drink you purchase must be size grande or larger, which isn’t so bad, because tall iced drinks are kind of pointless, since the ice takes up a lot of the room in the cup.

Get a Free Iced Starbucks Drink With Your Purchase Today | The Points Guy

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Opinion: Hong Kong Protesters Might Bother Tourists, Or Pierce Their Conscience – NPR

A tourist gives her luggage to security guards as she tries to enter the departures gate during another demonstration by pro-democracy protesters at Hong Kong International Airport on Tuesday.

Philip Fong/AFP/Getty Images

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Philip Fong/AFP/Getty Images

A tourist gives her luggage to security guards as she tries to enter the departures gate during another demonstration by pro-democracy protesters at Hong Kong International Airport on Tuesday.

Philip Fong/AFP/Getty Images

It may be strange for tourists to land in Hong Kong to find throngs of impassioned protesters. They might wonder: What do they expect me to do about the Chinese government?

Tourists come from all over the world to see the elegantly industrious city-state.

“It is like a cauldron,” Jan Morris wrote in her book Hong Kong, “seething, hissing, hooting, arguing, enmeshed in a labyrinth of tunnels and overpasses, with those skyscrapers erupting everywhere into view, with those ferries churning and hovercraft splashing and great jets flying in.”

But there are also visitors coming to Hong Kong from China’s mainland. They are citizens of a country in which they have no political freedom and little uncensored information, and live under threat of imprisonment if they dissent.

Beijing Warns Hong Kong Protesters: Don't 'Play With Fire'

They come from the country the Hong Kong protesters don’t want to be their future; even as they know each day brings them closer to 2047, when Hong Kong is to be absorbed into the whole of China.

President Trump is vocal when he decries China’s trade policies. “China was killing us with unfair trade deals,” he said again this month.

But he has not raised his voice against China’s human rights crimes, including the mass detention of Chinese Uighurs in reeducation camps or the widespread imprisonment of political dissidents.

In A Pro-Beijing Neighborhood Of Hong Kong, Protesters Are Unwelcome

To be sure, even those U.S. and world leaders who criticize China about human rights have been reluctant to risk losing any of the lucrative trade with the country. Their moral indignation has mostly stayed rhetorical.

But when Trump was asked about the protests in Hong Kong this week, he once more praised Chinese President Xi Jinping as “a very great leader” and called for a “happy and enlightened ending to the Hong Kong problem” — which seems to say protesters are “the problem” — not China’s increasingly steely rule of a place to which it had promised autonomy for 50 years.

I think a reason protesters descended on Hong Kong’s vast international airport was to appeal personally to people from all over the world. Their protest might have inconvenienced tourists. But it might also pierce their conscience and make them consider if China’s vast wealth can buy the silence of the world.

The protesters have made a song from Les Misérables, a Western musical, their anthem as they sing, “Who will be strong and stand with me?”

Lapland Aurora via

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With Chandrayaan-2 launch, India’s ISRO shoots for the Moon on a shoe-string budget

India took a giant leap in its space program on Monday after its space agency launched a spacecraft that is scheduled to touch down on the Moon in September.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), which is India’s equivalent of NASA, confirmed the successful launch of the spacecraft as the nation inches closer to becoming only the fourth country — after the United States, China and Russia — to land a spacecraft on the Moon. Chandrayaan-2 aims to land on a plain surface that covers the ground between two of the Moon’s craters, Simpelius N and Manzinus C.

If successful, India will also become the first country to achieve a soft, controlled landing close to the Moon’s south pole. The launch today — which comes exactly 50 years since American astronauts walked on the Moon — could further cement India’s position in the global space race.

At 142 feet tall, the rocket was originally scheduled to launch from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on July 15, but ISRO postponed it less than an hour ahead of the deadline citing a “technical glitch.” ISRO said it resolved the issue last week.

03gslvmkiii m1vehiclemountedonmobilelaunchpedestalmovingtowardsthesecondlaunchpad

The rocket that was launched today (Image: ISRO)

Everything about India’s homegrown lunar mission — dubbed Chandrayaan-2 (Sanskrit for “moon vehicle”) — is a technological marvel. The spacecraft — which is sitting atop the country’s most powerful rocket to date, a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle called Mark III — is carrying an orbiter, a lunar lander called Vikram and six-wheeled rover dubbed Pragyan (Sanskrit for “wisdom”).

On September 6 or 7 (a deadline which remains intact despite a week-long delay in the launch), the lander, which is named after Vikram Sarabhai, the father of ISRO, is scheduled to detach from the orbiter. Until then, Chandrayaan-2 will embark on a slow journey to the Moon, staying in an elliptical orbit.

The mission’s budget is just $141 million, significantly lower than those of other countries, and less than half of the recently released blockbuster “Avengers: Endgame .” The orbiter is designed to operate for at least one year, but the lander and rover are expected to operate for just a couple of weeks.

“Chandrayaan-2 is unique because it will explore and perform studies on the south pole region of lunar terrain, which has not been explored and sampled by any past mission. This mission will offer new knowledge about the Moon,” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a statement.

“Efforts such as Chandrayaan-2 will further encourage our bright youngsters towards science, top quality research and innovation. Thanks to Chandrayaan, India’s Lunar Programme will get a substantial boost. Our existing knowledge of the Moon will be significantly enhanced.”

GettyImages 1157194465

Students wave Indian national flags as the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Chandrayaan-2 was launched in Sriharikota in the state of Andhra Pradesh on July 22, 2019 (Image: ARUN SANKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

The lift-off, which took place at 14:43 IST (local time), was broadcast live on some free-to-air TV channels. The successful launch prompted a flood of congratulatory messages on social media as millions of Indians expressed their excitement.

The Chandrayaan-2 mission is aimed at analyzing minerals on the south pole of the Moon, a region that has not been closely studied yet. So the Chandrayaan-2 lander is equipped with a suite of instruments, including spectrometer and cameras, among others, to map the lunar surface, look for water and measure moonquakes and temperature of the soil.

In a statement released earlier this month, ISRO said the Chandrayaan-2 will “boldly go where no country has ever gone before.”

As the name suggests, Chandrayaan is not India’s first lunar mission. In 2008, the nation deployed orbiter Chandrayaan-1 that played an instrumental role in helping confirm the presence of water ice in the lunar craters. However, it could not make the controlled landing. In 2013, ISRO also launched an orbiter to Mars in its maiden $74 million interplanetary mission — a fraction of the $671 million NASA spent for a Mars mission in the same year. In 2017, ISRO also deployed a record 104 satellites into space in just 18 minutes.

ISRO has come a long way and specialized in low-cost space launches since the early 1960s, when components of rockets were transported by bicycles and assembled by hand in the country.

Last month, ISRO unveiled its intentions to have its own space station in the future and conduct separate missions to study the Sun and Venus. It will begin working on its space station following its first manned mission to space, called Gaganyaan (which means “space vehicle” in Sanskrit), in 2022 — just in time to commemorate 75 years of the country’s independence from Britain. The government has sanctioned Rs 10,000 crores ($1.5 billion) for the Gaganyaan mission.

“While navigation, communication and Earth observation are going to be the bread and butter for us, it is missions such as Chandrayaan, Mangalyaan (Sanskrit for “Mars vehicle”) and Gaganyaan that excite the youth, unite the nation and also pave a technological seed for the future,” said Dr. Kailasavadivoo Sivan, chairman of Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) at the time.

Special moments that will be etched in the annals of our glorious history!

The launch of #Chandrayaan2 illustrates the prowess of our scientists and the determination of 130 crore Indians to scale new frontiers of science.

Every Indian is immensely proud today! pic.twitter.com/v1ETFneij0

— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) July 22, 2019

“It is the beginning of a historical journey of India towards the moon,” Sivan said in a press conference today. “It is my duty to salute all the people who have done the work.”

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Warren makes $85B federally-funded broadband promise

As part of her bid for the presidency, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has made some bold proposals to improve access to broadband in underserved areas, and has made it clear that restoring net neutrality is also among her priorities. She proposes $85 billion to cover the enormous costs of making sure “every home in America has a fiber broadband connection at a price families can afford.”

The proposal is part of a greater plan to “invest in rural America” that Sen. Warren detailed in a blog post. As well as promises relating to healthcare, housing and labor, the presidential hopeful dedicated a section to “A Public Option for Broadband.”

This isn’t “broadband as utility,” as some have called for over the years, but rather a massive subsidy program to multiply and diversify internet services in rural areas, hopefully bringing them to the speeds and reliability available in cities.

Before announcing her own plan, she criticized the outcomes of earlier subsidies, like the FCC’s $2 billion Connect America Fund II:

[ISPs] have deliberately restricted competition, kept prices high, and used their armies of lobbyists to convince state legislatures to ban municipalities from building their own public networks. Meanwhile, the federal government has shoveled billions of taxpayer dollars to private ISPs in an effort to expand broadband to remote areas, but those providers have done the bare minimum with these resources — offering internet speeds well below the FCC minimum.

Her alternative is to shovel billions to everyone but ISPs to improve internet infrastructure.

“Only electricity and telephone cooperatives, non-profit organizations, tribes, cities, counties, and other state subdivisions will be eligible for grants from this fund,” she wrote, “and all grants will be used to build the fiber infrastructure necessary to bring high-speed broadband to unserved areas, underserved areas, or areas with minimal competition.”

By paying 90% of the costs of rolling out fiber and other costs, the federal government allows smaller businesses and utilities to get in on the fun rather than leaving it all to megacorporations like Comcast and Verizon. (Disclosure: TechCrunch is owned by Verizon through Verizon Media. Our parent company is almost certain to be dead set against Warren’s plan.)

Not only that, but it directly targets use by municipal broadband organizations, which have formed in some states and cities in response to ISP chokeholds on the region. These organizations have been rendered illegal or toothless across half the country by legislation often supported or even proposed by ISPs and telecoms. Sen. Warren said she would preempt state laws on this matter using federal legislation, something that would no doubt be controversial.

Applicants would have to offer at least one 100/100 megabit connection option, and one discount plan for low-income customers. This would ensure that companies don’t take the money and then lay down the bare minimum connection tolerable today.

The $85 billion fund will be administered by the Department of Economic Development, part of the Department of Commerce, under a newly minted Office of Broadband Access; $5 billion will be set aside for full-cost coverage of broadband expansion on Native American lands, which are often worse off than non-Native rural areas.

To be clear, this internet effort would not mean a government-run broadband option, even in the municipal case (these are often nonprofits or private entities funded by governments). The plan is to help small companies and organizations overcome the prohibitive cost of entry and jump-start them into actual operation. The government would not operate the service or have any control over it other than, as mentioned, at the outset as far as requiring certain capacities and such.

In addition to the plan for a publicly funded broadband push, Sen. Warren made it clear (as Sen. Sanders did last week) that she would be appointing FCC commissioners who support net neutrality, specifically as it was enacted in 2015 under Title II.

The FCC’s inaccurate broadband maps and progress reports will also get a kick in the pants under Warren’s plan, though the specifics are few. And “anti-competitive behaviors” like under-the-table deals between ISPs and landlords will be rooted out, as well.

These are big promises and of course easy to make ahead of election, but they’re also smart ones, directly addressing frustrations in the industry and parts of the process currently dominated by immovable ISPs and their lobbyists. And the fact that these issues are being addressed so prominently at all as part of a presidential bid is good news to those currently on the wrong side of the digital divide.

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Spain’s First Open Source Satellite

[Fossa Systems], a non-profit youth association based out of Madrid, is developing an open-source satellite set to launch in October 2019. The FossaSat-1 is sized at 5x5x5 cm, weighs 250g, and will provide free IoT connectivity by communicating LoRa RTTY signals through low-power RF-based LoRa modules. The satellite is powered by 28% efficient gallium arsenide TrisolX triple junction solar cells.

The satellite’s development and launch cost under EUR 30000, which is pretty remarkable for a cubesat — or a picosatellite, as the project is being dubbed. It has been working in the UHF Amateur Satellite band (435-438 MHz) and recently received an IARU frequency spectrum allocation for LoRa of 125kHz.

The satellite’s specs are almost as remarkable as the acronyms used to describe them. The design includes an onboard computer (OBC) based on an ATmega328P-AU microcontroller, an SX1278 transceiver for telecommunications, and an electric power system (EPS) based on three SPV1040 MPPT chips and the TC1262 LDO. The satellite also uses a TMP100 temperature sensor, an INA226 current and voltage sensor, a MAX6369 watchdog for single-event upset (SEU) protection, a TPS2553 for single-event latch-up (SEL) protection and various MOSFETs for the deployment of solar panels and antennas.

Up until this point the group has been tracking adoption of LoRa through the use of weather balloons. The cubesat project plans to test the new LoRa spread spectrum modulation using less than $5 worth of receivers. Ultimately with the goal of democratizing telecommunications worldwide.

The satellite is being built in a cleanroom at Rey Juan Carlos University and has undergone thermovacuum and vibration testing at the facility. The group has since developed an educational satellite development kit, which offers three main 40×40 mm boards that allow the addition of modifications. As their mission states, the group is looking to develop an open source project, so the code for the satellite is freely available on their GitHub.

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