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Oregon Congressman Proposes New Space Tourism Tax

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) plans to introduce legislation called the Securing Protections Against Carbon Emissions (SPACE) Tax Act, which would impose new excise taxes on space tourism trips. Space.com reports: "Space exploration isn't a tax-free holiday for the wealthy. Just as normal Americans pay taxes when they buy airline tickets, billionaires who fly into space to produce nothing of scientific value should do the same, and then some," Blumenauer said in a statement issued by his office. "I'm not opposed to this type of space innovation," added Blumenauer, a senior member of the House of Representatives' Ways and Means Committee. "However, things that are done purely for tourism or entertainment, and that don't have a scientific purpose, should in turn support the public good." The proposed new tax would likely be levied on a per-passenger basis, as is done with commercial aviation, the statement said. "Exemptions would be made available for NASA spaceflights for scientific research purposes," the statement reads. "In the case of flights where some passengers are working on behalf of NASA for scientific research purposes and others are not, the launch excise tax shall be the pro rata share of the non-NASA researchers." There would be two taxation tiers, one for suborbital flights and another for missions that reach orbit. The statement did not reveal how much the tax would be in either case or if the collected revenue would be earmarked for any specific purpose. Such a purpose could be the fight against climate change, if the proposed act's full name is any guide. Blumenauer is concerned about the potential carbon footprint of the space tourism industry once it gets fully up and running, the statement said.

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Maker of Dubious $56K Alzheimer's Drug Offers Cognitive Test No One Can Pass

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Do you ever forget things, like a doctor's appointment or a lunch date? Do you sometimes struggle to think of the right word for something common? Do you ever feel more anxious or irritable than you typically do? Do you ever feel overwhelmed when trying to make a decision? If you answered "no, never" to all of those questions, there's a possibility that you may not actually be human. Nevertheless, you should still talk to a doctor about additional cognitive screenings to check if you have Alzheimer's disease. At least, that's the takeaway from a six-question quiz provided in part by Biogen, the maker of an unproven, $56,000 Alzheimer's drug. The six questions include the four above, plus questions about whether you ever lose your train of thought or ever get lost on your way to or around a familiar place. The questions not only bring up common issues that perfectly healthy people might face from time to time, but the answers any quiz-taker provides are also completely irrelevant. No matter how you answer -- even if you say you never experience any of those issues -- the quiz will always prompt you to talk with your doctor about cognitive screening. The results page even uses your zip code to provide a link to find an Alzheimer's specialist near you. Biogen says the quiz website is part of a "disease awareness educational program." But it appears to be part of an aggressive strategy to sell the company's new Alzheimer's drug, Aduhelm, which has an intensely controversial history, to say the least. What's the controversial history you may ask? According to Ars, the drug "flunked out of two identical Phase III clinical trials in 2019." A panel of expert advisors for the FDA overwhelmingly voted against approval, yet it still was approved by the FDA on June 7. It also has a list price of $56,000 for a year's supply. The report goes on to say that the company is basically making up the statistic that "about 1 in 12 Americans 50 years and older" has mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer's. Experts say they know of no evidence to back up that statistic and it appears to be a significant overestimate. Furthermore, two medical experts from Georgetown University said the company's quiz website "appears designed to ratchet up anxiety in anyone juggling multiple responsibilities or who gets distracted during small talk." They added: "Convincing perfectly normal people they should see a specialist, be tested for amyloid plaque, and, if present, assume they have early Alzheimer's is a great strategy for increasing Aduhelm prescriptions... [It] could lead to millions of prescriptions -- and billions of dollars in profit -- for an ineffective and expensive drug."

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Hole Blasted In Guntrader: UK Firearms Sales Website's CRM Database Breached, 111K Users' Info Spilled Online

Criminals have hacked into a Gumtree-style website used for buying and selling firearms, making off with a 111,000-entry database containing partial information from a CRM product used by gun shops across the UK. The Register reports: The Guntrader breach earlier this week saw the theft of a SQL database powering both the Guntrader.uk buy-and-sell website and its electronic gun shop register product, comprising about 111,000 users and dating between 2016 and 17 July this year. The database contains names, mobile phone numbers, email addresses, user geolocation data, and more including bcrypt-hashed passwords. It is a severe breach of privacy not only for Guntrader but for its users: members of the UK's licensed firearms community. Guntrader spokesman Simon Baseley told The Register that Guntrader.uk had emailed all the users affected by the breach on July 21 and issued a further update yesterday. Guntrader is roughly similar to Gumtree: users post ads along with their contact details on the website so potential purchasers can get in touch. Gun shops (known in the UK as "registered firearms dealers" or RFDs) can also use Guntrader's integrated gun register product, which is advertised as offering "end-to-end encryption" and "daily backups", making it (so Guntrader claims) "the most safe and secure gun register system on today's market." [British firearms laws say every transfer of a firearm (sale, drop-off for repair, gift, loan, and so on) must be recorded, with the vast majority of these also being mandatory to report to the police when they happen...] The categories of data in the stolen database are: Latitude and longitude data; First name and last name; Police force that issued an RFD's certificate; Phone numbers; Fax numbers; bcrypt-hashed passwords; Postcode; Postal addresses; and User's IP addresses. Logs of payments were also included, with Coalfire's Barratt explaining that while no credit card numbers were included, something that looks like a SHA-256 hashed string was included in the payment data tables. Other payment information was limited to prices for rifles and shotguns advertised through the site. The Register recommends you check if your data is included in the hack by visiting Have I Been Pwned. If you are affected and you used the same password on Guntrader that you used on other websites, you should change it as soon as possible.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Facebook Details Experimental Mixed Reality and Passthrough API

Facebook shared some details about its experimental Passthrough API to enable new kinds of mixed reality apps for Oculus Quest 2. UploadVR reports: The feature may also serve as the foundation for the company's long-term efforts in augmented reality, effectively turning Quest 2 into a $299 AR developer kit. When asked if the feature is coming to the original Oculus Quest, a Facebook representative replied "today, this is only available for Quest 2." The new feature will be available to Unity developers in an upcoming software development kit release "with support for other development platforms coming in the future." Facebook says apps using the API "cannot access, view, or store images or videos of your physical environment from the Oculus Quest 2 sensors" and raw images from the four on-board cameras "are processed on-device." The following capabilities will be available with the passthrough API, according to Facebook: "Composition: You can composite Passthrough layers with other VR layers via existing blending techniques like hole punching and alpha blending. Styling: You'll be able to apply styles and tint to layers from a predefined list, including applying a color overlay to the feed, rendering edges, customizing opacity, and posterizing. Custom Geometry: You can render Passthrough images to a custom mesh instead of relying on the default style mesh -- for example, to project Passthrough on a planar surface."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson Not Yet Astronauts, US Says

New Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules say astronaut hopefuls must be part of the flight crew and make contributions to space flight safety. That means Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson may not yet be astronauts in the eyes of the US government. The BBC reports: These are the first changes since the FAA wings program began in 2004. The Commercial Astronaut Wings program updates were announced on Tuesday -- the same day that Amazon's Mr Bezos flew aboard a Blue Origin rocket to the edge of space. To qualify as commercial astronauts, space-goers must travel 50 miles (80km) above the Earth's surface, which both Mr Bezos and Mr Branson accomplished. But altitude aside, the agency says would-be astronauts must have also "demonstrated activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human space flight safety." What exactly counts as such is determined by FAA officials. In a statement, the FAA said that these changes brought the wings scheme more in line with its role to protect public safety during commercial space flights. On July 11, Sir Richard flew on-board Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo to the edge of space as a test before allowing customers aboard next year. Mr Bezos and the three other crew members who flew on Blue Origin's spacecraft may have less claim to the coveted title. Ahead of the launch, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said that "there's really nothing for a crew member to do" on the autonomous vehicle. Those wishing for commercial wings need to be nominated for them as well. An FAA spokesperson told CNN they are not currently reviewing any submissions. There are two other ways to earn astronaut wings in the US - through the military or Nasa. However, a glimmer of hope remains for Sir Richard, Mr Bezos and any future stargazers hoping to be recognized as astronauts. The new order notes that honorary awards can be given based on merit -- at the discretion of the FAA's associate administrator. Astronaut wings were first awarded to astronauts Alan Shepard Jr and Virgil Grissom in the early 1960s for their participation in the Mercury Seven program.

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