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*Really* miss flying? Join over 100 other weirdos on this 7-hour ‘flight to nowhere’.

*Really* miss flying? Join over 100 other weirdos on this 7-hour 'flight to nowhere'.

New seats on Qantas’ previously sold out “Great Southern Land” scenic joy flight have now been made available, giving travel-starved Australians another chance to pay almost AU$800 to board a plane, fly in a big circle for seven and a half hours, and touch down in the exact same place they took off from.

Australian airline Qantas revealed their Great Southern Land flight on Thursday, offering Sydney passengers the chance to buzz over iconic destinations such as the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, and Bondi Beach. They won’t be able to disembark at any of these places though, considering state borders have been closed due to the coronavirus. Instead, passengers will merely glimpse these iconic locations out the windows of a low-flying B787 Dreamliner, weather permitting. Read more…

More about Australia, Airlines, Scenic, Qantas, and Flights

Australia’s new coronavirus tracking app was downloaded a million times in just 5 hours

Australia's new coronavirus tracking app was downloaded a million times in just 5 hours

The Australian government’s new coronavirus contact tracing app was downloaded one million times within five hours of launch, meaning approximately one out of every 25 Australians is using it. It’s a notable uptake considering some Australians had expressed concerns about privacy issues.

Released on Sunday, COVIDSafe uses Bluetooth to connect with other phones within 1.5 metres (4.9 feet) which also have the app installed. If they are in contact for over 15 minutes, the app records data such as the date, time, contact distance and duration, and the other user’s encrypted identification code. This information is stored on the user’s phone for 21 days, after which it is automatically deleted. Read more…

More about Australia, Tracking, Phone Tracking, Coronavirus, and Covid 19

Igloo raises $8.2M to bring insurance to more people in Southeast Asia

Singapore-based Igloo, formerly known as Axinan, has raised $8.2 million as the insurance-tech startup looks to broaden its foothold in half a dozen Southeast Asian markets and Australia.

InVent, a corporate venture capital arm of telecommunications firm Intouch Holdings, led Igloo’s extended Series A round, the startup told TechCrunch. Existing investors Openspace Ventures, a venture capital fund that invests in Southeast Asia, and Linear Capital, a Shanghai-based early-stage venture capital firm focusing on tech-driven startups, participated in this round, which makes four-year-old Igloo’s to-date raise to $16 million. It raised about $1 million in its Seed financing round.

Igloo — founded by Wei Zhu, who previously served as Chief Technology Officer at Grab — works with e-commerce and travel firms such as Lazada, RedDoorz, and Shopee in Southeast Asia to offer their customers insurance products that provide protection on electronics, and coverage on accidents and travel.

The startup, which also operates in Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia, said more than 15 million users have benefitted from its insurance products to date, and in the last one year it has processed more than 50 million transactions.

Igloo, which rebranded from Axinan this month, said insurance products are proving especially useful to — and popular among — people during the coronavirus outbreak.

Raunak Mehta, Chief Commercial Officer at Igloo, told TechCrunch that the startup has seen a surge in transactions and customer acquisitions in the last 45 days. “While some travel related business have seen a dip, the larger e-commerce business continues to see a surge,” he added.

“With COVID-19 impacting every facet of personal life and business, digitisation can help the world adjust to the new normal. This is especially apparent in insurance, where we can tap on digital channels for distribution and also for creating awareness,” said Zhu.

“We see that digital insurance is on the rise in Southeast Asia, and we believe that Igloo, with our digital-first approach and expansion of our product portfolio into personal health, accident and other related products can help fill those gaps and address consumers’ needs for personal well-being,” he added.

He said the digital insurance penetration remains low in Southeast Asia, and Igloo sees massive opportunity in the space. According to one estimate (PDF), Southeast Asia’s digital insurance market is currently valued at $2 billion and is expected to grow to $8 billion by 2025.

The startup, which competes with a handful of startups including Singapore Life and Saphron, will use the fresh capital to expand its business development and engineering teams and broaden its presence in the half-dozen markets. It is already engaging with telecom operators, banks, non-banking financial firms, and travel agencies, it said.

Australia will make Facebook and Google pay media organisations for content

Australia will make Facebook and Google pay media organisations for content

Though Facebook and Google generate significant income through online advertising, most of their content is actually created by other, smaller websites. Now the Australian government is taking steps to force tech giants to pay for that work.

The Australian government has ordered the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to develop a mandatory code of conduct for dealings between tech giants and local media companies. According to Australia’s ABC News, the code will cover issues such as ranking news content, data sharing, and sharing advertising revenue.

“It’s only fair that those that generate content get paid for it,” said Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. “This will help to create a level playing field.” Read more…

More about Facebook, Google, Advertising, Australia, and Media Industry

The Station: Bird and Lime layoffs, pivots in a COVID-19 era and a $2.2 trillion deal

Hello folks, welcome back (or hi for the first time) to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to the all the ways people and packages move around this world. I’m your host, Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch.

I also have started to publish a shorter version of the newsletter on TechCrunch . That’s what you’re reading now. For the whole enchilada — which comes out every Saturday — you can subscribe to the newsletter by heading over here, and clicking “The Station.” It’s free!

Before I get into the thick of things, how is everyone doing? This isn’t a rhetorical question; I’m being earnest. I want to hear from you (note my email below). Maybe you’re a startup founder, a safety driver at an autonomous vehicle developer, a venture capitalist, engineer or gig economy worker. I’m interested in how you are doing, what you’re doing to cope and how you’re getting around in your respective cities.

Please reach out and email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

It was a rough week for micromobility amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Bird laid off about 30% of its employees due to the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus.

In a memo obtained by TechCrunch, Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden said:

The unprecedented COVID-19 crisis has forced our leadership team and the board of directors to make many extremely difficult and painful decisions relating to some of your teammates. As you know, we’ve had to pause many markets around the world and drastically cut spending. Due to the financial and operational impact of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, we are saying goodbye to about 30% of our team.

The fallout from COVID-19 isn’t limited to Bird. Lime is also reportedly considering laying off up to 70 people in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Meanwhile, Wheels deployed e-bikes with self-cleaning handlebars and brake levers to help reduce the risk of spreading the virus. NanoSeptic’s technology, which is powered by light, uses mineral nano-crystals to create an oxidation reaction that is stronger than bleach, according to the company’s website. NanoSeptic then implements that technology into skins and mats to turn anything from a mousepad to door handles to handlebars into self-cleaning surfaces.

The upshot to all of this: COVID-19 is turning shared mobility on its head. That means lay offs will continue. It also means companies like Wheels will try to innovate or pivot in hopes of staying alive.

While some companies pulled scooters off city streets, others changed how they marketed services. Some turned efforts to gig economy workers delivering food. Others, like shared electric moped service Revel, are focusing on healthcare workers.

Revel is now letting healthcare workers in New York rent its mopeds for free. To qualify, they just need to upload their employee ID. For now, the free rides for healthcare workers is limited to Brooklyn, Queens and a new service area from upper Manhattan down to 65th street. Revel expanded the area to include hospitals in one of the epicenters of the disease.

Revel is still renting its mopeds to the rest of us out there, although they encourage people to only use them for essential trips. As you might guess, ridership is down significantly. The company says it has stepped up efforts of disinfecting and cleaning the mopeds and helmets. Revel also operates in Austin, New York City, Oakland, and Washington. It has suspended service in Miami per local regulations.

Megan Rose Dickey (with a cameo from Kirsten Korosec)

Deal of the week

money the station

Typically, I would highlight a large funding round for a startup in the “deal of the week” section. This week, I have broadened my definition.

On Friday, the House of Representatives passed a historic stimulus package known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or “CARES” act. President Donald Trump signed it hours later. The CARES act contains an unprecedented $2.2 trillion in total financial relief for businesses, public institutions and individuals hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

TechCrunch has just started what will be a multi-day dive into the 880-page document. And in the coming weeks, I will highlight anything related or relevant to the transportation industry or startups here.

I’ll focus today on three items: airlines, public transit and small business loans.

U.S. airlines are receiving $58 billion. It breaks down to about $25 billion in loans for commercial carriers, $25 billion in payroll grants to cover the 750,000 employees who work in the industry.  Cargo carriers will receive $4 billion in loans and $4 billion in grants. These loans come with some strings attached. Airlines will have to agree not to lay off workers through the end of September. The package forbids stock buybacks and issuing dividends to shareholders for a year after paying off one of the loans.

Public transit has been allocated $24.9 billion. The CARES Act provides almost three times the FY 2020 appropriations for this category, according to the American Public Transportation Association. The funds are distributed through a formula that puts $13.79 billion to urban, $2 billion to rural, $7.51 billion towards state of good repair and $1.71 billion for high-density state transit. APTA notes that these funds are for operating expenses to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19 beginning on January 20, 2020.

Amtrak received an additional $1 billion in grants, that directs $492 million of those funds towards the northeast corridor. The remaining goes to the national network.

Small business loans are a critical piece of the bill, and an area where many startups may be focused. There is a lot to unpack here, but in basic terms the act provides $350 billion in loans that will be administered by the Small Business Administration to businesses with 500 or fewer employees. These loans are meant to cover an eligible borrower’s payroll, rent, utilities expenses and mortgage interest for up to eight weeks. If the borrower maintains its workforce, some of the loan may be forgiven.

Venture-backed startups seeking relief may run into problems qualifying. It all comes down to how employees are counted. Normally, SBA looks at a company’s affiliates to determine if they qualify. So, a startup owned by a private equity firm is considered affiliated with the other companies in that firm’s portfolio, which could push employment numbers far beyond 500. That rule also seems to apply to venture-backed startups, in which more than 50% of voting stock is held by the VC.

The guidance on this is still spotty. But Fenwick & West, a Silicon Valley law firm, said in recent explainer that the rule has the “potential to be problematic for startups because the SBA affiliation rules are highly complex and could cause lenders to group together several otherwise unaffiliated portfolio companies of a single venture capital firm in determining whether a borrower has no more than 500 employees.”

One final note: The SBA has waived these affiliation rules for borrowers in the food services and food supply chain industry. It’s unclear what that might mean for those food automation startups or companies building autonomous vehicles for food delivery.

More deal$

COVID-19 has taken over, but deals are still happening. Here’s a rundown of some of partnerships, acquisitions and fundraising round that got our attention.

  • Lilium, the Munich-based startup that is designing and building vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft and aspires to run in its own taxi fleet, has raised $240 million in a funding round led by Tencent. This is being couched as an inside round with only existing investors, a list that included participation from previous backers such as Atomico, Freigeist and LGT. The valuation is not being disclosed. But sources tell us that it’s between $750 million and $1 billion.
  • Wunder Mobility acquired Australia-based car rental technology provider KEAZ. (Financial terms weren’t disclosed, but as part of the deal KEAZ founder and CTO Tim Bos is joining Wunder Mobility) KEAZ developed a mobile app and back-end management tool that lets rental agencies, car dealerships, and corporations provide shared access to vehicles.
  • Cazoo, a startup that buys used cars and then sells them online and delivers to them your door, raised $116 million funding. The round was led by DMG Ventures with General Catalyst, CNP (Groupe Frère), Mubadala Capital, Octopus Ventures, Eight Roads Ventures and Stride.VC also participating.
  • Helm.ai came out of stealth with an announcement that it has raised $13 million in a seed round that includes investment from A.Capital Ventures, Amplo, Binnacle Partners, Sound Ventures, Fontinalis Partners and SV Angel. Helm.ai says it developed software for autonomous vehicles that can skip traditional steps of simulation, on-road testing and annotated data set — all tools that are used to train and improve the so-called “brain” of the self-driving vehicle.
  • RoadSync, a digital payment platform for the transportation industry, raised a $5.7 million in a Series A led by Base10 Partners with participation from repeat investor Hyde Park Venture Partners and Companyon Ventures. The company developed cloud-based software that lets businesses invoice and accept payments from truck drivers, carriers and brokers. Their platform is in use at over 400 locations nationwide with over 50,000 unique transactions monthly, according to RoadSync.
  • Self-driving truck startup TuSimple is partnering with automotive supplier ZF to develop and produce autonomous vehicle technology, such as sensors, on a commercial scale. The partnership, slated to begin in April, will cover China, Europe and North America.

A final word

Remember, the weekly newsletter features even more mobility news and insights. I’ll leave ya’ll with this one chart from Inrix. The company has launched a U.S. traffic synopsis that it plans to publish every Monday. The chart shows traffic from the week of March 14 to March 20. The upshot: COVID-19 reduced traffic by 30% nationwide.

inrix traffic drop from covid

Thousands told to jump into the ocean as Australia’s raging fires approached

Thousands told to jump into the ocean as Australia's raging fires approached

The sun didn’t rise on New Year’s Eve. The summer morning in a small beach town on the east coast of Australia looked like a winter’s night. 

That black sky soon gave way to a blazing, eerie orange as the flames approached. At least 4,000 people were told to jump into the ocean. Gas cylinders could be heard popping like fireworks as they exploded. 

The town of Mallacoota looked apocalyptic on Tuesday local time as it became the latest victim of Australia’s out-of-control bushfires.

It was too late to evacuate. 

“We are one road in, one road out. That road’s been blocked for hours and hours and hours,” Francesca Winterson from Mallacoota Community Radio told News Breakfast, a national TV broadcast.  Read more…

More about Australia, Bushfires, Science, and Climate Environment

Thousands told to jump into the ocean as Australia’s raging fires approached

Thousands told to jump into the ocean as Australia's raging fires approached

The sun didn’t rise on New Year’s Eve. The summer morning in a small beach town on the east coast of Australia looked like a winter’s night. 

That black sky soon gave way to a blazing, eerie orange as the flames approached. At least 4,000 people were told to jump into the ocean. Gas cylinders could be heard popping like fireworks as they exploded. 

The town of Mallacoota looked apocalyptic on Tuesday local time as it became the latest victim of Australia’s out-of-control bushfires.

It was too late to evacuate. 

“We are one road in, one road out. That road’s been blocked for hours and hours and hours,” Francesca Winterson from Mallacoota Community Radio told News Breakfast, a national TV broadcast.  Read more…

More about Australia, Bushfires, Science, and Climate Environment

Thousands told to jump into the ocean as Australia’s raging fires approached

Thousands told to jump into the ocean as Australia's raging fires approached

The sun didn’t rise on New Year’s Eve. The summer morning in a small beach town on the east coast of Australia looked like a winter’s night. 

That black sky soon gave way to a blazing, eerie orange as the flames approached. At least 4,000 people were told to jump into the ocean. Gas cylinders could be heard popping like fireworks as they exploded. 

The town of Mallacoota looked apocalyptic on Tuesday local time as it became the latest victim of Australia’s out-of-control bushfires.

It was too late to evacuate. 

“We are one road in, one road out. That road’s been blocked for hours and hours and hours,” Francesca Winterson from Mallacoota Community Radio told News Breakfast, a national TV broadcast.  Read more…

More about Australia, Bushfires, Science, and Climate Environment

Thousands told to jump into the ocean as Australia’s raging fires approached

Thousands told to jump into the ocean as Australia's raging fires approached

The sun didn’t rise on New Year’s Eve. The summer morning in a small beach town on the east coast of Australia looked like a winter’s night. 

That black sky soon gave way to a blazing, eerie orange as the flames approached. At least 4,000 people were told to jump into the ocean. Gas cylinders could be heard popping like fireworks as they exploded. 

The town of Mallacoota looked apocalyptic on Tuesday local time as it became the latest victim of Australia’s out-of-control bushfires.

It was too late to evacuate. 

“We are one road in, one road out. That road’s been blocked for hours and hours and hours,” Francesca Winterson from Mallacoota Community Radio told News Breakfast, a national TV broadcast.  Read more…

More about Australia, Bushfires, Science, and Climate Environment

Australia rolls out world-first AI camera system to catch drivers on their phones

Australia rolls out world-first AI camera system to catch drivers on their phones

One Australian state government has become the first in the world to implement a statewide camera program to automatically detect drivers using their cell phones.

The program began its rollout in the state of New South Wales on December 1 following a six-month trial earlier this year, which the government claims caught over 100,000 drivers. Similar technology has been tested in England and Saudi Arabia, but the NSW program marks the first time it has been implemented on a wide scale.

There won’t be any signs signalling the cameras’ presence, either. “We have to unfortunately use the element of surprise to get people to think ‘well, I could get caught at any time’,” said NSW Roads Minister Andrew Constance. “I want behaviour to change and I want it changed immediately.” Read more…

More about Australia, Cameras, Driving, Road Safety, and Cell Phones

Australia rolls out world-first AI camera system to catch drivers on their phones

Australia rolls out world-first AI camera system to catch drivers on their phones

One Australian state government has become the first in the world to implement a statewide camera program to automatically detect drivers using their cell phones.

The program began its rollout in the state of New South Wales on December 1 following a six-month trial earlier this year, which the government claims caught over 100,000 drivers. Similar technology has been tested in England and Saudi Arabia, but the NSW program marks the first time it has been implemented on a wide scale.

There won’t be any signs signalling the cameras’ presence, either. “We have to unfortunately use the element of surprise to get people to think ‘well, I could get caught at any time’,” said NSW Roads Minister Andrew Constance. “I want behaviour to change and I want it changed immediately.” Read more…

More about Australia, Cameras, Driving, Road Safety, and Cell Phones

Internet connectivity projects unite as Alphabet spinout Loon grabs $125M from SoftBank’s HAPSMobile

Two futuristic projects are coming together to help increase global internet access after Loon, the Google spinout that uses a collection of floating balloons to bring connectivity to remote areas, announced it has raised money from a SoftBank initiative.

HAPSMobile, a SoftBank project that is also focused on increasing global connectivity, is investing $125 million into Loon, according to an announcement from SoftBank made this morning. The agreement includes an option for Loon to make a reciprocal $125 million investment in HAPSMobile and it includes co-operation plans, details of which are below.

HAPSMobile is a one-year-old joint venture between SoftBank and U.S. company AeroVironment . The company has developed a solar-powered drone that’s designed to deliver 5G connectivity in the same way Facebook has tried in the past. The social network canceled its Aquila drone last year, although it is reported to have teamed up with Airbus for new trials in Australia.

Where Facebook has stumbled, HAPSMobile has made promising progress. The company said that its HAWK 30 drone — pictured below in an impression — has completed its initial development and the first trials are reportedly set to begin this year.

Loon, meanwhile, was one of the first projects to go after the idea of air-based connectivity with a launch in 2013. The business was spun out of X, the ‘moonshot’ division of Alphabet, last year and, though it is still a work in progress, it has certainly developed from an initial crazy idea conceived within Google.

Loon played a role in connecting those affected by flooding in Peru in 2017 and it assisted those devastated by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year. Loon claims its balloons have flown more than 30 million kms and provided internet access for “hundreds of thousands” of people across the world.

In addition to the capital investment, the two companies have announced a set of initiatives that will help them leverage their collective work and technology.

For starters, they say they will make their crafts/balloons open to use for the other — so HAPSMobile can tap Loon balloons for connectivity and vice-versa — while, connected to that, they will jointly develop a communication payload across both services. They also plan to develop a common ground station that could work with each side’s tech and develop shared connectivity that their airborne hardware can tap.

Loon has already developed fleet management technology because of the nature of its service, which is delivered by a collection of balloons, and that will be optimized for HAPSMobile.

The premise of HAPSMobile is very much like Loon

Outside of tech, the duo said they will create an alliance “to promote the use of high altitude communications solution with regulators and officials worldwide.”

The investment is another signal that shows SoftBank’s appetite in tech investing is not limited to up-and-coming startups via its Vision Fund, more established ventures are indeed also in play. Just yesterday, the Vision Fund announced plans to invest $1 billion in German payment firm Wirecard and its past investments include ARM and Nvidia, although SoftBank has sold its stake in the latter.

Uber may have left Southeast Asia but its APAC HQ remains in Singapore

Uber exited Southeast Asia last year after it sold its local business to Grab but it continues to remain in Singapore, where it has now opened a new regional HQ for Asia Pacific and is hiring for staff.

The company — which is headed for IPO imminently — won’t be restarting its service, however, which puts it in a rather interesting position in Singapore.

The writing has been on the wall for some time, though. TechCrunch reported last August that Uber was on a hiring spree in Singapore, and now that has come to fruition with the opening with a new 2,000 sq meter office near the Central Business District in Singapore. That’ll function as the management center for the nine markets that Uber operates in across Asia Pacific, which include Japan, Korea and Australia. India, Uber’s second largest market, is managed separately to the rest of the continent.

Uber’s Southeast Asia sale — which saw it take a tactical 27.5 percent stake in its Singapore-based rival — gave Grab first refusal on a lot of Uber’s operational talent, but most of Uber’s core management team remained with the company in Singapore. For example, Brooks Entwistle, who was hired as chief business officer for Asia Pacific in 2017, remains stationed there as Uber’s international chief business officer.

Big day for ⁦@Uber⁩ in Asia as we open our new APAC HQ in Singapore. Our awesome team is growing as we deepen our commitment to this city-state and its outstanding tech talent and focus. We are hiring! #Uber #UberEATS #JUMP #Onward #Asia #Singapore https://t.co/BOnOn2GblE

— Brooks Entwistle (@BrooksEntwistle) April 2, 2019

Straits Times reports that Uber’s Singapore headcount is at least 165 with some 17 vacancies open right now. As we reported last year, the company was aiming to hire at least 75 roles to take its Singapore-based team to over “well over” 100 — it seems that it did that and then some.

Enormous, weird fish washes up on an Australian beach. So, what is it?

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This is certainly one very fishy encounter.

Two fishers stumbled across quite the surprise when they found a sunfish which had washed onto the beach at Coorong National Park in South Australia.

The photos, taken by Linette Grzelak, were posted on Facebook by National Parks South Australia on Tuesday, and boy, it’s a weird looking fish.

Grzelak told CNN they thought the fish was a piece of driftwood when they drove past it.

The strange-looking sea creature has since been identified by the South Australian Museum’s ichthyology manager Ralph Foster as an ocean sunfish (Mola mola), due to markings on its tail and the shape of its head. Read more…

More about Australia, Science, Animals, Fish, and Science

President Bolsonaro should boost Brazil’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

Romero Rodrigues
Contributor

Romero Rodrigues is a managing partner at Redpoint eVentures, the Brazilian-focused arm of the Silicon Valley venture firm Redpoint.

In late October following a significant victory for Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s presidential elections, the stock market for Latin America’s largest country shot up. Financial markets reacted favorably to the news because Bolsonaro, a free-market proponent, promises to deliver broad economic reforms, fight corruption and work to reshape Brazil through a pro-business agenda. While some have dubbed him as a far-right “Trump of the Tropics” against a backdrop of many Brazilians feeling that government has failed them, the business outlook is extremely positive.

When President-elect Bolsonaro appointed Santander executive Roberto Campos as new head of Brazil’s central bank in mid-November, Brazil’s stock market cheered again with Sao Paulo’s Bovespa stocks surging as much as 2.65 percent on the day news was announced. According to Reuters, “analysts said Bolsonaro, a former army captain and lawmaker who has admitted to having scant knowledge of economics, was assembling an experienced economic team to implement his plans to slash government spending, simplify Brazil’s complex tax system and sell off state-run companies.”

Admittedly, there are some challenges as well. Most notably, pension-system reform tops the list of priorities to get on the right track quickly. A costly pension system is increasing the country’s debt and contributed to Brazil losing its investment-grade credit rating in 2015. According to the new administration, Brazil’s domestic product could grow by 3.5 percent during 2019 if Congress approves pension reform soon. The other issue that’s cropped up to tarnish the glow of Bolsonaro coming into power are suspect payments made to his son that are being examined by COAF, the financial crimes unit.

While the jury is still out on Bolsonaro’s impact on Brazilian society at large after being portrayed as the Brazilian Trump by the opposition party, he’s come across as less authoritarian during his first days in office. Since the election, his tone is calmer and he’s repeatedly said that he plans to govern for all Brazilians, not just those who voted for him. In his first speech as president, he invited his wife to speak first which has never happened before.

Still, according to The New York Times, “some Brazilians remain deeply divided on the new president, a former army captain who has hailed the country’s military dictators and made disparaging remarks about women and minority groups.”

Others have expressed concern about his environment impact with the “an assault on environmental and Amazon protections” through an executive order within hours of taking office earlier this week. However, some major press outlets have been more upbeat: “With his mix of market-friendly economic policies and social conservativism at home, Mr. Bolsonaro plans to align Brazil more closely with developed nations and particularly the U.S.,” according to the Wall Street Journal this week.

Based on his publicly stated plans, here’s why President Bolsonaro will be good for business and how his administration will help build an even stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem in Brazil:

Bolsonaro’s Ministerial Reform

President Temer leaves office with 29 government ministries. President Bolsonaro plans to reduce the number of ministries to 22, which will reduce spending and make the government smaller and run more efficiently. We expect to see more modern technology implemented to eliminate bureaucratic red tape and government inefficiencies.

Importantly, this will open up more partnerships and contracting of tech startups’ solutions. Government contacts for new technology will be used across nearly all the ministries including mobility, transportation, health, finance, management and legal administration – which will have a positive financial impact especially for the rich and booming SaaS market players in Brazil.

Government Company Privatization

Of Brazil’s 418 government-controlled companies, there are 138 of them on the federal level that could be privatized. In comparison to Brazil’s 418, Chile has 25 government-controlled companies, the U.S. has 12, Australia and Japan each have eight, and Switzerland has four. Together, Brazil-owned companies employ more than 800,000 people today, including about 500,000 federal employees. Some of the largest ones include petroleum company Petrobras, electric utilities company EletrobrasBanco do Brasil, Latin America’s largest bank in terms of its assets, and Caixa Economica Federal, the largest 100 percent government-owned financial institution in Latin America.

The process of privatizing companies is known to be cumbersome and inefficient, and the transformation from political appointments to professional management will surge the need for better management tools, especially for enterprise SaaS solutions.

STEAM Education to Boost Brazil’s Tech Talent

Based on Bolsonaro’s original plan to move the oversight of university and post-graduate education from the Education Ministry to the Science and Technology Ministry, it’s clear the new presidential administration is favoring more STEAM courses that are focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics.

Previous administrations threw further support behind humanities-focused education programs. Similar STEAM-focused higher education systems from countries such as Singapore and South Korea have helped to generate a bigger pipeline of qualified engineers and technical talent badly needed by Brazilian startups and larger companies doing business in the country. The additional tech talent boost in the country will help Brazil better compete on the global stage.

The Chicago Boys’ “Super” Ministry

The merger of the Ministry of Economy with the Treasury, Planning and Industry and Foreign Trade and Services ministries will create a super ministry to be run by Dr. Paulo Guedes and his team of Chicago Boys. Trained at the Department of Economics in the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman and Arnold Harberger, the Chicago Boys are a group of prominent Chilean economists who are credited with transforming Chile into Latin America’s best performing economies and one of the world’s most business-friendly jurisdictions. Joaquim Levi, the recently appointed chief of BNDES (Brazilian Development Bank), is also a Chicago Boy and a strong believer in venture capital and startups.

Previously, Guedes was a general partner in Bozano Investimentos, a pioneering private equity firm, before accepting the invitation to take the helm of the world’s eighth-largest economy in Brazil. To have a team of economists who deeply understand the importance of rapid-growth companies is good news for Brazil’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. This group of 30,000 startup companies are responsible for 50 percent of the job openings in Brazil and they’re growing far faster than the country’s GDP.

Bolsonaro’s Pro-Business Cabinet Appointments

President Bolsonaro has appointed a majority of technical experts to be part of his new cabinet. Eight of them have strong technology backgrounds, and this deeper knowledge of the tech sector will better inform decisions and open the way to more funding for innovation.

One of those appointments, Sergio Moro, is the federal judge for the anti-corruption initiative knows as “Operation Car Wash.” With Moro’s nomination to Chief of the Justice Department and his anticipated fight against corruption could generate economic growth and help reduce unemployment in the country. Bolsonaro’s cabinet is also expected to simplify the crazy and overwhelming tax system. More than 40 different taxes could be whittled down to a dozen, making it easier for entrepreneurs to launch new companies.

In general terms, Brazil and Latin America have long suffered from deep inefficiencies. With Bolsonaro’s administration, there’s new promise that there will be an increase in long-term infrastructure investments, reforms to reduce corruption and bureaucratic red tape, and enthusiasm and support for startup investments in entrepreneurs who will lead the country’s fastest-growing companies and make significant technology advancements to “lift all boats.”

U.S. Embassy apologises after cat picture mistakenly sent out

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We’d never get you to say sorry for sending an adorable cat picture.

But the U.S. Embassy in Canberra, Australia has apologised on behalf of the Department of State who did just that, accidentally sending a test email featuring a photo of a cat dressed in a Cookie Monster costume.

According to the Australian Associated Press, the photo was was titled “cat pajama-jam” and was sent within an email titled “meeting,” as part of a fake meeting invitation sent by the Department of State to recipients.

It’s been described as a “training error,” and at least the U.S. Embassy saw the humour in it. Read more…

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Aussies are baffled over something called ‘Australian battered potatoes’

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Thanks to the likes of Outback Steakhouse, Australians have grown used to Americans and their weird take on what their food is like.

While they’re happy to let the awfully calorific Bloomin’ Onion slide, the Aussies are less amused about something called Australian Battered Potatoes.

Spotted by Rachel Lonergan on Twitter, the concoction of deep fried spuds, topped with a very American combination of ranch and liquid, radioactive-looking cheese left people scratching their heads.

I don’t want to upset anybody but I just found out that you can buy potato scallops at county fairs in the US but they call them “Australian battered potatoes” and they put cheese and ranch dressing on thempic.twitter.com/EgLMxRTr2I

— Rachael Lonergan (@RachaelHasIdeas) September 25, 2018 Read more…

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Uber introduces minimum rating requirements for riders, so don’t be a jerk

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It’s long-known that Uber drivers who fall under a certain star rating face getting kicked off the platform, and now that threat will extend to riders.

The ride-hailing company announced a new minimum average rating requirement for passengers in Australia and New Zealand, as per its update on its community guidelines.

Those changes will go into effect Sept. 19, and riders who veer too close to the minimum will be alerted before they sink below the requirement.

Once a rider drops below the minimum rating of 4.0, their account could be deactivated if they fail to improve after multiple notifications. Riders can reactivate their account after taking a “short educational exercise.”  Read more…

More about Tech, Australia, Uber, Ridesharing, and Big Tech Companies

Australia bans Huawei and ZTE from supplying technology for its 5G network

Australia has blocked Huawei and ZTE from providing equipment for its 5G network, which is set to launch commercially next year. In a tweet, Huawei stated that the Australian government told the company that both it and ZTE are banned from supplying 5G technology to the country, despite Huawei’s assurances that it does not pose a threat to national security.

We have been informed by the Govt that Huawei & ZTE have been banned from providing 5G technology to Australia. This is a extremely disappointing result for consumers. Huawei is a world leader in 5G. Has safely & securely delivered wireless technology in Aust for close to 15 yrs

— Huawei Australia (@HuaweiOZ) August 22, 2018

Earlier today, the Australian government issued new security guidelines for 5G carriers. Although it did not mention Huawei, ZTE or China specifically, it did strongly hint at them by stating “the Government considers that the involvement of vendors who are likely to be subject to extrajudicial directions from foreign government that conflict with Australian law, may risk failure by the carrier to adequately protect a 5G network from unauthorized access or interference.”

Concerns that Huawei, ZTE and other Chinese tech companies will be forced to comply with a new law, passed last year, that obligates all Chinese organizations and citizens to provide information to national intelligence agencies when asked have made several countries wary of using their technology. Earlier this month, the United States banned the use of most Huawei and ZTE technology by government agencies and contractors, six years after a Congressional report first cited the two companies as security threats.

In its new security guidelines, the Australian government stated that differences in the way 5G operates compared to previous network generations introduces new risks to national security. In particular, it noted the diminishing distinctions between the core network, where more sensitive functions like access control and data routing occur, and the edge, or radios that connect customer equipment, like laptops and mobile phones, to the core.

“This new architecture provides a way to circumvent traditional security controls by exploiting equipment in the edge of the network – exploitation which may affect overall network integrity and availability, as well as the confidentiality of customer data. A long history of cyber incidents shows cyber actors target Australia and Australians,” the guidelines stated. “Government has found no combination of technical security controls that sufficiently mitigate the risks.”

Last year, Australia introduced the Telecommunications Sector Security Reforms (TSSR), which takes effect next month and directs carriers and telecommunication service providers to protect their networks and infrastructure from national security threats and also notify the government of any proposed changes that may compromise the security of their network. It also gives the government the power to “intervene and issue directions in cases where there are significant national security concerns that cannot be addressed through other means.”

Huawei’s Australian chairman John Lord said in June that the company had received legal advice that its Australian operations are not bound to Chinese laws and he would refuse to hand over any data to the Chinese government in breach of Australian law. Lord also argued that banning Huawei could hurt local businesses and customers by raising prices and limiting access to technology.

TechCrunch has contacted ZTE and Huawei for comment.

This country’s prime minister intervened because people couldn’t watch the World Cup

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Never get between fans and the World Cup.

Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has stepped in after people complained of streaming issues with Optus, which holds the right to locally broadcast all the games at the tournament.

On Twitter, Turnbull said he had spoken with the telecommunications company’s CEO, Allen Lew, who reassured the problems would be fixed by Monday night.

I have spoken with the Optus CEO, Allen Lew. He assures me he is giving the World Cup streaming problems his personal attention and he believes it will be fixed this evening.

— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) June 18, 2018 Read more…

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China’s Didi Chuxing continues its international expansion with Australia launch

Didi Chuxing, China’s dominant ride-hailing company, is continuing its international expansion after it announced plans to launch in Australia this month.

The company — which bought Uber’s China business in 2016 — said it will begin serving customers in Melbourne from June 25 following a month-long trial period in Geelong, a neighboring city that’s 75km away. The business will be run by a Didi subsidiary in Australia and it plans to offer “a series of welcome packages to both drivers and riders” — aka discounts and promotions, no doubt. It began signing up drivers on June 1, the company added.

The Australia launch will again put Didi in direct competition with Uber, but that is becoming increasingly common, and also Ola and Didi which both count Didi as an investor — more on that below. This move follows forays into Taiwan, Mexico and Brazil this year as Didi has finally expanded beyond its China-based empire.

Didi raised $4 billion in December to develop AI, general technology and to fund international expansion and it has taken a variety of routes to doing the latter. This Australia launch is organic, with Didi developing its own team, while in Taiwan it has used a franchise model and it went into Brazil via acquisition, snapping up local Uber-rival 99 at a valuation of $1 billion.

It is also set to enter Japan where it has teamed up with investor SoftBank on a joint-venture.

“In 2018, Didi will continue to cultivate markets in Latin America, Australia and Japan. We are confident a combination of world-class transportation AI technology and deep local expertise will bring a better experience to overseas markets,” the company added in a statement.

This international expansion has also brought a new level of confusion since Didi has cultivated relationships with other ride-hailing companies across the world while also expanding its own presence internationally.

The Uber deal brought with it a stock swap — turning Didi and Uber from competitors into stakeholders — and the Chinese company has also backed Grab in Southeast Asia, Lyft in the U.S., Ola in India, Careem in the Middle East and — more recentlyTaxify, which is primarily focused on Europe and Africa.

In the case of Australia, Didi will come up against Uber, Ola — present in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney via an expansion made earlier this year — and Taxify, too. Uber vs Didi is to be expected — that’s a complicated relationship — but in taking on Ola (so soon after it came to Australia), Didi is competing directly with a company that it funded via an investment deal for the first time.

That might be a small insight into Didi’s relationship with Ola. Unlike Grab, which has seen Didi follow-on its investments, the Chinese firm sat out Ola’s most recent fundraising last year despite making an investment in the company back in 2015.

“The ride-hailing industry is still a young business, and the potential for growth is substantial. Competition exists in ride-hailing, like in any flourishing industry. But it leads to better products and services, which ultimately benefits users,” Didi told TechCrunch in a statement when asked about its new rivalry with Ola and Taxify.

Ola declined to comment. Taxify did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The move into Australia comes at a time when Didi is under intense pressure following the death of a passenger uses its ‘Hitch’ service last month.

The company suspended the Hitch service — which allows groups people who are headed in the same direction together — and removed a number of features while limiting its operations to day-time only. This week, it said it would resume night-time rides but only for drivers picking up passengers of the same sex.

People wondered what was up with this dirty-sounding church sign

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We guess it’s one way to get people to pay attention to a religious message.

An Australian church has raised eyebrows for its dirty-sounding sign, which reads “FORGIVENESS IS SWALLOWING WHEN YOU’D RATHER SPIT.” Nope, not making it up. 

Here is the sign, as it was displayed in front of the Anglican Church of the Holy Spirit in Surfers Paradise, photographed by local politician John-Paul Langbroek.

More about Australia, Culture, Church, Culture, and Web Culture

Yikes, that’s a lot of flies

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The occasional fly buzzing about is an inevitable part of living in Australia. But in some parts of the country, the flies can get pretty hectic. 

As Andrew Harper from the Outback Camel Company in the Simpson Desert found out, detailed in a video posted on Facebook Tuesday. 

“I’ve not seen them this thick for years,” the post reads. Thick may be an understatement.

Harper told the ABC the combination of recent rainfall and warm temperatures have resulted in the spike of flies. 

“We all had fly nets on and we stopped for a break. I was looking back at my lead camel and her saddle and the front of the saddle. Right across both sides was just black,” he told the news outlet. Read more…

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Sharks apparently don’t mind jazz music

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Turns out you can train a shark to like jazz.

Researchers at Australia’s Macquarie University have shown that the animal has a more discerning taste in music than you’d anticipate.

The study, published in Animal Cognition, shows that baby Port Jackson sharks can learn to associate music with food. If played jazz, the sharks would swim over to a feeding station to receive their delicious reward.

“Sound is really important for aquatic animals, it travels well under water and fish use it to find food, hiding places and even to communicate,” Catarina Vila-Pouca, the study’s lead author, said in a statement online. Read more…

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Why Australia is spending millions to make GPS signals more accurate

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Maybe Australians haven’t noticed, but the little blue marker showing where you are in Google Maps, or even Apple Maps, isn’t as accurate as it could be.

It’s why Australia is spending over A$260 million (US$193 million) to invest in satellite infrastructure and technology to improve GPS accuracy, as part of the Federal Government’s budget announcement.

As it stands, Australians get uncorrected GPS signals that are accurate to five metres (5.4 yards).

To improve that, the majority of the funds will be invested in a Satellite Based Augmentation System (SBAS), which aims to correct GPS accuracy to around a metre (1.09 yards), across Australia and its maritime zone. Read more…

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Congratulations, John Oliver, on the koala chlamydia ward named after you

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So a few weeks ago, Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver hit the headlines for buying a whole bunch of Russell Crowe memorabilia.

The auction of stuff included, of all things, the backs of seats sat on by famous people like Denzel Washington and Crowe, a vest from Les Misérables, and a jockstrap worn by Crowe in Cinderella Man.

Crowe amassed more than $3 million in sales at the auction, which you’d assume would go straight to his coffers. 

But not so fast: The actor ended up donating that money to a koala chlamydia ward at Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo, after promising on Twitter that Oliver’s “random act of kindness is going to be honoured in a cool way.” Read more…

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Facebook’s facial recognition feature could help find missing persons

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Facebook’s new facial recognition features makes some people uneasy, but the tool could help find missing people.

Australian organisation Missing Persons Action Network (MPAN) has launched a campaign called Invisible Friends, asking people to add the profiles of missing people as friends on the social media platform.

Facebook’s new facial recognition tools will automatically tag people in photos, even if they’re in the background. Users will be notified, and asked if they want to be tagged in the photos. 

These profiles of missing people, like Zac Barnes who disappeared in 2016, are actually run by MPAN. That means the organisation will receive a notification if the person is tagged by Facebook’s facial recognition feature.  Read more…

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Baby tree kangaroo takes first steps, decides pouch is better than world

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If you can get through this video of a baby tree kangaroo taking its first steps without losing your shit, you’re stone cold.

Sydney’s Taronga Zoo has released an outlandishly adorable video of its new marsupial resident, a little Goodfellows tree kangaroo joey who took his first steps on Wednesday.

Yet to be named, the wee creature was born in September last year to mama Kwikila, but this is the first time the keepers have seen him roam.

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WeWork confirms deal to buy Naked Hub, one of its main competitors in China

WeWork is buying up one of its largest competitors in China after it announced a deal to acquire Naked Hub.

The deal was widely reported by Chinese media yesterday, but WeWork has now confirmed it through a blog post from its CEO Adam Neumann. Terms of the transaction are not disclosed but Bloomberg reported that it is worth around $400 million.

Naked Hub is an offshoot of China-based luxury resort company Naked Group that was started in 2015 by Grant Horsfield and Delphine Yip-Horsfield. The company is primarily anchored in China, with most of its locations in Beijing and Shanghai, but it has expanded into Australia, Hong Kong and Vietnam. All told, it claims to have 10,000 members across its 24 office locations.

Even though a deal to merge with Singapore-based JustCo was called off, Naked Hub had emerged as one of WeWork’s fiercest competitors in China with the ambition to continue that battle in Southeast Asia and other markets, as I wrote last year.

WeWork isn’t commenting at this point about how it plans to integrate the two brands, but its CEO Neumann paid tribute to the Naked Hub business.

“We have found an equal who shares our thinking about the importance of space, community, design, culture, and technology. Together, I believe we will have a profound impact in helping businesses across China grow, scale, and succeed,” he wrote.

“China-born naked Hub and WeWork may come from vastly different backgrounds, but there is more that binds us than separates us. The values we share toward creating a vibrant community for our members by using design, technology, and hospitality are core to how both companies are successful,” said Horsfield, Naked Group’s founder and chairman.

Naked Hub may be a growing threat to WeWork China, but it is far from the only major competitor. Unicorn Ucommune — which changed its name from URwork following a lawsuit from WeWork — is perhaps the largest profile Chinese challenger.

WeWork launched in China in 2016 via Shanghai. Today it said it has 13 locations in Greater China with plans to increase that to more than 40 by the end of this year. That’s a move that it said will quadruple its membership numbers in China from 10,000 to 40,000.

The deal is WeWork’s second acquisition of a competitor in Asia, its first being a deal to buy SpaceMob, a then 1.5-year-old company in Singapore, last year.

The company has been lining its pockets to fuel a big push into Asia.

Last year, the firm span out a WeWork China entity backed by $500 million from investors, while capital also went to WeWork Japan — a unit that investor SoftBank owns half of — and WeWork Pacific, its business focused on Southeast Asia and other parts of the region which also got a $500 million to spend. All of that capital was part of a $4.4 billion investment round in WeWork from SoftBank.

Australia also investigates Facebook following data scandal

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Facebook might be getting a “booting” Down Under.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) announced on Thursday it would open a formal investigation into the social media giant to see if it has breached Australia’s privacy laws. 

It follows news the personal information of 300,000 Australian Facebook users “may have been acquired and used without authorisation” as part of the Cambridge Analytica scandal that affected 87 million.

OAIC said it would work with foreign authorities on the investigation, “given the global nature of the matter.”  Read more…

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Python somehow swallows a slipper, requiring surgery to remove it

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Sure, you’ve heard of snakes swallowing possums, hyenas, and uh, other snakes

They’re at least kinda digestible, unlike a slipper. A man from the Queensland town of Haigslea in Australia had placed by his bed last Tuesday as he went to sleep, only to find one of them missing in the morning.

The snake, with slipper inside, was found on Friday and was subsequently removed by N&S Snake Catcher, who posted the video on Facebook.

Sally Hill, who helped catch the snake with her partner Norman, told ABC News about her theory as to why the reptile devoured the strange item. Read more…

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Platypus milk is not a new trendy milk, but it could save lives

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Platypus milk: It’s not the new almond milk, but it could save lives.

Milk from Australia’s duck-billed, egg-laying monotreme could be crucial to the fight against antibiotic resistance, thanks to new research by Australian scientists.

Back in 2010, scientists found that platypus milk held properties that could be used to develop defences against superbugs — nasty bacteria that have built up a resistance to antimicrobial treatments like antibiotics. 

Now, in what WHO has dubbed the “post antibiotic era,” researchers at CSIRO have teamed up with Deakin University to understand how an unusual protein found in platypus milk, with rather protective antibacterial characteristics, could help to fight these superbugs. Read more…

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Absolute heroes brave rising floodwaters to save a giant spider

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Giant spiders are the kind of creature many people are deathly afraid of, but bless the rest who are willing to lend them a hand.

Like this one found clinging to a branch outside a supermarket in the Queensland, Australia town of Halifax on Sunday, as floodwaters raged on below.

Video of the stranded arachnid was uploaded to Facebook by Andrea Gofton, where of course someone had to put their hand next to it to prove how big it is.

Later, another video shows a man taking the entire branch and placing it onto dry land, where it could scurry away. Read more…

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Chris Hemsworth is just being a good dad, teaching his kids how to surf

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While the rest of Hollywood might still be recovering from the Oscars, Chris Hemsworth is busy being a good daddy.

The Thor: Ragnarok star is back in Australia, spending some quality time with the family and keeping the world up to date on his Instagram.

It’s a slice of the simple life, like a spot of camping and barbecues by the fire.

Or casually skipping rope by the beach.

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Turn your smartphone camera into a microscope with this 3D-printed accessory

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OK, so you can’t bring a microscope everywhere with you.

But you can certainly take this 3D-printed version, designed to clip onto your smartphone and work with its camera.

The device was developed by researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) at Australia’s RMIT University, and is the subject of a paper in Scientific Reports.

Requiring no external power or lighting source, the smartphone microscope is slated to be a handy tool for conducting fieldwork in remote areas, especially when bringing a larger microscope is impractical or unavailable. Read more…

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People are mesmerised by this snake’s elegant movement along a fence

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Snakes move in mysterious ways, but perhaps not always as mesmerisingly as this.

A video posted on the Facebook page of Bangor Vineyard Shed in Australia shows a Tasmanian tiger snake trying to navigate a thin fence line, which looks to be pretty challenging.

“I guess when you are a snake for a living then it’s quite cool to get a perspective from a new angle now and then. But that really does look like an awkward way to get around!” the post reads.

This Tasmanian tiger snake certainly has an interesting way of getting around @bangorfarm! #WildOz pic.twitter.com/Y0OPQtuboM

— Wildlife Land Trust (@wlt_au) February 14, 2018 Read more…

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Dudes brawl on train, then unexpectedly end up hugging it out

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Well, this is unexpectedly heartwarming.

Two unnamed commuters who were traveling on a train in Sydney, Australia got into a fight for unknown reasons, in a video shot by Judita Aku-wei Winter but uploaded by Ten News on Friday.

The situation predictably got ugly, but the end result was uh, well, a hug. “If you don’t mean it, I don’t mean it,” one of the men tells his former opponent.

To be fair, it’s Australia: A place where you can get into a tiff with someone and still be friends afterwards. Read more…

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Here’s a snake eating a possum, because Australia

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Australian animals are terrifying enough, but it doesn’t get more unsettling than watching one of them eat another.

A carpet python named Monty was filmed devouring a possum in the backyard of Gold Coast resident Greg Hosking’s home on Monday afternoon.

“It was pretty exciting to watch. It’s mesmerising in an alarming kind of way,” Hosking told ABC News

It took about 45 minutes for Monty to devour the possum, but we think this 1-minute video is enough for most people. Read more…

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Uber’s biggest rival in India expands internationally

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Uber is set to meet a familiar foe Down Under.

For the first time, ride-hailing giant Ola is setting up outside of India. The company said it plans to launch in Australia in early 2018, and is currently signing up drivers in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. 

The latest Uber challenger follows in the footsteps of Estonian ride-hailing company Taxify, which launched in Sydney last December, and recently began operations in Melbourne. 

On its website, Ola said it will initially charge a 7.5 percent commission from drivers. For the time being, it’s considerably lower than Taxify’s 15 percent, and Uber, which is around 25 percent. Ola is yet to reveal its entire fare structure in Australia. Read more…

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Serena Williams has no time for divisive Tennys

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Everyone loves an underdog, but the fast-rising Tennys Sandgren is proving to be quite polarising.

The once-unknown Tennessean is the first American male tennis player since 2010 to make the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.

But in the past 24 hours, questions have been raised about Sandgren’s alleged alt-right sympathies and belief in the Pizzagate conspiracy theory. It culminated in the player completely purging his Twitter account of tweets.

While support for your countrymen often comes automatic in sports, Serena Williams fired away with a two-word tweet seemingly aimed at Sandgren on Wednesday, who was set to play South Korean starlet Chung Hyeon. Read more…

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Tennis pro Tennys Sandgren’s sudden rise prompts questions over alt-right links

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This year has been rather fruitful for the underdog at the Australian Open tennis tournament. 

One of the unexpected successes is a Tennessean with a funny name, Tennys Sandgren, whose giant-killing efforts have earned him a place at the tournament’s quarterfinal and plenty of admiration.

But as people began to jump on the Sandgren bandwagon, questions have been raised about the player’s alleged support of the so-called alt-right, a white nationalist movement, and the Pizzagate conspiracy theory.

Tweets from the player have been circulated which indicate his support for Mike Cernovich on “fake news,” a denial that America has a problem with systemic racism because it elected a black president twice, and his belief that the “collective evidence is too much to ignore” in regard to the Pizzagate emails. Read more…

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Pesky crocodile steals fisherman’s catch like it’s NBD

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We get fighting for what you’ve worked for, but maybe not up against a crocodile.

A fisherman came a bit too close to the reptile while trying to reel in a barramundi at Cahills Crossing in the Northern Territory, Australia.

In a video posted on the Facebook page Bonker’s Adventure on Sunday, the crocodile can be seen chasing after the fish — still attached to the line — then wrestling it away as the fisherman retreats. 

Uh, yeah, no thanks.

“I knew it was a bit risky but the plan was to stay well away from the water, even once I got my fish,” fisherman Luke Robertson told NT News. Read more…

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This chatbot wants to cut through the noise on climate science

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Noise and misinformation, especially on climate, has long been a problem on social media.

To counter this, Australian not-for-profit the Climate Council has created a Facebook Messenger chatbot to inform people about climate science.

Launched on its Facebook page last week, it’s an effort to connect with younger people who are interested in issues like climate change, but aren’t the most engaged with the organisation — largely due to broader information overload.

“Young people are saturated on social media because they’re the most active on it, we know that they care and that they’ve got the thirst for information,” Nelli Huié, digital manager at the Climate Council, explained. Read more…

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Even Australia’s prime minister isn’t immune from being fined

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Politics might’ve been mad as ever in 2017, so perhaps there’s something oddly normal about a country’s leader getting what is a rather boring fine.

Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was issued a A$250 ticket (US$193) on Friday for not wearing a lifejacket when he was moving his dinghy near his Sydney home earlier this week.

The fine was confirmed by the New South Wales maritime authority, who are on the lookout for boaters who are breaking the law — seemingly no matter how distinguished they may be. 

The executive director for NSW Maritime, Angus Mitchell, said it was “a timely reminder during the holiday season to always wear a lifejacket.” Photos of the prime minister sans lifejacket were published in The Australian, which noted the law that had been broken. Read more…

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Lost submarine from World War I found after 103-year search

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One of World War I’s biggest mysteries has finally been solved after a 103-year search.

On Sep. 14, 1914, Australia’s first submarine, the HMAS AE1, disappeared off the coast of Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. 

It followed a successful mission to help capture what was then known as German New Guinea, and was the first loss for what was a young Royal Australian Navy. 

35 crew members went missing without a trace.

The AE1.

The AE1.

Image: Department of Defence

That’s until an expedition this week, the 13th search for the submarine, which located the AE1 on Wednesday off the coast of the Duke of York Island group, in east Papua New Guinea.  Read more…

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Behind the ambitious plan to build and race flying cars

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Since Back to the Future, you’re far from alone if you’ve wondered where the heck your flying car is already.

Sure, we’ve seen pitches by the likes of Kitty Hawk, which is backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, and Slovakian startup AeroMobil — but the reality of a flying car still seems a way off.

An Australian startup called Alauda has an ambition to fast-track that reality with its electric, low-altitude aircraft, the Airspeeder Mark I. 

Alauda is founded by Matt Pearson, who also cofounded space startup Fleet. Over the past two years, Pearson has been working on the project as part of a team of five in a Sydney warehouse. Read more…

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Spy agency launches interactive online test to see if you’re cut out for the job

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Recruiting spies is seldom a public exercise, but Australia’s intelligence agency is doing something different.

The Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), equivalent to the CIA and Britain’s MI6, has launched an online interactive test to discover people who are cut out for the job. 

Through a series of visual and aural exercises, the test seeks to identify suitable applicants that have the perception and empathy to work in the service. 

You’ll be required to pick out a missing number from a sequence, pick out faces in a crowd, and try and decipher information while three people are talking at the same time.  Read more…

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Ambassador posts adorable proposal after marriage equality legalised in Australia

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Marriage equality is finally law in Australia, which means LGBTQ couples can start planning their weddings. Or in plenty of cases, start proposing.

As in the case of the Australian ambassador to France, Brendan Berne, who spared no time proposing to his longtime partner Thomas Marti on Thursday in Paris. 

The video was posted on Berne’s Twitter account mere hours after marriage equality was made legal in Australia.

“Now, as Australia has just approved marriage equality, it is my turn now. My turn to ratify my own relationship with my partner of 11 years Thomas. He is not aware of what I would like to do now,” Berne said in French. Read more…

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‘Paperbark,’ the game that’s a love letter to unspoilt Australian nature

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While Australia’s renowned natural beauty is often plastered on postcards and featured in the occasional film, it’s something yet to be represented in the gaming world.

Paperbark, set to release early next year initially on iOS, will change all that. The game focuses on the life of a sleepy wombat exploring Australian bushland, discovering all kinds of flora and fauna along the way.

The game was originally the final year project of RMIT game design students Ryan Boulton, Nina Bennett and Terry Burdak. All three grew up in regional Victoria, and wanted to focus on creating a game that looked like an Australia they knew. Read more…

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New Zealanders worry about a ‘chipocalypse’ as potato supply drops

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We don’t want to ever live in a world where there is a “chipocalypse.”

No wonder New Zealanders are concerned at the prospect, as 20 percent of potato crops have been lost due to extended periods of wet weather, according to the New Zealand Herald.

Supermarkets have indicated to the newspaper there might be a shortage in potato crisps, as manufacturers have a smaller cut of potato crops in the country. Normal potato supply won’t return until the new year.

When the chips are down, people are going to freak out — a bit — on social media. Read more…

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