Japan Inspects 2 Nissan Plants Days after Recalling over 1 Million Cars


The Japanese Transport Ministry carried out on Wednesday spot inspections at two Nissan Motor Co. plants, a week after it had inspected four factories as part of a probe into final checks.

This is the latest embarrassment to the second-biggest Japanese automaker, which only days ago had to recall 1.2 million cars sold in Japan due to irregularities.

The initial four inspections found the automaker had conducted unauthorized final vehicle checks for most domestic models which had not yet been sold, prompting Nissan to suspend new vehicle registrations with the government.

By Monday, Japan’s second-biggest automaker had discovered problematic checks of more vehicles, and said it would recall all new passenger cars sold in Japan over the past three years.

Nissan said on Monday that a team, including an independent third party, was investigating the cause of the oversight and promised to prevent a recurrence. The problem does not affect Nissan vehicles sold outside Japan.

The failure is not believed to have affected vehicle safety as they were final-stage checks, according to the Yokohama-based maker of the March subcompact, Leaf electric car and Infiniti luxury models.

Nissan Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa told reporters the oversight occurred at all six Nissan plants in Japan. He acknowledged not enough had been done to ensure inspection staff were aware of inspection requirements.

He estimated the recalls and re-inspections would cost Nissan about 25 billion yen ($222 million), but stressed final costs were still unclear.

This is the second major instance of misconduct involving a Japanese automaker in under two years, after Mitsubishi Motors Corp said it tampered with fuel economy tests for some domestic-market models. While the recall is unlikely to have a significant impact on profitability, it is a blow to Nissan’s reputation just as it enjoys strong domestic sales, analysts said.

In inspecting Nissan’s factories, the ministry found names of certified technicians used on documents to sign off final vehicle checks conducted by non-certified technicians, two people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

It was possible the practice occurred at most or all of the six plants, said the people, who declined to be identified as they were not authorized to speak with media on the matter.

Vehicles sold in Japan must be registered with the government. As part of this process, during final checks, vehicles must undergo an additional procedure performed by plant technicians who can be certified by the automakers.

Nissan confirmed the latest two ministry inspections were at its Tochigi plant and at the Auto Works Kyoto plant owned by an affiliate.

“We are currently conducting an investigation into the nature of this vehicle inspection issue at our plants,” spokesman Nick Maxfield said in an emailed statement. A third-party is also involved in its probe.

Nissan’s recall includes all of the 386,000 new passenger vehicles it sold in Japan in 2016, roughly 10 percent of its global sales. It excludes Nissan-branded mini-vehicles produced by Mitsubishi Motors, which comprise roughly one-third of Nissan’s annual domestic sales.

Nissan shares have fallen more than 2 percent since Friday. They closed down 1.2 percent on Wednesday at 1,089.5 yen.

Google Responds to Complaints of Massive Media Companies

San Francisco, London – Following complaints from media giants like News Corp that their sales were suffering, Google has announced that subscription news websites would no longer have to provide users three free articles per day or face less prominence in search results, relaxing its rules.

For the last decade, Google’s “first click free” policy helped ensure that non-subscribers wouldn’t be stifled by paywalls when they clicked on news articles from searches.

Google, the largest component of Alphabet Inc., had contended that free samples would lead to increased subscriptions.

But apart from a few publications, online subscriptions haven’t taken off as intended, and media companies such as Wall Street Journal parent News Corp. increasingly complained that freeloading users were cutting into sales.

This year, the Wall Street Journal stopped abiding by Google’s policy, corresponding to a drop in search rankings but an increase in subscriptions.

According to Reuters, Richard Gingras, Google’s vice president for news noted: “Over the last year, we got clear indications that, yes, it was going to be important for publishers to grow subscription revenues.”

He said the number of news outlets with paywalls had reached a critical mass in the last year, to the point that it made sense for Google to start developing tools for them.

From here on, publishers will be able to choose how many, if any, free articles they want to offer to Google searchers. Google also plans to launch free software in the coming months for publishers that enables users to pay for content with credit card information that they’ve previously supplied to the search giant.

Saudi Arabia, Russia to Set Up $1 Billion Energy Fund- Novak

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak speaks during a news conference of the 4th OPEC-Non-OPEC Ministerial Monitoring Committee in St. Petersburg

London- Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said that Saudi Arabia and Russia will establish a new energy investment fund worth USD1 billion, noting that final touches would be put during the visit of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz to Moscow this week.

This step falls under both parties’ efforts to increase cooperation, given that they are among the biggest oil producers. “In principle, the talk revolves around earmarking $1bn just for energy projects and I as an energy minister am pleased by this because we are focusing on developing our cooperation not just within the framework of OPEC or even outside OPEC, but also developing cooperation in the fields of oil, gas, power and renewable energy,” Novak told the Dubai-based Al Arabiya news channel on Monday.

Russia and Saudi Arabia are leading efforts to trim global oil production by 1.8 million barrels of oil per day through a six-month agreement that ended in June and which was extended to the end of next March to help prop up oil prices and reduce the glut in the market.

Novak also said a number of Russian companies are exploring various aspects of cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of Russian gas giant Gazprom, and other companies are expected to sign agreements with their Saudi counterparts, he added.

Russian energy companies are also exploring the possibility of working with Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil producer, in the oil services field in the kingdom. Russian companies and in particular Rosneft, the country’s biggest oil producer, are also interested in oil trading cooperation.

A Game You Can Control With Your Mind

Cade Metz of The New York Times testing the Neurable prototype.

The increased interest in neurotechnology is partly a result of an effort the Obama administration started in 2013. The initiative helped create significant government financing for brain-interface companies and related work in academia. Then Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, began promoting the idea and his latest company, Neuralink. That combination has attracted the interest of private venture capital firms.

“With the smartphone, we’re starting to reach the limits of what we can do,” said Doug Clinton, the founder of Loup Ventures, a new venture capital firm that has invested in Neurable. “These companies are the next step.”

The Neurable prototype shows what is possible today. Using electroencephalography, or EEG — a means of measuring electrical brain activity that has been around for decades — the company can provide simple ways of mentally interacting with a game. Some companies hope to go much further, and want to build ways of performing nearly any computing task with the mind. Imagine a brain interface for rapidly typing on a smartphone.

Even for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs like Mr. Musk, setting that goal pushes technological optimism to new heights. Some efforts seem particularly quixotic. Mr. Musk said in one interview that Neuralink planned to develop ways of implanting hardware in the skulls of completely healthy people.

At Neurable, which is based in Boston, Mr. Alcaide and the members of his team are pushing the limits of EEG headsets. Although sensors can read electrical brain activity from outside the skull, it is very difficult to separate the signal from the noise. Using computer algorithms based on research that Mr. Alcaide originally published as a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, Neurable works to read activity with a speed and accuracy that is not usually possible.

The algorithms learn from your behavior. Before playing the game, you train them to recognize when you are focusing your attention on an object. A pulse of light bounces around the virtual room, and each time it hits a small colored ball in front of you, you think about the ball. At that moment, when you focus on the light and it stimulates your brain, the system reads the electrical spikes of your brain activity.

After you do this for a few minutes, the game learns to recognize when you are concentrating on an item. “We look at specific brain signals,” Mr. Alcaide said, “and once we understand them, we can use them.”

When you play the game, the same light bounces around the virtual room. When it hits the item you are thinking about, the system can identify the increase in brain activity.

The technique works with equipment that already exists. Neurable’s prototype uses virtual reality goggles from HTC, a consumer electronics company, and seven EEG sensors placed at specific spots around your head. But given the physical limits of what these sensors can read, an EEG-based game is unlikely to do more than slowly and simply select digital objects.

Some companies are working to move beyond that. Facebook, for example, is exploring methods for optically reading brain activity from outside the skull. Such a system would shine light into the brain to directly read chemical changes.

“What if you could type directly from your brain?” Regina Dugan of Facebook said this spring as she unveiled the company’s efforts to build this kind of optical interface. “It sounds impossible, but it’s closer than you may realize.” In a few years, she said, Facebook hopes to have a system that allows people to type with their thoughts five times faster than they now type using a smartphone keyboard.

That is well beyond the realm of current research, and a number of neuroscientists question whether it will ever be possible, arguing that such speed will only come with devices planted inside the skull.

Several start-ups are now working to do just that. But some, including a Silicon Valley start-up called Paradromics, hope to do this as a way of treating people with medical conditions like blindness, deafness and paralysis.

Implanting hardware in the brain is dangerous, but the reward for patients could outweigh the risks. For companies like Paradromics, the goal is to significantly refine and expand the current methods, providing a faster and more complete way for patients to operate machines with their thoughts.

Mr. Musk’s Neuralink is moving in a similar direction, but the company’s ambitions appear to stretch much further, to eventually implanting chips in healthy people’s brains.

The dangers of brain surgery make this unlikely. But Mr. Boyden said there were some possibilities.

“I do find it implausible that an implant would go directly into the brain of someone with zero health problems,” he said. “But if companies take the right approach in helping people with the greatest need, then there may be a way for this to spread into people with less severe conditions, and then eventually become a kind of brain augmentation.”

Certainly, many of these projects will be met with skepticism. And Silicon Valley’s enthusiasm does not always mesh with the physical limitations of medicine and the human body.

“In the physical sciences, there are physical boundaries,” said Matt Angle, a neuroscientist and the founder of Paradromics. “To think that you’ll be able to blow through fundamental laws by sheer ambition and enthusiasm is naïve.”

(The New York Times)

Strategic Partnership Between Aramco, Malaysia’s Petronas Chemicals

Dammam – Saudi Aramco has entered into a strategic partnership with Petronas Chemicals Group Berhad (PCG) to enhance the value and competitive positioning of its petrochemicals projects within the Petronas Pengerang Integrated Complex (PIC) in Johor, south of Malaysia.

Under the terms of the venture’s share purchase agreement signed between PCG and Aramco Overseas Holding Cooperative U.A. (AOHC) subsidiary, the parties have equal ownership in PRPC Polymers Sdn Bhd (PRPC Polymers) within PIC.

The agreement was signed by Saudi Aramco vice president International Operations, Said al-Hadrami and Petronas vice president and PCG CEO Sazali Hamzah.

Hadrami believed that this venture leverages the historic partnership between Saudi Aramco and Petronas which was recently sealed during the visit of the Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques King Salman to Malaysia.

“Given PCG’s strength in the region’s petrochemicals sector, Saudi Aramco is proud to be entering into a deeper, mutually beneficial partnership in PIC.,” said Hadrami.

He added that this agreement strengthens Aramco’s position and growth in South East Asia through crude supply and world-scale downstream operations.

“We will also achieve a high degree of integration between refining and petrochemicals, with petrochemicals production greater than 10% of crude intake. It is also in tandem with our downstream growth strategy where we are investing in a global refining and petrochemicals system of strategically located world-scale manufacturing complexes with the participated refining capacity of several million barrels per day,” he explained.

Vice president Sazali Hamzah stated the petrochemicals projects in PIC is one of the largest growth projects for PCG and Petronas’ largest downstream investment on a single site to date.

He described the signing of the agreement as a momentous milestone for the industry as it brings together two key leaders in petrochemicals, entering into a partnership in a world-scale greenfield project.

“We are proud to be joining hands with Saudi Aramco, a world leader in integrated energy and chemicals with an unrivaled track-record in mega-project execution and efficiency,” he added.

“By 2020, our petrochemicals projects under PIC will provide a strong foundation for us to move into derivatives and specialty chemicals. Beyond 2020, PCG will also focus on assessing opportunities in downstream derivatives and specialty chemicals at Pengerang, Kertih, Gebeng and East Malaysia,” concluded Hamzah.

Personal Device to Monitor Air Pollution


London – To monitor the exposure to the three most harmful pollutants, a French company has unveiled a new device to measure air pollution. The device is characterized with its small size and affordable price, as well as its usability.

The “Flow” device can be used as a handheld sensor or could be attached to pushchairs, purses and bags. It can be bought worldwide for under $200.

The New Scientist website reported Romain Lacombe, CEO of Plume Labs, the Paris-based firm behind the device, who said that the sensor was tested by 100 volunteers this summer in central London.

The crowdsourced results are now being used to map the air quality of more than 2000 kilometers of the city’s pavements.

He added: “We want to help people take ownership of what they breathe.”

A few similar devices are already on sale, but Flow will be the first to be able to detect levels of the big three pollutants: volatile compounds, airborne particulates and nitrogen oxides, according to the website.

Cities depended on a few fixed monitors to track air quality over vast urban areas. But these offered little insight to the average person because pollution varies from block to block due to the effects of trees, traffic patterns and architecture.

Preliminary Ruling Acquits 13 Accused in Makkah Crane Crash Case

Toppled crane in Makkah Grand Mosque.

Makkah- A penal court in Makkah acquitted on Sunday 13 employees in Binladin Group, charged with negligence in the September 11, 2015 crane crash incident, which had resulted in deaths of at least 109 people and the injury of some 400 others.

“The court said that they are not criminally responsible for the incident,” adding that the Saudi attorney general had filed an appeal against the decision which was approved.

The crane toppled over near the Grand Mosque in Makkah amid stormy weather, just days before Hajj.

The Binladin Group’s defense team claimed the Saudi Arabia-based construction firm could not have predicted the severe thunderstorm and violent winds that caused the crane to fall.

The construction firm had been working for years on a multi-billion-dollar 400,000 square-meter enlargement of the Grand Mosque to accommodate increasing numbers of pilgrims to the site.

The collapsed crane was one of several erected by the Binladin Group as part of the project.

Gulf-Jordanian Economic Communication Forum Launches 120 Investment Opportunities


Dammam, Amman – The Gulf-Jordanian Economic Communication forum concluded its activities on Saturday in Amman, Jordan with the launch of 120 investment opportunities.

Organized by the Federation of Chambers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (FCGCC) and the Jordan Chamber of Commerce, the forum set a roadmap for investment projects between the two parties to reach Gulf-Jordanian economic integration.

It also called for cooperation with the Ministry of Investment in Jordan to promote and introduce investment opportunities.

It recommended that Jordan and Iraq become members of the FCGCC. It also called for making use of investment and economic opportunities between the GCC and Jordan, especially in the vital sectors and preparation of joint studies between the FCGCC and the Jordan Chamber of Commerce.

The forum represented a main platform for cooperation between the Jordanian business community and its counterpart in the Arabian Gulf.

FGCCC First Deputy Chairman Abdulrahman al-Otaishan stated that organizing the forum falls under the gradual development in economic relations between federation states and Jordan in which trade exchange reached USD3.8 billion.

He added that the Saudi Vision 2030 represented a distinctive sign that would introduce radical changes in the Saudi economy.

Selective Tax Applied on Over 1,600 Items in UAE

Khaled Al Bustani., director-general of the Federal Tax Authority. UAE

Dubai- The number of commodities covered by the UAE’s selective taxation has been announced as 1,610 items, 60 percent of which are classified as soft drink products, 26 percent as tobacco and its derivatives, and some 14 percent as energy drinks, all deemed as the most damaging to the public’s health, the UAE announced Sunday.

The Federal Tax Authority has prepared a list of taxable commodities to assist in the collection process by the authorized parties, the manufacturing companies or importing companies.

The number of items on the list is subject to increase in the future if new brands of tobacco products, soft drinks or energy drinks are introduced to the market, and the selective tax rate varies between 50 and 100 percent.

The number of commodities classified as soft drinks, according to the list prepared by the Federal Tax Authority, is 974 while those classified as tobacco products and its derivatives reached 417, and the number of energy drinks was set at 219 items.

The Federal Tax Authority announced earlier this week that selective tax collections will only be accepted in e-Dirhams, a decision that will boost the government’s efforts to adopt an electronic system, keeping the UAE up to date with the latest technologies and providing a high-level of security and efficiency in electronic payments.

The UAE is the second Gulf country after Saudi Arabia to apply selective taxes, which is an indirect tax imposed on commodities that are harmful to public health or the environment.

The purpose of the tax is to limit the consumption of those commodities while contributing to an increase in government revenues.

According to preliminary estimates, the authority expects government revenues to increase to seven billion dirhams annually after the collection of the selective tax.

53,000 Square Meters of Land in Makkah to Be Sold at Auction

Muslims pray at the Grand mosque ahead of the annual Haj pilgrimage in Makkah, Saudi Arabia August 29, 2017.

Makkah- Makkah would witness next Thursday a real-estate auction on three lands of a total space of around 50,000 square meters and worth more than one billion riyals (USD266 million) — the three lands are located inside the central region.

The first land is located at King Khalid Road and is 13076.68 square meters, while the second is located near King Abdul Aziz Road and is of a total space of 6093.70 square meters. As for the third, it is of 34651.14 square meters near Qatari mosque.

Abdul Salam Qadi Flatah, a real estate agent in the implementation court at the Ministry of Justice, said that this auction goes in tandem with the constructional revolution approach and the economic revival taking place in Makkah following a successful pilgrimage season.

Flatah affirmed that the state has provided variable privileges for the investors in the central region, knowing that possession was previously restricted to citizens. This backs Saudi businessmen and goes in line with the Saudi Vision 2030.

He assured that the real estate sector in Makkah will start its recovery period after it was facing a low supply. Flatah said that putting up the lands for sale will urge investors to seize the chance, reviving most of the sectors in Makkah in the upcoming period, especially real estate and retail.

The direct supervision of Makkah Region Development Authority on most of the development projects (more than 10,000 square meters) is among motives attracting real-estate investment in the central region, Flatah pointed out.