Technology Science - Platforms pro-internet, except Conservative: report

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A massive iceberg, originally about 250 square kilometres, that broke off a Greenland glacier last August is near northern Labrador, according to the Canadian Coast Guard.

The drifting ice island that broke off the Petermann Glacier on Aug. 5 moved into Canadian waters this spring.

"Last week it was up off the southern portion of the Baffin Island and across the Hudson Strait. So we're starting to see it now on the northern portion of Labrador,” the coast guard’s superintendent of ice operations, Dan Frampton, told CBC News on Thursday morning.

He said it’s difficult to say what will happen to the large iceberg that's estimated to be twice the size of many of the islands scattered around the the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador.

This NASA map shows the location of Greenland's Petermann Glacier. This NASA map shows the location of Greenland's Petermann Glacier. Courtesy NASA"How far south it comes and how close it comes into the coast of Labrador remains to be seen.… It could break up [near Labrador] as a result of sea action and islands and so on," said Frampton.

"It will be interesting to see how much is left by the time it gets to Newfoundland."

He said that despite the large Greenland iceberg, it’s expected to be a less-than-average year for iceberg watching around the province.

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Technology Science - Rogers to launch LTE network in 2011

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Technology Science - Playstation users urged to take precautions

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Alberta Information and Privacy Commissioner Frank Work says Sony Playstation users should change their passwords and possibly cancel their credit cards in light of this month's security breach.

"Even though Sony says credit card numbers were encrypted, if you are worried about credit card issues because of this breach, cancel your card and get a new one," Work said Friday in a news release.

Alberta Privacy Commissioner Frank Work. CBCAlberta Privacy Commissioner Frank Work. CBC Work says users should change all their passwords since it's possible hackers could break into their other online accounts.

Work is also warning people to be suspicious of possible email phishing scams.

Sony won't be sending emails to users of the system, so if you get one purported to be from Sony, delete it immediately, Work says.

Sony said the account information of 77 million users was compromised by hackers this month.

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Technology Science - Endeavour launch postponed

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Endeavour's launch was postponed Friday and won't proceed for at least three days due to a technical issue, NASA says.

The space shuttle's final blastoff had been scheduled for 3:47 p.m. ET Friday, but will now go ahead no earlier than 2:33 p.m. Monday, NASA said.

NASA announced shortly after noon that the launch would not go ahead Friday, citing the failure of the circuits of two heaters on the shuttle's auxiliary power unit.

"The engineering team did not understand how this problem occurred and did not feel comfortable proceeding with a launch attempt," NASA spokesman George Diller said in a statement posted on Endeavour's launch blog.

The units provide hydraulic power for the shuttle's landing gear and brakes, and allow for precise control of the shuttle's orientation and that of its rocket engine. The heaters are needed to keep the power units' hydrazine fuel from freezing while the shuttle is in orbit.

NASA is scheduled to hold a news conference about its decision to postpone the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour, shown here at its launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Friday moments after the launch was scrubbed. NASA is scheduled to hold a news conference about its decision to postpone the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour, shown here at its launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Friday moments after the launch was scrubbed. John Raoux/Associated Press

NASA said the launch would be delayed at least 72 hours, up from an initial estimate of 48 hours, while engineers assess the issue.

Later in the day, NASA gave more information about the timing.

"Once the external fuel tank is drained and safe to work around, which takes about 24 hours, technicians will be able to access the aft of the shuttle. By Saturday night, they should be able to start the troubleshooting process," NASA said in a release.

The U.S. space agency said it would hold a news conference at 4 p.m. Friday about its decision.

The announcement came after the shuttle's six-member crew, commanded by Capt. Mark Kelly, had already put on orange launch and re-entry suits, and headed toward the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Their vehicle turned around and returned to the building that houses the crew quarters.

Later in the day, the shuttle's external fuel tank will have to be drained of 1.9 million litres of liquid hydrogen and oxygen fuel with which it had been filled earlier in the morning.

Endeavour is heading to the International Space Station on a 14-day mission to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), a particle physics detector that scientists hope will help lead to the understanding of the origin of the universe.

The shuttle will also deliver spare parts, including some specifically for Dextre, a Canadian Space Agency robot that rides on the end of the space station's Canadarm2 robotic arm. Dextre performs maintenance and repair work outside the station, such as changing batteries and cameras.

Thousands of people were expected to attend the high-profile launch, including Kelly's wife, Gabrielle Giffords, Democratic member of the House of Representatives, who is recovering after being shot in the head in January.

U.S. President Barack Obama and his family had hoped to watch the launch and went to Cape Canaveral despite the cancellation. They met with Giffords for about 10 minutes.

The president told Endeavour's crew he is still hoping to get back to Florida to see the launch.

"One more chance, we may be able to get down here," Obama said.

"It's a priority for us," Michelle Obama added.

Following the launch, Endeavour will be put on display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Its Canadarm robotic arm is expected to be returned to Canada.

With files from the Associated Press

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Technology Science - sorry for Foursquare, Reddit outage

Latest Technology and Science News Inc. apologized Friday for a data-centre outage that brought down major websites including Foursquare and Reddit.

The company also offered customers of its web-hosting service a 10-day credit as compensation for the outage.

The company isn't disclosing how much the credit will cost it. Amazon Web Services accounts for only a few per cent of total revenues for the company better known for its online book, DVD, and music retail sales â€Â" but Amazon has high hopes for the division, which rents out computer time by the hour.

The outage at the data center near Dulles Airport, outside Washington, was a major stumble for the service. On Friday, Amazon was still restoring some of the computers brought down in the incident, which began eight days ago.

In a post-mortem report Friday, Seattle-based Amazon said human error set off the outage. An automated error-recovery mechanism then went out of control, and many computers became "stuck" in recovery mode.

The service is set up in a way that's supposed to provide redundancy, by letting computers in a different "availability zone" take over when one fails. Amazon said that customers that were properly set up to run their computing tasks over multiple zones were largely unaffected, but that the error made it difficult to switch zones on the fly. It's making changes to prevent the error from recurring.

The credit applies to all customers using the zone that went down, whether they were directly affected or not. Amazon has not revealed how many customers were affected.

Amazon shares rose 45 cents to $195.52 US in morning trading Friday.

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Technology Science - Ontario nuclear plants safe: OPG

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The OPG says its review of Ontario's nuclear facilities has found they are safe. The OPG says its review of Ontario's nuclear facilities has found they are safe. Canadian Press

Ontario Power Generation's nuclear plants are safe and robustly designed, the utility said Friday following a review in the wake of Japan's nuclear crisis.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission asked OPG to review its nuclear reactors after a massive earthquake and tsunami knocked out power to the cooling system at the Fukushima Daiichi plant on March 11, leading to a situation officials still describe as very serious.

In its preliminary report, OPG said it has made significant progress in evaluating the lessons learned from Japan.

"What we're looking at, is there something that we can learn from Japan that we should be enhancing our safety," said OPG's chief nuclear officer Wayne Robbins. "We're safe now, that's not the question, but how do we get even more safety, what lessons should we put in there?"

OPG did a review of external hazards such as earthquakes, flooding, fire and extreme weather and found an "acceptably low risk" to power supplies for reactor cooling systems.

Canada's reactors are designed differently, and have many redundant backup systems, added Robbins, who said OPG would continue to look into possible disasters and how they could impact the nuclear plants.

"It may have us looking at even further accident-type scenarios that are really, really beyond design basis," he said. "What we have right now are designs, what we meet are beyond design basis events, but what if we go even further? That's what we're looking at now."

One of the biggest advantages Ontario has over Japan when it comes to locating nuclear reactors is the relatively modest amount of seismic activity in the Great Lakes region.

"To experience a magnitude-nine earthquake and then a 15-metre tsunami, that's not our environment," said Robbins. "So very first, right off the bat, our environment is a lot different. With our design being safe, and where we live, it really does add that extra layer of confidence to us."

OPG's report to the federal nuclear regulators said so far, "no significant issues requiring immediate corrective measures have been identified," but the utility said it would continue a rigorous review looking for more safety improvements.

However, Greenpeace Canada says government-owned OPG is refusing to release data on the potential health and environmental impacts of a radiation release from a Fukushima-like accident.

"It is unacceptable for OPG to withhold information on the potential environmental and human health impacts of accidental radiation releases from its reactors while publicly claiming those reactors are safe," said Greenpeace's Shawn-Patrick Stensil. "In light of the ongoing radiation releases at Fukushima and the continued impacts at Chornobyl 25 years after that disaster, Canadians have the right to know the risks they face from OPG's reactors."

Other countries, including China, paused approvals of new nuclear reactors in the wake of Fukushima, said Stensil, but Canada merely asked nuclear plant operators to assess their own operations without any public input.

"OPG is acting like the fox in charge of the henhouse," he said.

OPG said it will provide another update on its post-Fukushima review to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission by May 28. The utility owns and operates nuclear reactors at Pickering and Darlington in southern Ontario and leases another nuclear generating facility to Bruce Power near Kincardine on Lake Huron.

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Technology Science - Sleep deprivation makes brain cells turn off

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Andrew Trivett indicates where the eagles fell in his backyard.Andrew Trivett indicates where the eagles fell in his backyard. Julia Cook/CBC

A P.E.I. couple was astonished on Saturday when two bald eagles fell from the sky into their Stratford backyard.

Andrew Trivett was taking down plaster in his century-old house when he heard his wife, Lanabeth Barkhouse, yell from outside.

"All of a sudden the crows, of which there's many around here, got in a big uproar," said Trivett.

"She looked up into the sky and saw this strange thing coming down and the crows were going nuts."

Two bald eagles dropped into the backyard, their talons interlocked. Uncertain what to do, he called his friend, wildlife biologist Rosemary Curley. Curley said she could come to help. She was about 20 minutes away.

Trivett said taking photos didn't cross his mind while he waited for help.

"It seemed like it was at a scene of an accident and you don't want to take pictures," he said.

Curley is a birder and wildlife specialist, but not an eagle specialist. She had to call up colleagues in New Brunswick to figure out what to do.

"Put a blanket over them to calm them down and then unlock their talons, one at a time," she said.

"I was glad we didn't have to do that."

When Curley arrived to separate the animals, the eagles had relaxed. Their talons released and then they flew off in opposite directions. The birds were both males, and Curley speculated one had invaded the other's territory.

There have only been two other recorded cases of eagles getting tangled on P.E.I. In one case, the eagles were freed and in the other, the two were found dead. Curley said eagle entanglements are probably more common than people might think.

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Technology Science - Apple denies storing iPhone tracking data

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A team of researchers from Cornell University has published the first comprehensive study looking at the impact of shale gas extraction on the environment and has concluded it is worse for the climate than burning coal.

Lead researcher Robert Howarth, a professor of ecology at the university in Ithaca, N.Y., said his team came to that conclusion after studying the carbon dioxide emitted from burning natural gas and the carbon dioxide and methane that leaks from well heads and pipes.

'The process is moving ahead without ever really having had an adequate science basis of what the environmental consequences are...that sort of analysis should have been done before this whole fracking process was promoted in my opinion'â€Â"Robert Howarth, Cornell University

"Unfortunately natural gas is mostly methane and methane is an incredibly powerful greenhouse gas," said Howarth. "Even small venting and small leakages add up hugely to the greenhouse gas footprint of this fuel."

Howarth said researchers found many leaks of methane at well heads where there are between 100 and 150 different connections, valves and vents to control the pressure inside the wells.

The study also found there were significant leaks immediately after the initial hydraulic fracturing took place.

"At the same time there's often just a free flow of gas from the well â€Â" very, very large flows at that period of time," Howarth said. "The best data we could come up with ... almost two per cent of the lifetime production of a gas well is leaked to the atmosphere in those two weeks following hydro-fracking and given what a potent greenhouse gas methane is, that two per cent leakage is a big factor."

Hydraulic fracturing or "hydro-fracking" is a relatively novel form of gas extraction that involves the injection of a mixture of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure to create cracks or fissures in shale rock formations deep underground.

Howarth said governments around the world have been doing a poor job of monitoring the leakage from wells, and there hasn't been any scientific research into the impact hydraulic fracturing may be having on groundwater or air quality.

"The process is moving ahead without ever really having had an adequate scientific basis of what the environmental consequences are," he said. "That sort of analysis should have been done before this whole fracking process was promoted."

Environment minister responds

Environment Minister Margaret-Ann Blaney said she agrees that government should have sufficient scientific data before deciding whether to give oil and gas companies the green light to drill for shale gas in New Brunswick.

In March, Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup said it would take three to four years for a major shale gas development to be up and running, Blaney said on Wednesday that it's a minimum of two years away.

"We don't have a lot of really good data to determine the actual emissions," said Blaney. "But what we do know, at least based on the information that's available for New Brunswick, is that the CO2 or the carbon content of the gas in New Brunswick is less than one per cent, which is very low compared to other jurisdictions, and the methane is of a high quality and that can be placed in the pipeline with minimal processing. That much we do know."

Blaney said shale gas development is an opportunity for New Brunswick that should be explored but said it won't move ahead unless the Alward government believes it can move ahead in an environmentally responsible way.

Energy Minister Craig Leonard has said new regulations for natural gas development will be in place before any major projects get underway. Currently nine oil and gas companies hold a total of 71 agreements to explore for oil and natural gas on more than 1.4 million hectares of land in the province.

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Technology Science - Shale gas worse than coal: study

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The fourth-generation network will be three to four times faster than the telecom giant's existing advanced network, said Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed. The fourth-generation network will be three to four times faster than the telecom giant's existing advanced network, said Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed. (Shaun Best/Reuters)

Rogers Communications Inc. (TSX:RCI.B) says it's rolling out an even faster wireless network this year to serve its mobile phone and mobile internet users.

Chief executive Nadir Mohamed told the company's annual meeting that the fourth-generation network will be three to four times faster than the telecom giant's existing advanced network.

He said Rogers will roll out the network in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver.

By the end of 2012, the network technology, called Long-Term Evolution or LTE, will be extended to Canada's top 25 markets.

Mohamed says the network will significantly increase upload and download speeds, improve multi-player gaming and allow workers to be truly mobile.

Vancouver-based telecom operator Telus is planning to roll out its own LTE network in 2012. Bell announced that it had begun "successful" tests of its LTE network in the fall, but would not say when the network will launch.

Rogers will roll out the LTE network on radio spectrum that it already owns but Mohamed also called on the federal government to not put any conditions on the next auction for radio waves that cellphone networks use.

With a file from CBC News

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Technology Science - REALITY CHECK: The sticker shock in cap and trade

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Driven by the Kinect demand, revenue in the Microsoft's entertainment division climbed 60 per cent during the company's fiscal third quarter.Driven by the Kinect demand, revenue in the Microsoft's entertainment division climbed 60 per cent during the company's fiscal third quarter. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

Even as Microsoft Corp.'s earnings grow at a robust rate, investors can't seem to shake the feeling that the boom days are winding down for the world's largest software maker.

The company's fiscal third-quarter results, released Thursday, provided little reassurance despite a 31 per cent increase in earnings, exceeding analyst estimates. Microsoft shares still dipped.

The main reason for the anxiety: Revenue in the division that includes Microsoft's foundation, the Windows operating system, declined from the same time last year for the second-straight quarter. The slide stems from consumers buying fewer personal computers that run the company's software.

The downturn occurred during the same period that rival Apple Inc. couldn't produce enough iPads, a potentially game-changing computer tablet, to meet the rabid demand.

That trend feeds into the theory that Microsoft's lucrative franchise in PC software will head into a gradual decline unless the company can make up for its late start in a tablet market that currently depends on rival operating systems made by Apple Inc. and Google Inc.

Catching and surpassing rivals was once something that Microsoft did well. Its word-processing and spreadsheet programs, Internet Explorer browser and Xbox 360 video game consoles all are examples of widely used products inspired by the success of other companies.

In a sign that it may have lost a step, Microsoft hasn't been able to make up as much ground during the past seven years as technology usage as shifted to the internet and smartphones. It hasn't been for a lack of trying, especially on the internet, where Microsoft has invested billions dollars in mostly fruitless effort to undercut Google's dominance of online search and advertising.

Microsoft made some internet strides in the January-March period as it picked up search market share and its online division's revenue rose 14 per cent.

But there also was a significant stumble: Microsoft's technology is producing less revenue per search than anticipated from a recently launched partnership with Yahoo Inc. The trouble required Microsoft to pay Yahoo extra money during the quarter and may have contributed to a slightly larger operating loss in the online operations than the same time last year.

Windows revenues fall

Revenue in Microsoft's Windows division during the January-March period fell 4 per cent from a year ago, slightly worse than the fall-off in PC shipments tracked by the research firm IDC.

The negatives seemed to overshadow the bright spots that enabled Microsoft to generate earnings that exceeded analyst estimates. The pluses included higher software and server sales to businesses and a hot consumer electronics commodity in the Kinect motion sensor controller that's causing more video game players to buy the Xbox 360 too.

Microsoft shares still shed 39 cents to $26.32 in extended trading Thursday after the quarterly results came out. Before that drop, the stock had fallen by about 4 per cent so far this year.

That contrasted with a 10 per cent increase in the Dow Jones industrial average, which includes Microsoft, during that time.

Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Washington, earned $5.2 billion, or 61 cents per share, in the latest quarter. That compares with net income of $4 billion, or 45 cents per share, a year ago.

Revenue increased 13 per cent to $16.4 billion â€Â" about $250 million above analyst estimates.

Driven by the Kinect demand, revenue in the company's entertainment division climbed 60 per cent.

The tablet threat seems likely to dog Microsoft for years. Apple sold 19.5 million iPads in the sleek devices' first year on the market, prompting other hardware workers to design tablets running on Google's Android software. Goldman Sachs estimates about 47 million fewer notebook computers could be sold this year and next year as more people embrace tablet computers.

PCs aren't becoming obsolescent, especially for businesses that have grown comfortable with Microsoft's operating system and Office productivity software. But consumers are holding on to the Windows-driven PCs that they already have and recent trends indicate that the tablet might be a suitable choice when they replace their machines. In the latest quarter, Microsoft said sales of the lightweight laptops known as "netbooks" fell 40 per cent â€Â" another indication of tablets' momentum.

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Technology Science - Eagles fall into couple's backyard

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A data file publicized by security researchers last week doesn't store users' locations, but a list of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in their general area, Apple says.A data file publicized by security researchers last week doesn't store users' locations, but a list of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in their general area, Apple says. (Associated Press)

Apple Inc. denied Wednesday that iPhones store a record of their users' movements for up to a year and blamed privacy concerns partly on a misunderstanding.

A data file publicized by security researchers last week doesn't store users' locations, but a list of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in their general area, the company said. It promised software fixes to address concerns over that file.

The data, downloaded from Apple, help the phone figure out its location without having to listen for faint signals from GPS satellites. That means navigation applications can present the phone's location faster and more accurately, Apple said.

Software error blamed

Apple said the data are stored for up to a year because of a software error. The company said there's no need to store data for more than seven days, and a software update in the next few weeks will limit the amount of data in that file.

The iPhone will also stop backing up the file to the user's computer, a practice that raised some concerns. Computers are much more vulnerable to remote hacking attempts than are phones.

A third planned fix is to stop downloading the data to phones that have all "location services" turned off, Apple said, and to encrypt the file on those where it's on.

"Users are confused, partly because creators of this new technology (including Apple) have not provided enough education about these issues to date," Apple said in its statement.

Wednesday's statement was Apple's first comprehensive response to the most recent allegations. Apple had revealed the nature of the location file in a letter to Congress last summer after an earlier round of questions about its location-tracking practices.

The file drew new attention last week, after a report from researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden at a technology conference in Santa Clara, Calif.

As demonstrated by location-analysis software released by Allan and Warden, the lists of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers generated by iPhones can be used to construct a general record of users' movements.

But a snoop needs access to the victim's phone or PC, both of which usually store lots of other personal information. Phones contain texts, emails and lists of phone calls. PCs contain such information as tax returns, logs of websites visited and passwords.

In an email, Warden said it was good to have an explanation for the existence of the file. He agreed that it doesn't contain precise location information.

"By pulling down information about nearby towers, the log can reveal where you are at a neighborhood level," he said, adding that he's relieved that Apple is applying software fixes.

Edward Markey, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, questioned whether the practice was legal under a federal law governing the use of location information for commercial purposes, if consumers weren't properly informed.

Data anonymous: Apple

In Wednesday's statement, Apple reiterated that while iPhones regularly transmit their location to Apple, they do so only anonymously, and the company isn't able to track users. It can also transmit a user's location to companies that buy ads through Apple's iAds advertising system, but only if the user approves giving the current location to a particular ad.

Apple shares fell $1.70 US, or 0.5 per cent, to $348.72 in morning trading Wednesday.

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Technology Science - RIM shares hammered over revised outlook

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Investors punished Research In Motion Friday, knocking its shares down more than 14 per cent, one day after the Canadian technology company lowered its first-quarter outlook.

The surprise revision also prompted analysts to downgrade their outlook of the company.

The shares of the Waterloo, Ont.-based company, known for its BlackBerry handheld device, closed down $7.74, or 14.4 per cent, at $46.09 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

The sell-off comes one day after the company said that it shipped fewer BlackBerry smartphones than it expected.

As a result, the company now expects earnings per share for the quarter ending May 28 to be in the range of between $1.30 US and $1.37, down from its March 24 outlook of between $1.47 and $1.55.

The firm said the number of BlackBerrys shipped is now expected to be at the lower end of the range of 13.5 million to 14.5 million it forecast in March.

RIM also said it was seeing "a shift in the expected mix of devices shipped toward handsets with lower average selling prices."

The company also said revenue would be slightly below the range of $5.2 billion to $5.6 billion it predicted in March.

"Shipments of BlackBerry PlayBook in the quarter continue to be in line with our previous expectations," the company said in a release, "and we have not experienced any significant supply disruptions in [the quarter] due to the impact of the Japan earthquake."

RIM said it still expects to achieve full year earnings per share of about $7.50.

The revised outlook came one week after rival Apple Inc. reported a record quarter, with a stunning 18.65 million iPhones shipped.

The latest misstep prompted analysts to re-think coverage of the company which until recently was the darling of the technology sector.

National Bank Financial analyst Kris Thompson said he's "throwing in the towel for now" and can't recommend the stock due to RIM's "poor execution" on new devices.

"Consumers are not listening nor waiting," Thompson wrote in a research note. "RIM does not seem to be up to the challenge. Consumers are voting with their dollars, and they're being spent in Apple stores and on Google's Android platform."

Thompson downgraded his expectations for RIM's stock price to around $55.

And RBC Capital Markets analyst Mike Abramsky, who had previously pegged RIM as an outperforming stock with a target price of $90, lowered his valuation to $50.

"We were wrong, as misexecution has undermined sentiment recovery," he said.

(With filres from Canadian Press)

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Technology Science - Massive Greenland iceberg drifts towards N.L.

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Rats taught to reach out for a sugar pellet were more likely to miss the pellet if some neurons in the part of the brain that controls movement, had been asleep shortly before they reached out.Rats taught to reach out for a sugar pellet were more likely to miss the pellet if some neurons in the part of the brain that controls movement, had been asleep shortly before they reached out. (Reuters)

Sleep deprivation can cause groups of brain cells to fall asleep in rats who appear to be awake, and rats with sleeping neurons make more mistakes, new research has found.

Giulio Tononi, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison., and his colleagues reported their findings Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Tononi's team kept rats awake for four hours beyond their normal bedtime, and recorded the activity of brain cells called neurons as they became more and more sleep-deprived.

'We have every reason to suspect that what is going on in the rats is happening in humans too.'â€Â"Christopher Colwell, University of California

Outwardly the rats appeared to be completely awake, but the brain cell recordings told a different story.

It is well known that nerve cells, including those in the brain, can exist in two states: their awake functioning "on" state, and an "off" state in which they are unresponsive.

During normal non-dreaming sleep large groups of neurons oscillate a few times a second between the two states, giving rise to the "slow" waves (characteristic of sleep) that can be seen on an electroencephalogram (EEG).

The longer the rats stayed up, the more cells would start to flick into the off state for brief periods.

Interestingly, the researchers found neurons in one small area could be asleep, whilst in another part of the brain they were awake.

"What is distinct about this research is that they have looked at an animal that has been forced to stay awake," said Christopher Colwell, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, whose research focuses on circadian rhythms.

"This is something we all have to do sometimes, and research has consistently shown that performance goes down. This can be very important for some jobs â€Â" air traffic controllers for instance."

Tononi's team also made the rats learn a new task while they were sleep deprived, getting them to reach out for a sugar pellet.

They noticed that the rats were more likely to miss the pellet if some neurons in their motor cortex, which controls movement, had been in the off state shortly before they reached out.

"This is exciting because it raises the possibility that what is happening when performance goes down is that some of the cells involved are moving into the sleep mode," says Colwell, "and we have every reason to suspect that what is going on in the rats is happening in humans too."

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Technology Science - Microsoft investors wary despite earnings

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All major parties except the Conservatives agreed with a recommendation to monitor internet service providers' internet congestion, speed, billing and practices that prioritize some types of internet applications over others.  All major parties except the Conservatives agreed with a recommendation to monitor internet service providers' internet congestion, speed, billing and practices that prioritize some types of internet applications over others. (Canadian Press)

Big investments in Canadian internet access and changes to the way the internet is regulated have been promised by all major federal parties except the Conservatives, a survey by an internet lobby group says.

"The major parties â€Â" with the notable exception of the Conservatives â€Â" have responded to the desire for pro-internet commitments this election," said a statement Thursday by Vancouver-based Open Media, a group that lobbies for an "open an innovative communications system in Canada."

The Conservatives declined to respond to the group's survey, but provided a few comments. The survey was also sent to the NDP, Liberals, Green Party and Bloc Québécois and the Pirate Party, which is focused on reforming Canada's copyright, privacy, patent and telecommunications laws.

The survey asked each party to outline their vision for Canada's digital future and rate their agreement with Open Media's digital policy recommendations. It also contacted local candidates asking them to "sign up as pro-internet candidates" by committing to increase internet access, competition, transparency and choice if elected.

The participating parties all agreed with Open Media's policy recommendations to:

  • Expand high-speed internet.
  • Audit internet service providers to measure internet congestion, speed, billing and practices that prioritize some types of internet applications over others, so that consumers are well informed.
  • Change the mandate of Canada's telecommunications regulator to "ensure the creation of open, accessible and neutral networks and maximize user preference."

All agreed with reserving certain parts of the wireless spectrum for "Canadian innovation and local community services" and small carriers, except for the Green party, which said it had no policy on the matter.

Both the NDP and Liberals said they would force large telecommunications companies such as Bell to separate their wholesale and retail internet infrastructure.

That would be expected to remove some incentive for wholesale internet services to engage in behaviour â€Â" such as billing based on usage caps â€Â" that might benefit their retail services at the expense of competing internet service providers. Open Media has campaigned hard against usage cap billing.

The Bloc and Liberals would not say whether they think Parliament should take steps to minimize the ownership of media and telecommunications businesses by the same companies. However, NDP, Green party and Pirate party strongly agreed.

The NDP promised to spend the most money on expansion of high-speed internet â€Â" $2 billion over four years, contingent on matching funds from industry â€Â" to expand the service to underserved communities. The Liberal party believes it can achieve "100 per cent high-speed internet access for all Canadian households" with just $500 million over three years.

In his few comments, Conservative candidate Tony Clement mentioned his party's 2009 commitment to spend $225 million over three years to expand high-speed internet access and said his party has looked into changing the mandate of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

He added that his party favours more choice and competition in the internet and telecommunications pricing and he has acted on that.

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Technology Science - 'Exotic' planet is densest of its kind

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55 Cancri e is a super-Earth located in a very tight, short orbit around a yellow dwarf star similar to Corot-7b, above. Corot 7b was confirmed in 2009 to be the first rocky extrasolar planet. 55 Cancri e is a super-Earth located in a very tight, short orbit around a yellow dwarf star similar to Corot-7b, above. Corot 7b was confirmed in 2009 to be the first rocky extrasolar planet. (European Southern Observatory/Associated Press)A rocky planet that is as dense as lead and where a year lasts less than 18 hours has been described by a team of U.S. and Canadian scientists.

"On this world â€Â" the densest solid planet found anywhere so far, in the solar system or beyond â€Â" you would weigh three times heavier than you do on Earth," said University of British Columbia astronomer Jaymie Matthews in a statement.

"By day, the sun would look 60 times bigger and shine 3,600 times brighter in the sky."

Of course, it's unlikely you would ever have a chance to get that view, because the planet, named 55 Cancri e for the star it orbits (the star is called 55 Cancri A), is 40 light years from Earth, and the temperature on its surface is estimated to be as high as 2,700 C.

The planet is described in a paper co-authored by Matthews and posted this week on the online archive for papers in the physical and mathematical sciences.

The article, whose lead author is Joshua Winn, an astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., has been submitted for formal publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters but has not yet undergone peer review.

Matthews told CBC News that he and his team rushed to get the data out because 55 Cancri A will only be visible until June this year, and they wanted to give other researchers the chance to do follow-up research on what he called the "very exciting" results.

After June, the 55 Cancri A star will be visible above the horizon at the same time as the sun and therefore impossible to observe again until January 2012. Matthews said he is very confident in the data and in the scrutiny of scientists who read the paper critically after seeing it posted online.

The planet, described by Matthews as "exotic" because it is so different from other known planets, was first discovered around a star in the constellation Cancer in 2004 using a ground-based telescope. However, because such telescopes can't collect data about stars during the day, the Texas-based team that discovered it appears to have misinterpreted information about its orbit, Matthews said.

The new paper estimates the planet's mass, radius and density and the length of its year based on measurements by the Canadian MOST satellite. The microsatellite, which orbits the Earth as part of a Canadian Space Agency mission, carries a telescope that feeds into a photometer, an instrument that measures the intensity of light from distant stars. Matthews is the mission scientist who leads the MOST team.

Based on the satellite's measurements, Cancri 55 e has a diameter 60 per cent larger and a mass eight times larger than Earth's, making it twice as dense as the Earth. It orbits its star every 17 hours and 41 minutes.

Matthews and his team managed to figure that out by using MOST to observe small changes in the brightness of Cancri caused by the planet passing in front of the star, which happens each time it completes an orbit, because of its orientation relative to the Earth. Larger planets cause more dimming, allowing for an estimate of its size.

The MOST data also allowed the researchers to figure out the tilt of the planet's orbit, which was needed to calculate its mass using previously published data.

The star 55 Cancri is a G-type star, or yellow dwarf, like our own sun that is visible to the naked eye from Earth. That star is orbited by four other planets and another star â€Â" a small, cool, dim one called a red dwarf, or M-dwarf.

Winn, who the led the study, approached the MOST team and asked them to turn their sights on 55 Cancri e after a paper came out suggesting that the original data about the planet might have been analyzed wrong. That paper was done by Rebekah Dawson, an astronomy PhD student at Harvard University, and Daniel Fabrycky, a Hubble Fellow at the University of California Santa Cruz. Dawson and Fabrycky's own analysis suggested the planet could be far more unusual than previously believed.

The star 55 Cancri is visible to the naked eye. To find it, look southwest, below the Big Dipper, near the northern tip of the brightest stars in the constellation Cancer (the Crab).The star 55 Cancri is visible to the naked eye. To find it, look southwest, below the Big Dipper, near the northern tip of the brightest stars in the constellation Cancer (the Crab). (Stellarium and Prof. Jaymie Matthews/University of British Columbia)

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Technology Science - Pluto bulging with carbon monoxide

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A shot of Pluto captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2005. A shot of Pluto captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2005. NASA

It may have been demoted to dwarf planet status, but researchers have found Pluto's atmosphere is much bigger than previously thought.

The finding is also good news for NASA's New Horizons mission, which is expected to arrive at the faraway outpost in a few years.

Astronomers first detected an atmosphere around Pluto when it briefly passed in front of a star in 1988. Light from the star passed through the dwarf planet's atmosphere, causing it to dim slightly.

Now, Jane Greaves of the University of St Andrews and colleagues have used the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii to study Pluto's atmosphere in more detail.

Their findings, presented at this week's National Astronomy Meeting in Wales, will appear in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Previously the atmosphere was known to be over 100 kilometres thick. But the observations of Greaves and her colleagues have pushed that out to more than 3,000 kilometres â€Â" one quarter of the distance to Pluto's largest moon, Charon.

"[Pluto's atmosphere] has a very low pressure, about a microbar [0.1 pascals], so expands very readily," she says. "In particular, fluctuations in the energy from the sun during the solar cycle can make big changes to its size."

The researchers also detected carbon monoxide, an atmospheric coolant, which they say helps balance the warming effect of methane already known to exist in the dwarf planet's atmosphere.

"The newly discovered carbon monoxide may hold the key to slowing loss of the atmosphere," they write.

Pluto's changing nature

It is thought the dwarf planet's thin atmosphere is the result of ice evaporating from its surface.

Since Pluto made its closest approach to the sun in 1989, the planet's surface has undergone rapid and surprising changes. Observations between 1988 and 2002 show the surface becoming redder and the northern pole brighter.

"We think it is delayed warming after Pluto's closest approach to the sun in 1989," says Greaves. "There is a thermal lag, similar to it being warmer after midday on Earth."

She says the researchers plan to continue monitoring the atmosphere over the next few years.

"We're observing again in two weeks time, hoping to measure the temperature of the carbon monoxide gas, which will give us a lot more idea of the balance of the atmosphere."

Greaves believes similar atmospheres may exist on other dwarf planets.

"A few are of similar size to Pluto, for example, Eris and Sedna. But they are all more distant than Pluto at the moment so really hard to observe," she says.

"[But] we think Charon, being smaller, has probably had all its ices boil away already during the 4.5 billion years since the solar system formed."

The discovery of carbon monoxide raises hopes that NASA's New Horizons mission, expected to pass Pluto in 2015, will be able to observe the atmosphere in detail.

"It was thought that the atmosphere might be starting to snow out as New Horizons arrived," says Greaves. "I think there will still be plenty of gas left, given our discovery, but its state is very unpredictable if it can change over just a few years."

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Technology Science - Tweet insurance coverage in the works

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The demand for social media insurance coverage is mostly from corporations.  The demand for social media insurance coverage is mostly from corporations. (CBC)As an increasing number of tweets and Facebook postings speed onto the information superhighway, some will inevitably crash and burn.

But unlike drivers caught in a car wreck, users behind careless tweets or nasty Facebook postings haven't traditionally had any kind of insurance to bail them out.

They soon might.

Malcolm Randles, who issues cyber insurance policies for Kiln, a subsidiary of Lloyd's of London, said brokers in Canada are keeping a keen eye on social media trends and are beginning to develop coverage for the consequences of unruly posts.

"We're sort of feeling our way through, trying to work (it) out," Randles said.

"It's very new in Canada. Brokers have caught on to what their colleagues are doing in the U.S. and have been very strong in promoting this class of business."

As employers increasingly use sites such as Facebook and Twitter to market products, communicate with customers and collect information, they leave themselves open to regulatory, legal and reputational risks.

And where there's risk, there's the insurance sector.

With the use of social media in the corporate world comes the potential for lawsuits regarding privacy issues, intellectual property infringement, and defamation.

The liability risk stems from the fact that many companies don't appear to be establishing clear, written policies for social networking, said Eric Dolden, a Vancouver-based insurance lawyer with Dolden Wallace Folick LLP.

" 'My boss is a big fat cow,' is a very common tweet," he said. "But people often stupidly then say where they work and who their boss is in the tweet."

The legal ramifications can hurt both the finances and reputation of a business.

'Millions are in an uproar in Cairo. Rumour is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.''â€Â"Tweet by fashion designer Kenneth Cole

"We've seen people, in their personal capacities â€Â" the 'big-fat-cow boss' bringing a lawsuit against the individual," said Dolden. "And we've also seen the company have to take action because, from a reputational point of view, their brand is now suddenly gone viral, negatively."

It's something a number of celebrities have found out the hard way.

Fashion designer Kenneth Cole sparked public outrage after tweeting during the unrest in Egypt: "Millions are in an uproar in Cairo. Rumour is they heard our new spring collection is now available online."

The tweet linked to the collection but was removed about five hours later, following a Facebook apology from the designer.

"I apologize to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt," the post read. "I've dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight, my attempt at humour regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate."

Despite another apology via Twitter, members of the public had already weighed in on the offending tweet.

Fashion designer Kenneth Cole was mocked online for an offensive tweet.Fashion designer Kenneth Cole was mocked online for an offensive tweet. Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

"Wardrobe got you water-BORED? GITMO of our new spring collection," read one deliberately offensive tweet, while another said, "Rolling through Germany? Gestapo by our new Berlin store!"

American rock singer Courtney Love had to fork over nearly half-a-million dollars for slamming a Texan fashion designer in 2009 to her 40,000 followers. Love also posted comments about the designer on her Myspace blog.

The designer filed a lawsuit claiming Love failed to pay up for five outfits the designer had sent the singer and that the posts destroyed her reputation and brand, though Love defended her actions, claiming the fashionista's sales had gone up as a result of her rants.

Dolden said for now the demand for social media insurance coverage is mostly for corporations.

But while traditional insurance can apply to social media exposures, most policies were designed before the advent of such technology and therefore have limitations.

Dolden said premium prices to cover the use of social media are all over the map, depending on the size of company. He said large companies could pay about $100,000 for a $10-million policy that protects against data loss and liability, though small companies would pay much less.

Personal insurance 'five years out'

Dolden said it's only a matter of time before firms offer personal insurance lines for those using social media, much like automobile insurance for drivers.

"I think eventually it's going to come for individuals," Dolden said. "It's probably about five years out."

"As the world increasingly turns to those modes of communication, instead of more traditional modes, I think it will invariably come."

But just because a company or individual wants to buy such coverage, that doesn't mean an insurer will be willing to sell it to them.

Randles said brokers won't necessarily cover everyone.

"If you turned up with your pocket full of cash and said to me, 'I know absolutely nothing about social media. We've launched a new site. I'm really worried,' I'm not going to take your money," he said.

"If you turn around and said to me: 'We've got three lawyers involved, we review every comment before it's posted, and everything that's written is put in a holding pen until we've checked it, and then we only upload it once we feel that it's kosher,' â€Â" (that's a) very different argument."

Randles said to avoid the legal ramifications of unruly tweets and internet postings, companies should review all employee and public comments prior to posting them, as opposed to allowing them to be broadcast instantly.

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Technology Science - Apple pressured to respond to iPhone tracking

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Apple faced pressure Thursday to respond to claims that its iPhone 4 records sensitive location data, which is transferred and stored on a user's computer in an unprotected and unencrypted format.

At a technology conference on Wednesday, Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden, two British researchers, said a program on the smartphone records location information and a time stamp, which are then uploaded to a user's hard drive.

The news prompted several U.S. politicians to send queries to Apple asking for clarification, including Edward Markey, a Republican congressman from Massachusetts.

"I am concerned about this report and the consequences of this feature for individuals' privacy," Markey wrote, in a letter addressed to Steve Jobs.

Markey asked the company to explain whether the reports are true, why the company installed the software and how it intends to be used.

Democratic Senator Al Franken sent a similar letter on Wednesday.

In an email Thursday, a spokesperson for Canadian privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said "we're following this with interest."

"The issue concerns location-based information, which can be very sensitive personal information," senior communication adviser Valerie Lawton wrote in an email, adding that so far, the organization had not received any complaints.

Attempts to contact Apple were not successful, and the company has not issued a statement about the claims.

Privacy and security concerns

Michael Geist, a law professor from the University of Ottawa, said the tracking software is a worrying development.

"I think there are privacy concerns and security concerns that the information itself is stored in an insecure, unencrypted matter, making itself potentially vulnerable to hackers and to fishing expeditions by law enforcement," he said.

Geist, who also serves on the Canadian privacy commissioner's expert advisory panel, said he was able to retrieve his own location data using his iPhone 4.

"It's stunning to see literally everywhere you've gone over the last few months plotted on a map," he said.

Allan and Warden have set up a website detailing how the information is recorded, where it can be found and steps that can be taken to protect the information, including encrypting the data.

In a blog post on O'Reilly Radar, a technology website, they said the data collection feature seems to have first appeared with the release of iOS 4 in June 2010.

Allan and Wardan said the data is not transmitted anywhere else, but is normally stored in an unprotected format. It is also transferred to a new Apple phone when that device is synched up with the computer.

"We're not sure why Apple is gathering this data, but it's clearly intentional, as the database is being restored across backups and even device migrations," they wrote.

Beyond expectation of consumers

A BBC News online article suggests users may be tacitly consenting to the disclosure of this information.

Apple posts its terms and conditions on its website.

"We may collect information such as occupation, language, zip code, area code, unique device identifier, location and the time zone where an Apple product is used so that we can better understand customer behaviour and improve our products, services and advertising," the document says.

However, Geist said the company needs to do more to be transparent about how it collects personal information.

"We're talking about tens of millions of people who are affected. Even if it is within the strict letter of the law, I think this runs outside the expectation of most consumers," he said.

Geist said he expected to see governments in the U.S. and Canada take a more active role in the days to come.

"I think we're going to see some real action here," he said.

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Technology Science - Stranded dolphin freed in Riverview canoe rescue

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A dolphin stranded in mud in New Brunswick's Petitcodiac River was rescued Thursday.

Riverview's Sandra and Jim Davis told CBC News they spotted the struggling creature in shallow water about 60 metres behind their home as the tide went out Thursday morning.

The dolphin was stuck on its side, with its tail and fin out of the water and its head buried in the mud.

The couple called 911, which dispatched a fire crew, but the quicksand-like mud prevented the two from approaching the white-sided dolphin.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans arrived in the afternoon to help with the rescue effort. As the tide roared back in Thursday afternoon, the water started to free the animal. An officer from the DFO borrowed a canoe to help it.

"The next-door neighbour brought a canoe over and so they decided to try ... to get it into the canoe," Jim Davis said. "They were able to lift him up with their oars."

The officer lifted the creature out of the mud and into the canoe before returning it to the water downstream. It struggled for a while before finally swimming off.

Davis said he expects there will be more stuck sea creatures because of the effect of reopening the causeway gates last year.

"If they're going to keep the gates open, they should have some kind of system where they can perform quick rescue for individuals that are stuck in the mud," he said.

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Technology Science - Ontario transportation minister ready to talk solar

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Ontario's transportation minister Kathleen Wynne says she's willing to meet with a Toronto man who manually pulled a solar car from Niagara Falls to the Ontario legislature because he can't drive it in the province.

Marcelo da Luz walked the final six kilometres of his 160-kilometre journey Thursday in hopes the province will make his vehicle street legal.

Wynne said the province is concerned about safety because there was a fatal crash involving a solar car in 2004.

"Every time there's new vehicle or a new conveyance we have to look at what are the safety precautions that we need to put in place and that's all that this is about," she said at Queen's Park Thursday. "So I'm happy to have the conversation with him and would love to see the car."

Da Luz says the province has too many rules that make it virtually impossible for him to drive the car in Ontario, even though he's driven it around North America.

So he tied a harness to his back and spent 11 days physically pulling the 213-kilogram car all the way to the legislature in protest.

Total strangers would cheer encouragement as he walked along his route.

Da Luz says Ontario as a whole is doing a good job when it comes to green technology but the Ministry of Transportation needs to get up to speed.

He says Ontario is discouraging solar energy specialists from working in the province.

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Technology Science - Sony chair credited with creation of CDs dies

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Former president and chairman of Sony, Norio Ohga, shown in 1991, holds a Sony Mini Disc in New York. Ohga died Saturday at age 81 of multiple organ failure.Former president and chairman of Sony, Norio Ohga, shown in 1991, holds a Sony Mini Disc in New York. Ohga died Saturday at age 81 of multiple organ failure. Richard Drew/Associated Press

Opera singer Norio Ohga complained about the quality of Sony tape recorders before he was hired by the company, developed the compact disc and championed its superior sound.

Love of music steered the former Sony chairman's career and in turn, he transformed the Japanese electronics maker into a global software and entertainment empire.

The company president and chairman from 1982 to 1995, Ohga died Saturday in Tokyo of multiple organ failure, Sony said. He was 81.

The flambuoyant music connoisseur steered his work through his love of music. Ohga insisted the CD be designed at 12 centimetres in diameter, or 75 minutes worth of music, to store Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in its entirety.

From the start, Ohga recognized the potential of the CD's superior sound quality. In the 1970s, when Ohga insisted CDs would eventually replace record albums, skeptics scoffed.

Herbert von Karajan, Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock spoke up in defence of Sony's digital sound.

'We are always chasing after things that other companies won't touch.'â€Â"Norio Ohga, former Sony head in 1998 interview

Sony sold the world's first CD in 1982 and CDs overtook LP record sales in Japan five years later. The specifications are still used today and fostered the devices developed since.

"It is no exaggeration to attribute Sony's evolution beyond audio and video products into music, movies and game, and subsequent transformation into a global entertainment leader to Ohga-san's foresight and vision," Sony Corp. chairman and chief executive Howard Stringer said Saturday, using the Japanese honorific.

Enriches electronics biz

Some decisions made during Ohga's presidency, such as the $3.4-billion US purchase of Hollywood studios Columbia Pictures, were criticized as unwise and costly at the time. But Ohga's focus on music, films and video games as a way to enrich the electronics business helped create Sony's success in his era.

"We are always chasing after things that other companies won't touch," Ohga said in a 1998 interview with The Associated Press.

"That is a big secret to our success."

Shattering the stereotype of the staid Japanese executive, Ohga was never shy, his hair neatly slicked back, his boisterous manner exuding the fiery yet naive air of an artist. His persona added a touch of glamour to Sony's image at a time when Japan had global ambitions.

An experienced pilot, Ohga at times flew the plane himself for business trips. A gourmet, he boasted about his roast beef. His hobby was cruising on his yacht.

Chairman of the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra since 1999, he continued to conduct there a few times a year. In 1993, he conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall in a charity event funded by Sony.

Ohga often compared leading a company to conducting an orchestra.

"Just as a conductor must work to bring out the best in the members of his orchestra, a company president must draw on the talents of the people in his organization," Ohga said in a 1996 Sony publication.

Sony started amid the destruction and poverty after the Second World War and built itself on the popularity of transistor radios, the Walkman, the Trinitron TV, the CD â€Â" shaping the history of modern electronics.

Ohga had graduated from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1953 and Berlin University of the Arts in 1957.

He was set to pursue a career as a baritone opera singer when Sony co-founders Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita, intrigued by his complaints about the sound quality of Sony tape recorders, recruited him to the company.

He was a Sony executive by his 30s, a rarity in a Japanese company. He was appointed president of CBS Sony Records in 1970, chairman of what later became Sony Corp. of America in 1988, and chief executive of Sony in 1989. He left the day-to-day business in about 2000.

Led double life

Ohga had tried to lead a double life of artist and Sony man. One day, he dozed off from exhaustion in the stage wings while waiting to go on in the The Marriage of Figaro, rushed in from the wrong direction and watched his embarrassed co-stars stifling giggles.

He gave up his opera career but still promoted classical music in Japan by supporting young musicians and concerts.

The company says he was key in building the Sony brand, especially working on design, as well as quality, to make products that looked attractive to consumers.

Sony has encountered difficulty in recent years, falling behind in the flat-panel TVs market to rivals like Samsung Electronics Co. of South Korea, as well as in digital music players to Apple Inc.

It remains unique in having a Hollywood studio, a music recording business and the PlayStation video-game unit, though critics note it has never fully realized the benefits of owning both electronics and entertainment divisions.

Ohga is survived by his wife, Midori. Sony said a private wake will be held later.

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Technology Science - Obama takes part in Facebook town hall

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U.S. President Barack Obama used the world's most popular social media website to deliver his economic message to the public Wednesday when he appeared in an online town hall that was streamed live from the California headquarters of Facebook.

Thousands of Facebook users had submitted questions to the president about his take on the huge U.S. deficit, the foreclosure crisis and other economic issues.

With jacket off, Obama acknowledged that the U.S. still faces "a whole series of challenges," including a sluggish housing market that he considers to be the biggest drag on the American economy.

He also warned that the U.S. economy could slip back into recession if spending is cut too sharply.

"If all we are doing is spending cuts, and we are not discriminating about it, if we are using a machete instead of a scalpel, and we are cutting out things that create jobs, then the deficit could actually get worse, because we could slip back into another recession," he said.

Obama maintained that his plan to cut $4 trillion from the deficit over the next 12 years is feasible through a mixture of spending cuts and higher taxes. The Republicans are proposing a bigger deficit cut through deeper spending cuts and overhauling Medicare and Medicaid.

Obama took selected online questions presented by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and also answered several from members of a live studio audience.

The U.S. president was the first head of state to visit Facebook's Palo Alto, Cal., headquarters. The social media giant has more than 600 million users around the world. Obama is one of Facebook's most popular account users, with more than 19 million "likes."

Obama's 2008 election victory was due in part to his campaign's effective use of Facebook and similar social media sites to galvanize voters.

The U.S. president is on a three-day western swing through California and Nevada. He's scheduled to attend a series of fundraisers that will raise millions of dollars for his 2012 re-election campaign.

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Technology Science - Artifical intelligence a long way off from Skynet: expert

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April 21, 2011, is a significant date for artificial intelligence enthusiasts and cult followers of the Terminator movie and TV series.

It is the day machines are supposed rise up and launch a devastating attack on human civilization, according to the most recent timeline of the series (which gets a bit complex because of time travelling characters who change the past).

Geoffrey Hinton, a University of Toronto computer science professor and artificial intelligence specialist.Geoffrey Hinton, a University of Toronto computer science professor and artificial intelligence specialist. (Courtesy of Geoffrey Hinton)

As the story goes, after becoming self-aware on April 19, 2011, a U.S. computer defence program called Skynet launches an attack on its creators on April 21, leaving only a ragtag band of flesh-and-blood rebels on Earth.

But, how close are we really to a computer that remotely resembles Skynet?

CBC News posed that question to University of Toronto computer science professor Geoffrey Hinton, who specializes in artificial intelligence. In an email interview he said the possibility of a computer launching a cataclysmic event like the one in the series is unlikely in the real world.

CBC News: Why haven't we seen an apocalyptic takeover by machines?

Geoffrey Hinton: Because artificial intelligence, despite its age, is still in its infancy.

How far away are we in terms of having machines that can think for themselves?

We already have machines that can make plans and can execute these plans in symbolic domains, like the web. What we don't have is machines that can get around effectively in the real world. But robotics and computer vision are improving all the time, so that will happen in the next 10 to 50 years.

Researchers already have moderately autonomous cars.

How would you characterize the mental capacity of the most advanced form of artificial intelligence?

Computers have very impressive mental capacity in domains such as chess and Jeopardy. They are still far worse than people at perception, motor control, understanding natural language, learning and common sense reasoning. But they are getting better all the time.

To what degree, if any, are artificial intelligence systems employed in military technology?

Once a system is deployed, people often stop thinking of it as artificial intelligence. In the 1950s, for example, programming a computer using Fortran seemed like artificial intelligence. So, lots of the [currently] deployed systems use technology that was once considered artificial intelligence.

How does studying the neural pathways of human beings help design better forms of artificial intelligence?

The things that people can do much better than computers, like perception or seeing analogies, are the result of the extraordinary learning abilities of the human brain.

Theoretically, it's conceivable that we could develop artificial intelligence that works in a very different way from the brain, but I don't think it's a good bet.

My bet is that understanding the type of computation and learning that is going on in the brain will be the key to developing systems that can outperform humans in a wide variety of everyday tasks.

When will the machines take over?

I don't know. Ask Google.

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Technology Science - 'Tweet-in' to flout Elections Canada blackout law

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Twitter users are vowing to push back against Elections Canada's ban on tweeting results before the polls close on May 2.

The country's electoral agency issued a warning to social media users this week, reminding them that Section 329 of the Elections Act applies to transmissions made over the internet.

Penalties for violating the act could include a fine of up to $25,000 or up to five years in prison.

Despite the agency's claim that it would be monitoring social media, many say they'll flout what they say is an outdated law.

"I wonder how many people we could get to take part in a 'tweet-in' protest against the election-night Twitter ban," tweeted Ottawa's Peter Raaymakers.

"I'm in," Montreal's Jason Mayoff tweeted.

"We should all tweet on May 2," tweeted Denis Gagnon of Timmins, Ont. "Either we flood the system and [Elections Canada] gets overwhelmed, or we all get fined and end up paying for #elxn41."

Others suggested tweeting election results using code names for the parties, or deliberately tweeting inaccurate results. By Thursday afternoon, the hashtag "#tweettheresults" was in use.

But some were unimpressed with talk of a "tweet-in."

"The 'tweet-in' protest against Election Canada's Twitter ban is stupid," tweeted Devon Peacock of London, Ont. "Just vote and leave it at that."

In its reminder about the transmission ban, Elections Canada said tweeting or posting results on a blog or Facebook wall violate the Elections Act.

Using Facebook's messaging service or emailing results do not.

Calls for amendment to act

Elections Canada has hinted it won't be actively monitoring social media for violations of the Elections Act but is bound to investigate any complaints brought to its attention.

The popularity of services such as Twitter mean it's time for the act to change, some say.

"Elections Canada cannot even hope to enforce s329 of the Elections Act... in the age of Twitter," National Citizens Coalition director and blogger Stephen Taylor tweeted Wednesday.

"Elections Act must be changed to remove s329 or to close polls across country at the same moment."

Changing the way polls are organized was a common suggestion.

"I don't get why they don't do more to align the polls across the provinces," tweeted Toronto's Ryan Coleman. "Open later east, close earlier west."

In 2006, the ban led some U.S. political bloggers to publish election results, skirting the law.

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Technology Science - Gulf oil spill worsened by poor training: report

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Flaws in Transocean Ltd.'s emergency training and equipment and a poor safety culture contributed to the deadly Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion that led to the Gulf oil spill, according to a Coast Guard report released Friday.

The report centered on Transocean's role in the disaster because it owned the rig and was primarily responsible for ensuring its safety, the Coast Guard said. BP PLC owned the well that blew out.

The Coast Guard report also concluded that decisions made by workers aboard the rig "may have affected the explosions or their impact," such as failing to follow procedures for notifying other crew members about the emergency after the blast.

The report doesn't explore the root causes of the well blowout, which triggered the explosions that killed 11 workers and sent millions of gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico. But the Coast Guard said numerous actions by Transocean and the rig's crew affected their ability to prevent or limit the disaster.

Electrical equipment that may have ignited the explosion was poorly maintained, while gas alarms and automatic shutdown systems were bypassed so that they did not alert the crew, the report said. And rig workers didn't receive adequate training on how and when to disconnect the rig from the well to avoid an explosion, it said.

"These deficiencies indicate that Transocean's failure to have an effective safety management system and instill a culture that emphasizes and ensures safety contributed to this disaster," the report said.

A Transocean spokesman didn't immediately comment on the report.

In this June 3, 2010, photo, a brown pelican is seen on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast. In this June 3, 2010, photo, a brown pelican is seen on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast. (Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

The report also found lax oversight by the rig's flag state, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a Pacific nation where Transocean registered the Deepwater Horizon in 2005. It said the Coast Guard should ramp up its inspections of such foreign-flagged drilling rigs.

The Coast Guard said the Marshall Islands failed to make sure that the vessel was properly inspected and that its electrical equipment, crew training, emergency preparedness and other operations were in good working order.

The Marshall Islands does not inspect rigs itself and instead farms out the work to qualified third parties. In the case of the Deepwater Horizon, inspections were done by the American Bureau of Shipping and Det Norske Veritas. The Marshall Islands "effectively abdicated its vessel inspection responsibilities," the report said.

The Marshall Islands maritime administrator blasted the Coast Guard report, saying it relied "on conjecture and speculation, which should have no place in a responsible casualty investigation report."

A panel of officials from the Coast Guard and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement held a series of seven hearings for its probe of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The bureau is expected to release its own preliminary report on the explosion before the two agencies issue a joint final report later this year.

Previously, a presidential commission pointed to a cascade of technical and managerial failures, including a faulty cement job and a poor safety culture in the industry. BP's own internal investigation spread the blame for the disaster among all the partners on the rig. A panel looking into why a key safety device, the blowout preventer, failed to do its job pointed to a faulty design, among other problems. The Chemical Safety Board, the Justice Department and other entities have yet to release their own findings.

The courts will also be assigning blame and liability, and officials of the oil companies could even be held criminally negligent.

Electrical equipment severely corroded

The Coast Guard's report said electrical equipment on board may not have been able to prevent flammable gases from igniting. The report said some of the electrical equipment was in bad condition and severely corroded.

Gas detectors on board the rig were not set to automatically activate an emergency shutdown system to stop the engines and halt the flow of outside air into engine rooms, and the bridge crew had not been trained on when they should activate the systems. If the shutdown system had been activated as soon as gas was detected, the explosions in the engine room area could have been delayed or avoided, the report said.

The Deepwater Horizon had an onboard system for fighting fires, but it wouldn't work without electrical power. When the power went out on board, crews realized it would be futile to try to fight the fire, the report said.

The report also faulted the culture on board for problems fighting the fire, noting that drills were held at the same time on the same day each week, and that drill personnel were sometimes allowed to skip the exercises.

Records indicate that "the routine, repetitive nature of the fire drills may have led to a degree of complacency among the crew members," the report said.

Despite recommendations that the blowout preventer â€Â" the device that failed to prevent the oil spill â€Â" be inspected every three to five years, Transocean did not arrange to have the Deepwater Horizon's blowout preventer recertified for more than 10 years, the report said.

"Transocean failed to ensure that its onboard management team and crew had sufficient training and knowledge to take full responsibility for the safety of the vessel," the report said.

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Technology Science - BP to fund environmental rehab projects

Latest Technology and Science News

U.S. officials say BP has agreed to provide $1 billion US for projects that will restore natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico damaged by last year's oil spill.

The Justice Department said Thursday that the money will be for rebuilding coastal marshes, replenishing beaches, conservation of ocean habitat for injured wildlife and restoration of barrier islands.

The program will be administered by a group of trustees including the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, along with federal officials.

The Justice Department says the agreement does not affect potential legal liability for BP and other companies that may face lawsuits for damages resulting from the spill, which began after the April 20, 2010, explosion of the rig Deepwater Horizon off the Louisiana coast.

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Technology Science - Fracking protest marks Halifax Earth Day

Latest Technology and Science News

About 100 people attended a fracking protest in Halifax Friday. About 100 people attended a fracking protest in Halifax Friday. CBC

More than 100 protesters marked Earth Day on Friday by calling on the Nova Scotia government to ban hydraulic fracturing, a controversial method of extracting natural gas from underground.

The crowd gathered in front of the Nova Scotia legislature in Halifax. They held placards and chanted slogans against so-called fracking, which they say poses a threat to groundwater and people's health.

Two large banners were draped over the iron fence in front of the legislature. One said "No Compromise Ban Fracking" while the other read "We Love Nova Scotia's H2O."

Arranged at the foot of one banner were jars of fresh water, each labelled to indicate the areas of the province where they came from.

Focus on green economy

Event organizer Yuill Herbert of the citizen's group Stop Fracking in Nova Scotia said it wouldn't make sense to allow something that uses large volumes of water while pumping a mix of chemicals into the ground.

Herbert said nothing more than an outright ban would do. "I really think we need to be building a green economy in Nova Scotia and not focusing on industries which I think take us backwards," he said.

Fracking involves pumping pressurized water and a variety of chemicals into a gas well to fracture the layers of shale rock to release the natural gas.

The government has maintained that no fracking has taken place in Nova Scotia since 2008, although that's disputed by some critics.

The province announced earlier this month that it would conduct a technical and policy review of hydraulic fracturing. The review, which is expected to be completed by early next year, would examine the environmental effects and best practices in other jurisdictions.

Natural Resources Minister Charlie Parker has since asked for public input in the form of written submissions that are due June 6.

Thom Oommen of the Inverness chapter of the Council of Canadians said he doesn't trust a process that appears to limit public input.

"Just the way it stands now it seems like it's going to be a room in one of these buildings where government gets together with industry and makes the rules," said Oommen.

He said he would like to see public hearings as part of the process in order to ensure the voices of those opposed are heard.

But Annapolis Valley resident Nina Newington said it appeared that with the review process, those opposed have caught the attention of the government.

She said a moratorium needs to be put in place until a strategic environmental assessment is conducted.

"We have to keep up the pressure as citizens to make sure that we get our voices heard," said Newington.

While there's been limited shale gas exploration in Nova Scotia, the industry has experienced growth in Alberta and British Columbia over the past decade.

There's also been activity in a host of other provinces although last month the Quebec government announced that it would temporarily ban the use of fracking while it studies the process.

Important industry

Darcy Spady, managing director of Calgary-based St. Brendan's Exploration, said he's taken part in the drilling of 14 exploratory wells in New Brunswick since 2000.

He said the public should know that the Canadian industry operates responsibly in a regulated environment.

Spady believes the Nova Scotia government should consider what is going on elsewhere.

"Before we shut everything down in Nova Scotia I think we need to look at British Columbia and Saskatchewan . . . two jurisdictions that have a regulated industry that provides a lot of economic benefit and gas," said Spady.

Corrections and Clarifications

  • A photograph originally accompanying this story was from a fracking protest held in Pictou, N.S., on March 21, 2011, not the Halifax, N.S., protest held April 22, 2011. April 23, 2011|11:46 AM AT

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Technology Science - suffers far-reaching outage

Latest Technology and Science News struggled Friday to restore computers used by other major websites such as Reddit as an outage stretched beyond 24 hours.

Though better known for selling books, DVDs and other consumer goods, Amazon also rents out space on huge computer servers that run many websites and other online services.

The problems began at an Amazon data center near Dulles Airport outside Washington early Thursday. On Friday morning, Amazon's status page said the recovery effort was making progress, but it couldn't say when all affected computers would be restored.

Most of the sites that were brought down by the outage on Thursday were back up on Friday, but news-sharing site Reddit was still in "emergency read-only mode," and smaller sites were still reporting trouble.

'It's a pretty vulnerable feeling. This is a really big message to us that we need to revisit our strategy 'â€Â"Josh Cochrane, Palo Alto Software

Location-sharing social network Foursquare and HootSuite, which lets users monitor Twitter and other social networks more easily, appeared to have recovered.

Many other companies that use Amazon Web Services, like Netflix Inc. and Zynga Inc., which runs Facebook games, were unscathed by the outage. Amazon has at least one other major U.S. data center that stayed up, in California.

It's not uncommon for internet services to become inaccessible due to technical problems, sometimes for hours or even days. But the outage is notable because Amazon's servers are so commonly used, meaning many sites went down at once.

Amazon, which had not responded to requests for comment, has not revealed how many companies use its internet services or how many were affected by the outage.

No one knew for sure how many people were inconvenienced, but the services affected are used by millions.

Amazon Web Services provide "cloud" or utility-style computing in which customers pay only for the computing power and storage they need, on remote computers.

Seattle-based Amazon has big plans for AWS. Although it now makes up just a few percent of the company's revenue, CEO Jeff Bezos said last year that it could eventually be as large as Amazon's retail business. Competitors include Rackspace Hosting Inc. and Microsoft Corp.'s Azure platform.

Some people consider cloud computing more reliable than conventional hosting services in which a small company might rent a handful of computers in a data center.

If one of them malfunctions, the failure can take down a website. But "clouds" like AWS use vast banks of computers. If one fails, the tasks that it performs, such as running a website or a game, can immediately be taken over by others.

When a company needs more capacity, maybe because of a surge in visitors to its website, it only takes minutes to rent more computers from Amazon.

But cloud computing isn't immune to failure, either.

Backup system appears to have failed

Lydia Leong, an analyst for the tech research firm Gartner, said that judging by details posted on Amazon's AWS status page, a network connection failed Thursday morning, triggering an automatic recovery mechanism that then also failed.

Amazon's computers are divided into groups that are supposed to be independent of each other. If one group fails, others should stay up. And customers are encouraged to spread the computers they rent over several groups to ensure reliable service. But Thursday's problem took out many groups simultaneously.

Outages with Amazon's services are rare but not unprecedented. In 2008, several companies lost access to their own files for about two hours when one of Amazon's data centers failed. The companies included DigitalChalk Inc., which delivers multimedia training over the Web.

In general, Amazon Web Services have been more reliable and, above all, cheaper than many other hosting systems, said Josh Cochrane, vice president of product development at Palo Alto Software in Eugene, Ore.

But the firm's websites and web-based applications that create business plans were all brought down by Thursday's crash.

"It's a pretty vulnerable feeling," he said. "This is a really big message to us that we need to revisit our strategy."

That might include spreading the applications more widely over Amazon's network, so that problems at one data center won't bring down everything, he said.

Amazon engineers struggled throughout the day to rectify the problem. Leong said the problems are of a type that's not covered by Amazon's money-back guarantees.

Amazon shares rose $2.02 US, or 1.1 percent, to close Thursday at $185.89.

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