Technology Science - Earth has asteroid companion

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The moon isn't the only hunk of space rock that has been travelling around the sun with the Earth for ages.

Canadian scientists have discovered that the Earth is also accompanied by a "Trojan" companion â€Â" an asteroid that travels a constant distance ahead of it at all times, sharing nearly the same orbit around the sun.

Similar objects have been found travelling with other planets in our solar system, including Mars, Jupiter and Neptune.

"In a way, these are sort of like secondary moons," said Martin Connors, the Alberta scientist who led the discovery published in Thursday's issue of Nature.

Like the moon, the asteroid known as 2010 TK7 is under the control of Earth's gravity and has been orbiting stably with the Earth for at least 10,000 years. However, Trojans are not satellites â€Â" unlike the moon, the Trojan asteroid does not orbit the Earth. Viewed from the Earth, the asteroid sits 60 degrees from the sun.

"You would think that the gravity of the planet would just like to pull the asteroid in," said Connors. "But when it does do that, it moves closer to the sun, and then the sun's gravity makes it go faster, and it pulls away from the planet again."

Gravity balancing act

Along the Earth's orbit, it is only when an object such as the asteroid sits at one of two Trojan points at a 60-degree angle from the Earth that the Earth's and the sun's gravity balance each other off, allowing the object to remain nearly stationary relative to the Earth.

2010 TK7 is about 300 metres across, making it rather large compared to other nearby asteroids. According to NASA, it is now about 80 million kilometres from Earth. By comparison, the moon is on average 384,000 km away.

Connors, who holds a Canada Research Chair in space science at Athabasca University, has been searching the skies for nearby Trojans for about 15 years.

It isn't easy because the area being searched is 60 degrees, or very close to the sun when viewed from Earth. That means the objects are only visible for a short time just before sunrise or just after sunset.

Connors combed through data collected by researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles from NASA's WISE (wide-field infrared survey explorer) telescope. It orbits the Earth and detects asteroids by scanning for the infrared radiation they give off after warming up in the sun. That radiation doesn't make it through the atmosphere, so it is invisible from Earth.

After finding two asteroids that looked like they could be Trojans, Connors sent the data to Paul Wiegert at the University of Western Ontario, who used computer modelling to see how similar objects should behave. That made it clear that the researchers would need more observations of the asteroid to confirm it was a Trojan.

They called upon Christian Veillet, executive director of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Kamuela, Hawaii, to use the telescope to scrutinize the asteroid's orbit for six days this past April. The observations confirmed that the asteroid is a Trojan.

Connors said the discovery of one Trojan orbiting with the Earth means there are likely others. Such nearby asteroids wouldn't require much energy to visit with a space probe, since they are so close and have a similar orbit to earth, he said. However, 2010 TK7 itself isn't a good candidate for such a visit because its orbit is tilted relative to the Earth's.

Trojan asteroids are of interest to scientists because they may hold material leftover from the formation of the solar system, Connors said. While meteorites also contain such material, they typically have wandered long distances and scientists can never be quite sure where they came from. Trojan asteroids likely have remained close to the Earth for a long time, and the material they contain is more likely to originate near the Earth.

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Technology Science - Fuel efficiency to double for U.S. vehicles by 2025

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The U.S. government has a deal with 13 automakers to increase fuel efficiency to 54.5 miles per gallon (4.3 L/100 km) for cars and light-duty trucks by 2025, President Barack Obama announced Friday.

That is about double the 27 miles per gallon (8.7 L/100 km) average that cars get now, and builds on a 2009 deal with the auto companies that will see cars and trucks averaging 35.5 mpg (6.6 L/100 km) by 2016.

The greater fuel efficiency is likely to push up the price of new vehicles, but the actual increase will not be known until the regulations are written, starting in September.

Buyers of new vehicles will actually get closer to 40 mpg (5.9 L/100 km) because manufacturers will get credit for electric and alternative-fuel vehicles.

Obama was enthusiastic about the deal.

"This agreement on fuel standards represents the single most important step we’ve ever taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil," Obama said at a Washington meeting with auto industry executives representing 90 per cent of the U.S. car market.. The United Auto Workers union and California, which has been pressing for higher standards, were also represented.

He said the new standard will also reduce consumers' driving costs and cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

"It means filling up your car every two weeks instead of filling it up every week," he said.

The deal was a compromise between environmentalists and the carmakers.

With files from The Associated Press

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Technology Science - Privacy commissioner investigates BC Hydro smart meters

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British Columbia's privacy commissioner has launched an investigation into BC Hydro's Smart Meter program after complaints that the information collected by the device breaches personal privacy.

Elizabeth Denham said Thursday that the investigation will ensure that the program designed to measure energy consumption complies with the privacy law and Hydro's obligations regarding collection, use, disclosure, retention and security of personal information.

The utility started installing the meters in Prince George and Richmond this week and plans to have 1.8 million of them in homes and businesses throughout the province by the end of next year.

Denham said that rather than measuring energy use for each billing period as is currently the case, smart meters provide more frequent information about people's electricity use.

The information gathered from individual homes will be transmitted wirelessly back to the Crown corporation, detailing peak usage and other information.

"The privacy and security of energy consumption data is a very real issue for citizens throughout the province," she said in a statement. "With an increase in the frequency of the information collected from Smart Meters comes an increased responsibility on BC Hydro to ensure that privacy and security is built into the Smart grid."

BC Hydro has been consulting with Denham's office on the privacy and security implications of its smart meters, and the commissioner said the utility has committed to fully co-operate with the investigation.

Hydro has said that consumption data will remain secure and private, as it is now, and that the information will be encrypted, "much like online banking."

The meters are expected to display energy consumption information in kilowatts or the equivalent dollar amount as well as provide usage patterns for various appliances.

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Technology Science - Cellphones pose no added cancer risk for kids

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Children and teens who use cellphones are not at a statistically significant increased risk of brain cancer compared with their peers who do not use the devices, a study published Wednesday suggests.

The study is the first to look specifically at children and the risk of cancer from cellphones.The study is the first to look specifically at children and the risk of cancer from cellphones. Bullit Marquez/Associated Press

Researchers from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel, Switzerland, studied data collected in Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland.

The team looked at the medical records of 352 children aged 7 to 19 who were diagnosed with brain tumours between 2004 and 2008. The study also included 646 control subjects.

They found that 265 patients (75.3 per cent) and 466 control subjects (72.1 per cent) reported having spoken on a mobile phone more than 20 times prior to when the case patient was diagnosed with a tumour. Also, a slightly higher proportion of tumour patients versus control subjects â€Â" 55 per cent against 51 per cent â€Â" reported regular cellphone usage. But these differences were not statistically significant.

Risk not related to amount of use

In a subset of study participants for whom data was available from their cellphone company on their mobile usage, brain tumour risk was not found to be related to amount of use.

No increased risk of brain tumours was observed for brain areas receiving the highest amount of exposure.

The study is published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Because it was not a randomized control trial, it shows correlations only and cannot definitively rule out a causal link between cellphone use and cancer.

Still, researcher Martin Roosli said no previous paper has examined whether cellphone use among children and teens is associated with a difference in brain tumour risk.

"Because we did not find a clear exposure-response relationship in most of these analyses, the available evidence does not support a causal association between the use of mobile phones and brain tumors," Roosli and his fellow researchers write.

"[This study] provides quite some evidence that use of less than five years does not increase the chance of a brain tumour, but naturally we don't have a lot of long-term users," Roosli told Reuters. If there is a risk, "it would be a really small risk," he said.

However, the researchers still advise a "careful watch" of the trend that has seen cellphone use increase among children over the years.

Two years ago, a number of government agencies around the world suggested that anyone who uses a cellphone should keep a little distance between the phone and their body. Britain, Germany, Belgium, Israel, Russia and India advised that children limit their use of cellphones. Health Canada gave no such advice, saying there is "no convincing evidence" of an increased cancer risk from exposure to radio frequencies from cellphones.

At the time, Finland's Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority â€Â" citing a lack of research â€Â" encouraged parents to err on the side of caution and limit the time their children spend on cellphones.

The bulk of research into cellphones has found no definitive evidence that short-term use poses significant health risks to humans.

The new Swiss study was funded in part by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health and the Swiss Research Foundation on Mobile Communication. The latter is partly supported by Swiss mobile operators, but the researchers say those funding the study were not involved in its design or the collection and interpretation of data.

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Technology Science - Northern B.C. fracking licence concerns critics

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Critics are concerned that the B.C. government is allowing a natural gas company to draw water from a northern BC Hydro reservoir to use in a controversial technique called fracking.

The government has approved a long-term water licence for Talisman Energy to draw water from Williston Lake, a BC Hydro reservoir in northern B.C. for the next 20 years.

The water will be piped out of the Williston Reservoir, mixed with sand and chemicals and used to fracture shale rock underground to release natural gas.

It's one of several major water requests the government is considering from companies engaged in the process called fracking.

But critics are concerned the controversial process has been approved without serious public consultation. They say the process requires too much water and leaves toxic waste water behind.

The government is defending the practice saying it has a safe record in B.C.

"We have not received any reports or instances of aquifer contamination resulting from any fracking operations in British Columbia," said a statement issued by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

"Our technical assessment indicates that the reservoir’s water levels can support the extraction," said the statement.

Fracking draws critics back east

The practice of fracking has sparked widespread protests by environmentalists in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and was recently suspended in Quebec pending a detailed environmental review

Critics in B.C. are also concerned.

"We should not be giving away the public water resource," says Independent MLA Bob Simpson

Talisman calls it "environmentally sustainable," but Simpson disagrees.

"To use fresh water for hydraulic fracturing â€Â" pour toxins into that water...put it into permanent storage â€Â" taking it out of the water's cycle. How's that sustainable?"

Ben Parfitt of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says he hasn't seen a water licence this big before.

He says the government promised public debate about water and fracking but nothing significant ever happened.

"I'm not aware of any....[robust] consultation taking place. I don't think the public has any idea," he said.

Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson declined repeated requests for an interview, but staff at the ministry issued a statement saying the licence met all the requirements before it was approved.

"Prior to approval, a technical assessment of water availability was done, as well as several meetings with First Nations in March and April and correspondence with stakeholders and local and federal governments," said the statement.

No public consultation was required for the licence because it will draw a maximum of 3.65 million cubic metres of water per year, well below the 10 million cubic metres per year required to trigger an environmental assessment, according to the statement.

B.C. is already providing gas companies with 78 million cubic metres a year of water from rivers, creeks and streams on short-term permits â€Â" the equivalent of drawing down 31,000 Olympic swimming pools each year.

Parfitt says the natural gas industry's future demands for water exceeds the amount of water all of Vancouver uses.

The Williston Reservoir is B.C.'s biggest freshwater body, and in the top 10 reservoirs worldwide. It's located across a vast swath of northern B.C., stretching from approximately MacKenzie to Tsay Kay Dene to Hudson's Hope.

The water for the Talisman project is to be drawn from the Farrell Creek near Hudson's Hope, through a pipeline near Beryl Prairie Road.

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Technology Science - South Korea says millions hit by hackers

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South Korea says an alleged hacking attack that originated in China compromised the personal information of millions of the cyber-savvy country's internet users.

The Korea Communications Commission said in a statement Thursday that hackers purportedly attacked popular internet and social media sites Nate and Cyworld and that information of 35 million people was stolen.

The regulator said the attack took place Tuesday and that operator of the sites, SK Comms, alleged the source was from internet protocol addresses in China.

IP addresses are the web equivalent of a street address or phone number.

South Korea has been subject to such attacks with blame frequently pinned on hackers using addresses in China. China has denied all charges of hacking in the past.

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Technology Science - Northerners have bigger eyes and brains, study finds

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Scientists have found that people from northern parts of the world have larger eyeballs and brains to help them deal with long, dark winters.

But the Oxford University study does not make a link between bigger brains and smarter people, perhaps to the chagrin of some northern Canadians.

Researchers with Oxford's Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology studied the eye sockets and cranial capacity of 55 human skulls from a dozen regions around the world and found that the farther away people live from the equator, the larger their eyes and heads are.

People who live closer to the North and South Poles have evolved larger brains and eyes so they can cope with the short days and low light levels they experience every winter, the scientists said in a report published online Wednesday in the journal Biology Letters.

"In order to maintain good vision, high-latitude humans are having to increase the size of the eyes in order to cope with those lower light levels," Eiluned Pearce, one of the report's authors, told CBC News.

Pearce said her findings suggest that the influence that ambient light levels have in the eye size of birds and primates also applies to humans' eyes.

Brains grow to accommodate eyes

Larger eyes give more visual input into the brain, so specific areas of the brain seem to increase to accommodate the eyes, according to the Oxford report.

But having a bigger head is not necessarily a sign that people in the North are smarter, Pearce said.

"This research doesn't support that, I'm afraid," she said with a laugh.

But the research findings had Yellowknife Mayor Gordon Van Tighem wondering if bigger eyes and heads could be a sign of northerners' potential.

"With the long hours of darkness in wintertime, they would need to avoid being lulled into complacency and use their advanced vision to read more books and make better observations about what's going on around them to then become smarter than everyone else," Van Tighem suggested.

Others in the Northwest Territories' capital city were skeptical about the Oxford researchers' findings.

"My eyes look pretty normal, so I think that's kind of baloney," one man told CBC News on the streets of downtown Yellowknife on Wednesday.

"They are Oxford, so you can't really say that kind of stuff about them, but [it] seems far-fetched to me."

Local truck driver Alex Debogorski, who is known around the world from the History Channel reality series Ice Road Truckers, has his own theory about the effect that driving on ice roads in the dark has on his brain.

"When the roads are real rough, I get a sore neck from holding my head up. All that bouncing around, trying to hold my head up, makes me smarter just from having blood flowing through my head," he said with a hearty laugh.

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Technology Science - Jupiter-bound spacecraft readies for launch

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NASA's Juno spacecraft is getting ready to launch toward the biggest planet in the solar system.

Juno is scheduled to take off between Aug. 5 and 26 on its five-year journey to Jupiter.

"It holds a lot of key secrets on how we formed the solar system," said Scott Bolton, the principal investigator of the mission, at a NASA news conference Wednesday.

Earlier in the morning, the solar-powered, hydrazine-propelled spacecraft was secured to the top of its rocket on a launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Bolton said the spacecraft will cartwheel through space before it enters a close polar orbit around Jupiter in 2016. Juno will duck underneath Jupiter's hazardous radiation belt and circle just 5,000 kilometres above its clouds.

Juno has been carefully designed to protect its instruments from the violent radiation, Bolton said.

"We're basically an armoured tank going into Jupiter."

Some of the main goals of the mission are to:

  • Measure the amount of water in Jupiter's atmosphere, which will differ depending on how it formed.
  • Map its magnetic and gravity fields.
  • Probe deep into its atmosphere in an effort to find out whether it has a core of heavy elements like the Earth, or whether it is made of gas all the way through.
  • Examine the spectacular aurora at Jupiter's poles for comparison to that of other planets such as Earth's.

Juno will orbit far closer to Jupiter than the last visiting spacecraft, Galileo, which plunged to destruction into Jupiter's atmosphere in 2003. That means Juno will be able to get far better measurements of the planet's interior.

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Technology Science - East Coast cod found to be recovering

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New evidence shows that Atlantic cod off Nova Scotia are recovering from their dramatic collapse two decades ago â€Â" and that the ecosystem is recovering with them.

Cod and similar species on the Scotian Shelf have been eight to 18 per cent more massive for their age between 2006 and 2010 compared with 1992 to 2005. Cod and similar species on the Scotian Shelf have been eight to 18 per cent more massive for their age between 2006 and 2010 compared with 1992 to 2005. (Associated Press)

That suggests major changes to marine ecosystems can be reversed with time, says a Canadian study published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature.

It also "bodes well" for other cod populations further north along the East Coast that have yet to recover, says the study, led by researcher Kenneth Frank at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth, N.S.

The waters of the Scotian Shelf east of Nova Scotia, which once teemed with millions of predatory cod, have remained dominated by much smaller, plankton-eating fish such as capelin and herring for more than a decade, despite a cod fishing moratorium since 1993. That led to fears that the ecosystem had been irreversibly altered.

Frank's research eases those fears, partly by uncovering why the cod recovery has taken so long.

"This unfolding drama held many surprises," his paper says.

The study shows that the collapse of predators such as cod resulted in a population explosion of plankton-eating "forage fish." The peak mass of such fish in the ocean reached up to nine times what it was before the cod collapse, spiking in 1994 and 1999. At such levels, they competed with and sometimes ate cod eggs and baby cod, hampering the cod population recovery.

But the overpopulated plankton-eaters eventually began running out of food, and their population started to decline steadily in the early 2000s.

Switch to 'recovering' state around 2005

Around 2005, their ecosystem went into a "recovering" state, where cod populations began rising again.

The researchers suggest that a crash in populations of forage fish provided a "window of opportunity" for predators like cod to recover.

Since 2006, the mass of Atlantic cod on the Scotian Shelf has approached levels in the early 1990s and the mass of haddock, another predator, has grown to an "unprecedented high," the paper says.

In addition, cod and other large fish that live near the bottom of the sea measured between eight per cent and 18 per cent more massive for their age in the 2006 to 2010 period, compared with 1992 to 2005.

"Although the current trajectory is positive, several factors could alter ongoing ecosystem recovery," the researchers warn.

They note that the current dominance of haddock makes it uncertain whether the ecosystem will completely return to the way it was before the cod collapse. They add that in other areas, jellyfish blooms and invasive species have slowed the recovery of collapsed fish populations, while the effect of climate change could add other uncertainties.

Ken Frank with the Bedford Institute of Oceanography cautions that while fish stocks appear to be recovering, the trend needs to be monitored before the fishery can resume.Ken Frank with the Bedford Institute of Oceanography cautions that while fish stocks appear to be recovering, the trend needs to be monitored before the fishery can resume. (CBC)

Although there's a promising amount of haddock, pollock and cod being caught for the first time in 20 years, Frank cautions that the size of the fish is another story. Haddock for instance, are half the size they were historically.

"I'm concerned that the growth rates of the individual species aren't as good as they should be," Frank told a news conference.

He also cautions that the situation will have to be watched closely to see if the trends being documented continue, before resuming the fishery.

"We have a solid team of departmental scientists who will look at the most recent information and then with the fishery managers … possibly set a plan in place to determine whether or not it's too early to begin to resume the fishery or possibly institute a test fishery," suggested Frank.

"There's lots of options, but at this stage we want to go slowly and look carefully at the results we're monitoring."

The researchers say their study suggests other cod populations in the northwest Atlantic may also recover, although they believe that could happen more slowly due to colder waters, continued fishing and the lower number of marine species in some of those areas.

In 2010, the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization's scientific council reported that the cod population in the Grand Banks, an underwater plateau southeast of Newfoundland, had grown 69 per cent since 2007. However, that was still just 10 per cent of what the stocks were in the 1960s.

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Technology Science - Bell overcharges B.C. customers for calls

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One Bell Mobility cell phone customer in B.C.'s Okanagan is warning others to double-check their phone bills after she was charged upwards of $30 a month for long distance calls from cities she has never visited.

Since May, Kelowna resident Amy Johnston has been receiving cell phone bills with small inconsistencies.

"On my cell phone bill, I was noticing an abnormal number of long distance calls," she said. "I then noticed that they were saying that my calls were being placed from Kamloops or even Fort McMurray â€Â" two places where I don't spend any time. So I knew that something was up."

Johnston said she wasn't in Kamloops during the billing cycle, and has never even been to Fort McMurray.

According to Bell, the issue lies in a newly-installed cellular tower that was incorrectly coded.

"They were having a problem with the Okanagan area and I don't know exactly what the problem is, but there's something that's re-routing our calls so that they're going through Kamloops or Fort McMurray," Johnston said.

Johnston has been credited for some of the false charges, one phone call at a time, but is still being forced to scour her phone bill every month.

"To be honest, I can't even be sure that the problem is fixed because my bill now comes out to being 50 pages long because I have them crediting me for $90 here, then I get charged an extra $30 for these long distance calls that I haven't made."

Customers told to monitor problem themselves

Bell media relations declined to do an interview with CBC News, but said in an email that only a small number of customers were impacted.

Amy Johnston says telecom giant Bell should notify customers when it makes an error. Amy Johnston says telecom giant Bell should notify customers when it makes an error. Jackie Sharkey/CBC

But Johnston believes the problem is much bigger.

"I went home and talked to my roommate and ... her Bell bill, which was normally $80, came in at $130, and so then I looked at it and was able to show her that obviously she wasn't in Kamloops or Fort McMurray either," she said.

"So I did start kind of polling the people that I knew ... and within a couple of hours I heard back from at least a half-dozen people."

The problem, Johnston said, is many customers have no idea they're being erroneously charged.

In an email to CBC News, Bell "invited customers in the Okanagan area to review their bills and contact us if they believe there are any errors."

"They're not taking accountability for this, they're not taking ownership for it," Johnston said.

"They're requiring their clients, who are paying a lot of money for this service, to go through their Bell bills line by line and isolate the problem themselves. It just feels like a problem that they know about and something that they should be employing their employees to go through with a fine-tooth comb."

No regulation of billing errors

Johnston said Bell could potentially be raking in huge profits for false charges.

"I'm just worried about the fact that there are likely thousands of customers in this area being affected by this," she said. "And if you think about $30 a month times 1,000 customers erroneously charged, that's a lot of money. Where is that going?"

But because wireless services are unregulated, Bell has no obligation to tell customers of billing errors â€Â" even if the company is at fault.

"People are still in the mindset that wireless is like wireline telephone, and people are familiar with the [Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission] in Ottawa that looks after telephone regulation," said John Lawford, a lawyer with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa.

"But unfortunately, for 15 years now they haven't regulated wireless services actively. They say that competition looks after problems like this, and if you don't like your provider your remedy is to shop around."

Lawford said unhappy customers should complain to the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services, a new ombudsman created about five years ago. The problem, he said, is the commission is unlikely to act on a problem unless it receives hundreds of complaints.

With files from the CBC's Jackie Sharkey

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Technology Science - Mega-quake could hit south of Vancouver Island

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A B.C. study says the fault line between two tectonic plates in the Pacific Northwest is seven kilometres deeper than originally believed.

Olympic Peninsula, Wash.

Study lead author and Simon Fraser University earth sciences professor Andrew Calvert says it's unclear what to make of the discovery.

But he speculates it could mean the mega quake expected to hit the West Coast could occur beneath the Olympic Peninsula, south of Vancouver Island.

He says the fault line underneath Washington state is actually 27 to 42 kilometres, not 25 to 35 kilometres as previously believed.

Calvert and his team came to the conclusion by looking at how long it took seismic waves to spread throughout the Earth.

He says this vital information will help scientists refine their calculations on any ground shaking that will take place during an earthquake.

He notes a major earthquake hits B.C. every 500 years â€Â" the last one was in 1700.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

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Technology Science - Average cellphone bill $1 cheaper in 2010

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The competitive presence of new wireless entrants was credited with helping take $1 off the average Canadian monthly wireless bill, bringing the average revenue per user from $58.81 to $57.86 per month, the report said. The competitive presence of new wireless entrants was credited with helping take $1 off the average Canadian monthly wireless bill, bringing the average revenue per user from $58.81 to $57.86 per month, the report said. Mark Blinch/Reuters

Competition from new wireless providers helped shave $1 off the average Canadian cellphone user's monthly bill in 2010, the CRTC says.

The average wireless revenue per user fell from $58.81 per month in 2009 to $57.86 per month in 2010, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission reported in its annual Communications Monitoring report, released Thursday.

The telecommunications and broadcasting regulator credited the savings to the "competitive presence" of the four new wireless providers that launched last year â€Â" Wind Mobile, Public Mobile, Mobilicity and Videotron.

The four new providers combined had less than two per cent of the wireless market share across Canada in 2010, the report said. However, they managed to capture 25 per cent of new wireless subscriptions last year.

Overall, the number of wireless subscriptions in Canada grew by 8.5 per cent to 25.8 million, just slightly higher than the eight per cent growth the year before.

At the same time, the number of households with broadband internet subscriptions grew by 9.2 per cent to nine million â€Â" significantly higher than the six per cent growth in 2009.

The average residential broadband user download 14.8 gigabytes per month or the equivalent of 20 movies, the report said. Other findings in the report were:

  • Canadian anglophones spent an average of 17.1 hours online per week in 2010 â€Â" 2.6 more than they did in 2010. Francophones spent 12.7 hours online per week.
  • In 2010, the average Canadian watched 28 hours of television and listened to 17.6 hours of radio per week. Anglophones watched another 2.6 hours online, while francophones watched 1.5 hours. Both groups listened to an average of 4.8 hours per week of radio streamed online.
  • Nine per cent of Anglophones cellphone users and four per cent of francophones watched at least one video on their cellphone in 2010 â€Â" nearly double the percentage who did so in 2009.
  • Television subscribers paid $3.55 more per month for their services in 2010, an increase of 6.4 per cent over the previous year. The report said that was due to higher monthly fees, greater use of pay TV and on-demand services, and upgrades to digital or high-definition televisions.
  • Overall, broadcasting revenues for radio and television increased 8.9 per cent to $15.7 billion. The highest growth was for pay and specialty television, where revenues grew 11.1 per cent.
  • Conventional TV stations increased their revenues 9.9 per cent, broadcasting distributors saw 8.9 per cent growth, and commercial radio stations had a 2.9 per cent growth in revenues. Cable companies had a market share of 31 per cent.
  • Home telephone subscriptions decreased 0.9 per cent to 12.6 million. Long distance revenues continued to fall. They accounted for 30 per cent of telecommunications revenues in 2010, down from 52 per cent in 2002.

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Technology Science - Intel's Thunderbolt strikes with super-fast data transfer

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Photographers, musicians and video editors should brace themselves for Intel's super-fast Thunderbolt system, which moves data up to 20 times as quickly as the old USB technology currently in use. The new ports and cables that make up the system can transfer enough music to fill the average MP3 player in about a minute.

Thunderbolt is what's called an I/O technology, a way of transferring information between devices like computers, monitors, and external hard drives. Right now, most of us do this through USB or Firewire cables. If those cables are like winding residential roads for transporting information, Thunderbolt is a souped-up two-way expressway.

A new USB system was released last year, but it is not widely available and only works at half of Thunderbolt's speed.

Originally developed under the code name Light Peak, Intel developed the new system in partnership with Apple, which has already released the first computers that use Thunderbolt. Its newest iMac, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air computers are all being released with the new ports.

'Fairly ridiculous improvement'

Thunderbolt cables are filled with a series of microchips.Thunderbolt cables are filled with a series of microchips. (iFixit)

From the outside, it looks like just another white cable. The fundamental difference is what users will be able to do with its speed, says Will Smith, editor of technology testing site

"It can do multiple high def video streams, which are enormous, simultaneously across the connection," explains Smith. "So it's a fairly ridiculous bandwidth improvement over USB 2.0." In real world terms, he says, that means editors could edit material directly on a Thunderbolt-connected drive, instead of having to copy it over to their computer first.

The system is able to transmit information so much more quickly because instead of relaying data through an intermediary like the older USB 2.0 system, it can speak directly to a computer's central processing unit and memory. It will still be compatible with older systems using a simple adapter.

Thunderbolt cables can also talk to multiple devices in a row, in what's called a "daisy chain." A laptop user, for example, could use a single Thunderbolt cable to connect a computer to a desktop monitor. The monitor could then be linked through other Thunderbolt cables to multiple hard drives and even another monitor.

"This is all part of the transition from desktop computers to laptop computers," says Smith. "Right now if you use a laptop instead of a desktop for high load work like video editing, the storage system in the best laptop in the world is inferior to an inexpensive storage system in a big desktop computer. But now you can have a mobile machine that becomes a desktop."

Apple just the first out of the gate

The benefit for Apple, he speculates, is that the technology will serve users of software Apple has developed to create audiovisual content, like video editing program Final Cut Pro.

"Apple's the first out of the gate," adds Smith, "but I'd expect one of the top-tier PC manufacturers to integrate it into their computers in the next year."

Apple has been collaborating with Intel since 2006, when it began using Intel chips in its desktop computers.

While you might see a Thunderbolt port on your next computer, don't expect it to displace any of the others in its row. In the short term, its use will likely be limited. Some external storage devices have been announced using the technology. Video and music editing and other tasks that require transferring such huge files quickly, though, are still a niche market.

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Technology Science - Panel says medical device review system 'flawed'

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The government should abandon a 35-year-old system for approving most medical devices in the U.S. because it offers little to no assurance of safety for patients, a panel of medical experts concludes in a report Friday.

The surprise recommendation from the Institute of Medicine panel calls for a massive reworking of how the government regulates medical devices, a $350 billion industry that encompasses everything from pacemakers to X-ray scanners to contact lenses.

The U.S. system for approving medical devices, such as this defibrillator, must be reworked, says an expert panel. Michael Conroy, Associated PressThe U.S. system for approving medical devices, such as this defibrillator, must be reworked, says an expert panel. Michael Conroy, Associated Press

The 12-member group's advice, commissioned by the Food and Drug Administration, is not binding. And there were immediate signs that the report would face tough headwinds in Washington, as both the FDA and device manufacturers disagreed with its conclusions.

Still, the stinging critique could eventually bring about tighter standards for medical device companies, which have long benefited from less safety scrutiny than their peers in the drug industry.

FDA requires that most new prescription drugs go through clinical trials to prove that patients fare better after receiving medication. Most devices only have to show that they are similar to devices already on the market. Only a handful of truly new devices must undergo extensive testing to prove they are safe and effective.

The FDA said Friday that it disagreed with the group's recommendations, but would hold a public meeting to discuss them. The FDA has been working for more than a year to make the 510(k) process more predictable and less bureaucratic, efforts that would go to waste if the system is abandoned.

"FDA believes that the 510(k) process should not be eliminated but we are open to additional proposals and approaches," said FDA's device director Jeffrey Shuren, in a statement.

Manufacturers say some devices get tied up in red tape

The report arrives as the FDA fends off pointed criticism from manufacturers who say the agency has become too slow and bureaucratic in clearing new devices, driving up costs for companies and forcing some out of business.

Despite the relative speed of the 510(k) process, they point out that some devices still get tied up in red tape, ultimately reaching the U.S. market two years after launching overseas. In the past year, companies have taken their arguments to Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have grilled FDA officials over device reviews.

The device industry's chief lobbying group immediately dismissed the proposal.

"The report's conclusions do not deserve serious consideration from the Congress or the Administration," said Stephen Ubl, president of the Advanced Medical Technology Association. "It proposes abandoning efforts to address the serious problems with the administration of the current program by replacing it at some unknown date with an untried, unproven and unspecified new legal structure."

Latham & Watkins attorney John Manthei, who represents device manufacturers, said it would be a mistake to pronounce the report "dead on arrival." Even if the FDA doesn't adopt its recommendations, he said members of Congress will likely use the findings to pressure both companies and the FDA.

"For those who feel like the 510(k) process is inadequate, this report definitely gives those folks ammunition," said Manthei.

In an email, Health Canada spokesperson Leslie Meerburg said her department revised its regulations for medical devices in 1998.

"This revision brought Canada's framework in line with those of its major trading partners (Europe, Japan, Australia)," she wrote.

But Toronto-based class-action lawyer Harvin Pitch said he expects Health Canada officials will be taking a close look at the report's findings.

"They'll have to ask themselves the question of whether they should be doing more," said Pitch, who works for Stevensons LLP and represents about 60 Canadians who had a metal-on-metal DePuy hip transplant before the device was recalled in 2010.

Pitch said some of his clients have had their hip replacements removed, requiring several months of recovery and the prospect of a new device being implanted. Others have opted to keep them in place and have them monitored.

"It's horrible to have something in your body that was recalled. It's scary," he said. "These people have suffered and should be compensated."

Hilary Berthelet, a 54-year-old Ottawa woman who is part of the class action suit, said she's pleased the panel advising the FDA says safety data is necessary for medical devices such as her hip replacement.

She has not had hers removed, but worries about the high levels of metals in her blood that she says are due to her artificial hip.

"Every time when my blood (work) is done, the blood level for metals are higher we don't know whether it will level off," said Berthelet.

The Institute of Medicine panelists, mostly doctors and researchers, appear to have overwhelmingly sided with public safety advocates who have argued for years that devices used to treat and detect illnesses must undergo real testing.

The FDA sought the group's advice as it updates the system used to clear more than 90 per cent of devices in the U.S. The so-called 510(k) system was created by Congress in 1976 to grant speedy approval to devices that are similar to products already on the market.

The pathway was originally intended as a temporary method to grandfather in devices that had been used for decades. Instead it has become the standard tool to launch new medical implants.

Panel recommends tracking device failure rates

The IOM generally recommends ways to improve or modify government programs, but instead the panel said the 510(k) system is "flawed" and should be eliminated completely.

"A system was put in place 35 years ago that does not really assess safety and effectiveness," said panel chair David Challoner, former vice president of health affairs at University of Florida. "We need something different for the next 35 years. We're dealing with a whole new world: new technology, new materials and new data."

Challoner and the other panelists recommend the FDA develop a new system based on safety metrics and tracking device failure rates in the real world. He said better tracking of device complications could take the place of premarket testing, which would be unfeasible for all new devices.

The group stressed that medical devices cleared through the pathway are not inherently unsafe â€Â" most probably are safe â€Â" but the approval system itself provides little assurance to doctors and patients.

The 510(k) system is popular among manufacturers because it is a faster path to market than the review process for first-of-a-kind devices, which must undergo rigorous medical testing. Hip replacements, CT scanners and drug pumps are among the devices cleared by 510(k).

As generations of devices have been cleared year after year, FDA critics say dangerous devices have slipped through because they vaguely resemble products approved decades ago.

"Originally there was this idea that the 510k would wither away and over time more and more new devices would go through the more onerous path. But instead there are more devices cleared this way than ever," Dr. Diana Zuckerman, director of the nonprofit National Research Center for Women & Families, said in an interview Thursday.

Earlier this month Zuckerman and other safety advocates seized on new reports of painful complications with pelvic surgical mesh as the latest example of the shortcomings of the abbreviated review system. Reports of pain, bleeding and infection are up 500 per cent since 2008 among women who've had surgery to support the pelvic wall. The FDA cleared the device for that use in 2002 via 510(k).

About 4,000 devices are cleared every year under the 510(k) system, while just 50 devices are approved under the more stringent system that requires human testing. It costs the FDA roughly $800,000 per device when utilizing the more rigorous system.

The IOM is a nonpolitical group of experts that advises the federal government on medical issues.

For months, medical device lobbyists and executives have downplayed the legitimacy of the IOM panel, pointing out that none of them have experience working in the device sector.

Dr. Jeffrey Lerner, who has studied medical technology for over 25 years, said device makers are still coming to grips with a new regulatory environment that demands greater safety â€Â" often at the expense of profits.

"The bottom line is that everybody has got to make adjustments in an era in which technology is changing and public expectations are changing," said Lerner, who is president of the Emergency Care Research Institute.

With files from the CBC

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Technology Science - CRTC considers hearings on rules for online video

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Canada's broadcast regulator is considering re-opening the discussion on setting rules for online broadcasters, the start of a process that could affect what kind of videos that users can get online.

The CRTC this week ended a fact-finding period as it looks at starting public consultations on so-called over-the-top services like Netflix and YouTube two years sooner than planned.

Over-the-top refers to internet use over and above surfing and email, like streaming television or movies through online video services.

The regulatory body dealt with the issue in 2009 and decided there was no need to regulate such services, but that it would hold new public consultations in 2013 and issue an updated decision in 2014.

The fact-finding period is unusual, since it isn't a full public hearing, said internet law expert Michael Geist, who holds a Canada Research Chair in internet and e-commerce at the University of Ottawa.

"It's not clear exactly what that is," he said. "It's either consulting, in which case it's a full public process, or it's not."

Geist said he expects the CRTC to announce by sometime this fall that it will hold hearings into the issue.

The pre-consultation has drawn largely similar responses as the last round, with big players like Apple, Google â€Â" which owns Youtube â€Â" and Netflix arguing they shouldn't be regulated because they already have Canadian content and more competition is good for consumers. Creative groups, meanwhile, want video providers treated the same as broadcasters, and are pushing particularly for providers to pay into the system the helps fund Canadian productions. Broadcasters Rogers and Shaw argue they should face less regulation in order to be able to compete with an unregulated competitor.

Geist said the easiest way to handle this is to let the market figure itself out. While there's no question traditional broadcasting is facing a transition, he said, the barriers to entry are low both for broadcasters who want to compete online and for content creators who want to make their work accessible.

And, he pointed out, there's no mass movement away from cable.

"There's not a lot of cord-cutting taking place yet," he said.

150,000 jobs

Norm Bolen, president of the Canadian Media Production Association, said 150,000 Canadians are employed in the creative production sector. He argued it's important to consider what the country could lose if the regulations aren't extended to online video providers.

"People need to think this through and not just think about it with facile arguments about 'oh, we shouldn't regulate the internet'," he said. "If Canadians don't want Canadian content, that's their decision to make ... but they need to understand the impact on our culture, our economy."

Bolen said serving Canadian customers means the online providers are essentially operating in Canada and he simply wants them to make a contribution to the economy relevant to the size of their online audience.

Canadian broadcasters have to fund and broadcast a certain amount of domestic content, meaning there's less money for Canadian productions if new players don't have to pay into their own funds.

"We're not talking about keeping anybody out of Canada," he said. But, "if you're going to compete, compete on the same terms as the rest of the players."

The CRTC did not respond to a request for comment.

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Technology Science - Final space shuttle flight blasts off

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The space shuttle Atlantis blasted off Friday morning on the historic final flight of NASA’s 30-year shuttle program.

The shuttle was in its preliminary orbit around the Earth 10 minutes after what NASA called a "flawless launch" at 11:29 a.m. ET. That was three minutes after its scheduled launch time of 11:26 a.m. ET, despite a forecast calling for a 70 per cent chance of thunderstorms that the U.S. space agency feared could delay the launch.

"With today's final launch of the space shuttle, we turn the page on a remarkable period in America's history in space, while beginning the next chapter in our nation's extraordinary story of exploration," said NASA administrator Charles Bolden in a statement following the launch.

"Tomorrow's destinations will inspire new generations of explorers, and the shuttle pioneers have made the next chapter of humanspace flight possible."

Atlantis carries NASA astronauts Chris Ferguson, the mission commander, shuttle pilot Doug Hurley, and mission specialists Rex Walheim and Sandy Magnus. They are scheduled to dock at the International Space Station at 11:06 a.m. ET Sunday.

As many as a million people were estimated to be gathered at or near the space centre to watch.

"Everybody who isn't watching the royal couple this morning is driving here to watch us launch," Canadian astronaut Col. Chris Hadfield told CBC News from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The weather has been hot and humid, and Thursday a lightning strike within 150 metres of the launching pad prompted NASA to convene an engineering panel to discuss any possible damage.

'It's almost poetic in [its] beauty … this great gleaming human icon, this human arrow that takes us to space.'â€Â"Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut

"There's a huge lightning rod on top of the pad, of course, but if any stray electricity comes through the shuttle systems or the rocket there's a chance something could short out or something could be compromised," he said.

"So when we get a lightning hit we have to go through and check everything."

Day for nostalgia

This is an emotional day for people close to the space program. Hadfield said he and a group of guests and family members viewed Atlantis up close, high on the launch pad, just after sunset Thursday.

"It's almost poetic in [its] beauty … this great gleaming human icon, this human arrow that takes us to space," he said.

Hadfield said that despite the retirement of the shuttle, space flight has never been busier, with frequent flights to the International Space Station aboard Russian spacecraft and new vehicles on the drawing board.

"It's a busy time to be an astronaut," he said.

The send-off for the 135th shuttle launch is also special to the die-hard space program fans in their tents and camper vans along the Florida coast, who are paying tribute to a shuttle program that helped build the space station, fixed the Hubble telescope and sent probes to the planets.

"You spend two days coming down to look at it and it's over in 30 seconds," said retiree Eddie Wilson, who drove in from Atlanta. "But it is something about seeing that vehicle and the massive propulsion system to boost into to space. And to know that people are riding up into space on that."

Atlantis carries a year's worth of supplies â€Â" more than 8,000 pounds â€Â" for the International Space Station. It will also bring up a system that will be used by Canada's Dextre robot to test a system for refuelling and repairing spacecraft and satellites in space. When it returns, it will bring back to Earth a failed ammonia pump module to help NASA better understand what caused the pump to stop working.

Following the 12-day mission, Atlantis will go on display at the Kennedy Space Centre. The two other retired shuttles are heading to museums in Los Angeles and Virginia.

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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Technology Science - New solar firm already laying off workers

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A solar panel manufacturer that made its Windsor, Ont., debut in May announced Thursday it will lay off 70 of its 120 employees.  A solar panel manufacturer that made its Windsor, Ont., debut in May announced Thursday it will lay off 70 of its 120 employees. file picture/CBC

A solar panel manufacturer that made its Windsor, Ont., debut in May announced Thursday it will lay off 70 of its 120 employees.

Siliken Renewable Energies said it will have to cut its Windsor operations from three shifts down to one starting on Monday, and Production manager Richard Monk is blaming election politics for a slowdown in sales.

Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak has said he plans to kill green energy deals if he becomes the premier in October.

"We have new customers that want to place orders but they're hesitant because of the negativity," Monk said.

The Spanish company had hoped to open a third and fourth line of production by October, but that is now on hold. Siliken wasn't sure how long the workers would stay on layoff.

Monk also blames poor sales on the slow pace of getting renewable energy projects connected to the power grid.

Former Windsor mayor John Millson is president of another renewable energy manufacturer called Great Lakes Energy. He said they're busy, but if Hydro One picked up its pace in adding solar and wind power to the grid, business would be better and more jobs would be created.

'Once Hydro One opens the floodgates, we will easily be hiring another 60 to 70 people, without any hesitation.'â€Â"John Millson, Great Lakes Energy

"You have no idea how quickly the jobs would be required," said Millson. "Once Hydro One opens the floodgates, we will easily be hiring another 60 to 70 people, without any hesitation."

Millson said he has talked to Hudak, and been assured existing renewable energy contracts will be honoured if the Conservatives form the next provincial government.

Connectivity a priority: Duguid

Energy Minister Brad Duguid said the connection issue is being addressed. He said the government has put more power through the current energy grid and added more than 10,000 new connections in the last year, with more to come soon.

"We've got over 300 â€Â" many of them in the Windsor area â€Â" that will be brought on because of the investments we're making in upgrading 10 transformer stations," said Duguid.

The minister's office said Duguid meets weekly with Hydro One and the Ontario Power Authority and is committed to resolving the problem with the overwhelming demand to add more connections to the grid.

Duguid said the clean energy economy has attracted $20 billion in investment. The government wants to add 50,000 clean energy jobs by 2012.

"Connections [are] not the reason why there'd be uncertainty in the market," Duguid said. "The only thing driving uncertainty right now is a political uncertainty brought about by Tim Hudak's reckless promise to kill our clean energy economy and take down thousands of jobs with it."

Feed-in-tariff programs require wind and solar products to be produced in Ontario, the minister said.

Windsor MPP's Dwight Duncan and Sandra Pupatello described the connection problem as "growing pains," saying it's the overwhelming success of the 2-year-old FIT program that has created capacity issues.

Duncan said Windsor requires another major line between London and Windsor.

Tories want to scrap OPA

Peter Shurman, the Progressive Conservative Economic Development critic, said the blame for Siliken layoffs rests solely on the shoulders of the McGuinty government, because the government can't process FIT applications fast enough.

In addition to cancelling the FIT program, the Tories want to scrap the Ontario Power Authority. Shurman called the government body "another insular layer."

Shurman said renewable energy would remain a part of the Ontario supply source if the PCs are elected.

"However, we just don't believe in supplying it with a FIT program that delivers electricity at 80 cents per kilowatt hour when it should cost five [cents]," Shurman said.

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Technology Science - CRTC enforcement of net neutrality lax: advocate

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An advocate of greater internet access released documents Friday which he says suggest the federal communications regulator's response to consumer complaints has been "superficial" and that complaints are "often dismissed without serious inquiry."

Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, filed an access to information request to see what data the regulator, the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission, had on its handling of the complaints.

In a release, Geist said his findings show nearly all the large telecommunications providers have been targeted with internet openness complaints, by users accusing them of unfairly speeding up, slowing down, or blocking online content or applications.

But he said there have been few, if any, penalties.

"In fact," said Geist, "the CRTC has frequently dismissed complaints as being outside of the scope of the policy, lacking in evidence, or sided with internet provider practices."

Geist said nearly half of the complaints he found targeted Rogers Communications., an organization which advocates for less control on network traffic, said Geist's findings show the need for more restraints on practices employed by the big internet service providers, or ISPs.

CRTC enforcement called ineffective

"The ineffectiveness of the CRTC's enforcement mechanism (if there can be said to be one) reaffirms the need for the CRTC to conduct regular audits of Internet Service Providers in order to prevent discriminatory online traffic-shaping practices," it said in a release.

"Currently, the onus falls solely on the consumer to report traffic-shaping, yet they have no access to data from the ISPs about their traffic management practices."

"Relying on big telecom companies with narrow commercial interests to self-report their unjust Internet throttling activities is not an effective safeguard of Internet openness," Executive Director Steve Anderson said.

The federal NDP spokesman for digital issues, Charlie Angus, tweeted that Geist's findings show the CRTC "can't be trusted to protect (the) public on net neutrality," and promised that an NDP government would legislate clear rules on net neutrality.

Net neutrality refers to having the internet free from interference or restrictions from service providers.

The Liberal consumer affairs critic, Geoff Regan, called for regular CRTC audits of traffic control practices employed by ISPs.

"Without the threat of sanctions from the CRTC, Internet service providers have little reason to follow the CRTC's established management framework," he said.

Regan called for the CRTC to make consumer complaints about net neutrality violations and how those are resolved public, and also called for the creation of penalties for providers who fail to comply with net neutrality rules.

CRTC released rules in 2009

In October 2009, the CRTC unveiled rules that said the big telecommunications companies such as Bell and Rogers can only interfere with internet traffic as a last resort.

Instead, it said, they should use "economic measures" such as new investment and usage limits to combat congestion on their networks.

The CRTC ruled internet providers could still use practices such as traffic shaping and slowing of certain applications, and limiting bandwidth usage of heavy downloaders, but that the providers must be able to prove that they did so to prevent congestion and caused as little harm as possible to customers or wholesale internet provider.

Traffic shaping occurs when a service provider directs speeds â€Â" or bandwidth â€Â" to the different types of applications, thus making one, such as e-mail, faster while slowing another, such as online gaming.

The large ISPs have said a small portion of their customers are clogging up the internet by using the majority of its bandwidth, which slows down everyone else's connections.

Consumer groups, companies that do business on the internet, and small internet service providers have complained that the large ISPs manage traffic to limit peer-to-peer applications such as the free phone service Skype, that compete with their own business lines.

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Technology Science - Google got 38 user data requests from Canada in 6 months

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Canadian government departments, entities and agencies asked Google to hand over data about 38 users in a six-month period last year, according to a report from the internet giant.

According to its latest transparency report, Google says the statistic primarily reflects requests for user data due to criminal investigations, though it's possible some requests did not involve criminal matters. Google received the requests for data between July and December 2010.

Google complied with 55 per cent of the requests, the report said.

The 38 requests ranked Canada low on a list of 26 countries that sought data on users. The United States was at the top of list with 4, 601 requests, followed by Brazil with 1,804 and India with 1, 699.

Google said it doesn't always know if the requests are related to criminal investigations and that included in the statistics may be instances where a government wants information to save the life of a person in danger.

The report doesn't say whether police services are included as government entities and it doesn't specify what levels of government the requests came from. Federal courts are included among the statistics, Google said.

In six-month blocks, Google reports on government inquiries for information about users and requests to remove content from its services. Content removals are sometimes related to allegations of defamation or allegations that the content violates laws prohibiting hate speech or pornography.

Seven requests for content removal came from Canada between July and December of last year. Three were related to internet searches, three to blog material and one to YouTube. The report said Google complied fully or partially with 86 per cent of the requests.

It noted that in 2009, a request was received from a Canadian politician who wanted a critical blog removed, but his request was declined because the material did not violate any of Google's policies.

"We hope this tool will shine some light on the appropriate scope and authority of government requests to obtain user data around the globe," the report states.

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Technology Science - Rare pregnant rattlesnake finds Ontario home

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The sighting of a pregnant Massasauga rattlesnake has naturalists pretty excited.

The endangered reptile, now named Ophelia, was spotted at the Ojibway Prairie Nature Reserve near Windsor, Ont.

It's believed there are only about 25 Massasauga rattlesnakes left in the area â€Â" about half the number found 15 years ago.

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Technology Science - Canada's future space flight plans up in the air

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NASA's space shuttles have been an integral part of Canada's space program, and how Canadian astronauts will get into space after they retire is still up in the air.

"For Canada, our flight heritage rests with the shuttle," said former Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean, president of the Canadian Space Agency.

He has flown on Atlantis, the shuttle set to blast off on its final flight at 11:26 a.m. ET Friday.

Steve MacLean prepares for his 2006 Atlantis flight. He said access to space for Canadian astronauts will be reduced with the end of the shuttle program.Steve MacLean prepares for his 2006 Atlantis flight. He said access to space for Canadian astronauts will be reduced with the end of the shuttle program. Terry Renna/Associated PressSpeaking to the media from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on Thursday, the eve of the final launch of NASA's space shuttle program, Maclean said the space shuttles carried 14 Canadians on 14 separate space missions over the past 25 years.

The space shuttles also allowed Canadian scientists to conduct experiments in space and Canadian engineers to contribute to space safety and technology through the use of the Canadarm robots attached to each shuttle.

The end of the program will definitely affect Canada, MacLean acknowledged.

"I think what's going to change the most is our human access [to space] in Canada is going to be reduced," he said. But he noted that other nations will have the same problem.

Only 1 Canadian astronaut flight scheduled

So far, MacLean said, Canada has only one scheduled space flight after the end of the space shuttle program. Col. Chris Hadfield will head to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2012 and return in 2013 after serving as the space station's first Canadian commander.

The Canadian Space Agency is in the process of negotiating future flights, MacLean said.

It is also involved in discussions with NASA, Europe and Russia about the future of human space travel.

"With the termination of the shuttle, we are at a crossroads. There are some decisions to be made about where the world goes next with respect to space," he said. "This is a series of negotiations that Canada will be part of."

In the near future, Canada will likely depend on Russia to bring people, and Europe and Japan to bring equipment to the International Space Station, Maclean said. That may change the frequency of space flights by Canadian astronauts, he added.

But he said things could be different in four or five years, when NASA is expected to have built a new space vehicle.

NASA is also planning to change its focus to services provided in orbit and rely increasingly on the commercial sector to take humans and cargo into orbit.

"I think that provides an opportunity for Canadian industry to participate," MacLean said.

On Friday, MacLean was set to watch Atlantis's final launch, along with Industry Minister Christian Paradis and Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology.

He said he felt nostalgic when he saw the shuttle on the launch pad.

"I think that's the mood that's here today â€Â" it's one of celebrating these last moments of an amazing program."

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Technology Science - PHOTO GALLERY: Whale beaching a learning opportunity

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A pygmy sperm whale that beached itself and died in Shelburne Harbour last week provided a great learning opportunity for staff and students at Charlottetown's Atlantic Veterinary College.

Efforts to save the whale failed, and it was sent to AVC for a necropsy. Pygmy sperm whales are rare around Nova Scotia; it was the first one marine mammal specialist Pierre-Ives Daoust had ever seen. The incident was not only a learning opportunity, but will add to the scientific literature on this elusive creature.

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Technology Science - Canada praised for regulation of toxic chemicals

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The federal government was the subject of a rare complimentary report on one of its environmental initiatives today.

Toronto-based Environmental Defence had high praise for the Chemicals Management Plan. The document was billed as a progress report of the program that began in 2006.

"The Chemicals Management Plan, in global terms, is cutting edge. It has led to decisions on a few dozen chemicals that has put Canada in the lead in terms of human health protection," said Dr. Rick Smith, the executive director of Environmental Defence.

Dozens of substances that were formerly deemed safe have been added to the Toxic Substance List, which means their use can be controlled and limited. The most famous among them is bisphenol A, or BPA, a chemical that softens plastic but is believed to cause hormonal problems in humans. BPA is now banned from use in baby bottles.

"I think the BPA decision is very significant. Frankly, one of the most significant environmental decisions that Canada has taken in decades," added Smith.

The government is proud with the results of its five-year-old plan.

"This initiative has been very successful. Our government will continue its important work through continued collaboration with stakeholders and industry and providing additional funding," said Health Minister Leona Aglukkak in a statement released by her office.

But the news wasn't all good. Environmental Defence found significant deficiencies in listing chemicals related to the production of oil and gas. The group found that deadlines in studying and listing those chemicals were not being met.

The Chemicals Management Plan is managed jointly by Environment Canada and Health Canada.

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Technology Science - Apple loses round 1 in Amazon 'appstore' fight

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Amazon Appstore for Android, launched in March, offers software for smartphones and tablets running Google's Android operating system. Amazon Appstore for Android, launched in March, offers software for smartphones and tablets running Google's Android operating system. Daniel Wallis/Reuters

A preliminary bid by Apple to stop Amazon from using the term "appstore" has been denied by a California judge.

Judge Phyllis Hamilton of the U.S. District Court of Northern California turned down Apple's request for a preliminary injunction against Amazon that would bar it from using the term while Apple's trademark infringement lawsuit against Amazon moves forward.

Apple, which runs Apple's App Store, launched the lawsuit against Amazon in March, shortly after Amazon unveiled its Appstore for Android, a website that offers software for smartphones and tablets running Google's Android operating system.

Apple is trying to trademark the term "app store" in the U.S., and it alleged in its suit that Amazon was engaging in trademark infringement and unfair competition.

Apple said Thursday that while it did not get the preliminary injunction it wanted, the case is still moving forward.

"We've asked Amazon not to copy the App Store name because it will confuse and mislead customers," the company said in a statement.

Hamilton acknowledged in her judgment that Apple had spent a lot of money on promoting and advertising its app store and sold a lot of apps. But she said it has not established that the term "app store" is famous, and it appeared to be "more descriptive than distinctive." She noted that many other companies use the term to describe a place to obtain software for mobile devices.

She also wrote there was no evidence that Amazon intended to create an association between Android and Apple apps.

Apple had argued that inappropriate content, viruses or malware on the Amazon store could tarnish Apple's reputation. But Hamilton said there was no evidence to support that argument, since Amazon does not offer apps for Apple devices.

Apple filed in July 2008 to trademark the term "app store" in the U.S. Microsoft is challenging the application, which is currently before the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

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Technology Science - Polar bears had Irish grizzly ancestor

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Based on the genetic sequences analyzed, modern polar bears were more closely related to Irish brown bears than ancient polar bears.Based on the genetic sequences analyzed, modern polar bears were more closely related to Irish brown bears than ancient polar bears. (Canadian Press)A female grizzly bear who lived in Ireland less than 50,000 years ago was an ancestor of all modern polar bears, suggesting "grolar" hybrids were an important part of polar bear history.

The unexpected DNA evidence suggests that interbreeding between polar bears and brown bears â€Â" usually known as grizzly bears in North America â€Â" is not unusual at times when climate change caused the range of the two species to overlap, such as around the beginning of the last ice age.

"It's something that's part of the history of the polar bear," said Daniel Bradley, a genetics researcher at Trinity College Dublin who co-authored the study published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

Grizzly-polar bear hybrids are rare, but a number have been seen in Canada in recent years. A bear in the Northwest Territories in April 2010 is believed to be the first second-generation hybrid â€Â" the offspring of a female grizzly-polar bear hybrid and a male grizzly bear â€Â" ever found in the wild.

Bradley and his colleagues wrote that their results suggest that hybrid bears should be protected, as both polar bears and grizzly bears currently are.

"They may play an underappreciated role in the survival of species," the paper said.

Previous DNA studies had suggested that polar bears became a separate species about 800,000 to 150,000 years ago, and were most closely related to brown bears in the Admiralty, Baranof and Chichagof Islands near Alaska.

The researchers wrote that hybrids, such as this grolar bear shot on Banks Island, N.W.T.,in 2006, should be protected, as they may play an 'underappreciated' role in the survival of species. The researchers wrote that hybrids, such as this grolar bear shot on Banks Island, N.W.T.,in 2006, should be protected, as they may play an 'underappreciated' role in the survival of species. Canadian PressBradley and his colleagues uncovered the evidence about the bears' ancestry by looking at mitochondrial DNA extracted from the bones of museum specimens of Irish brown bears, which became extinct around 3,000 years ago. They compared it to mitochondrial DNA from other brown bears around the world as well as two ancient polar bear specimens from over 100,000 years ago.

"What was interesting was that the sequences from our brown bears were closer to modern polar bears than those ancient polar bears were," he said in a phone interview Thursday.

In fact, the results, which Bradley said were unexpected, suggest that all polar bears share a female Irish brown bear ancestor from within the last 50,000 to 20,000 years â€Â" not that long ago on the evolutionary time-scale.

Based on the similarity between modern polar bear DNA and that of the Irish brown bear around the last ice age (between 100,000 and 10,000 years ago), they may have interbred multiple times.

About 22,000 years ago, an ice sheet covering most of Britain and Ireland was at its largest. That would have provided habitat for polar bears and may have forced brown bears into lowlands near the sea, where they could have encountered and mated with polar bears, the researchers suggested.

Bradley said he's not sure how polar bears would have arrived in Ireland, but they may have crossed over the ice from Scandinavia.

The large differences between the mitochondrial DNA of ancient and modern polar bears is due to the fact that many polar bear lineages have died out, Bradley said. Modern polar bears are all very closely related to one another and may belong to a lineage that is different from that of the ancient specimens in the study.

The research team involved in the study included scientists from Ireland, the U.S., Belgium, England, Spain, Denmark, Russia, Scotland and Sweden.

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Technology Science - Israel uses Facebook to stymie 'flytilla'

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Israel prevented scores of pro-Palestinian activists from boarding Tel Aviv-bound flights in Europe and detained or deported dozens more upon arrival at its main airport on Friday, heading off attempts by the foreign protesters to reach the West Bank on a solidarity mission with the Palestinians.

Israel had tracked the activists on social media sites like Facebook, compiled a blacklist of about 300 names and asked airlines to keep those on the list off flights to Israel.

The attempted "fly-in" or "flytilla" comes after Greece blocked an aid flotilla trying to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

On Friday, some 60 of the activists who managed to land in Tel Aviv were detained for questioning, and by early evening, 27 of them had been deported. At one point, two planes from Geneva and Rome were diverted to a secluded area of the airport upon landing and boarded by security.

Organizers of the "Welcome to Palestine" campaign accused Israel of overreacting to what they said is a peaceful mission to draw attention to life under Israeli occupation, including travel restrictions. Israel controls all access to the West Bank.

'We are on a fact-finding mission. We want to understand what's going on." â€Â"Pippa Bartolotti, British activist

"This was never about demonstrations at airports. We are on a fact-finding mission. We want to understand what's going on," said Pippa Bartolotti, 57, a British activist from Wales.

She said she was the only person from a 40-member group on a flight from Britain who managed to enter Israel. "Unfortunately everybody else is in a holding bay and expected to be deported," she said. "There are people from Belgium, France and the U.K."

Airlines given blacklists to block activists

Israel has been jittery about the arrival of foreign activists since a deadly naval raid on an international flotilla that tried to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip last year. The incident, in which nine Turkish activists died in clashes with naval commandos, drew heavy international criticism and forced Israel to ease the blockade.

Israel took a series of measures to prevent clashes this time, most notably by barring protesters from the country altogether. Hundreds of police were also deployed at the already heavily fortified Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Authorities forwarded a blacklist to foreign airlines, preventing scores from boarding their flights.

'These people announced on their internet sites that they planned to come here and cause disruptions.'â€Â"Yigal Palmor, Israel Foreign Ministry

Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, said the list was compiled by following organizers' preparations on social networks and websites. In all, about 300 people were identified as planning to create "provocations" upon arrival, he said.

"These people announced on their Internet sites that they planned to come here and cause disruptions, and told their friends. We were able to contact other foreign ministries and simply give them links," Palmor said. Barring entrance in such cases is "accepted practice in any country," he added.

Recent anti-Israel protests, including deadly clashes along the frontiers with Lebanon and Syria as well as another attempted flotilla last week, were organized on Facebook and other sites. Defence officials say Israel now closely follows activities online.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said some 200 people were prevented from boarding their flights at airports throughout Europe. "The companies did not allow them on the airplanes because we told them clearly they wouldn't be able to enter Israel," Rosenfeld said.

Majority of activists kept out

Organizers said only a small number, perhaps fewer than 10, out of an expected 600 activists managed to enter Israel on their way to the West Bank, though more arrivals were expected Friday and Saturday.

Anna De Palma, 44, a Portuguese citizen, said she passed border controls without any problem, apparently because she didn't identify herself as an activist. "I said I was coming to visit. That was it," she said. "I am not a conspicuous person and we don't have to be conspicuous about it.

"I am going to participate in the mission on the call of civilian Palestinian society. To participate in specific demonstrations. To help the Palestinian people. To make a stand," she said.

'Lufthansa called me last night and said I would not be allowed to board their plane because Israel denied me entry.' â€Â"Cynthia Beatt, British citizen

One of the organizers, French activist Olivia Zemor, said her group planned only non-violent activities. Welcome to Palestine released a statement Friday calling the moves to prevent activists from reaching Israel "provocative, blackmailing and illegal."

At Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, several would-be protesters were turned away from check-in counters, and protesters subsequently gathered in the terminal, shouting "Boycott Israel," as French police stood by.

Cynthia Beatt, a British citizen living in Germany, told The Associated Press that she had been barred from boarding a Lufthansa plane Friday morning in Berlin.

"Lufthansa called me last night and said I would not be allowed to board their plane because Israel denied me entry," Beatt said.

In Geneva, dozens of activists were barred from boarding an EasyJet flight to Tel Aviv. Aline Yazgi, a spokeswoman for Switzerland's second biggest airport, said the passengers tried to pass through security without a boarding card and were turned back, closing part of the airport for about 40 minutes as a result.

'It was compulsory for EasyJet not to let these people on board.' â€Â"Adrian Fuhrer, EasyJet spokesperson

An EasyJet spokesman in Geneva, Adrian Fuhrer, said 40 people were prevented from boarding the plane at the request of Israeli authorities. "It was compulsory for EasyJet not to let these people on board," Fuhrer said.

Israel in awkward position

Israel has not publicized its criteria for denying entry, but has said peaceful visitors will not be deported. The large numbers of people who were blocked indicated that Israel was giving few activists the benefit of the doubt.

The activists have placed Israel in an awkward position. Authorities are determined to keep out people they consider hostile agitators, but critics in Israel have said the government's high-profile reaction has only drawn attention to the activists' attempt to gain publicity.

Visitors can reach the West Bank only through Israeli-controlled crossings, either through international airports or the land border with Jordan. Citing security concerns, Israel bars most Palestinians from entering Israel or using its airport, meaning they must travel to neighbouring Jordan to fly out.

At any given time, hundreds of foreigners, including activists and aid workers, are in the West Bank.

Travel restrictions in the Gaza Strip, ruled by the militant Hamas group, are even more rigorous. Israel allows few people to cross its border with Gaza, and most Gazans can travel abroad only by crossing into Egypt through their shared border.

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