Technology Science - Refusing Facebook has social cost

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Technology Science - After Steve Jobs, what now for Apple?

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Technology Science - Franklin ships remain unfound

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Technology Science - Endangered Siamese crocodiles hatch in Laos

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Technology Science - Sex with Neanderthals boosted human immunity

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Technology Science - $1M in BlackBerrys stolen

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Technology Science - Canadians lax about cellphone security

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Technology Science - Keystone pipeline clears major hurdle

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Technology Science - Russia hunts for crashed spacecraft

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Technology Science - BlackBerry music sharing service unveiled

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Technology Science - DFO scientist says Privy Council silenced her

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Technology Science - U.S. teens on Facebook more likely to use drugs

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Technology Science - Huge underground river found deep below Amazon

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Technology Science - Quirks & Quarks blog: Russian rocket crash worries NASA

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Technology Science - Planet made of diamond discovered

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Technology Science - Smart home security service launched by Rogers

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Technology Science - Aerospace gets $300K marketing boost from Ottawa

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Wi-LAN's patents include V-Chip, which gives parents control over inappropriate content on television. The chip is held by inventor Tom Collings.Wi-LAN's patents include V-Chip, which gives parents control over inappropriate content on television. The chip is held by inventor Tom Collings. Wi-LAN

Mosaid Technologies Inc. is urging shareholders to hang on to their stock for now as it considers a hostile, $480-million takeover bid from patent company rival Wi-LAN Inc., a suitor it has rejected in the past.

"Mosaid's board of directors recommends that shareholders take no action until shareholders have received further communications" from the company, Mosaid (TSX:MSD) said in a brief statement Thursday.

Mosaid has a meeting of its board of directors scheduled for Aug. 24 and has said the takeover offer will be on the agenda.

Wi-LAN (TSX:WIN) announced its all-cash bid for Mosaid after markets closed Wednesday, saying it would take the $38 per share offer directly to Mosaid stockholders after having its overtures rebuffed in the past.

Wi-LAN said the offer represented a premium of about 31 per cent to the closing price of Mosaid stockl on Wednesday.

Shares shoot up 24 per cent

Shares in Mosaid shot up more than 24 per cent on the Toronto Stock Exchange to $39.35 in midday trading Thursday, suggesting that Wi-LAN will have to increase its all-cash offer or that investors believe there could be other bidders.

Wi-LAN argues that combining Canada's two leading two patent licensing companies would make for a stronger company with more global clout and the prospect of fewer lawsuits over patent infringement.

Wi-LAN CEO Jim Skippen said Thursday that the two companies together have a portfolio of more than 4,200 patents in the computer memory chip, micro component and consumer electronics device markets, including mobile phones, digital TVs and devices equipped with short-range Wi-Fi wireless technology.

"When combined, the two patent portfolios are likely to have better coverage internationally than they currently do separately," Skippen told analysts on a conference call.

Combining the two patent licensing companies would also mean fewer lawsuits alleging patent infringement, he said.

"More patents applicable to a product usually makes it easier to secure a licence without litigation."

Wi-LAN noted that Mosaid has rebuffed merger offers a number of times in recent years and Skippen said that if the current bid is successful, Wi-LAN plans to increase its dividend.

Wi-LAN and Mosaid generate most of their revenue by licensing technology rights to large telecom and computer chip makers, which have recently demonstrated they are willing to pay hundreds of millions or even billions for patents.

"It's my belief that to succeed in today's market bigger is better," Skippen told analysts.

"This is because increased scale means a deeper, larger patent portfolio, a larger team and better access to financing. Increased scale makes it much less attractive for potential licensees to litigate rather than taking a licence."

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Technology Science - HP exiting PC, mobile device market

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Hewlett-Packard's decision to surrender in smartphones and tablet computers and possibly get rid of its personal computer business underscores how Apple has transformed consumer electronics in just four years.

HP's new CEO Leo Apotheker is now trying to turn the Silicon Valley stalwart into a twin of East Coast archrival IBM Corp. In doing so, he is acknowledging that his company has failed to balance the demands of both the consumer and corporate markets. As a result, it needs to exit most of its consumer businesses, just as IBM did six years ago.

Apple is the hottest consumer electronics company on the planet. The iPhone's debut in 2007 brought ease of use and an intuitive design unmatched by predecessors, including smartphone pioneer Palm, which HP bought last year in hopes of getting a foothold in mobile devices. Apple followed in 2010 with the iPad tablet computer and managed to persuade people to buy a product they never knew they needed.

Rather than remain locked in a futile fight with a company that seems to have found the magic touch on making hit consumer products, HP is whittling its competition to the other business technology specialists â€Â" namely, IBM, Oracle Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc.

"Apple singlehandedly knocked HP out of the PC, smartphone and tablet business," Gleacher & Co. analyst Brian Marshall said in an interview.

HP's overhaul, announced Thursday, has three parts:

  • HP will stop making tablet computers and smartphones by October.
  • It will try to spin off or sell its PC business, the world's largest. By the end of next year, HP computers could be sold under another company's name.
  • The company plans to buy business software maker Autonomy Corp. for about $10 billion in one of the biggest takeovers in HP's 72-year history. That would expand HP's software and services offerings, where IBM is strong.

HP, the largest technology company in the world by revenue, will continue to sell servers and other equipment to business customers, just as IBM now does. Those businesses currently don't generate as much revenue for HP as PCs, but they have higher profit margins.

Apotheker would not say whether any jobs will be cut. HP plans to take a charge of about $1 billion for restructuring and related costs, some of which could go for severance payments. HP employs more than 300,000 people worldwide.

HP's move toward an IBM-style business model, which is focused on selling to corporations and governments, makes sense considering that Apotheker spent most of his career at German business software maker SAP AG, another company that catered to the technology needs of companies and government agencies.

"This is his bread and butter," Marshall said. "Now he has to deliver."

Stock drops

Investors appeared underwhelmed and sent HP's stock down six per cent Thursday on a day the broader market declined, with the Standard & Poor's 500 index falling 4.5 per cent. In morning trading Friday, HP lost another 20 per cent, or $5.81, to $23.70.

WebOS smartphones had a worldwide market share of less than one per cent, according to Gartner. WebOS smartphones had a worldwide market share of less than one per cent, according to Gartner. (Beck Diefenbach/Reuters)Apotheker is seeking radical changes to help erase the stain of scandal and leave his imprint on a massive company he inherited last year. His predecessor, Mark Hurd, resigned under pressure a year ago, after an investigation found expense reports that were allegedly falsified to conceal a relationship with an HP marketing contractor.

In trying to ditch most of HP's consumer businesses, Apotheker is reversing a decade-long binge on computer hardware.

The area where HP has been most visibly lacking is mobile devices.

HP has been hopelessly outmatched in smartphones and tablets despite its $1.8 billion acquisition last year of Palm Inc., whose webOS software was the crown jewel of the deal. The software powered the fledgling TouchPad tablet and HP-powered smartphones that are being discontinued in Thursday's announcement.

The software was well-reviewed, but iPhones and iPads and smartphones running Google Inc.'s Android operating system â€Â" made possible after Apple paved the way â€Â" have dominated the fastest-growing parts of the consumer technology market. HP was left in the margins. WebOS smartphones had a worldwide market share of less than one per cent, according to Gartner.

webOS still alive: Apotheker

HP will try to find ways to keep webOS alive, which could include using it in other devices such as PCs and printers or licensing it to handset makers, Apotheker said in an interview. He said he was disappointed with the designs of HP's mobile devices and believed the business would have required too much money to turn around.

"We have better opportunities to invest our capital," he said.

HP executives likely decided that "they were too late to the tablet market to make a dent," said Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin. "They recognized they did not have a high probability of success."

HP conceivably could try to license webOS for use in cars and consumer electronics devices made by other companies, Golvin said.

But even that is challenging because Google is targeting many of the same markets with its Android system, which is free.

"This begs the question of how much longer it will be before the other shoe drops and they close the Palm business entirely," Golvin said.

The diminishing of the Palm business will be striking to many technologists.

Jon Rubinstein, the former CEO of Palm, said in December that Palm sold itself because executives realized the business could be small and successful, but couldn't sustain itself on its own in the long run.

Rubinstein, who was an Apple executive before leading Palm, said HP seemed to be the best choice because, given its size, it could help Palm bring its products to more people.

Reversing PC course

In PCs, HP is acknowledging that it needs to reverse course on a path begun two CEOs ago, under Carly Fiorina. She pushed through the controversial decision to spend $19 billion for Compaq Computer. That set the stage for HP's ascent to become the world's top PC maker.

PCs are HP's biggest revenue generator, but the business is also HP's least profitable, a result of falling prices for computers and brutal competition.

HP's effort to jettison its PC business is another concession to Apple's increasing dominance of consumer electronics, said Shaw Wu, an analyst with Sterne Agee. The PC division also had become a drag on HP's stock even though it still accounts for about 15 percent of the company's earnings, Wu said.

"Apple is such a fierce competitor that HP probably realized it was going to have to cut its losses," Wu said. "And it makes sense to cut your losses sooner than later."

The decision also makes HP's trajectory look similar to rival IBM's. A key player in building the PC market in the 1980s, IBM sold its PC business in 2005 to focus on software and services, which don't cost as much in labor and components as building computer hardware.

The acquisition of Autonomy mirrors a key element of IBM's transformation from stodgy mainframe seller into a software and services powerhouse, which has made IBM the envy of many large technology companies.

HP's net income increased in the fiscal third quarter, which ended July 31, but its lower-than-expected outlook for the current period weighed on the stock. The company, which is based in Palo Alto, Calif., also cut its full-year revenue outlook.

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Technology Science - Space weather forecasts get a boost

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An image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory shows a solar flare, which was accompanied by a spectacular coronal mass ejection (CME) on June 7, 2011. An image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory shows a solar flare, which was accompanied by a spectacular coronal mass ejection (CME) on June 7, 2011. (NASA)

Newly developed techniques will allow scientists to better predict the size and arrival time of solar storms that could damage satellites, cause GPS navigation to malfunction and knock out power grids on Earth.

Alysha Reinard, a research scientist at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s space weather prediction centre, says that up until now, forecasters could only predict within 12 to 14 hours when a coronal mass ejection or CME â€Â" a blast of plasma launched by the sun â€Â" would hit Earth.

The fast-moving, billion-tonne plasma cloud interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere to generate geomagnetic storms that affect electronic equipment.

“It’s good to know in advance so we can warn people who use these technologies that there could be problems,” Reinard said at a NASA news conference Thursday.

NASA’s pair of STEREO observatories, launched in 2006, have now improved forecasts to within eight hours.

And with a new technique announced by NASA Thursday, “we think… we can do any better than that,” said Reinard at a news conference.

The STEREO spacecraft travel in the same orbit as Earth around the sun, but one travels ahead of the Earth and the other travels behind, so that they get two different views of the sun.

The new solar storm tracking technique, developed by the team of Craig DeForest at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., teases out the faint signals of the CME, recorded by the STEREO spacecraft, from the background starlight to allow scientists to follow the cloud from the sun’s corona to the Earth. That allows scientists to pinpoint both its mass and its arrival time.

DeForest’s team published their results, which track a CME launched in 2008, in the Astrophysical Journal this week.

Reinard said that in the past, two challenges made space weather forecasting difficult:

  • Measurements of the CME were made by an instrument close to the sun, and the CME could speed up or slow down on its way to the Earth, making predictions inaccurate.
  • The most damaging CMEs are coming straight toward the Earth, and their speed is difficult to measure head-on.

The STEREO spacecraft overcome both those problems because they are closer to the Earth, but get a side view of the CME due to their positioning.

Solar activity such as flares are expected to increase as we move toward the peak of the 11-year solar cycle, which is expected in 2013.

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Technology Science - Canada’s Open Text last of its kind after HP deal

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Waterloo, Ont.-based Open Text Corp. had revenues of $912 million US in 2010. It has about 4450 employees. Waterloo, Ont.-based Open Text Corp. had revenues of $912 million US in 2010. It has about 4450 employees. (Open Text)Tech giants such as IBM and SAP are likely casting a hungry eye on business software provider Open Text Corp. now that its last independent competitor has been snapped up by Hewlett Packard, analysts say.

HP announced Thursday it was buying Autonomy Corp. for $10 billion US. It's part of a major swing away from consumer products such as PCs, tablets and smartphones, and an expanded focus by HP on business technology products and services. U.K.-based Autonomy specializes in software that manages and searches unstructured information within businesses' internal networks.

Waterloo, Ontario-based Open Text similarly specializes in helping companies manage the growing mountains of data produced and used in their daily operations. But Open Text takes a different approach â€Â" relying on organizing and tagging content rather than a powerful search capability, said Nigel Wallis, an analyst with IDC Canada whose research is focused on business software and applications.

However, among competitors within its field, Open Text holds the distinction of never having been bought out by a much bigger technology company.

"They are the last major independent that's still standing," Wallis said in an interview Friday.

IBM likely buyer: analyst

He added that he wouldn't be surprised if business technology companies such as IBM and Oracle were in takeover talks with Open Text, which is already designed to work with Oracle, Microsoft and SAP software.

In a note to investors Friday, National Bank analyst Kris Thompson said he and his colleagues view IBM as the "most likely buyer" and do not expect Microsoft to make a bid.

"A bidding war between SAP and Oracle is another real possibility," the note added.

Wallis said potential buyers will probably have to pay a hefty premium for Open Text because it is the last available company in a field that is growing very quickly, due to exponential growth in the rate at which humans are consuming data. By 2020, he said, data usage is expected to reach 35 zetabytes per year â€Â" equivalent to the amount needed to fill 760 billion dual-layer Blu-Ray discs.

"That's a huge opportunity for companies and vendors to try and manage and optimize on behalf of the IT organization," he added.

He noted that most major technology companies have tried to gain a foothold in this area recent years â€Â" IBM by acquiring FileNet in 2006, Adobe by buying Day Software in 2010 and Microsoft through its Sharepoint platform.

Active market for mergers

Richard Tse, an analyst with Toronto-based Cormark Securities, said the area known as enterprise content management, "has been probably the most active market in terms of mergers and acquisitions for the last eight years."

Analysts say there is huge opportunity in solutions that help companies manage and optimize their growing reams of data. Analysts say there is huge opportunity in solutions that help companies manage and optimize their growing reams of data. iStockHe added that Open Text's earnings growth has been 30 per cent on average in each of the past five years, partly by making targeted acquisitions itself. Its revenues in 2010 were $912 million US.

Analysts observed that the $10 billion paid for Autonomy by HP was a hefty amount.

"It's obviously a bet that they're making that this is going to be an asset that could be meaningful to their growth going forward," Tse said.

Wallis said the deal provides the opportunity for the company to present its HP server and storage clients with an additional information management solution, while providing Autonomy with access to HP's massive client base around the world.

Anne Lapkin, who analyzes Autonomy for technology research firm Gartner, said it's "an incredibly good deal for autonomy," but "it's way too early to tell" if moving away from hardware and focusing on information management will be a successful strategy for HP.

"Everytime that you make that kind of sea change, it involves big risks," she said, predicting that there will be a "significant clash of cultures" that HP and Autonomy will have to cope with.

In the short term, she said, competitors such as Open Text may be able to exploit the natural disorder that results from the merger.

But in the long term, they may find the merged behemoth to be a bigger competitive threat, she added.

"It has the potential of being a very, very powerful partnership."

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Technology Science - YouTube celebrity sea otter gets cancer treatment

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A sea otter at the Vancouver Aquarium that rose to fame four years ago on YouTube has been diagnosed with potentially a deadly illness.

Milo the 12-year-old sea otter became a YouTube sensation after a visitor posted a video of him holding hands with Nyac, a female sea otter, as they floated on their backs at the aquarium.

The video, which was posted online in 2007 has since logged 16 million hits.

But over weekend staff noticed Milo was a bit lethargic and on Monday staff at the aquarium confirmed he has cancer, according to Dr. Martin Haulena, a veterinarian at the aquarium.

"We discovered that Milo has a large number of lymph nodes that were quite distended along with some other problems.... Blood results and also biopsies confirmed a diagnosis of lymphoma," he said.

Treatments show improvements

Haulena says Milo has started treatments involving chemotherapy and other drugs therapies and has shown some improvement already.

But he says it is difficult to give a long-term prognosis for Milo because lymphoma affects different species very differently and there is not much information on how the disease and the treatments affect sea otters.

The disease has been documented before in wild otters recovered after they died in California, but Milo is the first living sea otter to be treated for the disease it appears, he said.

Milo was born in a Portuguese zoo and arrived at the Vancouver Aquarium when he was young.

His partner in the Youtube video, Nyac, a 20-year-old female sea otter, succumbed to chronic lymphatic leukemia in 2008.

Nyac was among eight sea otters brought to the aquarium following the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill that devastated Prince William Sound, Alaska, on March 24, 1989.

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Technology Science - Yukon to test for radiation in caribou herd

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Researchers plan to test for radiation in Yukon's local food supply some six months after a Japanese nuclear disaster.

Researchers plan to test for radiation in the Porcupine Caribou Herd following Japan's nuclear disaster earlier this year.Researchers plan to test for radiation in the Porcupine Caribou Herd following Japan's nuclear disaster earlier this year. The Associated Press

The Northern Contaminants Program will test caribou for radiation as part of its ongoing effort to monitor the Porcupine Caribou Herd.

The move comes after a nuclear power plant in Japan was severely damaged in March following an earthquake and tsunami, which spewed radiation into the air and water for weeks after the accident.

The decision to test for radiation is being done in part to alleviate worries of residents in the area, said Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon's Chief Medical Officer of Health.

"There have apparently been some of those questions from citizens," said Hanley. "This is in part an answer, or an attempt to answer some of those questions."

But Hanley said he's confident the test results will prove the food supply is radiation free.

"There is really no indication from any of the monitoring that has been going on since the incident in Japan back in March that there's been any significant fallout," he said.

"This is just one extra way of making sure that it hasn't worked its way into the food chain to any significant degree."

Hanley said a similar study conducted after the Chernobyl Nuclear accident 25 years ago found that radioactivity in caribou did not reach unsafe levels.

Test results on the Porcupine Caribou herd will be available next year.

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Technology Science - Which Canadian invention would you want to see on a stamp?

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The head of the agency in charge of federal elections says it's time to modernize Canada's elections, including testing online voting and ending a ban on publishing early election results.

In a report on the May 2 election, released Wednesday, Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand writes about his plan to test online voting and encourages parliamentarians to update the Elections Act.

Improvements to the electoral process, Mayrand writes, will depend on changes to the law.

"Elections Canada has reached a point where the limited flexibility of the current legislation no longer allows us to meet the evolving needs of electors and candidates," Mayrand reports. "We look forward to working with parliamentarians as we prepare for the 42nd general election."

Mayrand says he's allowed to carry out studies on alternative voting methods, subject to approval by the committee on procedure and House affairs.

"Elections Canada has been examining internet voting as a complementary and convenient way to cast a ballot. The chief electoral officer is committed to seeking approval for a test of internet voting in a byelection held after 2013."

The rise of social media makes it harder to enforce a ban on publishing election results before polls close in other regions, Mayrand writes.

"The growing use of social media puts in question not only the practical enforceability of the rule, but also its very intelligibility and usefulness in a world where the distinction between private communication and public transmission is quickly eroding. The time has come for Parliament to consider revoking the current rule."

Section 329 of the Canada Elections Act bans the reporting of election night results in areas where polls are still open. The CBC and Bell Media, owner of CTV, sought to challenge the ban in court at the outset of the 2011 election campaign, on the grounds it violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is difficult to enforce, particularly in light of the popularity of social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

The Ontario Superior Court refused to hear the case on an expedited basis, arguing the issues were too complex for a quick hearing. The Elections Canada report notes the case is expected to be heard in March, 2012.

The report also says Parliament needs to take another look at third-party advertising rules, pointing out the blurring lines between advertising and non-advertising with social media and other technology. Parliament may want to exclude all third-party internet-based communications from the law, Mayrand says, "except perhaps communications placed for a fee by the originator on another site."

The report suggests MPs and senators should also look at online nominations, including electronic signatures, mobile advance polls for rural and remote areas, and making poll staffing and tasks more flexible.

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Technology Science - Patent firm Mosaid's shares jump on takeover bid

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A security system that also lets homeowners control appliances and thermostats remotely using a smartphone is being offered by Rogers Communications.

Ian Pattinson, vice-president and general manager of Rogers Smart Home Monitoring, a new service that launched in Ontario Wednesday, said his family uses the system to arm security, turn off lights, automatically shut off devices such as a curling iron and adjust the thermostat in a single step when they leave home. Further adjustments can be made using his iPhone while he is out of the house.

"I'm connected everywhere," he said at a media demonstration in Toronto. "If an alarm goes off, I have a better idea of what's going on. This really gives the homeowner incredible control."

Ian Pattinson, vice-president and general manager of Rogers Smart Home Monitoring, shows how his home can be monitored and adjusted remotely using a smartphone app. 'I'm connected everywhere,' he says. Ian Pattinson, vice-president and general manager of Rogers Smart Home Monitoring, shows how his home can be monitored and adjusted remotely using a smartphone app. 'I'm connected everywhere,' he says. (Emily Chung/CBC)

The system at Pattinson's cottage sends him text messages when the power is out or the temperature drops below 6 C. And he receives photos from a security camera whenever someone has been checking out the property.

The technology, which Rogers hopes to make available outside Ontario soon, consists of an interactive touchpad that controls a typical security system monitored by Rogers from a central station for a monthly fee. The system has both cable and wireless connections, and is only available to Rogers cable high-speed internet customers.

It integrates email and text messaging to keep homeowners informed. Sensors and cameras detect motion, smoke or carbon monoxide or allow automatic or remote control of small appliances, thermostats or lights to save energy.

Adjustments can be made through the touchpad or through an iPhone or iPad app, although Android and BlackBerry apps are in the works.

Erica and Anthony Antonelli are among the 750 Rogers employees and their families who have been using the system recently as part of a final test before launch.

Anthony, 41, said he was initially most interested in the security features, as he and Erica, 39, have a new four-month-old daughter, Luciana. But the family has found other uses for it.

"The thermostat we use like 20 times a night," he said, adding that there are several flights of stairs between the bedroom and the thermostat. Now the couple can make it warmer or colder using the iPad beside their bed.

Privacy built in, Rogers says

Ann Cavoukian, information and privacy commissioner of Ontario, said this kind of emerging smart home technology can bring "significant benefits" to people's day-to-day lives. Privacy concerns may only surface if the personal information is sent to a central monitoring station, she said in an email Wednesday.

Plug-in sensors allow small appliances such as coffee pots to be controlled and monitored remotely. Plug-in sensors allow small appliances such as coffee pots to be controlled and monitored remotely. (Emily Chung/CBC)Pattinson said building privacy into the system was important. He noted that the central monitoring system doesn't have access to the cameras, information about doors opening or closing, and don't get copies of the emails and text messages with pictures. Each user has a personal four-digit code that gives certain rights to use the system, and that must be entered in addition to a Rogers password in order to control appliances or the security system.

He added that the sensors, which cost $49 each, are encrypted and the company has employed "white-hat" hackers to test the system's security.

"Unfortunately, hacking happens everywhere," he said.

He added that the user has some responsibility too, to ensure no one can access the text messages, emails and photos sent by the system if his or her smartphone is lost.

"You should always have it password locked," he said.

Emily Taylor, an analyst with IDC Canada who follows consumer technology and services including home automation, said many telecommunications companies in the U.S. such as Verizon and AT&T have already launched similar services, and they are a growing trend. Bell briefly entered the home security market in 2007, but cancelled its service in 2008.

Taylor said the high cost means smart home and security technology currently appeals mainly to wealthier households, but the involvement of telecommunications companies could help drive it into the mainstream.

Rogers is selling the control touchpad and one door or window sensor for $749 or $149 with a three-year contract and charging $99 for installation. Sensors are $49 each, though there are bulk discounts. Service fees range from $39.99 to $57.99 a month.

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Technology Science - Chips that think like brain announced by IBM

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The chip has demonstrated the ability to play the game Pong and can also read written numbers 0 to 9. The chip has demonstrated the ability to play the game Pong and can also read written numbers 0 to 9. IBM Research-ZurichComputers, like humans, can learn. But when Google tries to fill in your search box based only on a few keystrokes, or your iPhone predicts words as you type a text message, it's only a narrow mimicry of what the human brain is capable.

The challenge in training a computer to behave like a human brain is technological and physiological, testing the limits of computer and brain science. But researchers from IBM Corp. say they've made a key step toward combining the two worlds.

The company announced Thursday that it has built two prototype chips that it says process data more like how humans digest information than the chips that now power PCs and supercomputers.

The chips represent a significant milestone in a six-year-long project that has involved 100 researchers and some $41 million in funding from the government's Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. IBM has also committed an undisclosed amount of money.

The prototypes offer further evidence of the growing importance of "parallel processing," or computers doing multiple tasks simultaneously. That is important for rendering graphics and crunching large amounts of data.

The uses of the IBM chips so far are prosaic, such as steering a simulated car through a maze, or playing Pong. It may be a decade or longer before the chips make their way out of the lab and into actual products.

But what's important is not what the chips are doing, but how they're doing it, says Giulio Tononi, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who worked with IBM on the project.

Adapting without programming

The chips' ability to adapt to types of information that it wasn't specifically programmed to expect is a key feature.

Dharmendra Modha, project leader for IBM Research, said the new chips have parts that behave like digital neurons and synapses.Dharmendra Modha, project leader for IBM Research, said the new chips have parts that behave like digital neurons and synapses. (IBM Research - Zurich)"There's a lot of work to do still, but the most important thing is usually the first step," Tononi said in an interview. "And this is not one step, it's a few steps."

Technologists have long imagined computers that learn like humans. Your iPhone or Google's servers can be programmed to predict certain behaviour based on past events. But the techniques being explored by IBM and other companies and university research labs around "cognitive computing" could lead to chips that are better able to adapt to unexpected information.

IBM's interest in the chips lies in their ability to potentially help process real-world signals such as temperature or sound or motion and make sense of them for computers.

IBM, which is based in Armonk, New York, is a leader in a movement to link physical infrastructure, such as power plants or traffic lights, and information technology, such as servers and software that help regulate their functions. Such projects can be made more efficient with tools to monitor the myriad analog signals present in those environments.

Digital 'neurons' and 'synapses'

Dharmendra Modha, project leader for IBM Research, said the new chips have parts that behave like digital "neurons" and "synapses" that make them different than other chips. Each "core," or processing engine, has computing, communication and memory functions.

"You have to throw out virtually everything we know about how these chips are designed," he said. "The key, key, key difference really is the memory and the processor are very closely brought together. There's a massive, massive amount of parallelism."

The project is part of the same research that led to IBM's announcement in 2009 that it had simulated a cat's cerebral cortex, the thinking part of the brain, using a massive supercomputer. Using progressively bigger supercomputers, IBM had previously simulated 40 per cent of a mouse's brain in 2006, a rat's full brain in 2007, and one per cent of a human's cerebral cortex in 2009.

A computer with the power of the human brain is not yet near. But Modha said the latest development is an important step.

"It really changes the perspective from 'What if?' to 'What now?"' Modha said. "Today we proved it was possible. There have been many skeptics, and there will be more, but this completes in a certain sense our first round of innovation."

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Technology Science - Elections Canada lobbies for test of online voting

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The aerospace industry is getting almost $300,000 from the federal government to help marketing efforts abroad, International Trade Minister Ed Fast said Thursday.

The money comes from the Global Opportunities for Associations fund, a $2.7-million pot of cash for national associations to take on new work or expand their work overseas.

The Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, the Air Transport Association of Canada, the Canadian Business Aviation Association and the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries received the funding announced Thursday.

Another 34 associations have received money from the fund, including the Canadian Independent Music Association, the Fur Council of Canada and the Specialty Vehicles and Transportation Equipment Manufacturers’ Association.

Fast made the announcement at Bombardier Aerospace headquarters in Dorval, Que.

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Technology Science - Google Maps adds weather forecasts

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Weather forecasts have been incorporated into Google Maps.

Google announced the new feature on its blog Thursday. It is being launched in partnership with, which is providing weather data and forecasts, and the U.S. Naval Research Lab, which is providing cloud coverage information.

The new feature can be activated in the menu on the upper right-hand side of the screen. The menu includes other optional information such as traffic conditions and topographical information. Current conditions and cloud patterns are visible on the map itself, and clicking on a given city brings up a detailed forecast.

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Technology Science - Roller coasters: the drive to scream

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As the summer winds down, Canadians in some parts of the country are preparing for a last hurrah: a thrilling roller coaster ride at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto or the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver, both of which open this weekend.

But what is it about hurtling down a rickety track at speeds upwards of 100 km/h that is so appealing to some and so absolutely terrifying to others?

For Korey Kiepert, roller coaster engineer and co-founder of Ohio-based coaster designer Gravity Group, the thrill of the ride is what has kept him coming back for more since he was a child.

"A roller coaster gives someone a way that they can go down a big drop, speed through a forest at a high speed and still have the confidence that they'll be OK on the other side," he said. "You can have what would seem like a monotonous job, and you can go let loose on a roller coaster and have a complete change of pace with your friends and family."

As for the people who would much rather stay planted on terra firma, Kiepert is admittedly baffled by their lack of enthusiasm.

"I don't know any of those people," he said.

'When people are terrified of a roller coaster, it's because they're confusing the look of danger with actual danger.'â€Â" Michael Otto, psychology professor

According to Michael Otto, a psychology professor at Boston University, a fear of roller coasters comes from some people's inability to think logically about the ride and its elements.

"It has to do with how well you're able to enjoy fear," he said. "When people are terrified of a roller coaster, it's because they're confusing the look of danger with actual danger, and they can't tolerate the feelings of the thrill.

"A lot of people like thrills, but everyone has a different threshold relating to how much they like to be scared as part of that thrill, and there's a group that just doesn't like those feelings of being scared."

Otto helped to conduct a study for Universal Studios in Florida aimed at helping people overcome their fear of roller coasters. He said the thrill enjoyed by so many people who ride coasters can be compared to the excitement some feel while watching a football game.

"As you watch, people are getting a vicarious thrill without being on the field; they feel a sense of victory or defeat â€Â" all by proxy," he said. "A roller coaster is another proxy, this time using the look and feel of danger while at the same time protecting yourself from real danger."

Those with a roller coaster phobia, he said, understand there is no real danger but dislike not being in control of the situation.

"They don't want to be stuck feeling scared longer than they want to; that's what keeps people off," said Otto.

Confronting the coaster

Kevin Meyer, a psychology professor at Mount Union University in Alliance, Ohio, polled students in one of his classes and found out that 30 per cent of them had some kind of roller coaster phobia, ranging from mild to severe. His answer? Bring them to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, known for its record-setting 17 roller coasters, strap them in and watch the fear fly away.

"We had a 100 per cent success rate," he said. "All 12 of the students who had some sort of roller coaster phobia were able to conquer it at the park."

A self-professed roller coaster enthusiast, Meyer said the results did not shock him.

"It's almost like a high-speed antidepressant," he said. "I've never gotten off a roller coaster in a bad mood."

He pointed out that the common element in his students' respective fears was some sort of "traumatic" event in their past that just turned them off roller coasters for good.

"Something happened when they were young to make them scared, or they may have seen something on the news," Meyer said.

"So, we do a lot of research on ride-related anxiety, and then the students get to see the therapy in action."

A controlled adventure

Otto says the thrill of the unknown is the reason why carnival patrons in North America have been intrigued by roller coasters for over a century.

Thrill-seekers have been riding the Cyclone at Coney Island, N.Y. since the 1920s. Thrill-seekers have been riding the Cyclone at Coney Island, N.Y. since the 1920s. Chip East/Reuters

"For half a minute or so, you get to experience sights and sounds that are out of the ordinary," he said. "That seems to refresh some people and leave them invigorated â€Â" if you're able to spin it the right way for your brain."

For Kiepert, it's that surprise of every ride that kept his interest as a child and continues to drive his work in the field to this day.

"When you sit down on a roller coaster you have a sense that you are about to embark on an adventure, and you aren't quite sure where it will take you, but you know it's going to be fun," he said.

Regardless of whether or not it's the leaps and dips of a roller coaster that draw you to this year's fairs, it's being there that counts, says Kiepert.

"I think that just about every person probably has some fond memory of an amusement park, whether or not they enjoy the thrill of a roller coaster," he said.

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Technology Science - Ottawa set to reveal new coal-plant regulations

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New regulations are coming for coal-fired electricity plants in Canada, to reduce allowable greenhouse gas emissions for new projects.New regulations are coming for coal-fired electricity plants in Canada, to reduce allowable greenhouse gas emissions for new projects. Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Tougher emissions regulations for new coal-fired electricity plants in Canada are on the way.

Environment Minister Peter Kent announced Friday that new rules will be published next week and will be open to a 60-day consultation period.

"Our strategy to lower our emissions is based on making improvements sector-by-sector to sustain our economy and protect our environment," Kent said in a statement Friday.

The new coal standards will be based on achieving the same level of greenhouse gas emissions as a high-efficiency natural gas plant. Natural gas produces about half as much carbon dioxide â€Â" the main greenhouse gas â€Â" as coal.

The new regulations would only apply to projects completed after July 1, 2015, not to existing plants, many of which are nearing the end of their useful lives.

It is unclear whether the new regulations will apply to a project in Alberta that has raised concerns from environmentalists. A major expansion of Maxim Power's Milner station near Grande Cache, Alta., was approved by the Alberta Utilities Commission on Aug. 10.

Environmental groups, including Ecojustice and the Pembina Institute, have questioned whether the plant's expansion was timed so as to avoid the new federal regulations.

The proposed regulations will be published by the government in the Canada Gazette on Aug. 27. The final regulations are due sometime in 2012, and are scheduled to go into force on July 1, 2015.

This is part of the government's pledge to reduce Canada's GHG emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. Ottawa has already released proposed new regulations for trucks and passenger vehicles.

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Technology Science - West Coast fish to be tested for Fukushima radiation

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The Canadian Food Inspection Agency plans to start testing fish off the coast of British Columbia for the presence of radiation stemming from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan earlier this year.

The agency has not yet released any specific details on the testing program, but did say it expects the test results to be well below Health Canada's actionable levels for radiation.

Fisheries activist Alexandra Morton with the Raincoast Research Society says she supports the testing, but calls the announcement a political move. Morton says millions of sockeye have started returning to the Fraser River and the fishing season is already well underway.

Salmon are a particular concern to Morton and others because their wide-ranging migration patterns can take them right across the Pacific Ocean to the coast of Japan.

"If they were actually concerned about the health of people and the fish, they would have started this actually at the beginning of the commercial openings. But to release this two days before the disease hearings at the Cohen inquiry, to me it's a political statement, it's a political effort to appear responsible," she said.

The Cohen Commission hearings into the collapse of the 2009 Fraser River sockeye salmon run resumed in Vancouver earlier this week.

Morton also wants the CFIA to test farmed salmon, because she says trace amounts of radiation were detected in seaweed on the B.C. coast.

Radiation levels soared in Japan

Following the failure of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northeastern Japan, concentration of radioactive iodine-131 in seawater in the area soared to 1,250 times the normal figure, the Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said in March.

Radiation began seeping from the plant when a magnitude 9 earthquake and a tsunami on March 11 knocked out its cooling systems. The contamination has made its way into milk and vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower and turnips tested in Japan.

But radioactive iodine-131 has a half-life of eight days, which means in several weeks its threat reduces to a minuscule level, according to nuclear experts.

Canadian tests found no concerns

CFIA says it tested 165 food and feed products imported from Japan after the disaster and found all were below Health Canada's levels for concern.

The agency also tested 34 samples of domestically produced milk from British Columbia and all were found safe for consumption.

Negligible levels of radioactivity in the atmosphere were also detected along the West Coast by monitoring stations following the disaster.

"The radiation levels found on the West Coast are less than the natural levels of radiation that would be detected when it rains or snows," said a statement released by the CFIA.

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Technology Science - Wireless 'tattoo' created for vital sign checks

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A thin, electronic device can measure vital signs like heart and brain waves by sticking to the skin like a temporary tattoo, a team of engineers and scientists have demonstrated.

Currently, hospitalized heart disease patients are often attached to bulky electronics and wiring to monitor their physiological signals. But many people will develop a rash and the electrodes have to be moved around, which interrupts monitoring.

In Friday's issue of the journal Science, researchers say they've developed an electronic skin with sensors, a power supply and other components embedded in a film thinner than the diameter of a human hair.

"The mechanics behind the design for our serpentine-shaped electronics makes the device as soft as the human skin," said Yonggang Huang, a lead researcher on the project and an engineering professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

"The design enables brittle, inorganic semiconductors to achieve extremely vast stretchability and flexibility. Plus, the serpentine design is very useful for self adhesion to any surface without using glues," he added in a release.

In the study, John Rogers, a professor in materials science and engineering department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and his co-authors said the devices stayed in place for up to 24 hours under ideal conditions on the arm, neck, forehead, cheek and chin.

Natural shedding of skin would cause the monitors to come off, but Rogers told reporters he thought the devices could remain in place for up to two weeks.

The electronic skin can be stuck on and peeled off skin like bandage tape, said Zhenqiang Ma, an engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin, who was not part of the research team. Ma wrote a journal commentary that was published with the study.

"Physiological information has been collected from heart, brain, and skeletal muscles with a quality equivalent to that collected with bulky electrodes and hardware," Ma wrote.

The device sticks to the skin using a weak attraction called van der Waals forces. It is thought that geckos may use van der Waals force to climb smooth surfaces.

Rogers is a founder of the company MC10, based in Cambridge, Mass., which is working to develop commercial uses of the devices. He declined to speculate on how soon the electronic skin would be ready for market or what it would cost.

Funding for the research came from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois, and a U.S. Defense Department National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellowship.

With files from The Associated Press

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Technology Science - Rogers 'Beyond 4G' claim slammed

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The use of "Beyond 4G" by Rogers to describe its newest high-speed wireless network is being criticized as misleading by a consumer advocacy group.

"It's a truth in advertising problem," John Lawford, a lawyer with the Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Group, told CBC News in an interview Friday.

In a blog post on the Open Media website earlier in the day, Lawford took issue with how Rogers markets its new network, based on LTE technology, as "Beyond 4G," even though "their LTE network is incapable of reaching speeds 'beyond' the upper limits of what can be considered to be 4G."

Rogers launched Canada's first network based on LTE technology in Ottawa in July, with plans to roll out in other Canadian cities in the fall. The company lists the network's typical speed as 12 to 25 megabits per second, significantly faster than the seven to 14 megabits per second listed as average by Telus for its 4G network, which uses a technology called HSPA.

However, it is on the lower end of the theoretical download range of up to 150 megabits per second for LTE technology, leading some critics to call Rogers's LTE network 3.9G.

While the term 4G had originally been reserved for LTE, the UN-mandated group that sets international telecommunications standards loosened its definition in December 2010, prompting Canadian telecommunications providers to tag the label to their existing HSPA networks.

Rogers stands by label

Rogers maintains that its LTE network deserves the label because of how it compares with the HSPA networks of Rogers and its competitors that were labelled 4G.

"To confirm, LTE is beyond 4G," said Rogers spokeswoman Carly Suppa in an email. "LTE provides a significantly different experience from 4G HSPA+."

She cited its faster speeds, fewer delays in transmitting or receiving data (latency), and ability to provide more usage capacity so that more people can access the network at top speeds without affecting overall network performance.

A Rogers spokesperson had earlier told PIAC on Twitter that the company is using "Beyond 4G" "only… to differentiate themselves from other HSPA+ networks in Canada. We're the first and only with LTE."

Lawford's post argued that Rogers had other options, such as calling its LTE network "real" or "true" 4G.

He said that Rogers's claim isn't truthful, but it doesn't necessarily violate Canadian advertising laws under the Competition Act, which allows for "sales puffery."

He added that Rogers has mostly restricted the claim to online advertising: "That's all part of the attitude that the web is a little bit looser in what you can say or not."

Lawford also acknowledged that it may not make consumers more confused than they already are about the meanings of various wireless acronyms.

Minimum guaranteed speeds

He suggested it would be far more useful for companies to post minimum guaranteed speeds for their wireless and broadband networks, along with the speeds required to perform different activities such as internet voice calls or downloading a movie in a given length of time.

PIAC is currently conducting research on that possibility.

In the meantime, he did credit Rogers for at least including a range of typical download speeds for its LTE network, rather than the theoretical maximums that it advertised for his HSPA+ devices.

"It’s a step towards acknowledging that the most important thing for a consumer is what they’re really going to get.”

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Technology Science - PHOTOS: Island of fanged frogs yields 9 new species

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Frogs with fangs abound with astonishing diversity on a tropical island in Indonesia, a Canadian-led team has found.

Ben Evans, a zoologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., and his Indonesian and American colleagues found 13 species of fanged frogs on the island of Sulawesi â€Â" more than in all of the Philippines combined.

Among them were nine species that had never before been described by science. Evans and his team reported their findings in the August issue of The American Naturalist.

Fanged frogs belong to the genus Limnonectes and are named for two bony protrusions in their lower jaws. They aren't real teeth, as they don't have any roots or other characteristics of teeth.Fanged frogs belong to the genus Limnonectes and are named for two bony protrusions in their lower jaws. They aren't real teeth, as they don't have any roots or other characteristics of teeth. Rafe M. BrownFanged frogs belong to the genus Limnonectes and are named for two bony protrusions in their lower jaws. They aren't real teeth, as they don't have any roots or other characteristics of teeth.

Evans said scientists aren't sure what the fangs are used for, but it's possible they're for fighting other males for territory; capturing prey such as fish, other frogs, tadpoles and insects; or defending against predators.

However, Evans said, "We've never seen them bite anybody."

The Sulawesi fanged frogs show a wide variety of adaptations to different lifestyles on a mountainous island with environments and microclimates that range from among the wettest to the driest in Indonesia, with varied vegetation to match, the paper reported.

Some species are large with highly webbed feet, well adapted to living in fast-moving rivers. Others are small with little webbing on their feet, better adapted to spending most of their lives on land. Some fertilize their eggs internally, lay eggs far from the water's edge and watch over them as the tadpoles develop in jelly-like capsules.

Google Map showing location of Sulawesi
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In many cases, frog species with similar lifestyles living in completely different areas of the island showed similar adaptations.

"This discovery is a surprising example of how species may end up using similar tactics to survive and diversify if given the opportunity," the paper said.

The researchers credit the diversity to the fact that on Sulawesi, there are no other genuses of frogs competing with them, and suggest the frogs evolved to fill empty niches within the ecosystem.

The researchers spent many years walking up rivers in the jungles of Sulawesi at night, risking encounters with vipers and cobras, in order to catch fanged frogs by hand. In all, they caught 683. They analyzed and mapped the frogs' distributions and compared the frogs' characteristics to their environments.

Evans said the researchers tried sample frogs in areas untouched by the island's intense logging.

"There were many places that we sampled frogs in forests [where] when we visited in the next couple years, the forest was lost," he added.

Evans doesn't believe any of the frogs have gone extinct yet.

"But I think that essentially all of them have reduced their distributions really, really, profoundly."

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Technology Science - U.S. military's Mach 20 glider lost in flight

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The remains of a giant sea creature are providing the first proof that these prehistoric reptiles gave birth to their young rather than laying eggs.

Plesiosaurs, which lived at the time of dinosaurs, were large carnivorous sea animals with broad bodies and two pairs of flippers. Researchers have long questioned whether they would have been able to crawl onto land and lay eggs like other reptiles or gave birth in the water like whales.

The question has been answered by the analysis of the fossil of a pregnant plesiosaur in Friday's edition of the journal Science.

"This is the first evidence of live birth in plesiosaurs â€Â" an exciting find," said geology professor Judy A. Massare of the State University of New York, Brockport, who was not part of the research team.

Based on the fossil, it appears that plesiosaurs gave birth to a single, large young, unlike other marine reptiles that gave birth to many, smaller young. Based on the fossil, it appears that plesiosaurs gave birth to a single, large young, unlike other marine reptiles that gave birth to many, smaller young. S. Abramowicz/Dinosaur Institute/Natural History MuseumThe newly unveiled fossil was originally discovered in 1987 in the Midwest state of Kansas. But it remained encased in rock, with most of the bones and their details hidden from view, for many years.

The fossil was stored in the basement of the National History Museum of Los Angeles County until resources were available to separate the fossil from the rock itself for display at the museum.

Only then did F. Robin O'Keefe of Marshall University and the museum's Luis Chiappe uncover the bones of an adult plesiosaur and the remains of a fetus inside her.

The museum dated the fossil, which is more than five metres long, to between 72 million and 78 million years ago.

O'Keefe said he had seen photos of the fossil, but was still surprised when he first saw it.

"I wasn't prepared for the emotional response I had," he said in a telephone interview. "You don't very often walk up to one and say: 'That is a really cool fossil."'

"I walked around it for about a half hour, it excited me the way I used to get excited as a kid," he said.

There had been evidence of live births in an ancestor of plesiosaurs. But the lack of proof for plesiosaur birth has been puzzling, said R. Ewan Fordyce, head of the geology department at the University of Otago, New Zealand, who was not involved in the research.

Fordyce said the researchers did a good job of ruling out the other possible explanation for the extra collection of bones in the plesiosaur's belly â€Â" that they had been part of a meal. He said it was the right size for a fetus and in the right place, and there's no sign that it had been eaten and digested.

Anthony Russell of the biological science department at the University of Calgary, Canada, called the find "significant."

"It would be hard to imagine these animals coming out onto land laying eggs somewhere," he added, so arguing that all plesiosaurs were doing this is a reasonable hypothesis.

In their paper, O'Keefe and Chiappe suggest a parallel between plesiosaurs and modern whales, also large animals that give birth to relatively big offspring. Like whales, they said, plesiosaurs may have formed social groups and tended their young.

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Technology Science - Giant tent to cover Japan nuclear reactor

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The operator of Japan's damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is building a huge tent to cover one of the worst-hit reactors, officials said Friday.

Officials hope the cover will keep radioactive materials that have already leaked from spreading, prevent rainwater seepage and offer a barrier from possible leaks or blasts in the future.

The tent is being erected to provide a temporary replacement for the No. 1 reactor's outer housing shell, which was destroyed in an explosion caused by high pressure the day after Japan's deadly earthquake and tsunami on March 11.

Construction of the tent and its foundation began this week, Koji Watanabe, a spokesman for the power utility, said Friday.

The work couldn't begin until now because the location was too dangerous for workers to operate in.

The tent is made up of airtight polyester. It will stand 54 metres tall and stretch 47 metres in length, supported by a metal frame.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. officials have struggled to come up with ways to mitigate the dangers from the plant since the disaster struck five months ago, sending reactors into meltdowns, releasing radiative particles into the environment and causing the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chornobyl in 1986.

Work at the plant has been hindered by the continuing threat of radiation to workers.

Earlier this month, TEPCO said an area where potentially lethal levels of radiation were detected near Unit 1 has been sealed.

It said radiation exceeded 10 sieverts â€Â" 40 times the highest level allowed for an emergency workers to be exposed to â€Â" at two locations near a duct connected to a ventilation stack. The area required no immediate work and was closed off.

If the tent over reactor No. 1 proves successful, similar coverings will be constructed over other reactors on the plant. The areas around the other reactors are also highly risky to work in.

The tent is expected to be completed by the end of September, Watanabe said.

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Technology Science - Angry Birds catapults Rovio to $1.2B valuation

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Ontario's privacy commissioner is calling out the Gatineau, Que., bus drivers union for using privacy as a defence for a distracted driver caught on video.

Ann Cavoukian told CBC News the driver, who became a YouTube sensation when he filled out paperwork on his steering wheel while operating an STO bus, had no privacy rights.

She said only individuals have privacy rights that need to be protected.

"It is outrageous to characterize this as a privacy invasion because it is not a privacy issue," said Cavoukian.

"When you are performing a job, in this case a public service involving public do not have a privacy interest because your work should be transparent," she added.

The bus drivers union publicly complained this week, saying riders shouldn't be allowed to record drivers because it violates their privacy.

Union head Félix Gendron said the City of Gatineau should ban video recording devices on all STO buses.

"I think that the person who makes the video, if they don't like the way the driver's doing that, they should go tell the driver. Not go put that on TV," said Gendron.

Cavoukian added Ontario has not had any complaints regarding bus drivers and privacy, but did say an investigation years ago in Toronto found it was legal to record video on buses.

She also acknowledged STO is not in her jurisdiction, but still wanted to know the next time the issue was raised.

With files from Paul Jay

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Technology Science - Groupon expiry dates run afoul of Alberta law

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Groupon is under investigation by the Alberta government because coupons offered by the popular online site have expiry dates which officials say contravene provincial legislation.

"That's in violation of our gift card regulation," said Mike Berezowsky from Service Alberta. "The gift card regulation was put in place in 2008 and that says that gift cards or certificates or vouchers with a specific dollar amount cannot expire."

Similar laws are in place in the other nine provinces.

Groupon's policy allows the customer to redeem an expired coupon for the purchase price as opposed to the face value of the product or service. But Berezowsky said that isn't good enough under Alberta law.

"Consumers paid for that face value. That was what they agreed to, that was what the business promised and that's what consumers should get," he said. "So regardless of what the purchase price was, we believe the consumer should get face value of the voucher."

The province launched a formal investigation after receiving a handful of complaints. If Groupon doesn't change their practices, the company could be forced to comply with Alberta law through a court order or face prosecution in court, Berezowsky said.

Discussions with Groupon have been underway for the last few months and there is hope the company will voluntarily comply with Alberta legislation before the province needs to resort to legal measures.

Expiry dates fair, business owner says

Groupon has become a popular option for customers looking for deals on things like restaurant meals and massages and businesses looking to attract new customers.

On Thursday, for example, an offer from Edmonton children's boutique Princess and the Pea allowed customers to get $50 worth of merchandise with the purchase of a $25 gift certificate.

The offer expires on Nov. 1. Owner Amy Hoffman compares the deal to a sale at a chain store.

A coupon offered by Amy Hoffman's store attracted hundreds of customers within the first few hours it was posted on the Groupon site. A coupon offered by Amy Hoffman's store attracted hundreds of customers within the first few hours it was posted on the Groupon site. CBC

"Buy one, get one free â€Â" they have a limit on their offer and when that offer expires you can't go back in the store and say, 'You know, I still want buy one, get one free," she said.

Hoffman said 800 coupons were sold within the first few hours. She believes the expiry dates are fair as customers have a couple of months to redeem the voucher.

Edmonton Groupon customer Deidre Schlotter, who has purchased about 100 coupons from a wide number of businesses, has no problem with how the company handles expired coupons.

"I think it's fair, otherwise, I think I'd probably be a little bit more cautious what I would buy if I know that I could end up just losing that money," she said.

If customers don't use the coupon by the expiry date, that's not the fault of the business, Schlotter said.

Schlotter doesn't view Groupon only as a consumer. She is the co-owner of a catering business and says she had great success with an voucher offered through the online site.

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Technology Science - Ont. privacy commissioner disputes bus union

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The Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2), shown in this artist's conception, is an unmanned, rocket-launched, maneuverable aircraft that glides through the Earth's atmosphere at incredibly fast speeds close to Mach 20 (approximately 21,000 kilometres per hour).The Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2), shown in this artist's conception, is an unmanned, rocket-launched, maneuverable aircraft that glides through the Earth's atmosphere at incredibly fast speeds close to Mach 20 (approximately 21,000 kilometres per hour). (DARPA/Associated Press)

An unmanned hypersonic glider developed for U.S. defence research into super-fast global strike capability was launched atop a rocket early Thursday but contact was lost after the experimental craft began flying on its own, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said.

There was no immediate information on how much of the mission's goals were achieved.

The launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, 210 kilometres northwest of Los Angeles, was the second of two planned flights of a Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2. Contact was also lost during the first mission.

Shaped like the tip of a spear, the small craft is part of a U.S. military initiative to develop technology to respond to threats at 20 times the speed of sound ("Mach 20") or greater, reaching any part of the globe in an hour.

The HTV-2 is designed to be launched to the edge of space, separate from its booster and maneuver through the atmosphere at around 21,000 kilometres per hour before intentionally crashing into the ocean. Sound travels in air at around 1200 kilometres per hour, but it travels more slowly at high altitudes (such as near the edge of space), where the air is thinner.

Defense analyst John Pike of wasn't surprised with the latest failure because the hypersonic test flight program is still in its infancy.

"At this early stage of the game, if they did not experience failures, it's because they're not trying very hard," he said.

Pike said it's possible for engineers to still glean useful information about what worked and what didn't, despite the flight ending prematurely. The key is to analyze what happened in the final five seconds before contact was lost.

DARPA used Twitter to announce the launch and status of the flight.

Rocket launch and separation successful

The agency said the launch of the Minotaur 4 rocket was successful and separation was confirmed. It next reported that telemetry â€Â" the transmission and measurement of data from the glider â€Â" had been lost.

"Downrange assets did not reacquire tracking or telemetry," the agency added. The craft has "an autonomous flight termination capability," it noted.

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Technology Science - Anonymous hacktivists divided over Facebook attack

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Technology Science - Pregnant plesiosaur fossil uncovered

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The video threatening Facebook and claiming to be from Anonymous and was first posted in July. The video threatening Facebook and claiming to be from Anonymous and was first posted in July. YouTube

A planned cyberattack on Facebook by some members of the activist hacker group Anonymous has been publicly denounced by a spokesperson with the group.

A video claiming to be from the group created a media buzz this week after threatening to "kill Facebook" on Nov. 5, 2011, Guy Fawkes Night, as part of a campaign with the Twitter hashtag #OpFacebook.

The video, first posted in July, alleged that Facebook has been selling information to government agencies and helping information security firms working for "authoritarian governments like Egypt and Syria" spy on people. It urged hacktivists to join the cause "for the sake of your own privacy."

Facebook has not commented on the allegations.

Anonymous, a loosely knit group that says it is motivated by the fight for "internet freedom," has previously taken credit for ideologically motivated attacks on several governments including Egypt and Tunisia as well as law enforcement agencies and big companies such as MasterCard and Visa.

However, it denounced the media reports about Operation Facebook Wednesday from its AnonOps Twitter account.

Video initially called 'just another fake'

"Medias of the world… stop lying! #OpFacebook is just another fake!" it tweeted. "We don't 'kill' the messenger. That's not our style."

That led to responses from other Twitter users claiming to be Anonymous members.

"Dudes, you're not the only anons in the world," said a user called Nicu Calcea. "We are bigger than a twitter account. It's not for you to decide."

Another user called AnonSmith01 alleged that Facebook sells information to security firms, adding, "That's a violation of what we stand for, all you people should know that."

AnonOps responded, "Don't be silly." It suggested that more important things were happening in the world than Facebook. "Let's keep our style & moral," it said.

It finally formally acknowledged that "#OpFacebook is being organized by some Anons."

It added: "This does not necessarily mean that all of Anonymous agrees with it… We prefer to face the real power and not to face to the same medias that we use as tools."

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Technology Science - Games launched on Google Plus

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Google Plus will feature the Angry Birds game, shown here winning a Webby in June, as well as a poker game by Zynga, maker of FarmVille. Google Plus will feature the Angry Birds game, shown here winning a Webby in June, as well as a poker game by Zynga, maker of FarmVille. Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Internet search leader Google Inc. is bringing a little more gamesmanship to its duel with Facebook.

Just like they have been doing for years on Facebook's website, web surfers will now be able to play games with their friends and family on Google's blossoming social networking service.

Google's expansion into games, announced Thursday, had been expected since the company unveiled its "Plus" networking service in late June. The service is being groomed to be an alternative to Facebook's popular hangout.

By adding games to Plus, Google hopes to give its fledging network's more than 25 million users a reason to come to the service more frequently and stay longer once they're there.

The strategy has worked well at Facebook, where games requiring players to fill the roles of farmers, mob bosses and card sharks have attracted obsessive followings among its more than 750 million users.

Determined to protect its turf, Facebook unveiled its latest game features just a few hours after Google issued its challenge. The new tools will make it easier for Facebook users to bookmark their favourite games and keep track of what their friends are playing.

Players will also be given the option of filling their entire computer screen with some of the games designed for Facebook.

Facebook's top games are provided by Zynga Inc., a four-year-old company hoping to sell its stock in an initial public offering this fall. Google is one of Zynga's investors, according to IPO documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The papers don't specify the size Google's stake in Zynga, which is based in San Francisco.

Angry Birds, but no FarmVille

The investment evidently wasn't enough to buy Google access to Zynga's best-known games. The initial games on Plus include a poker game made by Zynga. Plus also will feature the "Angry Birds" game that so far has been played mostly on phones.

The gaming option will gradually start appearing within the accounts of Plus' users.

But people who want to play other Zynga titles such as FarmVille, CityVille and Empires & Allies will still have go to Facebook.

Zynga and Facebook are already financially wedded to each other. Zynga gets most of its revenue from Facebook, which requires games on its site to use its payment system to sell the various items that can be used to playing more fun. Facebook keeps 30 per cent of the revenue from Zynga's games.

Although the games may seem frivolous, they are emerging as a serious business. Zynga earned more than $90 million on revenue of nearly $600 million last year and the company is growing even faster this year as the number of people playing its games surpassed 230 million. In March, Zynga estimated its market value at $11 billion after hiring an expert to appraise its business, according to documents filed Thursday.

Google's expansion into Web games could cause headaches for Zynga. In its IPO documents, Zynga says it could be hurt if Google or other larger companies such as Microsoft Corp. and Inc. get into the Web game market.

Google mainly wants to undercut Facebook with Plus. The reason: As people spend more time and share more insights about themselves on its website, Facebook becomes an increasingly attractive advertising option. The trend poses a threat to Google because its search engine can't index most of the information on Facebook and its own revenue growth could slow if more online advertising shifts to Facebook.

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Technology Science - IBM PC turns 30 - What was your first computer?

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A University of Alberta team says it's making advancements in a technology that could revolutionize solar power.

A researcher shows a flexible, plastic solar cell with the image of the Canadian flag. The cells are cheaper to manufacture and more modular than traditional silicon solar panels.A researcher shows a flexible, plastic solar cell with the image of the Canadian flag. The cells are cheaper to manufacture and more modular than traditional silicon solar panels. (CBC)

The researchers, led by U of A professor Jillian Buriak, who's also a senior research officer at the Edmonton-based National Institute of Nanotechnology, are fine-tuning solar cells made of flexible polymers.

Previously developed at the University of Toronto and elsewhere, the plastic solar panels are as thin as a human hair and can be sprayed or rolled onto a surface like paint or wallpaper, or even woven into fabric.

Prototype solar cells have been made that look like business-card-sized Canadian and Scottish flags, for instance, while researchers have suggested the material could be incorporated into clothing and used to recharge wireless devices like cellphones.

University of Alberta scientist Jillian Buriak says plastic solar cells have tremendous potential in developing countries. CBCUniversity of Alberta scientist Jillian Buriak says plastic solar cells have tremendous potential in developing countries. CBC

Buriak and her team hope the solar cells will be commercially viable as early as 2015. "What we are trying to do is find a way to mass produce plastic-based solar cells," she said.

The researchers say there would be many applications for the technology.

"In the military, for example, soldiers would usually have to carry around a 30-pound battery with them wherever they would go," research student Brian Worfolk said. "Instead they can just replace that with a one-pound flexible solar cell."

Cost is key

Solar panels made from silicon are the current standard, but they are expensive, typically resulting in costs upward of 25 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity generated, or several times the average price Canadian households pay for power. The latest wave of solar technology â€Â" including plastic cells and what are called light-guided solar optics â€Â" promises far lower manufacturing costs and the possibility of high volumes.

"If you can bring down the cost of solar, of electricity generated by solar so it competes with coal, then you've got a winner," Buriak said. "Right now, silicon can't do it. It's just too expensive to make."

Only one per cent of Canadian households have some kind of solar power installation, but that could rise drastically in sun-rich parts of southern Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan once prices fall. Developing countries could also benefit from cheap, modular ways to provide electricity in outlying regions, Buriak said.

"To be able to give them a technology that could be carbon-neutral, environmentally friendly, help eliminate this disparity between rich and poor by simply providing people enough energy to live â€Â" I think that's a good thing."

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Technology Science - Spray-on solar panels developed at U of A

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Rovio's 'Angry Birds' mobile phone game has been downloaded more than 300 million times. Rovio's 'Angry Birds' mobile phone game has been downloaded more than 300 million times. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Rovio Entertainment, the Finnish software company behind the wildly popular mobile phone game Angry Birds, is trying to arrange funding that would value the company at more than a billion dollars, Bloomberg reported Friday.

An unnamed entertainment company is in private talks with Rovio to take a strategic stake in the game maker, the news agency said. Sources told Bloomberg that Rovio had received and rejected similar offers from institutional investors.

The size of the investment effectively values Rovio at $1.2 billion US, the report said.

A blog posting in the Wall Street Journal speculated that the mystery entertainment company that's kicking Rovio's tires might be Zynga, maker of FarmVille, a popular Facebook game.

Rovio makes more than 20 games that can be played on smartphones or tablets with touchscreens. Angry Birds, first released in 2009, is by far the best known game in the company's stable of digital entertainment offerings.

It has been downloaded more than 300 million times and is the most downloaded paid app in 67 countries, including Canada and the United States.

A collection of Angry Birds stuffed toys has also sold well.

The game requires users to catapult birds, who do look angry, into the fortified castles of a group of green pigs who have stolen the birds’ eggs.

A trial version of the game is free to download. The basic version costs 99 cents and additional content can be purchased. Two other versions of Angry Birds are available for 99 cents and an iPad version costs $4.99.

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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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