Google and Microsoft are to add a “kill-switch” feature to their Android and Windows operating systems, The feature is a method of making a handset completely useless if it is stolen, rendering a theft pointless. Apple and Samsung, two of the biggest phone makers, offer a similar feature on some of their devices. The move by Google and Microsoft means that kill-switches will now be a part of the three most popular phone operating systems in the world. Some 3.1-million mobile phone devices were stolen in the US in 2013, nearly double the number of devices stolen in 2012 and one in three Europeans experienced a theft or loss of a mobile device in 2013.
Dying shopping malls are to be found across the US, often in middle-class suburbs wrestling with socio-economic shifts. Estimates on the share that might close or be re-purposed in coming decades range from 15 to 50 per cent. Americans are returning downtown and online shopping is taking a 6% bite out of bricks-and-mortar sales. Shopping malls were a natural product of the post-war era as Americans with cars and fat wallets moved to the suburbs. Leaders in many towns that once fought for malls are now grappling with how to inter their remains, some have been redeveloped to include housing, offices and even green space.
Work has started to excavate Britain’s first new metal mine for 40 years. The mine is on the edge of Dartmoor, will cost $250-million to dig and is expected to start producing Tungsten in 2015. The mine will exploit the world’s fourth-largest deposit of tungsten and hopes to produce about 3,000 tonnes of tungsten and tin a year. Tungsten is almost as hard as a diamond and has one of the highest melting points of any mineral. Up to now, 80% of world’s tungsten production took place in China, allowing it to dictate supply to the rest of the world.
The combined fortune of Britain’s richest 1,000 people has hit a new high of US$1,038-trillion, equivalent to a third of the nation’s economic output and double the figure of five years ago. Meanwhile, real wages, pay adjusted for inflation, have been falling and working people have continued to face a cost-of-living crisis that sees them $3,200 a year worse off than in 2010. Government figures show that Britain’s richest one per cent had accumulated as much wealth as the poorest 55% put together.
Nigeria overtook South Africa as the continent’s biggest economy this year, but Canada will continue to bet that South Africa is still its top priority market in Africa, though bilateral trade with the country is a relatively modest C$1.6-billion. Canada has become the biggest foreign investor in Madagascar and Burkina Faso because of its multi-billion investment in the gold-mining sector in Burkina Faso and nickel mining in Madagascar.
The US Administration has quietly cleared the way for the first exports of unrefined American oil in four decades, allowing energy companies to chip away at the long-standing ban on selling US crude overseas. Two energy companies have been told they can export a kind of ultra-light oil that has become plentiful as drillers tap shale formations across the US. Experts estimate that as much as 700,000 barrels a day could be available starting next year.
Expenditures by Canadian federal departments and agencies in science and technology are expected to decline 5.4% from the previous fiscal year to C$10.3.-billion in 2014/2015. Expenditures peaked in 2010/2011 and have declined since then. Science and technology spending is composed of two components–research and development as well as related scientific activities. Research and development is defined as creative work with an appreciable element of novelty and uncertainty undertaken in a systematic manner to increase the stock of scientific and technical knowledge.
The total value of residential properties in Canada was C$3,838.2-billion in 2011, up 6.5 per cent from 2010. Much of the increase in value occurred in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec. Together, these three provinces accounted for 88.7% of the annual increase. Growth in residential property values eased in 2011 compared with 2010, but remained well above rates observed during the economic slowdown of 2008 and 2009.
An invisible barcode is being developed to track explosives, medicines and banknotes. A team from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the US has found that some nanoparticles have unique characteristics that can be used to mark items. The researchers say the technique could link objects to their manufacturer, seller or buyer. Using barcodes to mark and trace objects is now widely used by manufacturers but covert barcodes could be used to fight crime and reduce counterfeiting.
The US imported flower industry is worth US$20-billion annually. Most come from Colombia, a country that is second only to the Netherlands in flower production. Canada imported $26-million worth of roses from Colombia in 2012. This industry is a top user of pesticides and, according to the International Labour Rights Forum, flower workers in Colombia experience higher than average rates of premature births, congenital malformations and miscarriages and are forced to work 70 to 80 hours a week during the peak season.
Researchers have developed a collection of new plastics that are recyclable and adaptable. They include strong stiff plastics and flexible gels that can mend themselves if torn. The findings could lead to cheaper and greener cars, planes and electronics. This is the first time that durable “thermoset” plastics have ben produced in a recyclable form. Because they are strong and light-weight, thermosets are used throughout modern cars and aircraft, often mixed with carbon fibres to form composites. Some 50% of the new Airbus A350 jet, for example, will be made from composites.
In 2013, Canada shipped C$51-billion in goods to Asia, making it Canada’s second largest export market. Of these, 26.5 per cent were Agricultural and Agri-food products. 24% were Metals and Minerals, 16.1% Wood Pulp and Paper, 9.4% Energy products and 9.15% Chemicals, Plastics and Rubber. Only 0.5% were Consumers Goods and Miscellaneous Manufactured Products. Asia now absorbs close to 45% of British Colombia’s merchandise exports and more than 13 % of Nova Scotia’s. In 2013, Asian countries bought 82% of Saskatchewan peas, 87% of Newfoundland’s iron and ores and 99.7% of Nunavut’s tanned furskins. Asia is now the main source of international students studying in Canada and in 2010, 76.9% of international students in Price Edward Island came from China alone.
For the first time, the US has overtaken France as the world’s biggest national market for wine. US drinkers consumed 210.9-billion hectolitres of wine in 2013, 0.5% more than in 2012. Meanwhile French consumption fell 7% from the year before to 2.8-billion litres. The amount of wine drunk per head is still higher in France than in the US. According to 2011 figures, the average French person drinks just over a bottle a week , six times more than the average US consumer. However, the worldwide capital of per capita wine consumption is the Vatican.
The world’s biggest reserves of fresh water are to be found in Brazil, most of it in the Amazon. But Sao Paulo, home to one-fifth of Brazil’s population, is suffering the worst drought since records began in 1930. Low rainfall and high rates of evaporation in the scorching heat have caused levels in the Cantareira system of reservoirs, which supply 10-million people, to drop below 12% of capacity. This time last year, levels stood at 64%.
Mozilla has shown off a prototype of a US$25 smartphone that is aimed at the developing world. The company which is famed mostly for its Firefox browser, has partnered with a Chinese low-cost chip maker. While not as powerful as more expensive models, the device will run apps and make use of mobile internet. It will prove popular in the developing world as a halfway point between “dumb” phones that just make voice calls and other basic functions and fully-fledged smartphones. Mozilla hopes it will capture an early lead in a market that is now being targeted by mobile device manufacturers.
More than 26,000 lives were lost in natural and man-made disasters last year. The biggest catastrophe was Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines where 7,500 died or went missing and more than four million were made homeless. Flooding in India caused a death toll of 6,000. Many parts of Europe also suffered severe flooding, while hailstorms in Germany and France generated the largest insured loss from hail on record, US$3.8-billion. Yet the $45-billion paid out by insurers was down sharply from $81-billion in 2012.
China was the biggest buyer of industrial robots last year, snapping up 36,500 units. (Japan has the largest number of robots in operation). Around 179,000 robots were sold worldwide.
Forty-three per cent of Metro Vancouver, British Columbia residents have an Asian heritage, becoming the most “Asian” city outside Asia. The only other cities around the world that come close to Metro Vancouver for their portion of residents with Asian backgrounds are San Francisco (33%) London, England (21%), Metro Toronto (35%) Calgary (23%) and Sydney, Australia (19%), Statistics Canada projects that the numbers with Asian roots in Vancouver will continue to grow at a faster rate than the non-Asian population.
The human nose can detect one trillion different odours, far more than previously thought, according to Rockefeller University researchers. Until now, the long-held belief was that we can sniff out about 10,000 smells. New estimates suggest the nose outperforms the eye and the ear in terms of the number of stimuli it can distinguish between. The human eye uses three light receptors that work together to see up to 10-million colours while the ear can hear almost half a million tones.
Warmer temperatures are causing malaria to spread to higher levels a new study suggests. Researchers have found that people living in the highlands of Africa and South America are at an increased risk of catching the mosquito-borne disease during hotter years. They believe that temperature rises in the future could result in millions of additional cases in some areas. Areas at higher elevations have traditionally provided a haven from this devastating disease.
The Canadian government has been running a massive robocall campaign out of Ottawa, dialling its own offices and hoping no one answers. The object is to ferret out and cancel the thousands of unused telephone lines that cost taxpayers millions each year.
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