Drones, dogs and DNA the latest weapons against invasive species

By Tamsyn Burgmann

THE CANADIAN PRESS

RICHMOND, B.C. _ Field technicians on the hunt for invasive species used to go on foot, by canoe or relied on satellite photographs taken from outer space.

But an ecologist who dispatched a drone to detect invaders in a British Columbia wildlife area is now recommending more remote-controlled robots do the difficult work.

“With a drone we’re looking at pixel sizes that are teeny tiny. The resolution is amazing. You can literally zoom in and see all the petals on that flower,” said Catherine Tarasoff, an adjunct professor at Thompson Rivers University.

“I’ve gotten past the steep learning curve and see the unlimited possibilities.”

Tarasoff trialled the unmanned aerial technology last June at the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area, an internationally protected wetland in south-central B.C.

The successful experiment was one of several cutting-edge advancements showcased in Richmond, B.C., on Tuesday in the ongoing battle against invasive species. More than 150 specialists from across the province are gathered for three days to discuss emerging issues and learn about the latest techniques to apply in their own regions.

“There’s way more technology involved than there used to be,” said Gail Wallin, executive director of the Invasive Species Council of B.C., which is hosting the forum. “We’re in a whole new world now.”

Wallin said technology has not only empowered the experts, but is making a dent by enlisting the public. For example, there are now smartphone apps that help identify and report what’s in your backyard.

The council hopes to persuade people to take preventative actions against spreading invasives as a new social norm, just like recycling, she said.

“Now I can give you tools, and without being an invasive species specialist, you can go and find out what is invasive and what to do,” she said, noting the strategies are also being disseminated over social media.

“You don’t need to know about mussels or spartina or milfoil, or anything like that.”

Prof. Tarasoff, who also runs her own consulting firm, ran the drone pilot project after she was approached by the wildlife area’s manager, who suggested she try the increasingly popular technology.

So she sent two students and the drone out for two days to map a vast region being consumed by the yellow flag iris, a plant considered one of the province’s worst invasives. The species with garden-flower appeal was used by landscapers all along the coast before ecologists realized it was swallowing aquatic environments and decimating habitats.

Tarasoff said the camera-mounted drone soared about 50 metres above to snap thousands of photos, which were stitched together into a massive final image. When viewed on a computer, she could move her mouse cursor over any spot to find out its GPS location. The data was handed over to experts tasked with weeding out the invader.

Drones could save money over the long-term and provide an alternative to dangerous, labour-intensive foraging, she said. Her next goal is to train a “smart drone” that can determine on its own which species must be photographed.

Other novel techniques gaining traction and reducing human error include sniffer dogs and DNA analysis, the forum heard.

Cindy Sawchuk, with Alberta’s environment and parks ministry, described using canines’ ultra-sensitive nose as a “game changer” for blocking the entry of zebra and quagga mussels on boats returning to the province after visiting foreign waters.

A double-blind trial that compared dogs to trained watercraft inspectors found the animals outperformed humans in every category, she said. Dogs detected mussel-fouled boats 100 per cent of the time, while the people only caught hitchhikers 75 per cent accurately.

Canada’s federal fisheries department is also getting on board with more sophisticated detection methods, said Davon Callander, who works at its Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, B.C.

She said that invasive species can now be detected in environmental DNA, which is found abundantly in any ecosystem.

“It really is as easy as going out and getting a litre of water,” she said, explaining how the samples are filtered for the “eDNA,” which is then amplified, sequenced and matched to species’ barcodes.

“Times are changing.”

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Technology In The Workplace: Top 9 Issues For Employers

Technology In The Workplace: Top 9 Issues For Employers

Technology enters the workplace in many ways and there are a number of risks and issues that employers need to consider.

  1. Cybersecurity and Data ProtectionA number of data breaches have been making headline news. These threats do not only come from criminal hackers or other external sources. Much of the risk around data security comes from the way employees manage company data. Instituting policies, practices and training around acceptable use, storage and retention of employer data, systems and property is key.
  2. Employee Misuse of Social MediaWhere there is a nexus between an employer and inappropriate content posted online by an employee, such conduct may provide a basis for employee discipline up to and including termination of employment. A number of recent cases demonstrate that terminating with just cause is possible, particularly when the post is harmful or potentially harmful to the employer.
  3. When Not to Discipline For Misuse of Social MediaWhile disciplining employees for misuse of social media is quite appropriate in many circumstances, on the other hand, we may find that Canada follows the U.S. trend in which some employees argue that social media posts are protected or that discipline is an unlawful reprisal under employment standards and other legislation.
  4. Privacy on Workplace ComputersEmployees will likely have some expectation of privacy on workplace computers where personal use is permitted. This expectation of privacy can be limited by way of computer use policies that provide for employer monitoring of workplace computers, where the employer has a legitimate need to conduct monitoring and where such monitoring is reasonable in scope. Such policies should be clearly communicated to employees.
  5. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) ProgramsIn August 2015, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the Alberta Information and Privacy Commissioner and the B.C. Information & Privacy Commissioner issued joint guidance for organizations considering the implementation of BYOD programs, where employees are permitted to use personal mobile devices for both business and personal purposes. BYOD programs give rise to privacy and security risks that warrant careful consideration prior to rollout.
  6. Social Media Background ChecksPre-hire social media background checks may give rise to privacy concerns, including in respect of issues of consent, accuracy, over-collection of information, collection of irrelevant information and collection of the personal information of third parties. Such background checks must be reasonable in the circumstances of the employer’s operations and should be carried out in accordance with guidance from Canadian privacy commissioners.
  7. Educating Employees on E-DiscoveryGiven the growth of electronically stored information and a growing tendency for employees to email or text rather than use the telephone, it is important that employees understand that what they write may be produced in subsequent litigation.
  8. Protecting Your Client List from Employees’ Online PresenceWho owns the social media account? In this era of online networking, employees may leave their employment with a social media account that functions as a client list or company contact point. This may undermine contractual non-competition and non-solicitation covenants. To help manage risk in this respect, employers should establish corporate ownership of social media accounts that are used for business purposes, including by way of the employer’s social media policy.
  9. Updating PoliciesPolicies dealing with email, Internet, acceptable use, social media, electronic devices or BYOD, travel and passwords should regularly be reviewed and updated given the changing digital landscape. Education around phishing emails and other nefarious communications is also important.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Article by Andrea York and Brian Thiessen

Price break for city Uber riders

Price break for city Uber riders

BY , OTTAWA SUN

Uber customers in Ottawa will get a break this winter as the ride service adjusts its pricing to reflect the seasonal slowdown that occurs nearly every January.

It’s reducing rates in 100 North American cities, including Canada’s capital, the company announced in a statement posted on its website.

“Seasonality affects every business and Uber is no exception because when people hunker down at home, demand for rides drops,” Uber’s website states.

Over the five years Uber has operated, the company discovered cutting prices is the most effective way to boost demand during the winter slump.

Stimulating demand is Uber’s way of helping out drivers because it will mean more business for them and the service is guaranteeing their earnings.

Because Uber is not regulated by municipalities the way taxi companies are, it can easily change its pricing according to supply of drivers and demand for rides.

A winter rate reduction is the flip side of the hikes it imposed on New Year’s Eve.

Over New Year’s, some Uber customers complained of higher-than-expected fares that resulted from Uber’s “surge pricing” policy, which raises rates during busy periods.

Because Uber is based on part-time drivers, it raised rates on New Year’s to encourage more of its drivers to hit the road and start picking up fares.

In addition to Ottawa, rates are being reduced in Hamilton, London, Kitchener-Waterloo and Quebec.

Toronto was not among the Canadian cities listed to get a winter break from Uber.

How investments helped protect David Bowie’s legacy

How investments helped protect David Bowie’s legacy

David Bowie’s Business & Marketing Brilliance

David Bowie has died, aged 69. Known as an innovator and musical pioneer, his creativity and innovations extend even into finance

He will be remembered as one of the world’s most well known musical and cultural innovators, leaving a tremendous legacy of work behind. His contributions even extend into the financial world as the creator of the ‘Bowie Bond’.

In a 1997 partnership with David Pullman, Bowie struck upon the idea of issuing bonds for his future royalties. The deal would see Bowie sell the rights to his back catalogue to investors, while forgoing the next decade of royalties he would be due to receive. The deal included his most popular works, such as Ziggy Stardust and Let’s Dance, plus numerous live and unreleased recordings made between 1969 and 1990.

The so-called ‘Bowie Bonds’ raised £35m. Investors were set to receive the 25 percent of US wholesales Bowie was guaranteed from record sales for the 10 year life of the bonds. Bowie, who owned his back catalogue, had licensed the albums to EMI for reissue. Investors were offered impressive returns of 7.9 percent, with the bonds awarded an investment grade credit rating by Moody’s.

It kicked off the brief trend of celebrities issuing bonds for their future earnings, with James Brown, Ashford & Simpson and the Isley Brothers making similar sales.

For Bowie, the deal was made at the perfect time. A few years later the internet and file sharing services began to have a serious impact on the music industry’s business model. By 2003, debt issued by EMI had been downgraded to junk status by Moody’s. The Bowie Bonds were put under immense pressure until they eventually liquidated in 2007.

In an interview with The New York Times in 2002, he predicted the challenges the music industry would face in the future. “Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity. So it’s like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again.

“You’d better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that’s really the only unique situation that’s going to be left. It’s terribly exciting. But on the other hand it doesn’t matter if you think it’s exciting or not; it’s what’s going to happen.”

 

Malicious acts surpassed accidents as the chief cause of airline deaths worldwide in 2015 for the second year in a row

By Joan Lowy

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON _ Malicious acts surpassed accidents as the chief cause of airline deaths worldwide in 2015 for the second year in a row, according to an industry tally.

There were only eight accidental airline crashes last year accounting for 161 passenger and crew deaths the fewest crashes and deaths since at least 1946, reflecting continued improvement in safety technology and aircraft design, according to Flightglobal, an aviation news and industry data company.

That tally of 161 accidental deaths is far outpaced by the 374 killed when a Germanwings airliner was deliberately flown into a mountainside in the French Alps last March, and a Russian airliner packed with tourists that exploded over Egypt in October.

In 2014, the toll from a Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared and another that was shot down over Ukraine was 537 deaths compared to 436 accident deaths that year.

Those tallies are for all types of airline flights, including cargo, positioning, training, and maintenance flights. There were just 98 paying passengers killed last year. It’s a vast improvement from the 790 passengers killed in 2007, and the annual average of 1,289 passengers killed in accidental crashes in the 1970s.

“In recent years, airline safety has improved very considerably to the point where, typically, there are now very few fatal accidents and fatalities in a year,” said Paul Hayes, Flightglobal’s director of air safety and insurance. “However, flight security remains a concern.”

Although some years are better than others, the fatal accident rate has been improving for many years. The global fatal accident rate for all types of airline operations in 2015 was one per 5 million flights, the best year ever. The previous best year was 2014, with a fatal accident rate of 1 per 2.5 million flights. Airline operations are now about four or five times safer than they were 20 years ago.

A big reason for the improving record is better engineering: Today’s airliners and aircraft engines are far safer than earlier generations of planes. They are more highly automated, which has reduced many common pilot errors. They have better satellite-based navigation systems. They are made of stronger, lighter weight, less corrosive materials. And they’re equipped with safety systems introduced in recent decades, and repeatedly improved over time, that have nearly eliminated mid-air collisions between airliners and what the industry calls “controlled flight into terrain” pilots who lose situational awareness and fly their planes into a mountainside or into the ground.

The aircraft improvements are due primarily to lessons learned from crash investigations that are taken into account when new planes are designed, said John Goglia, a former National Transportation Safety Board member. As older planes are replaced with newer planes, aviation becomes safer, he said.

“We’re now up to about the 7th generation of jet airplanes,” he said. “We know the first generation DC-8s, 707s had a higher accident rate than the second or the third or the fourth generations, and it just moves on up.”

But more needs to be done to weed out disturbed pilots and guard against acts of terrorism, experts said.

The Germanwings case is especially perplexing, said John Cox, a former airline pilot and aviation safety consultant. Pilot Andreas Lubitz managed to conceal his problems even though airlines are continually evaluating pilots for signs of trouble. Pilots evaluate each other as well.

It’s not known what caused Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 to disappear while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, but many aviation safety experts theorize that it was mostly likely the result of deliberate acts, probably by one of the two pilots.

“Pilots from day one are so ingrained with protecting the passengers, with learning skills to deal with unanticipated events … and evaluated on how well you deal with stress,” Cox said. “Those who don’t do well with it don’t survive as professional pilots.”

The Islamic State has claimed credit for a bomb suspected of blowing apart a MetroJet A320 over Egypt. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by a Russian Buk surface-to-air missile fired from rebel-held territory in Eastern Ukraine, according to Dutch crash investigators.

Terrorists “have been probing nonstop since 9-11 and every once in a while they find a way to get through,” Goglia said.

The new frontier in airline safety is a managerial philosophy known as SMS, or safety management systems, he said. Airlines are systematically gathering data on safety trends, and encouraging pilots, dispatchers, mechanics and others to report problems by promising there will be no retaliation for mistakes. The information is then shared across the industry in an effort to spot problems before they lead to an accident.

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Questions Arise Over Canadian Oil Sands As It Lays Out 2016 Spending Plans

CanOilSandsCanadian Oil Sands Ltd., fighting a hostile takeover bid by Suncor Energy, has laid out spending plans and performance targets for next year that it says demonstrate shareholders are well-served under the status quo.

Throughout the heated takeover debate, Suncor (TSX:SU) has cast COS (TSX:COS) as a risky investment as a stand-alone firm, given the likelihood of a prolonged oil price downturn.

But on a conference call Dec. 1, 2015, COS CEO Ryan Kubik said with major project spending complete and cost savings taking hold, the company is poised to enter 2016 in good shape.

It’s expecting capital spending to come in at $295 million next year. In October, it estimated 2015 spending at $368 million.

“Canadian Oil Sands is becoming more resilient and will emerge from this oil price downturn even stronger,” said Kubik.

At least one investor on the call wasn’t convinced.

Robert Cooper, with Calgary investment dealer Acumen Capital Partners, expressed frustration at COS’s share price performance and dividend growth compared to Suncor. And he wondered why COS turned down a higher friendly offer in the spring.

At the time that Suncor made its all-stock hostile approach on Oct. 5, 2015 it was worth $8.84 a share. An earlier friendly attempt was valued at $11.84 as of March 31.

Based on Monday, November 30’s  close, the offer is now worth $9.23 a share, or $4.5 billion.

suncor_syncrude_logoCooper said COS should be trying to negotiate a better deal with Suncor.

“I really want to know, after shareholders have really got their face ripped off in the past year, who’s looking out for them?” Cooper asked.

Kubik responded that his company is much more sensitive to swings in crude prices _ on the upside and downside _ than Suncor.

COS says for every US$10 per barrel increase in oil prices, cash flow is bolstered by about $300 million.

The company expects to generate $338 million in free cash flow next year. It is basing its 2016 assumptions on US$50 U.S. benchmark crude, versus about US$42 currently.

COS’s main asset is its 37 per cent share in the Syncrude oilsands mine north of Fort McMurray, Alta.

Suncor is much bigger and more diversified, with a huge oilsands footprint as well as refineries, gas stations and offshore platforms. Suncor has a 12 per cent stake in Syncrude, meaning it would own just under half of the mine if it’s successful.

Kubik added shareholders should “take comfort” in a process underway to seek another bidder. A COS adviser has said 25 parties have expressed some degree of interest.

On November 30, 2015, the Alberta Securities Commission allowed COS to keep its so-called poison pill, a defensive tactic to buy time, in place until Jan. 4.

In an interview, Cooper said he wasn’t impressed with how Kubik responded to his questions.

“I think that’s a standard non-answer answer,” he said.

Thanks to the Suncor bid, COS has seen a boost in its share price, which has surged above $10 at some points since Suncor’s hostile approach in October.

If Suncor walks _ which it has threatened to do _ the stock will drop back to $5 or $6, said Cooper.

He acknowledges another suitor could emerge, but so far the most likely one _ Syncrude partner Imperial Oil (TSX:IMO) _ has been silent.

“The reality is you’re really worth what someone’s willing to pay for you,” said Cooper.

“There’s a real risk that Suncor does walk. As a Canadian Oil Sands shareholder, you’re going to get a swift kick in the shins.”

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