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Baby boom among endangered right whales offers researchers some hope

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After years of increasingly bad news, there’s a glimmer of hope for the beleaguered North Atlantic right whale.

There are estimated to be fewer than 420 of the endangered mammals left, and their ranks have been decimated as deaths far outpaced live births. There were no births at all during last winter’s calving season.

But researchers have reported seeing seven right whale calves so far this winter off the southern U.S. coast, where the mammals spend their winters before coming north to Canada as temperatures warm.

“Seven is definitely better than last year,” said Barb Zoodsma, a fisheries biologist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

We have a ways to go yet.– Barb Zoodsma, U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 

“Last year was dismal with zero, and the year before that, there were five,” she said.

“However, when you look at the average number of calves produced in any given year for the last 10 years it has been just under 17 mom-calf pairs. Although we’re at seven, we’re not at the average level yet.”

The right whale is one of the largest mammals in the sea and among the most imperilled.

Populations have only slightly rebounded from the whaling era, when the blubber-rich baleen whale nearly became extinct.

Hoping for more calves

Zoodsma said the seventh calf was confirmed last week.

She said the researchers hope to see more calves between now and the end of the calving season, around mid-April.

“Keep in mind we’re on the tail end of an unusual mortality event, where we had 18 right whales that died in just a few short years. Seven doesn’t make up that number, so we have a ways to go yet,” she said in an interview from Fernandina Beach, Fla.

In this Wednesday March 28, 2018 photo, a North Atlantic right whale feeds on the surface of Cape Cod bay off the coast of Plymouth, Mass. After years of increasingly bad news, there’s a glimmer of hope for the beleaguered North Atlantic right whale. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

Zoodsma said healthy females have a calf every three or four years, but recently that has dropped to an average of every 10 years.

She said it’s believed a number of factors are to blame, including the shifting location of food sources, and stresses imposed by fishing gear and large vessels.

Food in Canada

Laurie Murison, executive director of the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station, said food supply is a huge factor.

“If the females are not getting enough to eat they will not be reproducing,” she said.

She said the number of new calves may be an indication of the supply of zooplankton in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

“It does give us some promise that the food supply is getting better than it was,” Murison said. “As well, there were a lot of social interactions that were observed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence last summer, so that bodes well for next year.”

The increase in calves this winter suggests there may be more zooplankton in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. (CBC)

“I’m hoping that we’re on the upturn now and will be looking at more calves.”

The best year on record for calves was 2008-2009, when 39 were spotted, and Zoodsma said they’d love to see numbers like that again.

Right whales typically migrate from the North Atlantic to give birth off the coasts of Georgia and Florida from December through March.

They then head back north to feed off Canada’s East Coast during the summer months.

In 2017, 12 North Atlantic right whales were found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Necropsies on seven of those whales found four died from trauma consistent with vessel collisions while two deaths were the result of entanglement in fishing gear.

Ottawa feared the permanent loss of Canada’s Marine Stewardship Council certification for the southern gulf snow crab fishery and additional trade and eco-certification impacts. As a result, the government imposed sharp restrictions on fishing and vessel speeds.

The 2017 summer was a historically deadly one for the endangered North Atlantic right whale. (Stephan Savoia/Canadian Press)

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans recently announced rules for 2019 — building upon rules in place in the Gulf last year, when none of the endangered mammals were found dead in Canadian waters.

Beginning April 28, the government will reintroduce mandatory speed restrictions for vessels 20 metres or longer when travelling in the western gulf.

Ships will continue to be allowed to travel at safe operational speeds in parts of two shipping lanes north and south of Anticosti Island, when no whales are in the area.

But the area with mandatory speed restrictions will be adjusted this year to reflect data on right whale sightings and to minimize the impact on the cruise ship and shipping industries.

Ottawa is also reducing by half the protection area for the season-long closure of snow crab and lobster fisheries, to reflect where 90 per cent of right whales were spotted last year during prime fishing season.

The United States government also extended the duration of a protected area off of Massachusetts to the middle of February to try to keep the right whales safe.

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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal

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A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist

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Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’

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Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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