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Off, up and away: Ottawa gives astronauts extra holiday time, perks in new contract

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What does an astronaut on the International Space Station (ISS) do on a day off, orbiting 400 kilometres above the Earth?

Canada’s newest space traveller, David Saint-Jacques, has this Christmas Day off — and if the past is any guide, he’ll fill the time with reading, movies, a telephone call and Earth-watching.

Christmas is one of 11 statutory holidays listed in a new labour contract for astronauts approved by the Liberal cabinet just five days before Saint-Jacques blasted off for the ISS from a launchpad at Baikonur, Kazakstan, on Dec. 3.

The Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft carrying Saint-Jacques, Oleg Kononenko of Russia and Anne McClain of the U.S. blasts off to the International Space Station (ISS) from the launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Dec. 3. (Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters)

A copy of the contract, obtained by CBC News, shows the contract for Canada’s astronaut corps has been sweetened considerably since its 2009 version.

Cabinet has added a new Aerospace Premium, worth an additional eight per cent of salary, for those working in high-risk or challenging environments, such as a space station.

There’s a new “incidental expenses” section, which reimburses astronauts up to $3,000 for out-of-pocket expenses related to any space flight.

Other improvements

Other improvements include a relocation allowance of $6,500 (alas, not available for moves to the space station), enriched vacation perks and leave with pay for professional development.

The new perks enhance the most recent salary scale, which has been in effect since April 1, 2017.

Saint-Jacques’ salary is somewhere in Grade 2 – the middle of three astronaut grades – which ranges between $134,300 and $160,900. He’ll get bumped up to Grade 3 ($160,900 to $189,600) — the highest grade — after he completes his space station mission next June.

Though this part isn’t new, Canada’s astronaut contract also covers all travel expenses, including accommodation and food, to allow an astronaut’s family to attend a launch.

We get memories for a lifetime.– Gov. Gen. Julie Payette,  a former ISS astronaut

Saint-Jacques’s wife and three children travelled to Baikonur to watch his launch aboard a Soyuz capsule provided by the Russian government. Ottawa will also pay their way to the landing site in mid-June.

The Canadian government also buys a $1.5-million life insurance policy to cover the time Saint-Jacques is aboard the space station, as required by the terms and conditions of the agreement.

On the down side, the deal does not pay astronauts any overtime beyond the stated minimum of 37.5 hours a week.

“Given the nature of work as an Astronaut, the hours of work are irregular and work demands frequently result in long work hours,” says Article 3.1 of the document.

The six-member Expedition 58 crew, from left – Serena Auñón-Chancellor, David Saint-Jacques, Alexander Gerst, Oleg Kononenko, Anne McClain and Sergey Prokopyev – gather for a portrait on the International Space Station. Saint-Jacques gets Christmas and New Year’s Day off. (NASA)

“In order to meet job requirements, an Astronaut must regularly adapt to changes in plans and work schedules with short or no notice.”

The contract provides for 11 paid holidays, including Christmas.

But the rules are bent when an astronaut is aboard the space station, said Audrey Barbier of the Canadian Space Agency, the astronauts’ official employer.

Collective mix

“The actual days they get ‘off’ are negotiated months before they get on-board and are usually a collective mix of the ISS crew member countries,” Barbier said in an email.

“For example, David does get Christmas but not Boxing Day. Currently, he will also get New Year’s and a Russian holiday on Feb. 25. Operations planning tries to respect all the national holidays of the crew members on board.”

So what do other astronauts do with downtime on the ISS? (It’s not like it’s easy to take a walk.)

Julie Payette, now Canada’s governor general, changes equipment on the international space station on May 31, 1999. She says many astronauts spend much of their days off watching the Earth out the window. (AP Photo/NASA TV)

“When you have free time, you can read a book,” said Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, a former astronaut who made two trips to the International Space Station.

“You can watch a movie on the computer, you can watch a program uplinked from the ground, you can use the phone to call your family and chat with them.

“But most of us, I must say, just drift to the window and look at the magnificent spectacle we have at our feet — planet Earth. We take pictures and we get memories for a lifetime.”

Follow @Dean Beeby on Twitter

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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