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Doomsday Clock remains at 2 minutes to midnight

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The time on the symbolic Doomsday Clock remains at two minutes to midnight, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced Thursday morning.

Introduced in 1947, the clock is used as a metaphor meant to measure how close humanity is to destroying civilization. Its hands are moved forward or back depending on the world’s level of vulnerability, with midnight representing catastrophe.

The clock typically moves by full minutes, but the non-profit group of scientists moved it by just 30 seconds in 2017 and 2018. It reached two minutes to midnight in 2018.

Though the clock did not move this year, Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, warned it doesn’t mean it is a good sign.

“We have in fact entered a period that we call the new abnormal,” Bronson said. “This new abnormal that the world now inhabits is unsustainable and unsettling. We appear to be normalizing a very dangerous world.”

The scientists said that in reaching their decision, they took several issues into account, including nuclear weapons, climate change and cybersecurity.

The last time the clock was set to two minutes to midnight was in 1953, when the United States and the Soviet Union were testing hydrogen bombs for the first time. The clock’s hands were furthest from midnight — 17 minutes — in 1991, at the end of the Cold War.

William Perry, chair of the bulletin board of sponsors and a former U.S. secretary of defence, said the current setting invokes memories of 1953, a time when the “brutal” Korean War was ongoing, there were U.S. forces in Germany and the threat of the Soviet Union’s Red Army was serious.

“What I’m telling you, you already know from history, but what I’m telling you I know because I was there,” he said.

All the scientists on hand for the announcement reiterated Bronson’s reference to the “new abonormal.”

Jerry Brown, executive chair of the Bulletin and former governor of California had strong words for his country’s government, citing the “blindness and stupidity of politicians and their consultants.”

“We’re like travellers on the Titanic, not seeing the iceberg up ahead but enjoying the elegant dining and music,” he said.

He also called out journalists who are quick to cover Trump’s tweets and exchanges but miss the bigger picture and the threat humanity is currently facing.

Brown, as well as the other scientists, stressed that their concern stems not from countries ready to engage in outright nuclear war but from the possibility of some “blunder” that results in a nuclear launch that could kill millions or perhaps billions of people.

One of the chief concerns for scientists is climate change. Bronson said that global carbon emissions, which seemed to have been plateauing in recent years, are now once again on the rise. And, she said, 2018 will likely be among the top four hottest years on record.

Herb Lin, member of the Bulletin’s science and security board and senior research scholar for cyber policy and security at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, said that we have entered into age of “cyber-enabled information warfare,” where incorrect, targeted information is widely distributed and potentially dangerous.

“It’s a terrible world in which rage and fantasy replace the truth,” he said.

All the scientists called upon global leaders to join together to combat the nuclear, climate and cyber threats and help turn the Doomsday Clock back.

“We’re playing Russian roulette with humanity,” Brown said.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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