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How do you ship a 300 million-year-old tree stump? Very carefully





In the technical shop at the Museum of Natural History in Halifax, a stone column is being prepared for shipping.

But this is no ordinary column. It’s a fossilized tree stump.

The stump is from a tree from 300 million years ago. It was part of a tropical forest south of the equator at the heart of the supercontinent Pangea.

“Trees at this time had quite a bit of hollow space, their vascular structure was around the bark area, and the inside was very loose,” said Tim Fedak, curator of geology at the Nova Scotia Museum. “So as fossils they formed because sand filled in the inside of the tree.”

Over millions of years, the tree moved thousands of kilometres, as Nova Scotia drifted northward. The fossil was discovered in the cliffs at Joggins.

Tim Fedak is the curator of geology at the Nova Scotia Museum. (Moira Donovan/CBC)

Now, it’s about to be moved again, to join other fossils from across Canada in a new “Dawn of Life” gallery at the Royal Ontario Museum.

“It’s a really important exhibit that’s opening at ROM,” said Fedak. “And this becomes a beacon to bring people’s awareness and attention … to Nova Scotia.”

Making sure the tree arrives at the ROM in one piece is “almost an art form,” said Fedak. 

“You can’t just put it in a box and and wrap it in Styrofoam,” he said.

When an object like this needs to be moved, a crate is built specifically for the purpose. Senior preparator Corey Mullins said the process has two guiding philosophies. 

“One, you build a crate that looks like it’s going to fall apart so people are really careful with it. Or you build a crate that, you know, someone could drive a truck over. And we usually use the second philosophy.”

A silicon rubber mould of the tree. (Moira Donovan/CBC)

When the fossil is ready to be shipped, it will be wrapped in a waterproof membrane and put into a crate equipped with a set of inner ribs. Then it will be sent to Ontario with a shipper specializing in moving museum goods.

Construction on the new gallery is set to start this year and is due to open in 2021.

But while the stump is at the ROM, it’ll still have a presence in Nova Scotia.

The museum has made highly-detailed moulds of the stump from silicon rubber. Casts from these moulds can be sent back to Joggins, to other museums or used in exhibits like augmented-reality displays or dioramas that show what the inside of one of these trees would have looked like.

The tree will travel to Ontario is this wooden crate. (Moira Donovan/CBC)

“It’s actually the inside of these trees that’s the most spectacular thing about Joggins and the reason Joggins is what it is today, said Fedak.

“Because in the mid-1800’s, paleontologists William Dawson and Charles Lyell were walking along the beach at Joggins and they found the bones of early reptiles inside the stumps of these trees … so historically the site’s been really important for those bones.”

Representing Nova Scotia ‘to a really high level’

For more than a hundred years, these Lepidodendron trees have been helping people understand the Carboniferous period.

Now, Fedak said this fossil will spread that knowledge to more than a million visitors to the ROM a year.

“The stump will eventually come back to Nova Scotia,” said Fedak. “But while it’s there, it represents Nova Scotia to a really high level, and it speaks back to a history that goes back to 1850 — the dawn of paleontology science and geology.”

This stump will also be representing a more recent legacy, Fedak said — that of Don Reid, the man who found it.

Reid died in 2016. In his life, he was named “the keeper of the cliffs” and recognized with the Order of Nova Scotia for having played an essential part in the designation of the Joggins fossil cliffs as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

John Calder, Reid’s longtime friend, said walking the cliffs was a daily ritual for Reid. Through a lifetime of careful collecting, he amassed a huge collection of fossils, which he bequeathed to the fossil centre.

“And it became, and it still is, the heart of the collection of the World Heritage site,” he said.

Prized collection

The fossilized stump was prized part of that collection.

Calder says Reid would be delighted to know that it’ll now form part of a gallery aimed at teaching even more people about the dawn of life.

“He just had this incredible love for the fossils of the cliffs, and he really wanted to share his love of the fossils and his fascination with them with other people,” Calder said.

“And so the idea of this fossil emissary going to the ROM to speak for Joggins and … this whole time period of Earth history — he would be thrilled.”


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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future





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






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






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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