Subatomic calculations indicate finite lifespan for universe

BOSTON (Reuters) – Scientists are still sorting out the details of last year’s discovery of the Higgs boson particle, but add up the numbers and it’s not looking good for the future of the universe, scientists said Monday.

UPDATE 1-Mexico’s Gigante does not rule out Office Depot purchase

MEXICO CITY, Feb 18 (Reuters) – Mexico’s Grupo Gigante on
Monday did not rule out a possible acquisition of the 50 percent
stake in the Mexican unit of U.S. office-supply store chain
Office Depot…

UPDATE 1-OfficeMax investor says will support Office Depot merger

NEW YORK, Feb 18 (Reuters) – Neuberger Berman LLC, one of
OfficeMax Inc’s top shareholders, said it would support
a merger with Office Depot Inc depending on terms of the
deal, according to a…

City deal extended to 20 new zones

Twenty more areas of England are to be given greater independence from Whitehall under the “city deal” scheme, deputy PM Nick Clegg announces.

Sony finally drops the PlayStation Vita’s price… in Japan

2012 might have been too early for a price cut on Sony’s flagging PlayStation Vita portable, but early 2013 is obviously a different matter. Sony Japan announced today that both the Wi-Fi and 3G enabled versions of the system will be lowered to a price of ¥19,980 (around $215) starting on Feb. 28; a price drop of 20 to 34 percent (depending on the model).

The reduction comes none too soon to try to revive the powerful portable’s standing in the country. After a relatively healthy launch weekend, Japanese sales of the system plummeted in its second week on store shelves. Those sales continued to sag week by week, except for brief spikes surrounding new software launches that weren’t sustainable. The system reached a new sales low in November when it managed to sell only 4,021 units across Japan in a week, placing behind even the ancient PlayStation Portable and selling less than 1/46th as much as the 3DS in the same period.

Are the US and Europe set to see similar price cuts in the near future? In the US, Sony’s descriptions of Vita sales have gone from “exceptional” to “acceptable” to estimates of only 35,000 sales in January 2013, which can only be described as “unacceptable.” Europe’s Vita sales have looked more like Japan’s, falling behind even the PSP and well behind the newer 3DS in the region last year.

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OfficeMax shareholder says would support Office Depot merger

NEW YORK, Feb 18 (Reuters) – One of OfficeMax Inc’s
top shareholders, Neuberger Berman, said it would support a
merger with Office Depot Inc depending on terms of the
deal, according to a portfolio…

A Multi-Perspective Look At The Ambitious Pebble Smartwatch

pebble-shots

Pebble smartwatches have been hitting doorsteps for a little while now, but my colleague Darrell Etherington and I have only just been able to join the party. The reasons for the extra wait differed for the two of us — I was a late backer, and his got stuck in Canadian customs — but the timing seemed right, so here’s our tag-team review of the device that helped kick start a new era of smartwatch hype.

Darrell: The Pebble has one huge advantage over other smart watches right out of the box: aesthetics. This is a watch that lets your geek flag fly without being ass-ugly. The watch face options aren’t necessarily all that awesome, but set it to the text face that comes pre-installed and don’t worry about the rest. Also, black was the right choice, even if it was the only choice if you wanted one of the first shipping devices. Black watch on black strap in the Pebble looks fantastic on most any wrist.

The screen is legible enough, but in some light the glue becomes visible to the point of annoyance, which is a rookie mistake and should not make it into production units, if the Pebble team is worth its salt. It affects all the Kickstarter units I’ve come across so far, however, so that’s not a good sign.

Chris: I don’t think the Pebble is quite as handsome as Darrell does — it’s not bad looking, but it’s hardly a fashion-forward timepiece. Still, some of the promises that Pebble has made to its backers have positively influenced the watch’s look — rather than including something like a standard microUSB port for instance, the Pebble sports a magnetic charger so as to keep the whole shebang waterproof. The included rubber strap is plenty comfortable too, if a bit on the drab side. That’s easily remedied though — the Pebble apparently works fine with any 22mm watch band though, so the sky’s the limit as far as customization goes.

While we’re talking about design, the Pebble’s iOS and Android companion apps are both intuitively laid out (which is critical since the Pebble would be largely useless without them). The sync process is very brief, and once that’s done you’re quickly guided into setting up notifications — the whole process can be knocked out in just a minute or two. And of course a tiny vibration motor whirrs whenever you get a notification, though the wrong kind of aftermarket watchband may make it harder to feel.

Darrell: Compared to the MetaWatch, using the Pebble is like a breath of fresh air. It’s almost the difference between proving that a smart watch as a concept is a good idea vs. something no one needs. From display, to overall look, to usefulness and dependability of features, the Pebble just blows the MetaWatch out of the water. Some might miss features like weather, stocks, and more that you get with the MetaWatch, whereas the Strata struck me as a novelty that quickly lost its charm, the Pebble already seems like something I’d have to at least adjust to living without.

Chris: Unlike Darrell, the Pebble is my first foray into this whole crazy smartwatch thing, and my time spent with the thing has generally been very positive For the past few days I’ve been switching between linking the Pebble with my iPhone and my Droid DNA, and it wasn’t long before I began to prefer the experience on the latter just because of the extra granularity Android affords me. Under Android, I’m able to pass along notifications from Facebook and Google Voice (!) in addition to more standard fare like calendar entries and text messages.

Thankfully, the four-button navigation scheme used to handle all these notifications and menus is incredibly straightforward. The top and bottom buttons on the right side allow you to (what else) scroll up and down through menus, while the two remaining buttons take you forward and back. Hardly a flashy way to get things done (especially when some smartwatch rivals lean on touchscreens for operation) but it mostly works like a charm.

Darrell: There are still issues with the Pebble. Email notifications cut out when using it on iOS when it drops the Bluetooth connection and reconnects, for instance. Caller ID and message notifications work consistently, however, so this isn’t a huge issue. The menu system could also use work; it’d be nice to be able to rearrange items in the list to make frequently-needed ones easier to access. Adding watch faces from the app just puts them at the bottom, and that’s going to become a bigger issue once you have third-party apps to manage from the Pebble. The backlight is also immensely inconsistent; don’t even bother with the automatic ambient light sensor, just turn it on at night and off during the day, or keep it on all the time if you’re not that concerned with eking out as much battery life as possible.

On iOS, despite the fact that limitations are limited, the ones that it does provide work well. I actually prefer it to Android, since the limited support (only iMessage/SMS, email, phone and calendar notifications come through) means you won’t face a constantly buzzing wrist.

Chris: I’ll agree that notifications work, but the way they’re implemented leaves plenty to be desired. Let’s say you get more than one message within a short period of time — the Pebble will only ever display the most recent one, so you’re going to have to go digging for your phone anyway. Now, I never expected the Pebble to replace my phone(s) for these sorts of tasks, but I was looking for something that would at least help me triage the constant flow of messages and updates and the Pebble isn’t quite there yet.

I haven’t had much luck with the ambient light sensor, but that really hasn’t been an issue for me. I’ve been leaving the backlight setting on pretty much all the time and haven’t seen a huge loss in terms of battery life — I can get about 5-6 days out of it with everything turned on, and the backlight is off most of the time anyway.

Since we’re talking about inconsistency though, what about these screens? They’re not always the prettiest things to look at while in direct sunlight, mine in particular — it’s not as notable when the Pebble is just displaying a clock face, but there are some cloudy patches of coloration visible when I navigate the menu outdoors. Apparently it’s just a natural thing, but it’s still sort of unpleasant to see every day.

Darrell: The Pebble is still a little rough around the edges (visible glue at some angles under the display, which isn’t a problem limited to a few isolated units), but it’s much closer to the vision I had in my mind of a wrist-mounted, smartphone connected computer than anything else I’ve used so far. It still feels like a first-gen device, but it doesn’t feel like a prototype. But now that rumors of an Apple smart watch are swirling, most users who don’t feel a pressing need for this kind of device would do best to take a wait-and-see approach, especially if they’re already using an iPhone.

Chris: I’m frankly a little torn when it comes to the Pebble — it’s very limited in some key ways, but as a whole it’s a portent of very exciting things to come. People who haven’t already bought into all this smart watch hype probably won’t find anything particularly revelatory or earth-shaking here, though I can’t say I feel like I’ve wasted $150. If anything, I think of it more as investment in what the Pebble platform can actually become as it matures and garners more developer support.






Albertan to steer Quebec oil and gas lobby

MONTREAL – Quebec’s fledgling oil and gas sector will name an outspoken Alberta business executive to steer its lobby group – swapping the political connections of its former president for the plain-talking style of an outsider.

Sources say Questerre Energy Corp. chief executive Michael Binnion has put his name forward to lead the Quebec Oil and Gas Association. He is expected to be named interim president of the group Tuesday for a yet-undetermined period of time.

Following the recent departure of association president Lucien Bouchard, its members now have to decide how active the group should remain as Quebec lawmakers continue to waver over resource development. Sources say Mr. Binnion is proposing the group downshift its lobbying and meetings with the public, with his role as more an administrative caretaker, while the province sorts out its stance.

“I think this association is looking to say, ‘This thing is going to go on for a long time and so let’s just absolutely minimize our resources in this because there’s just no point right now,’ ” said one industry insider familiar with the discussions taking place between association member companies.

“We still believe natural gas and oil development is good for Quebec. But at the same time, the government has not created the kind of conditions that we think it’s worthwhile to spend a lot of money on. [What’s being proposed] is to keep this a low-time and low-cost commitment as a volunteer association.”

The ruling Parti Québécois party said earlier this month it would introduce legislation to formally impose a moratorium on shale gas activity in the province as it continues to cast doubts about the risks and social acceptance of hydraulic fracturing. It is also transferring the mandate for a strategic environmental evaluation of shale gas previously held by a special committee of experts to the government’s own environmental review agency, the Bureau d’Audiences publiques sur l’environnement.

Meanwhile, the PQ insists it supports oil development but that it will take place only with the public’s approval and while respecting the highest environmental standards. But there is no regulatory framework in place on hydrocarbon exploration. And opponents have been vocal. One junior oil company, Pétrolia, is now locked in a fight with the municipal council of Gaspé after the city banned oil drilling activity near city limits.

Quebec has vast reserves of oil and natural gas but almost all of it remains untapped. There’s an estimated 155 trillion cubic feet of shale gas alone in the province, of which about one-fifth is recoverable.

The reason the industry isn’t further ahead is the same now as it has been for years: Opponents have sown confusion over the environmental impact and economic benefits of resource development. And industry has largely failed to cut through the rhetoric and present a convincing case.

He may live 3,000 km away, but perhaps no one understands the dynamic better than Mr. Binnion.

When the Quebec government imposed a defacto moratorium on shale gas drilling two years ago, Questerre Energy Corp. was among the companies hardest hit. The Alberta energy junior, which had staked its entire business plan on developing its rights to more than one million gross acres of farmland along the southern flank of the St. Lawrence River, saw its investors bail and its market value evaporate.

Today, Questerre has shifted some resources to another oil play in Saskatchewan while Mr. Binnion continues to engage skeptical Quebecers in lively debate on his blog and Twitter account. Never hesitating to provide his take on events, he took some French immersion lessons in Quebec City in a bid to shore up greater credibility.

In a recent interview with the Financial Post, Mr. Binnion acknowledged his shortcomings speaking French might hurt his ability to win support for shale gas in Quebec. But he insisted he’d continue to plug away at it.

Said Mr. Binnion: “I’ll tell you one thing I learned on Twitter. I’ve now realized when people start coming after me for the quality of my French, I know I’m winning the argument.”