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LOW TECH

An Italian research institute is using a low-cost but effective tool to bolster communications in developing countries. Made from a can (those used for seed oil are best), a screw-on connecter and a short brass wire, the "cantenna" is being promoted as a cheap efficient tool to amplify access to information and communications technology. They are directional antennas and can be used for short- to medium-distance point-to-point links. They can also be used as feeders for parabolic dishes. They cost around C$5.00 instead of hundreds of dollars

CHINA

After an eight year ban, Avon Products has received approval to become the first country to resume direct sales in China. Direct sales were banned in 1998 when the government said it was hard for consumers to tell the difference between legitimate sales networks and fraudulent pyramid schemes which were common then.

CHOICE

It could soon be a common occurrence in Houston schools for students to be turned away when trying to check out some foods in the cafeteria. The district is to become one of the largest in the country with an automation system that lets parents dictate and track what their children get.

GAMES

Worldwide sales of video games and related services are forecast to double to US$65.9-billion in 2011 from $32.6-billion in 2005, lifted by online and mobile games. The market for games played via the Internet on consoles, personal PCs and hand-held terminals will increase 95 per cent a year in the period.

CABLE

An FCC study in the U.S. concludes that subscribers would save money if they were allowed to pay only for the channels they wanted. This conclusion reverses an earlier FCC finding. This provides new support for the consumer groups pushing for a pick-and-choose system to replace the bundled service. A similar report has been released in Canada.

DOGS

An on-line site for dog owners reports that 66 per cent of employees would work longer hours and 55 per cent would be willing to commute longer distance if it meant they could bring their dog to work. The survey also found that 49 per cent would switch jobs to a more dog-friendly employer

HOLLAND

A survey of 17,766 people in 17 countries found that residents of the Netherlands, armed with tax breaks for computer purchases and some of Europe's lowest broadband fees, lead the world in the use of personal computers and the Internet. 82 per cent of Dutch residents use computers at home or work. In Canada the number was 79 per cent and in the United States 76 per cent.

ZONES

North Korea has set aside 1,100 hectares for South Korean companies to set up shop. So far, 15 companies are producing and shipping manufactured goods such as footwear and cases for makeup and cosmetics. Construction on the complex began in 2005 and eventually it is hoped that 2,000 business will fill the zone by 2012. Trade between the two Koreas has surged 51 per cent since 2005 topping US$1-billion for the first time.

PORK

In 2005 exports of Canadian pork soared to 1.028 million tonnes, valued at C$2.84-billion. This represents an increase of about 10 per cent in terms of quantity and five per cent in value. over 2004. The U.S. remains the top customer though volume dropped by 10 per cent last year. Japan jumped by over 30 per cent to 265 thousand tonnes. Australia is the third largest market followed by Korea where exports doubled in one year.

FRUIT

The humble blueberry has replaced the apple as Canada's No. 1 fruit with sales of C$131-million in 2004, compared with sales of $72-million in 1996. British Columbia is the country's prime producer with nearly half (48 per cent and C$64.2-million) of total sales across the country.

FRIES

In England, where fries are one of that nation's favourite foods, there are 8,200 chip-fat pan fires each year that result in 34 deaths and 3,000 injuries.

LANGUAGE

Statistics Canada reports that there are more than 600 private sector firms that comprise Canada's language industry, including translation and training. They reached revenues of over C$404-million in 2004. Translation services revenues reached $154-million, or 38 per cent of total revenues. Classroom and online language training reported the highest revenues at $193-million, or 48 per cent of total revenue. About 7,405 permanent workers were employed in the industry.

SMELTING

U.S. aluminum giant Alcoa Inc is launching a feasibility study to build one of the world's first geothermal-powered smelters in Iceland as it seeks sources of power cheaper than in the U.S. and Europe. Power accounts for about a third of the cost of making aluminum and is about 30 per cent cheaper in Iceland than in other locations. Power for a second plant will be provided by Iceland's state-owned power company which is building a hydroelectric dam generating electricity from ice floes off Iceland's biggest glacier.

CHALLENGES

A new international survey reveals that executives are much more likely to leave a job for a greater challenge than for a bigger salary. Lack of challenge or career growth was the reason that 33 per cent of respondents changed jobs according to the study which polled 2,000 people in 80 countries. Ineffective leadership drove another 20 per cent from their jobs.

LUXURY

The Japanese company behind luxury heated toilet seats is opening a factory in Mexico in a bid to keep up with surging demand in the U.S. They claim the move will help lift sales of the seat which transforms into a warm water-spraying bidet at the touch of a button. The system was originally created by a U.S. company for the elderly and people with disabilities before the patent was bought by a Japanese company in the late 1960s. The new factory will be able to make 400,000 seats a year by 2008.

AIRPORTS

China expects to spend US$17.4-billion over the next five years on its airports as its expanding economy fuels demand for air travel. The country predicts its fleet of airliners will reach 1,580 by 2010, up from 863 flying currently. This is expected to accelerate to 4,000 commercial jets by 2020. By 2010, the mainland will have about 186 airports, up from 142 currently.

PRESCRIPTIONS

The UN drug watchdog says the abuse of prescription drugs in some parts of the world now rivals the use of all other illegal drugs. It claims this is a major problem in the U.S., Canada and Mexico where the abuse of prescription drugs, especially painkillers and inhalants, has been identified a major issue by the Vienna-based agency.

ROBOTS

Scientists have devised a way to help robot surgeons work in time to a beating heart. Usually, bypass surgery involves stopping the heart beating and, during the operation, sending blood round the body using an artificial pump. This involves opening up the heart and sending blood through a machine. However, the scientists have developed software that synchronises the movement of robotic surgical tools with the heart's beat. This allows surgeons to operate with the chest closed.

ANALOGUE

The U.S. Congress has approved plans to force broadcasters to switch off their analogue signals by 2009. Congress has also allocated US$1.5-billion to ensure Americans can convert their TV sets to receive digital signals.

MARKETS

Driven by advances in education and employment, the African-American market now commands a buying power of US$762-billion annually which is expected to reach $981-billion by 2010. Having roughly the same purchasing power as Hispanics, African-Americans have been left behind when it comes to marketing and advertising because Hispanics have been expected to have more rapid population growth.

ADVERTISING

The Super Bowl, European Championship Soccer and Formula One's Canadian Grand Prix each drew more than 50 million viewers in 2005, proving that top sports programmes are among the few remaining in a fragmented TV landscape to deliver large global audiences for advertisers.

LEAFLETS

A government department in the U.K. has been urged to cut the number of leaflets it produces after officials found they often made little sense. The Department for Work and Pensions spent US$62-million last year on publishing 250 different leaflets. The National Audit Office found they were frequently out of date and difficult for the public to understand.

DVDs

According to Screen Digest, consumer spending on DVDs in Europe fell last year, despite more being sold than ever. The price of the average European DVD fell by more than 11 per cent to just under US$20.00. Price reductions meant spending fell by 1.7 per cent, even though 732 million discs were sold, more than ever before. The publication predicts that VHS cassettes will die out completely by 2008.

BEACHCOMBING

An Australian couple who picked up an odd-looking fatty lump from a quiet beach are in line for a cash windfall. They took home a 14.75kg lump of ambergris, found in the inside of sperm whales and used in perfumes after it has been vomited up. Worth about US$20 a gram, the piece found on the Australian beach is worth about US$295.000.

GOLD

Fast-rising demand from China and India has helped lift the price of gold to 25-year records. Largely because of the growth in those two countries, global jewellery sales reached a record US$38-billion last year. In the third quarter of last year, Chinese shoppers bought 57.7 tonnes of gold jewellery, up nine per cent from a year earlier.

BABIES

The German government is urging companies to develop more family-friendly policies in a bid to make working life more attractive for staff with young families and help reverse the country's declining birth rate. Improved child-care facilities, easing mothers' reentry into the workplace and more flexible hours for young parents are among the goals of the new policy.

OIL

World-beating oil reserves in Alberta are finally being brought into production after years of talking about it. The oil is bound up in black bituminous sand close to the surface. Even though the reserves are huge and so obvious, the oil sands have to be steam heated to release the oil. Until recently, it's been a prohibitively expensive process but with the current high cost of oil, it is now worth extracting. Recent calculations show that the Alberta reserves are second to Saudi Arabia.

SUCCESS

An Italian "lawyer" who lost just one case out of 200 in a successful 13-year career, is facing an appearance in court after confessing that she has no legal qualifications.

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