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AGE

According to a new OECD study, Canada is in better shape than most to deal with an aging population, but the country still needs a major overhaul of its retirement practices if it wants to pre-empt weaker economic growth. Governments and companies have many rules and incentives that are skewed towards encouraging early retirement. Older people offer tremendous potential value to businesses, the economy and retirement. The study recommends that all provinces should ban mandatory retirement.

CONCRETE

A cement specialist with the United States Geological Survey claims that concrete is probably used more widely than any other substance. More than a ton of concrete is produced each year for every man, woman and child on Earth.

COLDS

A nasal spray that is claimed to be the first clinically proven treatment to stop a common cold from fully developing goes on sale in the UK this month.The spray, which contains no drugs, can both reduce the chance of developing a full-blown cold and the severity of symptoms. Research shows that the incubation period, which can last two days before full-blown symptoms develop, offers an opportunity to inhibit the virus before it takes hold.

EXPECTING

More than two-thirds of expectant mothers today willingly make changes to their eating habits after becoming pregnant. The altered habits that top the list: Taking vitamins (82 per cent); Consuming less or no caffeine (80 per cent); Avoiding artificial sweeteners (49 per cent). 78 per cent of women having their first child are likely to change the types of food they eat, while 63 per cent of women who have given birth previously are likely to do so. 42 per cent of all expectant and new mothers deemed eating natural or organic products important.

STARING

Nine out of ten British computer users suffer fatigue from staring at screens according to a new survey. Brits spend an average of 128,780 hours of their working life, or three and a half months a year, in front of computers or TVs. About 63 per cent of the 2,750 workers surveyed regularly leave work at the end of the day with headaches, and 53 per cent of them suffer from strained eyes.

HIGH-TECH

Wind propulsion is coming back in a new form: kites not sails. Next year a German company will begin outfitting cargo ships with massive kites designed to tug vessels and reduce their diesel consumption. It is estimated that these kites will reduce fuel consumption by about one-third--a big saving given that fuel accounts for about 60 per cent of shipping costs. This concept was tried in the 1970s in Japan and Denmark with little success. The insurmountable problem in each case was the mast.

CO2

Major players in the oil sand of northern Alberta are in talks to form a consortium to turn carbon dioxide emissions from hot air into cold cash. The group is examining options to create the infrastructure to ship carbon dioxide southward and find customers. For years CO2 has been regarded as a cost but now there is increasing interest in capturing it and storing it underground. It could then be shipped south in a special pipeline and used to boost the production of aging conventional oil wells. It can be injected underground and used to push more crude to the surface.

COAL

Canada is the No. 2 supplier behind Australia of coking coal. Chinese steel mills are gobbling up coal to feed booming demand for cars, appliances and infrastructure. Global demand for coking coal is expected to rise 10 per cent this year and by five per cent in 2006. This is prompting Canadian coal producers to boost output and bring closed mines back into production. Many of these mines, located in northern British Columbia, were closed because of soft demand and prices in the past decade.

HEMP

Sales of hemp foods in the U.S. have increased by 47 per cent in the past year to a total of US 4.75 million annually. Right now, the U.S. marketplace is supplied by hemp seed grown and processed in Canada and Europe. According to the Hemp Industries Association, hemp seed is nutritious and contains more essential fatty acids than any other source, and is second only to soybeans in complete protein, is high in B-vitamins and is a good source of dietary fibre. Hemp seed is not psychoactive and cannot be used as a drug.

GAS

Italy has almost 22,500 gas stations. By comparison, Germany has 15,400, France 14,200 and Britain just 10,500. Around 1.6 million litres are sold at a typical Italian gas station each year, compared with just over 3 million litres in Germany and France and 3.5 million litres in Britain.

SMOG

The fermentation process that turns grape sugars to alcohol releases ethanol, methanol and other organic compounds into the atmosphere, where they react with sunlight to form ozone, one of the components of smog, say California air regulators. The 109 vineyards in San Joaquin Valley help make that region's air one of the dirtiest in the U.S.

RIGS

Kuwait and Qatar, whose combined output accounts for 11 per cent of OPECs crude, say a shortage of drilling rigs made worse by damage from hurricane Katrina is likely to delay the development of new oil and gas fields. The rig shortage is the biggest in more than two decades. Saudi Arabia, the world's largest exporter, recently leased five offshore rigs currently in the Gulf of Mexico. The costs of shipping the rigs may exceed US $50-million. Oil and gas industries in the U.K and Norway are also facing a shortage of drilling rigs.

BENEFITS

Health insurance became the most expensive employee benefit for the first time last year in the U.S., surpassing paid leave, because costs have risen 70 per cent since 2000. Medical costs accounted for 33 per cent of the cost of employee benefits, compared with 32 per cent for vacation time, holidays and sick leave.

SPYING

Researchers have figured out a reasonably accurate way to eavesdrop on computers simply by listening to the clicks and clacks of the keyboard. Those seemingly random noises, when processed by a computer, can be translated with up to 96 per cent accuracy. This study build on a previous IBM one in which 80 per cent of text was recovered by the sound of keyboard strokes.

MOBILES

There is now almost one mobile phone for every person in much of the developed world. In Luxembourg, phones outnumber people, since many people who live in neighbouring countries have a second handset for use within its borders. Despite their enthusiasm for PCs and broadband links, Canada and the U.S. have been slower to adopt mobile phones than other rich countries.

INDIA

Global warming will push temperatures in India up by three to four degrees by the turn of the century, hitting agriculture and infrastructure. Rainfall will increase substantially in many areas resulting in problems with food supply, and affecting the livelihoods of much of the population as well as spreading diseases such as malaria. A new report also warns that rising sea levels due to global warming could damage India's vast coastal railway network.

SUGAR

Europe's former colonies are warning of social upheaval and a surge in trafficking in drugs in their countries if radical plans to overhaul European sugar policy are agreed later this year. The EU is recommending slashing minimum prices for beet and sugar, as well as output. Europe's traditional sugar suppliers in the African, Caribbean and Pacific are incensed over the plan saying it would rip apart their societies and economies.

ROMANCE

According to Avon Books, romance fiction has annual sales of US$1.41-billion worldwide annually. Half of all paperbacks sold internationally are romance titles and a third of all popular fiction sales are romance titles. There are 64.6-million readers of romance fiction in the United States and 22 per cent of them are men.

INFORMATION

Research suggests that three quarters of consumers are more likely to read the back of cereal packets than information sent to them by their financial service providers. 60 per cent of those surveyed do not regularly read their mortgage, pension or bank statements with 75 per cent saying they would rather read anything other than their financial mail. Women were more financially estranged than men with 90 per cent admitting they would rather read their horoscopes than their bank statements.

BALLPOINTS

It started as an answer to leaky pens carried by U.S. soldiers during the Second World War, was perfected and made popular by an Italian-born baron and has written its way into history as the world's biggest selling pen. More than half a century after honing a cheap version of the ballpoint pen, the French firm of Bic SA which built an empire out of making things meant to be thrown away has announced it recently sold its 100 billionth pen.

GOLD

Rampant economic growth in China and India has propelled consumer demand for gold jewellery to US$38-billion. The World Gold Council says the record figure for the last twelve months was driven by favourable conditions in key markets and promotion of the metal. Less than two years ago, the sales of gold for jewellery were stagnant as metals such as platinum enjoyed increased popularity.

SENIORS

A new cellphone has been launched in Japan which includes all the usual features of a mobile phone but with one crucial difference: It slows the callers voice down thus making it easier to understand for seniors. By toggling a switch on the side of the phone, it instantly converts all incoming voices to 70 per cent of their actual speed.

BUYER BEWARE

Italy is having a major crackdown on the sellers--and buyers--of counterfeit goods. Dozens, if not hundreds, of Italians and foreign tourists have faced stiff fines for purchasing fake sunglasses, handbags, belts and compact discs under one of the toughest counterfeit laws in the world. The fine may exceed the cost of the genuine article. Italy hopes the measures will dent a multi-billion -euro trade in phoney goods that has taken its toll on home-grown luxury labels like Prada and Gucci.

HEALTH

Coffee may soon be considered a health drink following a study showing it is a surprisingly rich source of anti-cancer agents. Coffee contributes more antioxidants, which have been linked with fighting heart disease and cancer, to the diet than cranberries, apples or tomatoes. This is the first time that coffee has been shown to be such a rich source of the agents.

BURGLARS

A UK survey of convicted burglars shows that twice as many burglars as ordinary householders use an alarm system when they go on holiday. Nearly a third of the burglars were so concerned about security that they fitted closed-circuit television in their homes, compared to four per cent of law-abiding householders.

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