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Lorraine Explains: Quebec auto tracker rules are pushing thieves to Toronto

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Mandatory TAG insurance tracking systems add another invasive datapoint to our cars, but may no longer be an option

“Almost 600 cars stolen since Christmas in Mississauga and Brampton,” hollers the headline. In the first week of the year alone, 95 were stolen. At the time of this report, only 11 had been considered solved. If you wake up and find your driveway empty, these figures let you know pretty much how this is going to play out. The bad guys are winning, and winning big. If your vehicle’s a popular one with thieves, get ready to be required to install an aftermarket tracker.

Effective in 2007, Canada mandated that all cars include anti-theft immobilizing systems. By refusing to allow someone to start the car if it didn’t recognize a chip in the key, it was meant to thwart thieves who would steal a car without the key, ie. by hotwiring.

The government release at the time stated that, “theft of vehicles by young offenders in particular is a serious problem.” Law enforcement today just wishes that were the problem.

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According to The Équité Association, a national non-profit that helps insurers fight theft and fraud, “Canada is rapidly becoming a source country for exporting “a tremendous amount of stolen vehicles. They’re being used as crime platforms — car bombs, trafficking, terrorism, and drug smuggling.” That statement is terrifying, and costly.

Ontario and Quebec are vulnerable to organized vehicle theft because of their proximity to the port in Montreal. Huge cargo containers can’t all be checked, so vehicles sporting licence plates from both provinces frequently show up in places from Sierra Leone to Russia. Bryan Gast, Vice-President of Investigative Services for Équité informs me that these are trophy plates. If you’re wondering why your insurance premiums keep going up, this has become an increasingly prominent reason.Global shortages of vehicles and parts continue, and the demand for both keeps rising.

Some insurance carriers are piloting programs to test the impact of using the TAG program, a system that has “trained technicians install multiple, difficult to locate tracking devices throughout a vehicle. In the event of a theft, these devices can be tracked anytime, anywhere in North America.” Etchings on the driver’s and passenger’s window warn potential thieves that they will have little success with a vehicle sporting this system.

“I’m told Quebec had the highest theft ratio in the country and the Quebec government implemented mandatory installation of the TAG system for certain targeted vehicles,” says broker Debbie Arnold of Sound Insurance. “If the insured did not install TAG, their comprehensive premium would be prohibitive. Since it’s under $500 to install, it just makes sense.” Once it’s installed, there are no additional fees. These are recent revelations and we’ll be following Quebec’s theft numbers closely to see if their program sets a standard for other provinces.Much of the theft prevention advice you read is designed to encourage a thief to move along. But because they can easily thwart the technology that many of us believe keeps our car locked and safe, authorities are back to recommending deterrents like the classic steering-wheel club, a visible — if clumsy — heavy bar that physically locks the steering wheel. Sure they could cut through it, but they’re more likely to head to a vehicle that will save them time.

Anti-theft steering wheel locks can be thwarted, but deter thieves seeking a quick getaway.
Anti-theft steering wheel locks can be thwarted, but deter thieves seeking a quick getaway. Photo by Getty

If insurers get strict about requiring owners to implement something like the TAG tracking system on the most vulnerable vehicles, will it shut down car theft? In theory, maybe. Teslas are said to be basically unstealable, and high-tech electric vehicles in general see fewer thefts, as they’re usually parked inside or close to a building, proving that the latest software can introduce unpalatable hurdles. But auto theft is like a river: put in an obstacle, the water flows in another direction and carries on.

Until a few years ago, older pickup trucks dominated most stolen lists. They were easy to steal. Once thieves figured out how to hack into new cars, they became the target. If Quebec successfully protects its most-stolen vehicles, look for higher theft rates in other provinces — especially Ontario — to fill the overseas orders.

Insurers are taking notice. “If a vehicle is identified as “highly targeted,” we receive a message on our quoting system from some providers that we need to discuss anti-theft measures with the client and note the application accordingly,” says Arnold. She says there are some pilot programs by insurance companies installing the TAG system for free, but my guess is that if manufacturers aren’t providing enough at the build level and insurance companies are trying to staunch the bleeding, it will be you and I who will be paying for these systems.While most governments are loath to mandate anything (hello, winter tires?), look for insurers to do the groundbreaking in this area. “One client had three Land Rovers stolen; one in September, one in February and another in April. Only one was recovered, and it was found in Montreal about to be shipped overseas,” says Arnold. I’d like to see the sales stats on frequently stolen vehicles if three sales were actually one being replaced two more times. We’re all paying for those stolen Land Rovers through our premiums.

Some people put Apple AirTags on their cars, though thieves can override those as well. Privacy concerns are also still an issue if it’s not you tracking your car, but someone else tracking you.

Peruse the most-stolen vehicle lists for your province, decide if something like the TAG system would be a wise investment, and know your insurer might soon be requiring it. “Insurers won’t authorize a rental vehicle for 72 hours in case the vehicle is recovered,” Arnold reminds you. “We all pay for the increase in theft. It will continue to increase in current market conditions. Authorities are working on this issue with border agencies, the IBC and insurers. It is so stressful for a client dealing with a car theft. It’s traumatic having someone invade your private space, let alone the inconvenience.”

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Rare ‘big fuzzy green ball’ comet visible in B.C. skies, a 50000-year sight

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In the night sky, a comet is flying by Earth for the first time in 50,000 years.

Steve Coleopy, of the South Cariboo Astronomy Club, is offering some tips on how to see it before it disappears.

The green-coloured comet, named C/2022 E3 (ZTF), is not readily visible to the naked eye, although someone with good eyesight in really dark skies might be able to see it, he said. The only problem is it’s getting less visible by the day.

“Right now the comet is the closest to earth and is travelling rapidly away,” Coleopy said, noting it is easily seen through binoculars and small telescopes. “I have not been very successful in taking a picture of it yet, because it’s so faint, but will keep trying, weather permitting.”

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At the moment, the comet is located between the bowl of the Big Dipper and the North Star but will be moving toward the Planet Mars – a steady orange-coloured point of light- in the night sky over the next couple of weeks, according to Coleopy.

“I have found it best to view the comet after 3:30 in the morning, after the moon sets,” he said. “It is still visible in binoculars even with the moon still up, but the view is more washed out because of the moonlight.”

He noted the comet looks like a “big fuzzy green ball,” as opposed to the bright pinpoint light of the stars.

“There’s not much of a tail, but if you can look through the binoculars for a short period of time, enough for your eyes to acclimatize to the image, it’s quite spectacular.”

To know its more precise location on a particular evening, an internet search will produce drawings and pictures of the comet with dates of where and when the comet will be in each daily location.

Coleopy notes the comet will only be visible for a few more weeks, and then it won’t return for about 50,000 years.


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Extreme species deficit of nitrogen-converting microbes in European lakes

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Sampling of Lake Constance water from 85 m depth, in which ammonia-oxidizing archaea make up as much as 40% of all microorganisms

Dr. David Kamanda Ngugi, environmental microbiologist at the Leibniz Institute DSMZ

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Leibniz Institute DSMZ

 

An international team of researchers led by microbiologists from the Leibniz Institute DSMZ-German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures GmbH in Braunschweig, Germany, shows that in the depths of European lakes, the detoxification of ammonium is ensured by an extremely low biodiversity of archaea. The researchers recently published their findings in the prestigious international journal Science Advances. The team led by environmental microbiologists from the Leibniz Institute DSMZ has now shown that the species diversity of these archaea in lakes around the world ranges from 1 to 15 species. This is of particularly concern in the context of global biodiversity loss and the UN Biodiversity Conference held in Montreal, Canada, in December 2022. Lakes play an important role in providing freshwater for drinking, inland fisheries, and recreation. These ecosystem services would be at danger from ammonium enrichment. Ammonium is an essential component of agricultural fertilizers and contributes to its remarkable increase in environmental concentrations and the overall im-balance of the global nitrogen cycle. Nutrient-poor lakes with large water masses (such as Lake Constance and many other pre-alpine lakes) harbor enormously large populations of archaea, a unique class of microorganisms. In sediments and other low-oxygen environments, these archaea convert ammonium to nitrate, which is then converted to inert dinitrogen gas, an essential component of the air. In this way, they contribute to the detoxification of ammonium in the aquatic environment. In fact, the species predominant in European lakes is even clonal and shows low genetic microdiversity between different lakes. This low species diversity contrasts with marine ecosystems where this group of microorganisms predominates with much greater species richness, making the stability of ecosystem function provided by these nitrogen-converting archaea potentially vulnerable to environmental change.

Maintenance of drinking water quality
Although there is a lot of water on our planet, only 2.5% of it is fresh water. Since much of this fresh water is stored in glaciers and polar ice caps, only about 80% of it is even accessible to us humans. About 36% of drinking water in the European Union is obtained from surface waters. It is therefore crucial to understand how environmental processes such as microbial nitrification maintain this ecosystem service. The rate-determining phase of nitrification is the oxidation of ammonia, which prevents the accumulation of ammonium and converts it to nitrate via nitrite. In this way, ammonium is prevented from contaminating water sources and is necessary for its final conversion to the harmless dinitrogen gas. In this study, deep lakes on five different continents were investigated to assess the richness and evolutionary history of ammonia-oxidizing archaea. Organisms from marine habitats have traditionally colonized freshwater ecosystems. However, these archaea have had to make significant changes in their cell composition, possible only a few times during evolution, when they moved from marine habitats to freshwaters with much lower salt concentrations. The researchers identified this selection pressure as the major barrier to greater diversity of ammonia-oxidizing archaea colonizing freshwaters. The researchers were also able to determine when the few freshwater archaea first appeared. Ac-cording to the study, the dominant archaeal species in European lakes emerged only about 13 million years ago, which is quite consistent with the evolutionary history of the European lakes studied.

Slowed evolution of freshwater archaea
The major freshwater species in Europe changed relatively little over the 13 million years and spread almost clonally across Europe and Asia, which puzzled the researchers. Currently, there are not many examples of such an evolutionary break over such long time periods and over large intercontinental ranges. The authors suggest that the main factor slowing the rapid growth rates and associated evolutionary changes is the low temperatures (4 °C) at the bottom of the lakes studied. As a result, these archaea are restricted to a state of low genetic diversity. It is unclear how the extremely species-poor and evolutionarily static freshwater archaea will respond to changes induced by global climate warming and eutrophication of nearby agricultur-al lands, as the effects of climate change are more pronounced in freshwater than in marine habitats, which is associated with a loss of biodiversity.

Publication: Ngugi DK, Salcher MM, Andre A-S, Ghai R., Klotz F, Chiriac M-C, Ionescu D, Büsing P, Grossart H-S, Xing P, Priscu JC, Alymkulov S, Pester M. 2022. Postglacial adaptations enabled coloniza-tion and quasi-clonal dispersal of ammonia oxidizing archaea in modern European large lakes. Science Advances: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.adc9392

Press contact:
PhDr. Sven-David Müller, Head of Public Relations, Leibniz Institute DSMZ-German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures GmbH
Phone: ++49 (0)531/2616-300
Mail: press@dsmz.de

About the Leibniz Institute DSMZ
The Leibniz Institute DSMZ-German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures is the world’s most diverse collection of biological resources (bacteria, archaea, protists, yeasts, fungi, bacteriophages, plant viruses, genomic bacterial DNA as well as human and animal cell lines). Microorganisms and cell cultures are collected, investigated and archived at the DSMZ. As an institution of the Leibniz Association, the DSMZ with its extensive scientific services and biological resources has been a global partner for research, science and industry since 1969. The DSMZ was the first registered collection in Europe (Regulation (EU) No. 511/2014) and is certified according to the quality standard ISO 9001:2015. As a patent depository, it offers the only possibility in Germany to deposit biological material in accordance with the requirements of the Budapest Treaty. In addition to scientific services, research is the second pillar of the DSMZ. The institute, located on the Science Campus Braunschweig-Süd, accommodates more than 82,000 cultures and biomaterials and has around 200 employees. www.dsmz.de

PhDr. Sven David Mueller, M.Sc.
Leibniz-Institut DSMZ
+49 531 2616300
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Scientists are closing in on why the universe exists

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Particle astrophysicist Benjamin Tam hopes his work will help us understand a question. A very big one.

“The big question that we are trying to answer with this research is how the universe was formed,” said Tam, who is finishing his PhD at Queen’s University.

“What is the origin of the universe?”

And to answer that question, he and dozens of fellow scientists and engineers are conducting a multi-million dollar experiment two kilometres below the surface of the Canadian Shield in a repurposed mine near Sudbury, Ontario.

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Ten thousand light-sensitive cameras send data to scientists watching for evidence of a neutrino bumping into another particle. (Tom Howell/CBC)

The Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNOLAB) is already famous for an earlier experiment that revealed how neutrinos ‘oscillate’ between different versions of themselves as they travel here from the sun.

This finding proved a vital point: the mass of a neutrino cannot be zero. The experiment’s lead scientist, Arthur McDonald, shared the Nobel Prize in 2015 for this discovery.

The neutrino is commonly known as the ‘ghost particle.’ Trillions upon trillions of them emanate from the sun every second. To humans, they are imperceptible except through highly specialized detection technology that alerts us to their presence.

Neutrinos were first hypothesized in the early 20th century to explain why certain important physics equations consistently produced what looked like the wrong answers. In 1956, they were proven to exist.

A digital image of a sphere that is blue and transparent with lines all over.
The neutrino detector is at the heart of the SNO+ experiment. An acrylic sphere containing ‘scintillator’ liquid is suspended inside a larger water-filled globe studded with 10,000 light-sensitive cameras. (Submitted by SNOLOAB)

Tam and his fellow researchers are now homing in on the biggest remaining mystery about these tiny particles.

Nobody knows what happens when two neutrinos collide. If it can be shown that they sometimes zap each other out of existence, scientists could conclude that a neutrino acts as its own ‘antiparticle’.

Such a conclusion would explain how an imbalance arose between matter and anti-matter, thus clarifying the current existence of all the matter in the universe.

It would also offer some relief to those hoping to describe the physical world using a model that does not imply none of us should be here.

A screengrab of two scientists wearing white hard hat helmets, clear googles and blue safety suits standing on either side of CBC producer holding a microphone. All three people are laughing.
IDEAS producer Tom Howell (centre) joins research scientist Erica Caden (left) and Benjamin Tam on a video call from their underground lab. (Screengrab: Nicola Luksic)

Guests in this episode (in order of appearance):

Benjamin Tam is a PhD student in Particle Astrophysics at Queen’s University.

Eve Vavagiakis is a National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow in the Physics Department at Cornell University. She’s the author of a children’s book, I’m A Neutrino: Tiny Particles in a Big Universe.

Blaire Flynn is the senior education and outreach officer at SNOLAB.

Erica Caden is a research scientist at SNOLAB. Among her duties she is the detector manager for SNO+, responsible for keeping things running day to day.


*This episode was produced by Nicola Luksic and Tom Howell. It is part of an on-going series, IDEAS from the Trenches, some stories are below.

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