Vision quest

Scientists are now able to monitor and control the factors linked to vision as never before, reports Innovation Canada, and highlights three professors’ work at York’s Centre for Vision Research. The March-April issue of the Canadian Foundation for Innovation’s e-zine describes vision researcher Doug Crawford’s studies of the impact of stroke on victims’ eye-hand coordination using an eyeball tracker device called an Optitracker; computer scientist Michael Jenkin’s studies of what a moving person sees, using his original life-size immersive virtual reality box, IVY; and vision researcher Laurence Harris’s studies in how we determine which way is up, using IVY.

It’s the gesture that counts

Some men will write off Valentine’s Day as a “Hallmark holiday,” an event cooked up by retailers to sell more trinkets that no one, least of all their sweetheart, really wants. But they are wrong, wrong, wrong, insisted The Globe and Mail Feb. 13. Women are generally more conscious of relationships than men, said David Reid, a clinical psychologist and professor in York University’s Faculty of Arts. “Maybe the gift isn’t really important. But she really likes the idea, the intention, the expression of it,” he said.

Hybrid battalion in Kabul could pose problems

Canadian troops will remain in Afghanistan after the current one-year commitment ends this summer and form the nucleus of a composite battle group, which will be augmented by companies and platoons from dozens of other NATO armies, reported the National Post Feb. 13. Martin Shadwick, a defence analyst at the York Centre for International and Security Studies, said the idea of a “hybrid” battalion could pose problems for the Canadians, particularly if the rest of the unit came from countries with no common language.

Steelmaker’s new boss making right moves

Natasha Sharpe, who teaches restructuring and turnaround management to MBA students at York University’s Schulich School of Business, says Stelco’s new president Courtney Pratt is making the right moves to ensure Stelco has a chance of surviving, reported The Hamilton Spectator Feb. 13. “In a restructuring situation there’s always a huge amount of uncertainty and people will be looking to the person they know for information,” she said. “They’ll look to the person who is going to be there when the CRO is gone.” The CEO’s most important role, she said, is to communicate an “expectation of success” for the future of the company, and to be open about the major issues to be faced. That’s why Stelco’s honesty about the need to reduce pension and legacy costs is an important move. “Failing to address that key issue up front would have been a mistake,” she said. “Closing the executive pension plan was a good move because it sent a message of `we’re all in this together.’ Without that kind of honesty you’re really buying yourself more problems than you’re solving.”

Fading interest in business fads

In a Globe and Mail story Feb. 13 about how businesses are developing an immunity to business fads (remember synergy, core values, quality circles?), Wallace Immen asked two York business professors why.

“There are fewer fads around now than there were in the 1990s because organizations have become a lot leaner,” said Gareth Morgan, distinguished research professor in administrative studies at York University’s Schulich School of Business, who teaches leadership skills. So many fads arose in the economic expansion of the 1980s and the e-commerce boom in the 1990s that even important concepts that have a fundamental truth got labelled as fads and were dismissed, Morgan said. With the technology market collapse and pessimism about long-term growth has come a reluctance to experiment. “Many businesses have become so thin on resources that it becomes less likely that someone could go away to a conference to learn the details of a new management method and then implement it in an organization that has already been disrupted.”

A problem with many methods is that they are proprietary formulas licensed to consultants who want it done in such a rigid way that it doesn’t work with the organization, said Ronald Burke, a professor of organizational behaviour at Schulich: “Taking a concept from the private sector to the public or voluntary sector can be a disaster. It’s important to be able to adapt it, or the organization will find it a convenient out to say it doesn’t work for us,” Burke said. “You also have the problem of people pushing the latest fad to make a buck. Once something becomes faddish then everyone claims they can do it. Even the best approach that is effective with skilled leaders can die if done by unskilled facilitators, who make managers decide that’s it, you’re not on the radar any more.” The learning and leadership skills course at York’s Schulich School of Business teaches the essence of management theories without getting tied up in all the labels and jargon that can make it seem like joining a cult, he said. “If you can’t quickly find the value behind the cult there isn’t much sense in adapting it,” Burke said. But ultimately a risk with adopting a succession of fads is that it can create a short attention span in an organization. When important ideas develop they can get discarded if they don’t deliver instant results, Burke said. “It’s like the hit parade. Yesterday’s hit gets discredited and we move on to the next one.”

Artists buck anti-fat hysteria

A handful of emerging artists – including York graduate student Allyson Mitchell – are challenging the tired stereotypes and presenting large people as sexy, dynamic, powerful and fun, reported The Globe and Mail Feb. 13. Mitchell has incorporated politics and peccadilloes into her art. Her latest exhibition, “The Fluff Stands Alone”, is a collection of fun-fur assemblages that reclaim vintage Playboy nudie cartoons by recasting the cartoonists’ hour glass-shaped female subjects as large, curvy and luscious sexpots. “Most of the women in cartoons from that era were already big-bodied, but the largeness was localized – big boobs, big butts. What I’ve done is make their entire bodies in proportion with their sexualized attributes, expanded their waists and thighs and hips. You’re forced to look at the whole body, and so the whole woman. It’s the opposite of reducing the body to T&A, it’s addition.” Mitchell, who is also a PhD candidate in women’s studies at York University (her thesis is on large women and public space) and a founding member of the fat activist performance troupe Pretty, Porky and Pissed Off, sees her latest exhibit as a culmination of her many fat-positive works.

On air

  • York professor, pop musicologist Rob Bowman took a look at the best and the worst of love songs from yesteryear, in a CBC Radio Valentine’s Day feature aired in St. John’s, Sydney, Saskatchewan, Calgary and Vancouver Feb. 12.
  • Molecular biologist Gillian Wu, dean of York’s Faculty of Pure & Applied Science, told Toronto 1’s “Toronto Tonight” Feb. 12 that she is, like most scientists, excited about the developments in South Korea in the field of human cloning but worried governments have not put rules in place.
  • Ian Greene, political science professor in York University’s Faculty of Arts, is among some political analysts who believe the biggest causality in the latest federal scandal will not be the Liberals but the voters, reported CHER-AM’s “News” in Sydney, Feb. 12.