Technology that knows how we feel – and shop

York University is one of several partners behind a multimedia exhibit that uses technology that can analyze human behaviour, reported the Ottawa Citizen Nov. 9. The Human Locator system will be used to manipulate a water fountain, smoke machine and stage lights as patrons walk through a room. The software-based video surveillance system, created by the Montreal ad agency Freeset Interactive Entertainment, isolates human forms from whatever else is captured on camera, and then tracks the person, converting data about their location and movements, behaviour, speed and direction, and a host of other variables into a continually updated statistical analysis. The technology is being designed to give store owners insights into the buying habits of customers that are way beyond what they get today by analyzing sales receipts, says its creator.

Nortel’s new message unexciting but needed

Nortel Networks, which recently launched its first new television commercial since 2001, needed an aggressive global advertising campaign to recover some of its “lost reputation” with customers and investors, said Alan Middleton, professor of marketing at York’s Schulich School of Business, in the Ottawa Citizen Nov. 9. But he called the concept of the new campaign unexciting and predictable. Campaigns that focus on customer results have become standard among technology companies, he said. The new campaign is arguably less bold than the company’s previous effort. “But at this point in time, that may be exactly what they need. It will help them rebuild some basic credibility,” said Middleton.

Mothers still hide their true feelings towards children

Professor Andrea O’Reilly, director of York’s Centre for Research on Mothering, says it is still traditional for mothers to hide behind a mask of perfection when it comes to their true feelings, or the lack of them, towards their children, reported The Ottawa Sun Nov. 9. “My sense is that unmasking is still taboo,” O’Reilly said, adding, “Oprah [Winfrey] did a show featuring mothers speaking truthfully about motherhood, mothers who’d had babies but didn’t feel maternal. They were afraid to talk to their friends for fear of being judged. It had such a huge fallout, Oprah had to do two follow-up shows to appease the sentiment that mothers don’t think like that. And yes, they do.” We are not a culture that tolerates ambivalence. And we have to protect our children and ourselves. Women are always under surveillance, especially poor women, said O’Reilly. “I know of a teen mom who called a child welfare agency and said she was having a bad day. They took her kid away for six months. If you ask a mother of grown kids if she ever wanted to toss the kids out the window and she says no, she’s either lying or has a bad memory.”

Death of Democrats greatly exaggerated

“The fact that the Republican Party has maintained its vise-like grip on the presidency and Congress does not mean that Republican policies will seep out of Washington and permeate the entire political system,” said Harvey Simmons, York professor emeritus in political science, in an opinion piece about the recent US election in The Globe and Mail Nov. 9. “Nor does the Republican victory signal the demise of the Democratic Party as an active force in US politics. Quite the contrary – for beneath the federal level, American politics bubbles and boils in surprising and sometimes contradictory ways.” Simmons cited the balance of local power in states such as Colorado, Vermont, Oregon, Washington and Montana where Democrats have held their own. It is also in the states that decisions are taken that will often directly affect people’s lives. “Of course, none of this is to argue that state politics trumps federal politics,” he wrote. “…But, as Tip O’Neill, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives once pointed out, ‘All politics is local.’”

Spreading democracy: Berlin to Baghdad compared

“With Osama bin Laden at large and the war in Iraq, it’s easy to forget how much freer much of the world is today than in 1989,” said Toronto freelance writer and York political science alumnus Eli Schuster (MA ’98) in an opinion piece published Nov. 9 in the Calgary Herald . “Fifteen years ago this month, East German Communist Party boss Gunter Schabowski told reporters the Berlin Wall would no longer serve as an exit barrier to residents wishing to go West. Millions were freed and the Cold War ended without a war,” Schuster wrote. “Historian Paul Johnson notes that while the left originally planned 1989 as the year to celebrate the French Revolution’s bicentennial and the birth of radical politics, the year quickly became a revolution against the established order of Marxism-Leninism.”