York researcher says good graphics make Al Gore interesting

Al Gore, the man whose hapless presidential campaign ended up giving the world George W. Bush, was never the most charismatic of fellows, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 27. So it may seem a little counter-intuitive to think that adding a brace of charts and graphs to his delivery would make the whole package more compelling. Yet that’s precisely what happens in Gore’s current documentary about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth: he’s far more persuasive on the screen than he was on the hustings.

This doesn’t surprise Michael Friendly, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health, who has spent much of his career studying both human cognition and statistics. “Good graphics should be about telling some story, some real and hopefully important story, and telling it well, with pictures that will sock home the message right to the eye,” says Friendly.

This is a terrain Friendly knows well, said the Star. For the past five years, he has been building an online historical gallery of charts, graphs, maps and the like – anything that graphically illustrates data or information. This, in turn, begat the Web site he created with York alumnus (then-doctoral student) Daniel J. Denis (MA’ 00, PhD ‘04): Milestones in the History of Thematic Cartography, Statistical Graphics and Data Visualization. “Nobody had ever put together an entire history of all things related to data visualization or information visualization,” says Friendly.

Referring to a powerful graphic of Napoleon’s campaigns in the collection, Friendly admits to a 21st-century desire to see some comparable effort on the exploits of the current US president, the one who sidelined Al Gore. “War is not a good thing to pursue,” says Friendly. “I wish someone would make a graphic representation of George Bush’s campaigns across the world.”

Head injuries are down but still a concern, York professor tells parents

A new study released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information offers evidence that the number of kids being hospitalized for head injuries is down by more than half compared to 10 years ago, reported The Leader-Post (Regina) Aug. 31. Alison Macpherson, professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health and an epidemiologist who specializes in child safety, said safety has become a higher priority for schools and government agencies as well. She especially attributes the decline in head injuries to new regulations from the Canadian Standards Association, which drastically increased the softness of the surfaces in many school playgrounds.

While Macpherson was extremely encouraged by the findings of the CIHI study, she was quick to urge parents and public officials alike not to “rest on their laurels” in terms of improving safety conditions for Canada’s young people. “There still are almost 500 children hospitalized each year for head injuries, and many, many of these could have been prevented,” she said.

  • Macpherson also spoke about the report on Global TV Aug. 30.

Art with a Punch

Wild Fire: Art as Activism (Sumach Press) is a collection of 17 essays about arts projects, from community theatre to wildflower-seeded earth sculptures to ‘zines made with women from several countries, reported Monday Magazine (Victoria, BC) Aug. 30. The common thread: the contributors were all master’s students at York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES), and editor/contributor Deborah Barndt, teaches there.

Wild Fire’s essays are grouped loosely into four themes – “Art in Social Movements,” “Art as Activism,” “Eco Art” and “Art Heals.” Almost all the arts projects were community-based and rove the planet, to places including Nicaragua, Korea and Canada. The essays contain a generally persuasive humility, thanks to the researchers experiencing the way any honest creative process often leads to more questions, as well as to eventual results, said Monday. For example, in post-conflict Bosnia, Heather Hermant (MES ‘06) worked on a journalism and theatre project promoting ethnic reintegration. All of the projects in Wild Fire are moving, meaningful and profound. Wild Fire‘s deeper story is one about how academia is struggling to redefine itself to include wider kinds of knowledge.

York drama professor emeritus to explain Shubert’s song cycle on stage

Tonight at Aeolian Hall, resident pianist and proprietor Clark Bryan welcomes renowned Parisian tenor Guy Flechter in a performance of the darkly romantic song cycle Die Winterreise, reported The London Free Press Aug. 31. It is widely regarded as Franz Schubert’s supreme creation among his astonishing legacy of more than 600 songs. With the inevitable rattling of paper or the flitting about of eyeballs as the audience shifts its sight from the performers to the printed words or a sliding teletype, focus is broken. Flechter and Bryan’s way around this tonight will be to have Robert Wallace, York University English and drama professor emeritus, on stage with them, briefly introducing each of the 24 songs in the cycle, and explaining how the narrative is about to move forward.

Former York swimmer tackles triathalon

The race within the race is what York alumnus and former Lions swim team member Laura Armstrong (BA ‘05) is looking to win, along with Matt Barfoot and Greg Nicol, wrote the Owen Sound Sun Times Aug. 31. It’s only natural for girlfriend and boyfriend Armstrong and Barfoot to push each other on the course, while Barfoot’s brother-in-law Nicol can’t let the “kids” get the best of him. The trio is part of an eight-person group of competitors from Grey-Bruce County competing Saturday at the 2006 World Triathlon Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland. “You have to be decent in all three sports to do well,” said the 24-year-old Armstrong, who’s entering her second year of chiropractic college in Toronto. “If you can’t bike or run but you can swim, you’re really only just a strong swimmer.” Armstrong started training for triathlons three years ago after a shoulder injury ended her two-year competitive swimming career at York University (2001-2003).

York’s ‘A-Train’ staying on track

York Lions football player Anthony Thomas knows he has a next-to-impossible task, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 31. But that only heightened his anxiety a few notches. Being given the job of replacing York’s athlete of the year and all-Canadian defensive whiz Ricky Foley (BA ‘05), now with the BC Lions, wasn’t easy. But Thomas, a 6-foot-1, 265-pound linebacker, has been in extraordinary circumstances before. Always confident and optimistic, the one they call “A-Train” is ready for the challenge.

Thomas, after graduating from Toronto’s Northern Secondary, turned down an athletic scholarship to Saginaw Valley State and ended up at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. That stop lasted one game with the Huskies after promises of financial assistance, according to the 21-year old, never materialized. Broke, he returned home and worked as a security guard, then took a summer course at York and got talking with football coach Tom Gretes. Thomas, who went to elementary school in Ann Arbor, Mich., moved to Toronto when his parents split. Six years ago, he received a call from a former neighbour with news that his father had been shot and killed. “I’ll never forget that call,” said Thomas.

Rookie football Lions will have their hands full

The York Lions will host the McMaster Marauders on the Labour Day holiday, wrote Toronto Star sports columnist David Grossman Aug. 31. The Lions could be in over their heads with the Marauders, a team that has won its last seven times out. York, with 40 rookies, will count on two-time OUA all-star receiver Ricardo Hudson. A young and revamped York offensive line will be in tough against the Marauders, one of the best pass-rushing university teams in the country.

Argos’ Johnson says he’s prepared for last-minute start

Toronto Argonauts coach Mike Clemons said the chances of injured running back John Avery being in uniform for the Argos’ next game were slim at best, reported the Toronto Star Aug. 31. That means Jeff Johnson (BA ‘02) will most likely be called upon to be the starting tailback. The York University product hasn’t been officially told, but he’s not concerned. “If you had asked me this five years ago I would have said, ‘Yes, I want to know clear cut (whether he would be the starter)’,” he said. “But it doesn’t really matter anymore. As the years go on you learn you have to be prepared to (start) or not.”