How York’s spam security brigade became image conscious

A few months ago, York University’s e-mail boxes began filling up with unwanted messages touting can’t-miss stocks and cheap medicine, reported The Globe and Mail Sept. 28. Like other institutions and businesses, York’s information technology department has many ways of fighting spam. But a new flavour – image-based spam – had slipped past their well-laid traps. Some unlucky people received dozens of these annoying e-mails each day, according to Ramon Kagan, a manager in the University’s Computing & Network Services department.

Welcome to the latest chapter in the spam wars. Spammers are increasingly hiding messages in image files to escape detection and hit their intended target: your e-mail box, said the Globe. “We’ve had our rash of image-based spam,” Kagan said in an interview. “In the last three months, it’s really started to escalate.”

York’s central e-mail system, for example, was forced to increase its storage space by 38 per cent in the space of five months, with half of that absorbed by image-based spam, Kagan said. York recently added another weapon to its anti-spam war chest. It started using a technique called greylisting, which blocks a dodgy e-mail the first time it is sent, forcing the user to send it again. Spammers typically don’t bother. Its filters used to catch more than 90 per cent of spam. That figure dropped to the low 80s with the emergence of image-based spam, but greylisting has brought it back to the previous level. “That’s done a lot for getting rid of a lot of the spam,” Kagan said.

Rae Days will dog Liberal leadership candidate

“It’s a deep part of the accepted culture in Ontario that [Bob Rae’s premiership] was a terrible period and his government screwed up badly on the deficit and on the Rae Days [a mandatory program of 10 annual unpaid days off work for public-sector employees]. And I think that perceptions are very hard to overcome,” said York political science Professor James Laxer, in the National Post Sept. 28. Laxer is an author and former research director for the federal NDP who has written critically of Rae, noted the Post.

“I always thought he was a more natural Liberal than a New Democrat and so, in a way, I feel more friendly towards him now because he’s where I think he ought to be,” said Laxer. “But party loyalties are a weird thing. They go pretty deep, and I’ve met people in various parts of the country who have said ‘There is no f—ing way that I’m going to vote for this guy. Can we really trust him? Is he one of us?'”

Political sex scandals don’t draw blood

The dirty laundry list of Canadian political sex scandals doesn’t have nearly the salacious quality of those of Britain and the United States, reported Canadian Press Sept. 28 in a story that ran in numerous papers across the country. The most politically damaging Canadian amours have tended to be those that crossed the line from private life to public policy or criminality.

“In contrast to the American press, the Canadian press over the past 25 years has been pretty tolerant or understanding in not wanting to get too far into the private lives of politicians in Canada,” says David Shugarman, a political scientist who specializes in ethics at York University in Toronto. “My own view…is that generally, this is not the business of the population until it comes into an area of criminality or security.” Shugarman believes most Canadians just don’t make moral judgments on the private lives of their political class.

Toronto turns on its art light for Nuit Blanche

Travel is a requisite function of city life, but in “My Secret City”, your nightly route is liable to become your destination. “All transit fulfills a need,” says Emelie Changhur, who launches what will become an ongoing performance project, the Toronto Public Transit Performance Commission (TPTPC), at Nuit Blanche. “I like the idea that [the TPTPC] could also fulfill a need – for art, for creativity – that doesn’t have to do with the assumed practicalities of surface transit.”

An assistant curator at the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU), Changhur thinks a lot about buses. She and AGYU curator Philip Monk have already established the Performance Bus: hired wheels that take downtown denizens to AGYU openings but that also try to make the arduous trip up north into a thing of wonder. At Nuit Blanche, Changhur broadens this idea by mapping out an intrepid network: three yellow school buses run counter-clockwise throughout the city. “TPTPC isn’t about me,” says Changhur. “It’s a code word for playing along with institutions, but also for being involved so you can change things.”

Peer group helps younger breast cancer patients

York PhD student Lisa Bayami will never forget July 28, 2005, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 28 in a story about Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre’s Peer Navigator program for younger breast cancer patients. While showering that day, she felt a lump in her breast. “I was working out and never felt or looked better,” says Bayami. “I wasn’t at all concerned because I had a benign lump removed when I was 19.” She had an ultrasound and a mammogram, then had lunch with a friend. When she arrived home, there was a message. At 28, she had breast cancer.

After a lumpectomy and removal of 12 lymph nodes at North York General Hospital, Bayami had aggressive treatment at Sunnybrook. She joined a support group on the advice of her oncologist but did not bond with the other, older patients. Although her extended Iranian family, friends, boyfriend and his family rallied around, Bayami felt the need of a confidante who truly understood her experience. Enter Laurie Dudo, who contacted Bayami through Sunnybrook’s program and began weekly phone chats with Bayami.

Bayami believes she has fared well because of her top physical condition when diagnosed, and because she is by nature an optimist and always upbeat. “I’ve always been high-energy – go, go, go – especially with my school work. I had to learn to let things go that weren’t top-priority. I’m a more peaceful person inside and I now live in the moment.”

Canada’s first space tourist will be a York alumnus

Just after sunrise on June 21, 2004, York alumnus John Criswick (MSc ‘94) stood amid a throng of thousands at Mojave Airport in the California desert, waiting for history to be made, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Sept. 28. There, he joined a few friends to witness the morning launch of SpaceShipOne, the first privately funded rocket plane to journey into space. Afterwards, he left the desert and returned to Ottawa, unaware of what the future would hold for him – a US$200,000 trip on SpaceShipTwo, affordable because of his business successes in Ottawa’s high-tech industry.

The 42-year-old recalls watching lunar landings on a black-and-white TV when he was a child growing up in Victoria, BC. Then, during his university days, what Criswick had hoped to become was an astronaut. His studies and early career all pointed to space flight. In the early 1990s, Criswick studied space physics in York’s Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering. After obtaining his master’s degree from York, he worked at an observatory in Utah.

Soon after Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic began accepting expressions of interest, Criswick became the first Canadian to book a seat on a rocket plane that is expected to take off in the next year or 18 months. He paid US$20,000 down – 10 per cent of the full fee.

Military co-op opens door to a career

Graduates of a new co-op work placement program offered by the Army Reserve and local school boards – many of whom attend university or college while continuing with the Army Reserve – credit the program with their current success, reported the Toronto Star Sept. 28. “The biggest skill that is developed here is teamwork, which will make or break you on that course,” says Martin Boreczek, a reservist corporal who served in Afghanistan in 2004-2005 and is now in his fourth year at York University. “The military is great for time-management skills,” he says. “A lot of things need to get done on time, which is something procrastinating university students could learn and apply.”

Osgoode trade expert publishes report touting benefits of corporate diversity

Ottawa should consider a company’s commitment to diversity before awarding a federal contract, argues a new report commissioned by the Canadian Aboriginal and Minority Supplier Council, reported the Toronto Star Sept. 28. Minority-owned businesses often struggle to integrate into the Canadian market. In general, minorities are expected to make up one-quarter of Canada’s population by 2017, and the disproportionate unemployment and poverty rates minorities experience will continue to grow without government intervention, says the study, which was released yesterday. The 58-page supplier-council study, co-authored by Charles Gastle, professor of international trade at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, and former colleague Zara Merali, also highlights the economic opportunities aboriginal and minority businesses offer.

On air

  • London’s A-Channel news reported Sept. 26 that dancers from York’s Faculty of Fine Arts took part in the Pearson School for the Arts annual Arts Harvest.