Network brings assistive technology community together

Composed of university, private-sector R&D teams, and non-profit organizations, the newly announced Intelligent Computational Assistive Science and Technology (ICAST) network aims to use technology to improve the quality of life of seniors and the differently abled, reported Dec. 12.

The network is the brainchild of John Tsotsos, computer science professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, whose work in assistive technology stems from a lifelong desire to help differently abled children. This summer, a lecture he gave at the University of British Columbia turned into an impromptu meeting on the country’s assistive technology industry, which, in turn, inspired a workshop that was held at York University earlier this month, where 30 persons from 20 companies, non-profit organizations, and universities agreed that Canada’s assistive technology community needed to come together.

One of the major goals of the network, which focuses on mobility, communication, smart homes, and seniors’ issues, according to Tsotsos, is to streamline the industry’s R&D. “There is overlap where the technology is used,” he said, using the example of an elderly person with limited mobility who might use technologies from several of the research areas.

Sex attacker may live near York, say police

Toronto police released a composite sketch of the man they believe sexually assaulted the two teenaged girls – one at gunpoint – last month just south of the York University campus, reported the Toronto Star Dec. 13. “We are confident that he may live in that area, at least walking distance,” Det. Doug Sansom said at a news conference. “In one of the attacks, he was wearing a red T-shirt only and it was very cold. My feeling is he didn’t have too far to walk.”

The sex crimes detective said women walking in the Murray Ross Parkway-Sentinel Road area should be extra cautious and travel in pairs if possible. “We’re very concerned. The attacks are serious in nature. Our concern is that handgun and…that the level of violence may escalate,” Sansom said.

Although Sansom would not say if police have DNA in either case, he said he believes the same person committed both assaults. The forensic evidence is being examined. “The proximity of the two attacks are very close and the descriptions are enough the same that we’re pretty confident it is the same offender,” he said.

With news of the attacks, York University beefed up its security and has encouraged women to use shuttle buses and escorted foot patrols. Although the attacks did not happen on campus, said Alex Bilyk, director of media relations at York, University officials are encouraging the community to set up a neighbourhood watch program.

  • The story was also reported by The Toronto Sun, the National Post, the North York Mirror and most Toronto broadcast outlets, Dec. 13.

Glendon professor finds teaching after retirement ‘stimulating’

For former York professor Edelgard Mahant the time to quit will come when she forgets to make it to a class or starts to lose her students’ papers, wrote the Toronto Star, Dec. 12 in a feature article on the recent change to Ontario’s retirement laws. But at 66, Mahant says that is a long time coming. But though she is willing and ready to work, she is a casualty of an old York University collective agreement that forced her out last July 1, said the Star.

Suddenly, though the Glendon College senior scholar is still working as hard as she did before, teaching at least as many classes as before, she says she is getting paid a third of what she used to earn because she is now seen as a part-time worker. “Now, I am a part-time nobody.” It has been a bitter few months, as she finds herself pushed aside. “I’m still the same person I was before July 1,” she says.

But why put up with it and continue past the traditional retirement age? Of her 37-year-old career, Mahant says simply: “I find it stimulating. I got pretty good at it over the years and it’s what I know best.”

Happy taxpayer seeks converts

For close to 30 years, York Professor Neil Brooks has been telling anyone who will listen that he likes paying taxes, wrote national affairs columnist Carol Goar in the Toronto Star Dec. 13. The Osgoode Hall Law School professor is used to the pained looks, withering remarks and hoots of derision this prompts. What he can’t get used to is people’s resolute closed-mindedness on the issue. No matter how much evidence he marshals, they refuse to believe that the public services they get – high-quality health care, good schools, reliable pensions, clean water, livable cities – are worth the taxes they pay.

“My career has been an absolute failure,” he says with a rueful laugh. But he’s not climbing down from his soapbox yet. Brooks and fellow researcher Thaddeus Hwong have just written a 55-page study – replete with statistics on everything from child poverty to industrial competitiveness – disproving the thesis that low taxes improve a country’s economic prospects or its quality of life.

Brooks hopes these findings will induce Canadians to take a second look at Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s contention that “all taxes are bad” (Dec. 1, 2005). So far, he can’t claim any converts. “I was just on an open-line show and I was surprised at how many people called in parroting the business line,” he said. “They’ve been bombarded with the message that they’d be better off if taxes were reduced.”

Brooks’s best hope, at the moment, lies in public concern about the environment. If Canadians are serious about respecting the Earth’s limits, they’ll have to give up many of the toys and status symbols that now drive economic growth: oversized vehicles, monster homes, plasma televisions and power-hungry gadgets. They’ll also have to relinquish the expectation of constant tax cuts. Brooks doesn’t know whether consumers are ready for that. It is easier to be green in principle than in everyday life. “But it does hold a lot of promise.”

Former litigator finds his calling in fundraising

Since the summer of 2004, York University has received 13 donations of $1 million or more. As founding president of the York University Foundation, Paul Marcus has guided the implementation of an innovative model for university fundraising in Canada, wrote The Lawyers Weekly Dec. 1. The results speak for themselves: In the past four years, foundation revenue doubled, and the number of donors has increased by 63 per cent.

So it should come as no surprise that the former litigator at Goodman & Carr LLP was chosen by the Association of Fundraising Professionals to receive its prestigious Community Counselling Service Award for Outstanding Fundraising Professional, wrote the Weekly. Marcus calls his articles and two years of practice at Goodman & Carr a “great experience” and says he learned a lot, but he admits that even at that early stage he knew he wanted to pursue a different career path. “As in most things in life,” he said, “you have to love what you’re doing. And I felt that in the not-for-profit sector I had a potential to make an impact and a contribution to the community.”

What does he actually do? “Like most CEOs”, he said, “I keep an eye on the forest, on the vision. The main goal – where we are showing success – is creating a culture of philanthropy. That’s particularly important since York is a young institution (47 years old).”

In his remarks at the “Philanthropy Day” luncheon, wrote the Weekly, Marcus commented that fundraisers are by their very nature optimistic people. He said, “I may be like the optimist that Walter Winchell describes as the person who gets treed by a lion but enjoys the scenary.”

Translating love of language into a career

He almost dropped French before he even began high school, but several immersion programs and a university degree later, York alumnus Geoff Mcguire (BA ‘03) is earning a living as a translator with the federal government, reported The Toronto Sun Dec. 13. “I thought about dropping French by the time I got to Grade 9, but I had a great teacher who helped turn things around. I learned I was actually fairly good at French,” says the 28-year-old Etobicoke native.

While in high school, Mcguire travelled to France for a summer exchange program and later signed on for an immersion program in Quebec, wrote the Sun. He spent an extra year in high school learning Spanish and German before heading off to York University’s Glendon College in Toronto with thoughts of one day becoming a French teacher. After visiting the campus career centre in his second year and learning about opportunities in translation, Mcguire successfully applied to the School of Translation. “There certainly is a demand for translators and it was a way to use my skills and get work fairly quickly,” he says.

Alum yearns for coffee, Google and learns to love garbage

I miss scurrying along the PATH in downtown Toronto, going a few minutes out of my way for that ritual cup of Tim Horton’s, wrote York alumnus Jacob Kojfman (LLB/MBA ‘03), Dec. 13, in his latest column for the National Post about his six-month work experience in Africa. (Kojfman is consistently identified as a York Osgoode-Schulich grad.) In Nakuru, Kenya, where I am working for a non-government organization, there is no where to stop for a cup of good coffee between the hotel where I reside and the office. Funny, since Kenya is known to have some of the world’s best coffee.

Formerly, my interest in garbage pretty much ended when I disposed of it, but I am finding it interesting to see the strategies cities are employing to handle this environmental issue. The fact that I’m here trying to alleviate extreme poverty makes reading about garbage that much more tolerable. Setting up appointments is near impossible, too. Googling for phone numbers, a trick that is nearly foolproof in Toronto, doesn’t work in Nakuru. Even with a phone number, the communication gap may be so large, that the best-case scenario is they think I’m trying to sell organic fertilizer.

Board responsible for making it right at Hydro One

Energy Minister Dwight Duncan wants to get it right on the Hydro file, wrote Toronto Star business columnist Jennifer Wells Dec. 13. Premier Dalton McGuinty wants to set the appropriate tone of accountability. I wish them both all the best. Really. But if I were either of them, I would be staring deeply into a vat of crantinis wondering: How the heck are we going to accomplish that?

Here’s a thought: In the last analysis it’s the directors who bear responsibility for the well-being of the enterprise. I deliver that unto you courtesy of Jim Gillies, dean emeritus at the Schulich School of Business at York University. I hadn’t spoken with Gillies in eons, but he’s a pro on corporate governance issues. As much as the McGuinty government has turned the spotlight on executive salaries at Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation, the place to ensure that the policies and procedures at both corporations are best in class is to hold the boards accountable for ensuring that that is so.

As Gillies points out, were Hydro One, to pick my favourite example, a publicly traded corporation, shareholders alleging the misuse of company funds could file suit, which, as Gillies says, they tend to do “at the drop of a hat.” But Hydro One never made that transition, its desire for a stock-market listing struck dead by a court ruling in 2002. So the company remains a public utility, with the province owning 100 per cent of the shares.

Victoria Pratt started out studying kinesiology

The path to TV stardom can be a long and circuitous route. Just ask York alumna Victoria Pratt, (BA *94), wrote The Gazette (Montreal) Dec. 13. The Canadian actress plays Andrea Battle, the former police partner of Brett Hopper (Taye Diggs) on “Day Break” (ABC, 9pm). But acting wasn’t her chosen profession. A native of Chelsey, Ont., Pratt has a degree in kinesiology & health sciences from what is now York’s Faculty of Health. And, while she was studying at York, she worked at the school’s human-performance laboratory. “We would do fitness testing for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets during their training camps. And for figure skaters in Canada. We would do drug testing. And testing on firefighters to try to find suits that would help them in a fire, so that they could stay in there longer and resist the heat.”

So, how did that career path lead to acting? “I was doing fitness writing with Oxygen magazine, which is a (women’s) fitness magazine,” Pratt recalls. “And the editor actually said, ‘Hey, you should take acting classes. I think you should just kind of go for it.’ So, I took classes for two years before I had the courage to get an agent. And my very first audition, I ended up getting a series.”