Space explorers are ‘definitely clumsy as hell’, says York professor

Researchers from York University are sending a Perceptual-Motor Deficits in Space, or PMDIS, experiment into orbit next week on board the space shuttle Endeavour, which will carry Canadian astronaut Dave Williams and six other astronauts to the International Space Station for an 11-day mission, scheduled to lift off on Tuesday wrote the National Post Aug. 1.

Barry Fowler, a professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health, who designed the experiment, said NASA has long known that zero gravity temporarily turns its highly trained, top-flight astronauts into clumsy oafs, but until now nobody has asked why.

"They’re definitely clumsy as hell, there’s no question about that," Fowler said. "They do adapt pretty quickly…within about four days, but it’s really up in the air as to what’s going on here."

His experiment, funded by the Canadian Space Agency and NASA, is testing the hand-eye coordination of five astronauts on three shuttle missions using a laptop computer and a program that resembles a video game. "We need to know whether we have a problem with the brain when it’s cut off from gravity," he said. "And that’s also a pretty basic scientific question."

Transfer programs may solve Toronto’s feared enrolment crunch

The solution to an expected enrolment crunch at Toronto’s universities may lie partly in looking west, to provinces that allow more movement between colleges and universities, wrote The Globe and Mail Aug. 1. Administrators grappling with the problem are eyeing the practice in other jurisdictions, where transfer programs are available to students to take their first year or two of postsecondary education at a college before completing a degree at a university.

The leaders of Toronto’s big three universities – the University of Toronto, York University and Ryerson University – are working with the provincial government on a variety of approaches to the feared enrolment crunch.

Lahti and Imax go hand-in-hand

James Lahti looks rather relaxed for a busy man, wrote the Belleville Intelligencer Aug. 1. On Tuesday afternoon, the filmmaker and winery co-owner was leaning back in a chair in front of the computer in his office, sounding a little tired as he talked about his job making movies for Imax Corp. "I’m crazy busy," Lahti says, shaking his head a little.

Lahti was once described as having worked on more Imax films than anyone in the world. He isn’t sure that’s true, but adds, "I’m certainly in the top two per cent," having made 18 to 20. He’s producing Wonders of the Great Lakes, an Imax film set for a May 2008 release.

Like many people in Elliot Lake [where he was born], his father worked for a mining company, and Lahti spent many summers there, working long hours to earn the cash that helped him through York University’s demanding film program. Lahti said he enrolled with about 250 other students who wanted careers in film production. Of those, 17 graduated. "Three of us made a living in the business," Lahti said of that class. "I graduated and just started at the bottom."

Ready for the ‘reel’ deal

It’s the reel deal for new York student Vincent Pilon, wrote the Cornwall Standard-Freeholder Aug. 1. For the past year, local television viewers have become familiar with the teenager through a co-op placement with Cogeco which saw him filming, editing and reporting local news. But now it’s on to the next step for Pilon, 19, who’s been accepted into York’s Bachelor of Fine Arts Program, majoring in film production. The highly competitive program saw only 48 of a whopping 900 applicants accepted, and the process itself is an intense one. He made the cut.

"York was where I really wanted to go," stated Pilon, who wasn’t hedging his bets on getting accepted into the prestigious program. "I’ve always tried to downplay it, I didn’t want to get my hopes up just in case. I’m really thrilled. It was always my first choice." To those who know him, his acceptance isn’t a surprise. Pilon got hooked on film production when he was introduced to Windows Moviemaker at age 15.

Arts program for youth wraps up with showcase of talent

In a community affected by violence, often claiming the lives of youth, more than 80 students from Jane and Finch elementary schools worked together through the arts to help make where they live a better place, wrote the North York Mirror July 31.

The kids from grades 3 to 8 were bused from their schools to York University every morning for the past four weeks to participate in the Summer Arts 2007 program where they learned various art disciplines such as drama, visual art, dance and music.

The month-long program culminated last Thursday with a celebration and showcase of everything they’ve learned, including choir and steel-pan performances. "It’s been absolutely wonderful. The kids are so focused and the teachers put together such wonderful programs," said Jackie Robinson, coordinator of the York-Westview partnership, a collaboration between York University, Seneca College and the Toronto District School Board, which first offered the programs seven years ago.

‘Guaranteed’ annuities can be costlier but provide peace of mind

My wife, Georgina, has spent close to $4,000 the past two years for “investment insurance” she didn’t need, wrote a reporter for The Boston Globe Aug. 1. But because this insurance gave her the confidence to put more money in stock funds, her investments, even with the insurance cost, are worth $40,000 more than they would have been with her former ultraconservative portfolio.

Moshe A. Milevsky, professor of finance at York University, has published papers suggesting living benefits may actually be under priced. Products such as annuities with living benefits “effectively create downside protection in the critical early years of retirement” when investment losses can quickly deplete a portfolio, Milevsky wrote in the July issue of the Journal of Financial Service Professionals.

This assumes “the insurance fees charged for this protection are not too high,” Milevsky says. A paper he published in June calculates that a living benefit with even an “abnormally high” charge of 2 per cent a year would still reduce a retiree’s chances of running out of money. (Of course, it would also reduce the actual investment return.)

Admittedly, one can be skeptical of research conducted for those that have a stake in the outcome, and insurance companies have funded much of Milevsky’s research. But he is well respected, and facts are facts.

On air

  • James Gillies, dean emeritus of York’s Schulich School of Business, spoke about the appointment of Edward Waitzer to the corporate governance Chair, at Shulich and York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, on CBC Radio’s “Here and Now”, July 31.