Reaching for the stars

Retired Malaspina University-College physics and liberal studies professor Russ McNeil (PhD ‘73) has some pretty impressive bragging rights. Technology he helped pioneer 35 years ago is on its way to Mars, wrote the Nanaimo News Bulletin Aug. 18.

Optech lidar (laser radar) technology, first developed by McNeil and York Professor Allan Carswell [now emeritus] in 1972, has been tweaked and fine-tuned into modern-day technology currently on board NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander, launched into space from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Aug. 4.

McNeil, a doctoral student in the early 1970s at York, worked with Carswell, principal investigator in the project and Optech chairman, to develop the first lidar system designed for terrestrial atmospheric research at York’s multi-disciplinary Centre for Research in Earth & Space Science. "Dr. Carswell was my PhD supervisor," said McNeil.

McNeil was "bowled over" when he received an email last week from Carswell telling him the modern-day Optech lidar technology was launched into space. "The Mars-bound generation of this now miniaturized technology involved contributions from dozens of individuals over many years and has come a long way from the one-ton ruby laser ‘Model T’ monster we designed back then," said McNeil.

Criminalization of HIV/AIDS transmission still poses problems, says Young

Often, it is men who end up behind bars for intentionally infecting women with HIV, wrote The Globe and Mail Aug. 18. This week, that balance shifted. Percy Whiteman, 32, gathered with friends outside of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on Aug. 16 to conclude a three-year battle to see justice served to his estranged wife, Suwalee Iamkhong, 37. In January, Iamkhong was found guilty of intentionally infecting him with HIV and, on Aug. 16, was sentenced to two years in a federal penitentiary for her lack of remorse, the eight years she failed to tell Whiteman she was HIV-positive, and the lasting effect on his life.

With few such cases passing through, courts take a long time to make decisions on sentencing, says one Toronto lawyer. "Criminalization of HIV/AIDS transmission has really only been taking place for the last 15 years and there’s not a specific offence for it," explains Alan Young, a criminal law professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. And the difficulty of figuring out who may have been infected, and when, makes it all the more difficult. "It’s a crime that goes unnoticed for many years…and if you’re in the universe of multiple sexual partners, it becomes a bit of a logistical nightmare," he adds.

Liberals are vulnerable on environment issue, says York professor

The Ontario Liberals are losing support to both the New Democrats and the Green Party, according to a new poll that shows Premier Dalton McGuinty forming a minority government with less than 60 days to go before the election, wrote The Globe and Mail Aug. 20.

Mark Winfield, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental, Studies, said the Liberals are vulnerable to losing support to both the Greens and the NDP over their handling of the province’s electricity system. McGuinty promised in 2003 to close the province’s pollution-spewing, coal-fired electricity plants by 2007, but he has backtracked twice on that pledge and pushed the date back to 2014. He has also said the province will spend billions of dollars building new nuclear plants, which both the NDP and Green Party oppose.

"The environmental file is a real area of vulnerability for the government," Winfield said. "There is the question of coal phase-out and the question of the overall direction, including nuclear."

MP set to tie same-sex knot

In the small community of Cheverie along Nova Scotia’s bucolic Minas Basin, Scott Brison’s wedding may be the social event of the year, wrote CanWest News Service Aug. 18. The ceremony is attracting keen interest, with news reporters and television crews vying to uncover everything from the guest list to the menu to who supplied the flowers. Andrew Lokan, an adjunct professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, said the Brison marriage doesn’t have much legal significance, since same-sex marriage is now well established in Canadian law. Even so, a prominent politician such as Brison conducting a gay wedding could help lessen the social stigma, Lokan said.

Condie goes down fighting

Although York student Shannon Condie failed to advance beyond the quarter-finals in the taekwondo event at the World University Games in Bangkok, Thailand, the 19-year-old York University student did earn a measure of revenge, wrote the Mississauga News Aug. 15.

In the bad luck of the draw, Condie had to face world champion Jinhee Jung of Korea Sunday. Despite a strong showing, Condie lost a 2-1 decision and was eliminated from the competition. A silver medalist at last month’s Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Condie reached the quarters by defeating Fei Feng of China, 1-0, in her opening match in the bantam weight division. Feng had defeated Condie for the gold medal in Rio.

Executives hit the books to hone their edge

Industrial psychologist Jocelyn Bérard, managing director of the Canadian operations of Development Dimensions International, completed the Kellogg-Schulich executive MBA program at York University s Schulich School of Business last year, wrote The Globe and Mail, Aug. 18, in a story about executives who went back to school to further their careers.

It took 20 intensive months, during which he studied every weekend and missed a couple of ski seasons with his wife and two sons. But his family was supportive and the investment of time and money was well worth it, Bérard says. "I wanted to be a better manager – more complete, more rounded, more versatile – and that’s what the MBA provided."

Women’s team credits gold medal to playing in boy’s league

Team Ontario’s senior women’s baseball team credits playing in a Toronto men’s league during the season for their success at the national tournament, wrote the Hamilton Spectator Aug. 18. Team Ontario went undefeated in six games to win the gold medal in Quebec City Aug. 13.

"We played very well and the fact we had our team play in a boy’s league really helped us prepare," said team member and York alumna Samantha Magalas (BA ‘05), manager of Oakville’s Frozen Ropes Baseball facility. The women played in the Toronto Baseball Association midget league against 18 and under rep players. "It was the first time we’ve entered a team in the boy’s league and it worked out really well," said Magalas, who played first base with the York University Lions’ baseball team during her university career.

Magalas, 24, a veteran member of the national team, now has her sights set on making Team Canada at its selection camp next week in Windsor. She is among 25 players invited to the camp.

Fine arts alumna’s repertoire is endless

There’s an amazing singer from Toronto in town on Thursday night, wrote the London Free Press Aug. 18. Aviva Chernick (BFA ’93) is back in her hometown at the Aeolian Hall as part of its Summer Soiree series.

Chernick, 36, left London to study theatre in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts. Modern dance studies and works on the stage followed. In recent years, music has become her main art. She works as a cantorial soloist, taking part in Jewish spiritual practice throughout Toronto. Chernick is also the lead singer for the world fusion band Shakshuka.

Wheel-Trans service is overloaded, underfunded

In a cash-starved city demanding hefty cuts to the overall Toronto Transit Commission budget, Wheel-Trans has been told its current $64-million budget is not at risk, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 18. But that is cold comfort to those who, unlike their able-bodied peers, say they can never be sure they’ll get the ride they need because the system is already overloaded and underfunded.

"This sends a message that where I need to go and what I want to do is not important," says Terri-Lynn Langdon, a PhD student at York. "It carries with it the pervasive attitude that persons with disabilities can just stay at home and, further, that the endeavours of people with disabilities are trivial."

Pros, cons of health insurance for your pooch

Dheeraj Jagtiani, a 20-year-old business student at York University, bought a puppy as a gift for his single mother, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 19 in a story about health insurance for pets. Jagtiani says Chilli had a few health problems, but nothing that indicated a major disease. The dog got sicker and sicker and, after a terminal diagnosis, was put down two months ago. The dog spent a week at a veterinary emergency clinic, then went for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a non-invasive test that cost $1,272. Because the dog’s condition was a pre-existing one, his insurance claim was denied.

But amid the tears, there was one bright spot. He put in a warranty claim at the store where he’d bought the dog and got back $2,000 – enough to cover the purchase price, supplies and about $500 worth of medical bills.

Students face future bankruptcy

When I read the article "Many students too poor to pay for post-secondary education" in the Aug. 3 edition, it really hit home, wrote York student Kaitlyn Chambers in a letter to the Simcoe Reformer Aug. 20. I am one of those post-secondary students with "no financial need" – a living, breathing oxymoron if you ask me. In other words, I come from a middle-class family who doesn’t have an extra $15,000 every September.

The real question that this article raises is what is the government doing for the average family? In this country it is honestly easier for a student from a lower income family to get an OSAP loan or a bursary than it is for someone of average earnings. I apply for bursaries every year, and every year I hear those three little words: no financial need.

So instead I am getting an $8,000 loan from the bank this year, so that I can afford to pay for my education – and part of rent. By the time I graduate I will be about $40,000 in debt. And that’s before I go to graduate school. The government needs to provide this assistance, before we have a society full of 25-year-olds declaring bankruptcy after graduation.