New wind-tracking radar will provide earlier smog warnings

Better short-term weather forecasts and more advance warning for smog alerts are probable payoffs from a Canadian breakthrough in using special wind-tracking radar, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 8. An Ontario-Quebec research team, including three scientists from Toronto, paved the way using specialized radar that continuously measures wind speed and direction at all heights from near the ground up to 15 kilometres. A $6-million network of these 11 "windprofiler" radars, more than half built already, will cover Ontario and Quebec by the end of 2008. "These radars could provide a continuous picture of the winds in the atmosphere which would help improve Canada’s numerical weather models and the forecasts," said research team member Peter Taylor, an atmospheric physicist in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering.

  • also reported that scientists from the University of Western Ontario discovered they could track the movement of the upper ozone into the pollutant levels using a radar instrument called a windprofiler, developed in conjunction with York University. The team, led by researcher Wayne Hocking, released balloon-borne, ozone-detecting instruments into the skies in Quebec and Ontario, and measured the altitude using the windprofiler. Their findings, published in Wednesday’s edition of the journal Nature, revealed that ozone intrusions are associated with sudden changes in the altitude of the tropopause, the boundary between the troposphere and the stratosphere.

Harry Arthurs is suited for task of pension reform

There can be few issues that are so stupefyingly boring and yet so fundamentally important as pensions, began The Globe and Mail’s Murray Campbell in his Nov. 8 column. The challenge is that fewer Canadians have access to a pension plan that will allow them to retire with dignity, which guarantees soaring dog-food sales when boomers hang up their skates. But the real problem is that the solutions, such as they are, come from the brains of actuaries and are exceedingly technical – the policy equivalent of Nyquil. Harry Arthurs is charged with cutting through all this to stop Ontario’s pension crisis from deepening with his Expert Commission on Pensions. The former president of York University is an expert in labour and administrative law and has the trust of unions and business. But what also recommends him is his willingness to admit that he will one day need a pension but still has lots to learn about how to guarantee a good one. "I’m indisputably a commissioner but I am not an expert," Arthurs said on day seven of hearings.

Canada does not have activist court, says York law prof

On CTV’s "The Verdict" Nov. 1, Osgoode Hall Law School Prof. Alan Young weighed in on a panel discussion about Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin’s remark that the high court is a check on politicians. He disagreed that that means the Supreme Court is activist. "An activist court occurs, like in the United States, when they order bussing, and create new school districts, or when they order the construction of new mental health institutions, or prisons. That’s an activist court which is pushing Parliament to spend money and allocate resources. Our court doesn’t do that."

In response to a question, Is it better to elect judges, Young said: "If American commentators aren’t extolling the virtues about electing judges, I don’t want to do it. If it’s not working down there in a way that they can demonstrate that’s effective, I don’t want to see it. I will say this. We have a horrible problem in this country about accountability for our judges because of independence. We really don’t scrutinize carefully what they do."

Do your homework to avoid the money pit

Before pulling out your chequebook to help someone start a business, experts say it’s crucial to ask some questions, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 8. Market research is essential for start-ups, says Eileen Fischer, director of entrepreneurial studies at York University’s Schulich School of Business. "A big cause of failure is overestimating how interested somebody else will be in what you think is cool." To find out if there is a market, the entrepreneur must speak to prospective customers. Focus groups, surveys and informal discussions are all useful, she says. When it comes to start-ups, the main sources of financing are often called the Three F’s – friends, family and fools. To prevent yourself from becoming the latter, be sure to ask questions, even if it may feel awkward at first, Fischer says. "If you are afraid to ask, be prepared to write the money off."

Convicted killer accuses Concordia of corrupt research practices

Valery Fabrikant has been waiting 15 years to testify in a lawsuit that claims he was the victim of intellectual fraud when he shot and killed four of his colleagues at Concordia University in 1992, reported The Canadian Press Nov. 7, the day he finally took the stand. Fabrikant’s lawsuit, which was launched just before his rampage, seeks a total of $600,000 in damages from several former Concordia professors who allegedly "unfairly profited" from his research and extorted" his documents. A 1994 report by former York University president Harry Arthurs into the events leading up to the shootings found the department used several corrupt research practices. The events ultimately prompted the departure of rector Patrick Kenniff in 1994.

Books to help first-time investors

In a Toronto Star column Nov. 8 about educational tools to help beginner investors get started and succeed, Pauline Shum, a finance professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business, recommends the Getting Started In series of books published by Wiley. Each book covers one topic linked to investing, such as mutual funds or futures. The books provide a good starting point and are written in easy to understand language, Shum says.

On air

  • Kenton Kroker, a natural scientist in the Science & Technology Studies Program, Faculty of Science & Engineering, discussed research on sleep and sleep disorders, on CBC Radio’s "Metro Morning" Nov. 7. It was the second of three interviews with the author based on his new book about sleep research, The Sleep of Others.