Drag racers teach kids that trades can be fun

For six weeks, 14 young members of the Jane-Finch Boys and Girls Club had grown used to the sounds of power tools – the sanders, the drills, the hammers – but they weren’t prepared for the explosion of noise from the paint machine brought in to the last class, wrote the Toronto Star May 24.

In a bid to help today’s hi-tech kids get a feel for the skilled trades, the Art Gallery of York University invited students from the nearby Jane-Finch community for a crash course in building drag racers fuelled by power tools. The students worked in two teams and, by last week, were adding the finishing touches on their competing masterpieces using the airbrush paint machines.

The students will race their tool-mobiles, tricked out with lightning bolts, fins and skulls, in a power-tool Grand Prix Tuesday at Yorkgate Mall on the northwest corner of Jane and Finch.

“It’s an opportunity to straddle the trades and art and also break down the stigma people can attach to both,” said Steven Laurie, education and collections assistant at the Art Gallery of York University who dreamed up the youth outreach program. “Kids don’t get introduced to the trades in elementary school any more, so I wanted to catch them before high school to show them the diversity and creativity of jobs in the trades,” said Laurie.

Brandon Vickerd , a sculpture professor in the Department of Visual Arts in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts and one of a team of artists and trades people helping with the program, said he believes tool skills are a dying art. “I have first-year sculpture students who don’t know how to hold a hammer. They’re just not being exposed to trades in school the way they were even 10 years ago,” said Vickerd.

  • Life is a drag for these Jane and Finch kids – but only when they’re going head-to-head on the racetrack, wrote the Toronto Sun May 24.

It’s Power Tool Drag Racing, a York University-run program for 14 kids, ages 10 to 14, which allows them – under the guidance of instructors – to make racing machines which incorporate power tools.

“I came across power-tool drag racing league in San Francisco where locals got together and built these drag strips,” explained Steven Laurie, an education assistant in the Art Gallery of York University who co-ordinates the power tool drag racing program with artist and visual arts Professor Brandon Vickerd.

“I thought about how to incorporate that kind of unity in a youth program because it’s an area of need. The thing with this drag racing is it’s a group of artists or locals that have taken to being creative with mechanical devices and with the skill knowledge they have, cobble something together.”

The cloud is the great equalizer

On the surface, it might seem that because cloud computing is the ultimate equalizer, it would be opposite of a strategic advantage, said Michael Wade, a professor of management information systems at the Schulich School of Business at York University, in an article about cloud computing and business in the National Post May 25.

“It gives firms efficiencies and allows them to save money, but it makes it more challenging to build a point of competitive differentiation simply because, if you’re using something on the cloud your competitors could be using the same thing,” he said.

Nevertheless , cloud computing is still something of a nascent technology and many organizations are still figuring out how best to take advantage of applications and services that are delivered through a browser.

This first wave of cloud computing is similar to old-fashioned outsourcing: Many companies see it primarily as a cost-containment exercise, Wade said. However, as time goes by, companies will discover new ways of innovating that use the cloud to their advantage and help them grow globally.

“The real story is more complex,” Wade said. “Because companies can use cloud computing to not only take care of standardized routine processes – which is what I think it was mostly designed for – they can also use it to improve their own processes. Because they can standardize across the company on this platform in the cloud, they can more effectively innovate on a local level. Once they innovate on a local level, they can quite easily propagate those innovations across the organization.”

The unbearable plight of beeness

Things are bad for bees, wrote Montreal’s The Gazette May 15. Besides honey-lovers, why should people care about the calamity bees are facing? According to Canadian melittologist – or bee entomologist – Laurence Packer, what’s happening to the bees could very well be a warning sign for the rest of us, The Gazette said in a review of the York biology professor’s new book.

He likens bees to canaries in a coalmine – because they are so sensitive to negative changes in their habitats, they serve as a sort of early-warning system for things going awfully wrong in the environment. In his new book, Keeping the Bees, a tribute to an insect he has studied for more than 30 years, Packer lays out some of the problems they face.

In Packer’s hands, said the newspaper, bee researchers are Indiana Jones-like adventurers, braving killer snakes in Australia, deadly heat in a Chilean desert and enduring the deafening buzz of innumerable yellow-footed sandpit bees in England in their quest to document the lives of the 19,500-plus described bee species on the planet.

Research excellence lesson is lost on Harper

This week’s awarding of 19 Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC) hasn’t eased the concerns of many in Canada’s research community about the Harper government’s commitment to science. In fact, it may have reopened some old wounds, wrote Penni Stewart, president of the Canadian Association of University Teachers and a professor in the Department of Sociology in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, in the Edmonton Journal May 22.

Trumpeted by Industry Minister Tony Clement as a “brain coup” for Canada, the CERC program is cold comfort for the homegrown brains who work in Canada’s colleges and universities. Many of them have been struggling with rollbacks imposed by cash-strapped administrations, and dwindling funding from a seemingly indifferent federal government.

This year’s federal budget provided only a modest increase for Canada’s three research-granting councils, the main source of funding for university and college scientists. The new funding was hardly equal to inflation and certainly not enough to offset the nearly $148 million in cuts announced last year. As a result, labs are being shut, important research projects are being shelved and some are looking at a future outside of Canada, wrote Stewart.

Ottawa was deaf to warnings of Rwanda genocide

Months before the 1994 Rwandan genocide, a steady stream of detailed messages about the killings of Tutsis arrived in Ottawa from Canadian diplomats stationed not only in Rwanda but also Kenya and Tanzania, wrote the Toronto Star May 23. But the warnings never moved beyond the Africa desk at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa.

Howard Adelman , a professor emeritus of philosophy in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies who has also reported on the Rwandan genocide, said “The diplomatic corps doesn’t write about what’s going on, but what’s on the agenda of what’s going on in Ottawa or Washington,” he said, explaining the inscrutable art of diplomatic message writing. “You give the information, but the information is only significant if it is attached to an agenda item in your capital. If you just send the information, it’s stored, it doesn’t go anywhere.”

TTC tests out an underground economy

TTC riders won’t bristle at an overhead advertisement, but salespeople in a subway station chatting them up about a credit card as they rush to catch trains or buses might rankle, wrote The Globe and Mail May 22 in a story about a Bank of Montreal (BMO) promotion.

From a marketing perspective, BMO’s promotion makes sense, says Eileen Fischer, a marketing professor at Schulich School of Business at York University. “If this is an unexpected or unusual form of communication, then you are likely to get people’s attention more readily than if it’s something they routinely expect like…a poster on a wall.”

Class struggle: Does size matter?

Malcolm Gladwell’s claim on the impact of class-size reduction is an unfortunate piece of hyperbole, undoubtedly intended to provoke, but misleading as stated, wrote Gerry Connelly, co-director in York’s Education Sustainability Development Academy and nine other signatories in a letter to the Toronto Star May 22 in response to an article titled "Class size is the biggest dead end in the world", May 16. In fact, there is solid evidence that smaller classes in primary grades can have positive impacts on student outcomes if they are part of an overall plan to improve teaching practices.

As a general principle, and unhappily for the widespread desire for simple answers to complex questions, improving outcomes in education requires attention to many factors, as Gladwell himself acknowledged in his address. The quality of teaching, while very important as Gladwell suggests, is not independent of the context.

Evidence to support our claim is posted on our Web site at http://factsineducation.blogspot.com.

Artistic visions of shuttered hotel’s future stir debate

Tomas Jonsson , a 34-year-old Emmedia producer and York University graduate student, is out to foster discussion under Calgary’s This is My City homelessness-meets-art initiative, on either saving the Cecil Hotel as “heritage” or paving over it, wrote the Calgary Herald May 23 in a story about the 99-year-old landmark.

Certainly, pointing out the Cecil’s history as a railway hotel [built in 1911] that contained, at various times, a printing press, grocery and a Chinese restaurant in the 1960s doesn’t capture the heritage value of the building, says Jonsson. You also have to factor in the Cecil’s not-so-distant and not-so-pretty past. And that, says Jonsson, is usually “a point that’s not really open for discussion.”

Inquiry legal team includes York adjunct professor

A senior lawyer with Barristers, Brian Gover represents Peter McCallion, wrote the Toronto Star and Mississauga News May 24 in a story about an inquiry into a Mississauga land deal involving Mayor Hazel McCallion’s son. The former crown attorney has broad experience with public inquiries, having served as commission counsel for the Walkerton Inquiry, the Air India Inquiry and the Arar Inquiry. He is also an adjunct professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

On air

  • Sheila Embleton, York special adviser to the president and a professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, spoke about the Ontario government’s new plan for a 50 per cent increase in international student admissions, on OMNI TV’s Mandarin edition May 20.