Computer scientist’s vision caught Honda’s eye

John Tsotsos, distinguished research professor and Canada Research Chair in Computational Vision in York’s Department of Computer Science & Engineering in the Faculty of Science & Engineering, knows first-hand the power of connections, said the Toronto Star Nov. 20 in a story about a conference hosted by Canada Research Chairs in Toronto.

One of his projects is the development of a visually guided autonomous wheelchair. A couple of years ago, he presented his work in Germany and it caught the attention of researchers at Honda – not for their cars, but for ASIMO, the company’s humanoid robot, being developed as a companion robot for the elderly and the ill.

Impressive on many levels, ASIMO could grasp objects but couldn’t find them himself because his vision system was very primitive. After seeing Tsotsos’ work, Honda wanted to collaborate. The result is that using the vision system developed at York, ASIMO can go around the room and locate items.

Being a Canada Research Chair was at the heart of the opportunity, Tsotsos says.

A new light on a fight to integrate Stuyvesant Town

York Professor Emeritus Lee Lorch follows the financial travails of Stuyvesant Town from his apartment on the brick-lined streets of Toronto’s Distillery district, wrote The New York Times Nov. 22.

And though he did not attend a recent meeting of 1,200 tenants, such a session was a familiar occasion for Lorch, who was instrumental in another tenant-led effort, 60 years ago, to desegregate Stuyvesant Town, the vast apartment complex on the East Side of Manhattan that was recently taken over by its lenders.

He was a leader among the tenants who petitioned and picketed, but ultimately lost a bruising legal battle in 1949, in which the state’s highest court ruled that a private landlord could reject tenants based on race. Lorch, a mathematician who, at 95, is still writing for scholarly journals, lost a succession of teaching positions for his trouble and ultimately left New York and the country to find work.

Yet, the movement did eventually force the owner of Stuyvesant Town, Metropolitan Life Insurance, to scrap what was called the No Negroes Allowed policy. The battle also inspired the open-housing movement that eventually made housing discrimination illegal nationwide.

“It was a landmark in the struggle against segregation in this country,” Lorch said. “I thought then, and still do, that it was an important struggle worth any sacrifice in pursuing it. I have no regret over what we did, or what it cost us, although I much preferred living in my hometown.”

History had almost forgotten the fight. But Lorch was filmed recently by members of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Oral History Project, which is documenting the lives of residents of the complex, where a newfangled public-private partnership was forged in the 1940s to build housing that would anchor the middle class to the city’s interior.

Lorch says he does not regret the decision he made at Stuyvesant Town six decades ago. “I would have paid a higher price living with my conscience if I hadn’t done it,” he said.

The case for Kanye

Kanye West, the mercurial wordsmith who has amassed 14 Grammys since his 2004 debut album The College Dropout, is the decade’s most influential hip-hop artist, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 21 in an article about the singer’s off-stage troubles and his artistry.

“His music sounds like a person who understands music,” said Ron Westray, Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, who teaches a course on contemporary black urban music. “A lot of commercially produced hip-hop, even stuff that sells big, is very limited; some songs actually have mistakes, like being in two different keys. But, with Kanye, harmonically, melody, instrumentation, there’s no clashing. He understands way more about the mechanics of music than most producers.”

Award-winning critic taught at York

Robert Cushman, the National Post’s prolific theatre columnist, has won a prestigious national award for theatre criticism for a record-setting eighth time, wrote the Post Nov. 20.

The Canadian Theatre Critics Association awarded Cushman its Nathan Cohen Award for Excellence in Canadian Theatre Criticism in both the short-and long-review categories, which the award jury said was recognition of Cushman’s status as “the dean of theatre critics in Canada.”

Born in London and educated at Cambridge University, Cushman has been the Post’s theatre critic since the paper’s inception in 1998. He worked as a director, writer and performer and wrote for The Observer before coming to Canada in 1987.

He has taught theatre in York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, written for several major North American and British publications and is a frequent broadcaster in Canada and the United Kingdom.

Dancing and motherhood for fine arts grad

Jasmyn Fyffe (BA Hons. ‘07), 27, a Toronto contemporary dancer, auditioned for Season 1 of  “So You Think You Can Dance Canada?” immediately after graduating from York University’s dance program, but she missed out on Season 2 and 3 auditions, wrote Nov. 20 in a story about her return to audition for Season 4.

“I was pregnant during the second season and during the third, I just had my son,” she explains, “But now I’m back!”

She admits dancing is more challenging with her 15-month-old son, Manoah. “It’s a juggling act,” she says. “If he’s taking a nap, I get really focused and have learned that I can get a lot done in a short amount of time!”

She believes she has grown a lot since her first audition, both as a person and as a dancer. “I didn’t have a lot of exposure to different styles back then, but I’ve been a working dancer and choreographer for four years now and I feel I have my art to offer to the show.”

Vaughan singer’s chops garner kudos

Her music career has had some bright moments: from landing a recording deal at 14 and singing for the Pope, to releasing an album of her favourite Italian songs. Despite the many highlights, Angelica DiCastro’s shot at the big time has eluded her – until now, wrote Nov. 20.

The 31-year-old singer (BFA Spec. Hons. ’01) recently recorded a CD of Italian-American classics as well as a PBS-TV special and a DVD with a new band called Bell’Aria. “I feel this is the beginning of my break after paying a lot of dues,” DiCastro said.

The youngest of four daughters, DiCastro was raised by Italian immigrants who taught her to sing their favourite songs. She performed constantly while working with an opera teacher to sculpt her raw talent and went on to study classical voice performance in York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

After university, she put together an album featuring 10 of her favourite Italian songs. “I sold about 7,000 copies at performances alone because I really put my heart and soul into it,” she said.

Last February, DiCastro bested hundreds of hopefuls in an audition to land a job for singers to record Italian songs of the fifties and sixties for a PBS TV special, which airs between Nov. 26 and Dec. 14.

Learning to teach English to adults

Jagrati Chauhan, 33, teaches one day a week at Humber College, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 22, in a story about people who teach English as a second language. She arrived from India with her husband in October, 2009, with a PhD and master’s in English.

She received her TESL diploma and a certificate in adult education from the Canadian College of Educators, a private college in Mississauga. Although she found employment right away – she teaches ESL at the Mississauga college and recently accepted a two-month contract teaching at York University – she says the process hasn’t been a cakewalk. “There was a lot of hard work and networking involved. I also feel this is just a small beginning. I still have a long way to go,” says Chauhan, whose goal is to land a full-time permanent teaching job in a university or college while making a home in Canada.

GTA schools accredited by TESL Ontario include York University.

On air

  • James Stribopoulos, professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about the Toronto Police Services Board’s investigation of an illegal eavesdropping case by police, on CBC Radio Nov. 20.
  • Scott Menary, professor of physics & astronomy in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about the recent success by a research team, of which he is a member, in capturing antimatter atoms, on CBC Radio’s “Quirks & Quarks”. The news was also featured on CBC Radio News.