It’s Not Rocket Science – Episode 6

Skimming the surface: NASA attempted a very close (and very risky) flyby of Saturn’s moon Enceladus using the Cassini spacecraft this Wednesday. The purpose of the maneuver allows the probe’s instruments to sample the plumes of giant geysers that erupt from the moon’s south pole, spewing out ice particles, carbon dioxide, methane, and other substances. It is believed that liquid water may exist on this moon and scientists are excited to see the data the probe gathers. At its closest point, Cassini will only be 50 kilometres from the moon’s surface.

Link: tinyurl.com/2cmgfk

Rock and roll robots:

Computer scientist Graham Grindlay has developed a device that teaches humans how to drum. Named HAGUS (short for Haptic Guidance System), the robotic music instructor uses motors to move a drumstick that guides the student’s hand. The device was tested on individuals with no prior drumming experience, who subsequent to the test became more accurate developed with slightly better timing than those who hadn’t used the system. Drummers around the world now fear for their jobs as robotic drumming technology improves.

Link: tinyurl.com/2ok4t8

How global climate change makes fish deaf:

As the scientific community studies global climate change more closely, some very unexpected (and downright bizarre) side effects are observed. The Australian damselfish is a pertinent example. It is known that the temperature and acidity of the ocean are increasing, alongside rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. It is expected that more damselfish will be born with defective ear bones because of this. Increased acidity of the world’s oceans causes less dissolved calcium to be available for growing fish to absorb and use to form bones. Damselfish use their acute sense of hearing to navigate a their way back home, so those born with defective ears are thought to be more likely to get lost at sea and die. Hearing aid manufacturers take note: a new market may open up.

Link: tinyurl.com/2lbfeo

The price of Eastern progress:

It has been calculated that within two years, greenhouse gas emissions from China will surpass the combined reductions achieved by the countries signed to the Kyoto protocol. Researchers from the University of California predict that China’s emissions by 2010 will be 600 million tonnes greater than measured in the year 2000. By contrast, the U.S. Energy Information Agency calculates only a 115 million tonne reduction of emissions achieved by the Kyoto protocol countries in the same time period. Chinese carbon dioxide emissions are estimated to increase 11 per cent per year—more than doubling previous estimates that topped out at five per cent.

Link: tinyurl.com/2m696a

One step forward, six thousand steps back:

Bill 2211, recently approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives Education Committee, may open up a whole new can of worms if passed. Essentially, the bill allows students in public school not to be penalized for expressing a religious point of view regarding any topic taught. Reading between the lines, if a teacher asks how old the Earth is on a test, and a student writes down six thousand years, they won’t lose marks for their scientifically incorrect answer. Other states, such as Texas, have introduced similar bills with mixed results. Maybe it is time to introduce a separation of church and education.

Link: tinyurl.com/2phz7z

If you are what you eat, we’re screwed:

Although slightly alarmist, this article from cracked.com is a thoroughly entertaining run-down of some of the disturbing things we unknowingly eat. Hidden behind disarming names, such as “natural red no. 4.” are some interesting (and somewhat gross) products. I don’t recommend reading this if you’ve just eaten.

Link: tinyurl.com/ysyexb

Evidence of an overmedicated society:

Those resourceful people at the Associated Press decided to investigate the water supplies of Americans—and came up with some intriguing results. At least 41 million Americans have some type of pharmaceutical drug in measurable quantities in their water. In five months of study, drugs were found in 24 metropolitan areas. The drugs cover a wide range, from anti-convulsants to antibiotics, from mood stabilizers to sex hormones. While the concentrations of these drugs are very low—measured as parts per billion or trillion—many question the effects of long-term exposure to these compounds. Already, the AP probe has set a series of senate hearings in motion. It seems you can’t drink the water anywhere, these days.

Link: tinyurl.com/2j4pbq

More Hobbit skeletons found (scientists still searching for Gandalf’s body):

There was buzz surrounding the discovery of several tiny skeletons (about three feet tall) on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2004. Some scientists argued that the skeletons represented a new species of human they called Homo floresiensis. A recent finding of similar skeletons on the Pacific Islands of Palau calls this hypothesis into question. The remains, ranging from 900 to 2,800 years of age, seem to be modern humans that grew smaller over many generations due to living on an island. This phenomenon, known as insular dwarfism, has been seen with other species, such as now-extinct mammoths and elephants living on various islands around the world.

Link: tinyurl.com/33h7xp

Life is everywhere

The list of crazy places bacteria are known to inhabit now includes the outside of space shuttles, super-hot thermal vents at the bottom of the ocean, and samples of ice from Antarctica. The newly discovered bacterium Microbacterium hatanonis was found contaminating hairspray. Scientists analyzed the bacteria’s genome determined that it is an entirely new species. A related species, named Microbacterium oxydans, was also found in hairspray, but was originally discovered inhabiting hospital environments.

Link: tinyurl.com/2ctamc

Talk about extreme marketing

Apparently unsatisfied with the over six billion people on Earth, Doritos has decided to beam a 30-second ad into outer space. The publicity stunt is targeted at the Ursa Major constellation, where it is believed the necessary conditions for life exist in certain solar systems there. If any aliens see the ad, I hope they aren’t led to believe that a tortilla chip company governs the Earth.

Link: tinyurl.com/2mu5tv

How to connect two cities

A 2005 Statistics Canada survey revealed that commuters in the GTA spend the most time getting to work of all Canadians, averaging 79 minutes total per day traveling to and from work. Though commuting time varies between regions, it has seen a general increase. Between 1992 and 2005, traveling time for those using public transit grew from 94 to 106 minutes.

The same statistics also show that people are more likely to use public transit the faster and more efficient the service is. (Well, duh!) It’s no surprise that the majority of people living outside metropolitan Toronto choose to commute by car, while most within the city choose to travel using public transit. This results in an overwhelming amount of traffic leading into—and out of—the city during the week, meaning not just more time wasted, but more pollution released from idling cars.

There is a simple solution to this problem. If the government would increase spending allowances for efficient transit systems in nearby cities leading into the downtown Toronto area, there would be less traffic on the highways and less time wasted for commuters.

In the Conservative Party’s latest federal budget, finance minister Jim Flaherty has already taken an exceptional step in this direction, with the approval of a train going from Peterborough to Union Station. The train would carry approximately 900 commuters per day, but some argue that this is an underestimate due to rapid growth in the Peterbo-rough area.

Take the small town of Millbrook, which sits between Peterborough and Toronto on the proposed railway line. It has only one “main” street but five realtors—all preparing for the housing boom taking place as the town’s population steadily increases.

Currently, those living in Peterborough and the surrounding area are forced to the GO station in Oshawa, or to make an entire trip into the city if they want to commute to Toronto. Commuters spend less time with family and often suffer from lack of sleep, higher stress, and other health problems. With the population growing at the current rate, the government must introduce an easier way for these residents to make it to and from work. That is exactly what they have done by approving this train service.

While this train will certainly not put an end to all our public transit problems, it shows some government initiative towards fulfilling long-term solutions. Adding extended services to growing areas such as Peterborough, increasing the number of regular trains and buses, and making small improvements in metropolitan Toronto will contribute to a more convenient transit system, resulting in a drastic decrease in stressed commuters and car emissions.

Press play

Last night saw the launch of this year’s U of T Film Festival at Innis Town Hall. Inaugurated back in 2002 by Hart House Theatre to celebrate and promote student talent in filmmaking, the fest is also part of this year’s first annual U of T Festival of the Arts. In the past, U of T has seen films screened by both students and luminaries such as Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg, and Don McKellar. This year, it widens its focus to include more student films across a variety of media including animation, music videos, and avant-garde. The festival culminates with the Hart House Film Board Gala Saturday night. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the festival’s offerings.—Jordan Bimm

4:29

4:29 is an interesting non-narrative piece. The images are almost exclusively black and white, as ghost-like figures are depicted and coupled with eerie sounds.—AVA WELLMAN

Rating: VVVV

And What Could’ve Been

It appears that lack of money to pay rent is a common topic for this year’s U of T Film Festival given that The Stand includes this as its initial trigger, and is also present in And What Could’ve Been by Todd Harris. However, this short film is also a love story. It concerns Lydia, a girl who is unable to deal with her boyfriend’s lack of responsibility and commitment and kicks him out of their apartment. Moments later, she regrets it and calls Sherry, her best friend, who tries to cheer her up. The story’s plot twist creates an aura of simplicity, hope, and love. It keeps it charming and simple.—ANDR EA CAN TÚ

Rating: VVVV

Blister

This fictional film consists of an awkward interview with “the world’s only happy woman.” The dialogue is trite and verbose. Still, I must give merit for technical competency when the actress goes from live action to simple animation.—AW

Rating: VVv

Crush Me

As Isaac Newton elaborated on the concept of gravity after being hit by an apple while sitting below a tree, so too is Robert, a student who just can’t focus on his thesis, struck by this life-changing fruit that brings out his inner pop music desires. Adding a magical overtone to Crush Me, director Steven Pukin mocks psychological explanations and pop music haters. Like Will Ferrell’s character in Stranger than Fiction, Harold Crick, Robert hears a repetitive and annoying melody inside his head that drives him mad. Rather than have Emma Thompson’s omnipresent voice determine his fate, he hears the music genre he dislikes the most: pop music. Ironically, while Robert’s consciousness detests mainstream music, his unconscious seems to compose the next hit single: “Crush Me.” The film’s mystifying overtone leaves this an open mystery.—AC

Rating: VVV

Dreams of the Cheddar Fiend

If you like claymation, you will probably enjoy this movie. It is technically good, and at times visually interesting. Running long at five minutes, new changes in the images largely keep the movie going.—AW

Rating: VVVv

Fear/Less: Opening Minds About Schizophrenia

Fear/Less, a 25-minute documentary short deals with society’s reaction to schizophrenia, families coping with an afflicted relative, and the experience of patients themselves. Through several interviews, the film attempts to create awareness and eliminates the misleading myths that lead many to fear patients who suffer from this mental illness. Director Dagny Thompson provides scientific answers from the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario, and clear, objective definitions of schizophrenia and psychotic breaks that make this audiovisual message not only persuasive, but also informative. The film presents facts in a clear and concise way without overplaying the visual and audio film techniques— such as slow motion, extreme close up shots, or moving music—that appeal to emotion. Jesse Bigelow, a patient, and his mom discuss their experiences facing the illness. SSO executive director Mary Alberti blames the media as the agent responsible for people’s fear towards schizophrenic patients: “We hear the bad news, not the good stories,” she says. “Fear it less and understand it more” is the strong argument this film proposes.—AC

Rating: VVVV

He Knows About You

This film was part of the 54-hour movie contest. It consists largely of an actor dressed in a mask that is an absurd caricature of George Bush, spoofing one of Dubya’s State of the Union Addresses. It succeeds in being bizarre, creepy, and silly.—AW

Rating: VVV

Her Music Led

This is a film about a sad, beautiful woman who plays her flute alone in the forest, luring men into her lair. Featuring many crisp, picturesque shots of snowy woodlands, its creators take full advantage of the scenery. The movie is quite slow and sentimental, the mood is enhanced by soft music. The female lead’s costume is elaborate, and the performances are good.—AW

Rating: VVVVv

A Hero’s Advice

This silly comedy was made in 48 hours. A nerdy teenage wannabe superhero with an underdeveloped ability of creating fog is taken under the wing of “Military Man,” his idol. Military Man’s training of his protégé, shown in a fast-paced montage sequence, is the film’s strongest point. While it features an interesting use of music, the dialogue is sometimes garbled.—AW

Rating: VVVv

The Housecall

The Film Board Farm Project shot The Housecall, a highly condensed psychological thriller, at Hart House Farm. The Movie breaks apart the continuum to bring a film full of suspense and an unpredictable ending. The film develops around two main characters: a doctor and a paranoid, potentially violent patient. Dr. Sullivan arrives at the patient’s house, and circumstances lead to an unexpected fate for the doctor. Creative in its blend of point of view and flashbacks, this movie should astound viewers.—AC Rating: VVVV

Milk Matters

A strange, anarchistic documentary in support of unpasteurized milk. Although pedantic, it was still somewhat entertaining.—AW

Rating: VVV

Misremembered

Described by the filmmakers as a “docufantasy,” this 38-second movie goes by in a blink.—AW

Rating: VVV

The Movie Race

Written and directed by David Eng, The Movie Race is a short film that pays homage to several archetypal moments in modern cinema history. Shot in one scene, outdoors and in the light of day, a woman sitting on a bench tries to write a screenplay. While the anxious lady attempts to drum up with some ideas, a “movie- tagline” jukebox man sits besides her. This man pays tribute to famous quotes from notable flicks, including Indiana Jones (“Snakes! Why does it have to be snakes?”), Silence of the Lambs (“What did you see, Clarice?”), and Darth Vader’s unforgettable heavy breathing. The enjoyable script is a humorous tribute to classic movie moments.—AC

Rating: VVVV

Nappy Heads

An upbeat celebration of African-American hair, the film is nicely shot in crisp black and white, and looks quite polished. At three minutes long, it gets a bit repetitive, but an inspired music selection keeps it going.—AW

Rating: VVVV

Never Different

A contemplative, slow-paced film shot primarily in orange tones, containing some charming cinematography (particularly the one that completes the film). It’s no wonder that when the credits roll, God is listed as responsible for the photography.—AW

Rating: VVVv

Not Altogether Fool

This movie shows a guy alone, laughing hysterically for one minute. Period.—AW

Rating: VVV

The Prescription

The Prescription is an innocent and hilarious short story that makes clear the many ways to name someone’s posterior. Andy goes to visit a doctor and receives a prescription for a suppository. Apparently, neither Andy nor his companion have a clue what this item is, nor the sufficient knowledge of where the suppository should be placed. Despite the doctor’s multiple attempts at explanation, she discovers there is only one colloquial way of making him understand.—AZC

Rating: VVVVV

Psychiatric Survivor Pride Weekend

This documentary does a good job in its attempt to overcome prejudice. However, it would be stronger if it were fact-driven.—aW

Rating: VVV

The Stand

Remarkably unusual for our times, Steve Figueiredo presents The Stand, a silent comedy movie alluding to the humor of Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. Two noticeably clueless and bankrupt young adults need money to pay their apartment’s monthly rent when they come up with a brilliant idea: selling one-dollar lemonade at a sidewalk stand. To their misfortune, their potential buyers are captivated by a couple of very successful younger competitors. After acquiring business expertise through the teachings of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, they realize discounted lemonade won’t do the trick. Instead they sabotage their rivals’ business, but end up paying for their trickery. Filmed using a handy-cam, the simple and entertaining script washes away the fact that it lacks production values.—AC

Rating: VVV

A Stone’s Throw Away

When a man is invited by a little girl to play hopscotch, he is transported to different areas of Toronto with each jump. His travels include the exteriors of the Sky Dome, the CN Tower, and the St. Lawrence Market before returning back to the girl. Optimistic and simple, the film maintains good pacing, the actions accompanied by music that combines the sounds of a fiddle with stronger beats mixed in.—aW

Rating: VVVV

Terminus

This is a beautiful non-narrative work. The film’s intriguing images, such as desert landscapes juxtaposed with snowy winter scenery are accompanied by an interesting, fragmented soundtrack. Though the film is primarily live-action, it contains some animated sequences. It is abstract, meditative, and quite long.—AW

Rating: VVVV

Tide Force

The best part of Tide Force is the ukulele that accompanies the closing credits. The rest of the movie is loosely organized and best appreciated as moments between characters, rather than for story or visuals. The footage is largely dark and grainy, and would have likely benefited from a more structured narrative.—AW

Rating: VVV

Walter

“Get ready for the ultimate gaming experience!” This initial tagline catches the audience’s eye as Walter’s adventures are about to begin. Walter, a short film directed by Stavros Vassos, presents an amusing but, then again, clichéd idea that will definitely attract the attentive gamer. Paying homage to Nintendo’s gaming legacy through the use of a real-life man, Walter represents a pseudo replica of Super Mario World. Walter must overcome certain physical obstacles, in order to fulfill his mission and obtain “the key.” The great sound design, which includes quirky and comical game effects, only adds to the enjoyment.—AC

Rating: VVV

A slap in the face

As Chris Avenir walked out of Tuesday’s appeals committee hearing, the 40 or so students gathered behind a sea of reporters erupted in cheers and applause.

“I feel pretty confident and optimistic about the meeting,” said Mr. Avenir smiling. “I don’t have any regrets about what happened inside.”

The committee, composed of three professors from the engineering faculty, will now have up to five days in order to render a decision on the charge of academic misconduct against Avenir.

They can completely exonerate Mr. Avenir, expel him, or propose a broad range of other disciplinary measures. If the appeals committee recommends Avenir’s expulsion, the case is automatically sent to the school’s senate. In this case, it could take up to a month for Ryerson to reach a final decision.

“We are hopeful that they will render a fair decision, which is to exonerate Chris,” said John Adair, Avenir’s lawyer. Ryerson regulations barred Adair from speaking on Avenir’s behalf at the hearing.. “We are tremendously disappointed in the process. The university’s rules preclude Chris from being represented by a lawyer today. We think this is akin to requiring Chris to respond with both hands tied behind his back.”

Mr. Avenir is charged with one count of academic misconduct, for being the administrator of the Facebook group “Dungeons/Mastering Chemistry Solutions,” which, at its peak, had 147 members from Ryerson’s first-year chemistry class.

“From what we know of the case there is nothing to indicate that students were doing anything that was inappropriate,” said Nora Loreto, president of the Ryerson Students’ Union. “The evidence against Chris at this point is literally the [existence of the] group, the description of the group, and the members of the group.”

Another problem in Ryerson’s case is the question of what constitutes an academic offence. Although James Norrie, a Ryerson spokesman, summed it up pithily as “cheating,” many have a hard time seeing how Mr. Avenir’s case qualifies as such.

The Facebook group discussed the lab section of the course, which was evaluated based on individual problem sets assigned to students. Each student got the same questions, but with different numbers so that they would each hand in different solutions.

Avenir’s defenders say the university is unreasonable in claiming that a member of the Facebook group would have benefited unfairly from seeing the solutions to a problem different from their own. Furthermore, Avenir has claimed that no full solutions were actually posted.

“I’m getting emails, phone calls from students saying, ‘you’ve got to be kidding, there’s got to be something else in the case. He must have done something.’ No, quite literally, it was a study group and they talked about how to understand the formulas,” said Loreto.

Among students, sentiments of dissatisfaction or downright outrage with Ryerson’s actions have spawned a number of sympathy groups dedicated to supporting Avenir. One of these, chrisdidntcheat.com, sells tshirts and hats advocating that particular view. On Facebook, the group “Support Chris Avenir” had 1210 members as of press time. Avenir himself posts regularly.

Ryerson has also been accused of being backward-looking on issues surrounding the Internet. Other universities have moved to integrate the Internet into their teaching approach to better cater to students’ needs and regulate web use. At the beginning of this academic year, the University of Western Ontario set up 25 universityrun Facebook study groups for large first-year courses in order to centralize and oversee much of the online activity among those students.

Film critic Will Sloan’s top five picks

1. American Immigrants (By Taha Tabish, Shanele Soaras, Nasir Husain)

This entry in the festival’s UofTube lineup explores the implications of YouTube technology, divided into three sections. The first features a student of Indian descent ranting to the camera about American immigrants taking jobs away from hard-working Canadians. The second is another student’s angry rebuttal. The third I will leave for you to discover. A highly effective film, its power stems from the fact that any of the three segments could easily be mistaken for the real thing. Disturbing stuff.

2. Purity (By Tony Del Rio)

A 21-year-old virgin is about to have sex with his girlfriend in this surprisingly sensitive film. Del Rio includes several highly stylistic touches (primarily on-screen text), but the result never feels ostentatious.

3. The Pit and the Pendulum (By Marc Lougee)

I’m a sucker for claymation, so this atmospheric version of the Edgar Allen Poe tale, employing that charmingly primitive animation style, had me at hello. The exaggeratedly gothic visual style is appropriate for the material, and at times it looks like one of Roger Corman’s old Poe adaptations through a funhouse mirror. No less, it’s been executive produced by stop-motion legend Ray Harryhausen.

4. The Engagement Party (By Mark Raso)

Mark Raso pulled a Scorsese and filmed this in a single, carefully choreographed, 15-minute take. His roving camera follows about a dozen people through an engagement party as seemingly innocuous small talk masks darker secrets. Strong acting matches Raso’s directorial virtuosity.

5.Kinopolitik

Vanguard to the Cold War (By Daniel Neuhaus) One of the festival’s most ambitious films, this abstract, multipart work reveals the relationship between propaganda and the Cold War. Combining archive footage with newly shot material, it is visually, aurally, and intellectually arresting. Immediately following on the schedule is E.L. Santonato and Malcolm Sweeny’s Too Dangerous. Oddly enough, I think they’ll make for a fascinating double-bill.

Temporarily at the top

Cheryl Misak is a longtime professor and administrator at U of T. A member of the university’s philosophy department, she has held top admin posts at UTM and the St. George campus. Now, with VP and provost Vivek Goel departing, Misak is gearing up to take on U of T’s senior academic post. The Varsity caught up with her one wet and chilly morning.

I show up at Simcoe Hall just in time to carry Cheryl Misak’s things for her. Misak, who has just been appointed to U of T’s second-highest office, leans out of her car and propels herself upright, steadying herself on a pair of crutches on the slushy ground. Then she hands me a book and what looks like a goldfish bag full of ice cubes and freezing water.

The cold bag, I gather, is for her right knee, held slightly bent in an impressive leg brace thanks to a nasty tennis injury. On our slow way up the stairs, Misak boasts that she’ll be walking crutch-free by the time she returns from an upcoming trip to a conference in Cape Town.

Misak’s appointment was announced last week just after U of T confirmed that Vivek Goel, U of T’s VP and provost for the past four years, will be leaving to head the new Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion. As his interim replacement,

Misak will be U of T’s top dog for all matters academic and budgetary when she takes office in July. Misak’s husband is from South Africa, though they met in grad school at Oxford. Both of them decided they wanted to teach at U of T—and made it to tenured positions here, together, in under a decade. Some people.

In recent years, Misak—whose field is American philosophy—is spending more time handling administrative matters at increasingly higher levels. “I’ve found myself drifting closer and closer to central administration in the last 10 years. I enjoy it very much but also still enjoy philosophy and try to keep my hand in,” she said.

After acting as principal of UTM for a year, and then serving as acting dean at that campus, Misak moved downtown this fall to help fill in for departing VP students Dave Farrar. When Farrar left, his portfolio was divided into two separate positions

“I took over a slice of [Farrar’s] portfolio,” Misak modestly insists when we reach her office. The room is dominated by a massive black painting covering an entire wall. Dimly brushed in the foreground is what appears to be a Greek amphitheatre fl oating in space, with a greyhound, or some kind of weasel, running circles around it forever.

“Isn’t that hideous?” she chimes in. “I think it’s about Sisyphus or something else about the futility of life.”

It might sound a bit glib, but Misak’s chain of “acting” or “interim” administration jobs make her career seem unsettled. “The interim propositions are always vague. I believe the appointment is for a year or until a provost is found,” she says. “The deputy provost position I’ve got for another four years.”

Misak’s upcoming provostial term may be temporary, but she’ll be stepping into a number of ongoing disputes. To mention one, the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students is fighting an administrative order that it vacate its current office space in the Margaret Fletcher building, slated for demolition to make way for the proposed (and hotly debated) Centre for High-Performance Sport. At the most recent Governing Council meeting, Goel took the unusual step of circulating a public letter to APUS in which he charged that they had known all along that the building’s days were numbered.

Misak was, understandably, not anxious to comment on the issue: “What I think I need to say about that is, let’s see how that unfolds over the next few months,” she said. “I will inherit that and a number of ongoing situations and take stock when I take the position on July 1.”

Eager to look forward she may not be, but Misak is quick to point to her history as an administrator. “When I was dean at UTM, I put together a dean’s advisory committee. We had students in there, we had some of the best teachers, we had chairs of departments—so we all sat down together and asked what we could do in a concrete way to improve the student experience.”

The committee resulted in 28 separate pilot projects that, over four years, introduced writing components to programs whose students, like UTM’s math undergrads, felt their academic writing instruction was somewhat lacking.

“There are also things like student space, that…that’s a more general umbrella thing, right?” she says. “It’d be great if we could have a student commons. We need to do that kind of thing as well: from the bottom up, you get ‘a thousand different flowers blooming,’ and also from the top down you get some of these big projects off the ground.”

July 1 is a day to watch for at U of T, then. “All articulation of all views,” Misak promises, laughing. Before then, it’ll be tough to pin her down.

When I ask Misak to weigh in on Area Studies—regionally-focused programs like American or African studies which are pushing U of T to give them more resources and attention—she waxes a bit philosophical about academic flexibility and emerging disciplines, and then stops and smacks both palms on the desk in front of me.

“But, boy, the dean of Arts and Science would not be happy if the provost made comments on this,” she exclaims. “The short answer is, Arts and Science is working this out!”

Ask her about ancillary fees, a contentious issue that Ontario student unions are currently suing over, and again: “I really need to see how these things unfold, and July 1 is when I’ll be a full participant on these files.” It was worth a try.

If Misak is reluctant to go on the record with her views on the challenges ahead, it’s not a lack of enthusiasm keeping her in check. Look for her come July—she’ll be the one jogging up the steps at Simcoe Hall.

NHL rookie roundup

When the NHL returned after the lockout that wiped out the 2004-5 season, one of the most riveting storylines was the promise of a fierce battle for rookie of the year honours between two very highly touted prospects in Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, both of whom lived up to expectations. Last year, Russian phenom Evgeni Malkin was predicted to win the Calder Memorial Trophy before the season began, and eventually did take home the award. This season, however, there was no consensus favourite heading into the campaign and there still isn’t. With only a dozen or so games left in the regular season, this year’s race for the Calder Trophy is more wide open than it’s been in years. Here’s a look at who’s been turning heads this year.

Patrick Kane – RW, Chicago Blackhawks

When the Blackhawks chose Patrick Kane with the first overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, they knew they were getting a highly skilled forward with tremendous offensive potential. But few expected him to land a spot in the NHL so soon and make the transition so smoothly. Kane stands at only 5’10”, weighing a meager 163 lbs. Because of his diminutive stature, many observers doubted his ability to play at a high level before packing on a few pounds of muscle. Despite his size, Kane has been lighting the lamp regularly for the Blackhawks. He’s been a key cog in their offence all year long and he and fellow rookie Jonathan Toews have become the face of a resurgent Blackhawks franchise recovering from years of poor management under the ownership of the recently deceased Bill Wirtz. The right winger from Buffalo leads all rookies in scoring with 59 points and has held the lead most of the year.

Kane’s skill at handling the puck and setting up plays on the half boards has helped inject life into Chicago’s moribund power play, which was the worst in the league last year. His wizardry with the puck has also come in handy in shootouts, where he’s 5-for-7, leading all first year players in shootout goals and shooting percentage.

Kane had an incredible start to the season, and if NHL awards were handed out in December he’d be a lock for the Calder. But his production has slowed in recent months — perhaps he hasn’t become strong enough to endure the wear and tear that an 82-game NHL season brings — and he could relinquish the rookie scoring title before the end of the year. Kane’s -7 plus-minus rating is among the worst on his team and if his offensive output is not at the top of the heap, he’s not a well-rounded enough player to win the Calder Trophy.

Jonathan Toews – C, Chicago Blackhawks

Jonathan Toews led Team Canada in scoring at the 2007 world junior championships, almost singlehandedly carrying the team to the gold medal game with an impressive performance in Canada’s semifinal shootout win over the United States. He was once again selected to represent Canada at the IIHF men’s world championships and did not look out of place with seven points in nine games. He scored his first NHL goal on his first shot in his first game and registered a point in each of his next nine contests, the second-longest scoring streak to start an NHL career in league history. In short, Toews has proven that selecting him second overall in 2006 was a very wise decision.

The 19-year-old Chicago centre is fourth in rookie scoring and second in goals, despite having played only 51 games due to injury. While he’s been scoring at a higher pace than Kane, he’s easily the most well-rounded forward in this year’s crop of rookies. He plays in all situations and his 18:38 average ice time per game — thirdmost among Chicago forwards and second among rookie forwards — includes time on the power play and the penalty kill. His +9 plusminus ranking is sixth on his team. Known as being mature beyond his 19 years, Toews has also begun to showcase his leadership skills and many observers have him pegged as Chicago’s next captain. While Kane may be a fl ashier player, Toews has shown his potential as a franchise centre and proven to be a vital component of a young team on the rise. When he went down with a sprained knee in early January, the Blackhawks, who had assembled a 19-16-3 record to that point, fell into a 5-9-2 rut but have gone 9-4- 3 since his return. If he’d played a full season, Toews would almost undoubtedly be the leading Calder candidate this year, but thanks to injury he’ll be able to play 64 games at most. Will that be enough?

Nicklas Backstrom – C, Washington Capitals

Washington’s 2006 first-round pick (fourth overall) is having a terrific season centering the Capitals’ top line with Alexander Ovechkin, the NHL’s leader in both goals and points, on his left wing. A skilled passer and playmaker, Backstrom leads all rookies in assists and his 58 points trail only Kane among rookie scorers. Having Ovechkin, arguably the best left winger and most potent scoring threat in the game, on the receiving end of so many of Backstrom’s passes has undoubtedly helped him rack up 47 helpers, but it would be a mistake to suggest that Ovechkin’s skill alone is helping Backstrom pad his stats. Ovechkin’s production has surpassed last year’s totally with 16 games still left to play, thanks in part to the presence of a highly skilled pivot. Backstrom’s hockey sense, combined with Ovechkin’s scoring touch, have allowed Washington’s offence to terrorize the Eastern Conference all season. The young Swede’s addition to the powerplay has also helped improve the Caps’ record with the man advantage, ranked sixth this year after being seventhworst in the league last season. If Kane continues to cool off after such a hot start, Backstrom could win the rookie scoring race and capture the Calder in the process.

Peter Mueller – C/RW, Phoenix Coyotes

Another first-round draft pick from 2006 (eighth overall), Peter Mueller already has a rookie of the year award under his belt as a member of the WHL’s Everett Silvertips in 2006. With a knack for finding the back of a net and a powerful 6’2”, 205-lb frame, Mueller has the potential to be a potent offensive force for the Coyotes and has already started to show it — Mueller leads all first-year players with 21 goals. Although he initially entered the league as a centre, Mueller struggled at that position and head coach Wayne Gretzky moved him to right wing. Since then, he’s become an important part of a surprising young Coyotes team’s offence, seeing action on the top line with Shane Doan and Steven Reinprecht, and trailing only Doan and Radim Vrbata in goal scoring. His 47 points are good for third in the rookie scoring race and like Kane and Backstrom, Mueller has been a key component of a resurgent Coyotes powerplay.

While Mueller’s 21 goals are impressive for a rookie, he leads by a slim margin and could soon be overtaken by Toews, who has played fewer games but scored at a higher pace. Unless he goes on a tear in the Coyotes’ final push for a playoff spot, Mueller is probably a long shot to win the Calder but stands a good chance at being nominated.

Tobias Enstrom – D, Atlanta Thrashers

Tobias Enstrom is another product of an incredible 2003 draft class that produced such standout players as Dion Phaneuf, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Eric Staal, Thomas Vanek and Zach Parise. But unlike these young stars, Enstrom was not a highly touted first round pick but an undersized defenceman chosen by the Atlanta Thrashers in the eighth round (238th overall). Yet Enstrom could prove to be the Thrashers’ best acquisition that year (especially after trading away Braydon Coburn), if his rookie campaign is any indication. Although he will likely never be a hard-hitting, shut-down defenceman with his 5’10”, 175-lb frame, he’s shown a lot of offensive upside. Enstrom has emerged as a capable power-play quarterback, and leads first-year defenceman with 37 points (he’s seventh among all rookie skaters), good for 17th among all blueliners. By comparison, Kane’s 59 points put him only 36th among all forwards. The 23-year-old blueliner also logs a ton of minutes for Atlanta — his 24:37 leads rookie skaters. He’s 18th in the league in time on ice, which is surprising for such a young player. Enstrom’s -1 rating may not look great, but he plays on one of the worst teams in the league and spends a lot of time on the ice against the opposing team’s top forwards. While Enstrom’s 19 hits are nothing to write home about, his 92 blocked shots are third among rookie defencemen.

Historically, blueliners have not fared well in Calder Trophy voting. Only one of the last nine and two of the last 17 winners have been defencemen, likely because they take longer to develop into valuable NHL players. That being said, Enstrom has proven himself worthy of Calder consideration, although the fact that he’s a relatively unknown player in a weak hockey market may hurt his chances. Enstrem is definitely the dark horse of the lot.

Paging Dr. Lam

Dr. Vincent Lam burst into bookstores across Canada in 2006 with his debut collection of short stories, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures. The series of connected tales about the trials and triumphs of medical students and doctors won the Giller Prize, Canada’s richest and most prestigious literary award. Lam, an emergency physician in Toronto, is now working on a novel. He spoke with The Varsity about his work and the challenge of multiple careers.

The Varsity: You’ve probably heard this question many times before, but how do you manage to be a doctor and a writer at the same time?

Vincent Lam: You know, it’s really quite busy. But emergency medicine is quite self-contained. […] You don’t take a lot of paperwork home with you, whereas in other specialties you do end up taking more home with you. The other thing that helps is that it’s shiftwork, so you often have shifts that start in the afternoon or evening, which means that you can write during the day.

TV: Do you find that being a doctor drains you emotionally or mentally in terms of writing?

VL: Well, there are different kinds of demands. I find that both medicine and writing are quite draining, actually. Medicine is much more external; medicine is all about taking care of other people’s problems and me using my professional skills to help people. Writing is very internal, and it has a lot to do with figuring out how I see the world, and me figuring out what I think about things, ultimately. And that’s draining in a different way. A lot of people ask me whether writing is a good break from medicine, and I wish it were, but actually it’s not, it’s actually a lot of work.

TV: I find it interesting that you say medicine is external and writing is internal. You’ve clearly successfully made the transfer from the external medical world into your writing in Bloodletting. How important is it for you to write about what you know, to take your environment and put it into your writing?

VL: It’s probably simpler in some ways to write about the environment that you know because you have access to all the details, and you understand how things work. Do I think that people should always write what they know? I’m not so sure. I think that it can be helpful, but depending on the kind of writer, and depending on the kind of book they want to write, it could be a help or a hindrance. It’s actually very important to distinguish between the world that one knows, and that being actually different from the fictional world. Most writers who write about the world that they know will tell you that as a writer you have to make a break. You have to be able to say, “You know what, even if such-and-such would be in the world that I know, that’s not what I’m doing in my fiction because it just doesn’t work as well in the fiction.”

TV: You’ve traveled Vietnam doing research for your upcoming novel Cholon, Near Forgotten. Why did you go, and was it difficult to find what you were looking for?

VL: Well, my own family background is the Chinese community of Vietnam, and so I’m very interested in that community. In a sense it’s very hard to find, because the era that I’m writing about, the community that I’m writing about, basically no longer exists. And this is not an uncommon problem for fiction writers, especially those who write historical fiction. You have to kind of deal with the shadows of the past.

TV: Who are some of your literary influences? Which authors influenced you at a young age when you decided to be a writer?

VL: Tough question, too many to list. I try to give a different answer every time. And so my influences today will be David Malouf and Michael Ondaatje. I probably decided I was going to be a writer when I read Hemingway. I was always amazed at how much I would know in something that he wrote without him having said it, which always seemed all the more vivid. I have to say I enjoy reading a lot of people whose styles are basically totally different than the voice I would ever use. And in some ways it’s probably because their voices are so different.

TV: You went to the creative writing summer program at U of T’s School of Continuing Studies. Did that kick-start your career, or did it simply polish your writing?

VL: I was early in working on this collection at the time. And it was encouraging just to meet other writers. Writing is quite lonely, so it was very encouraging just to know, “Okay, other people are out here doing this, and we’re all kind of struggling away, and that’s what one does.” I think most of the work, me as a writer, remains work alone. It’s just nice to know that there were other people out there who were doing the same thing, that I wasn’t just crazy.

TV: How has winning the Giller Prize changed your life and work, if at all?

VL: I’ve become far more busy doing readings, traveling, and speaking. And so the whole thing about writing being alone, there’s a certain border that gets blurred. Ultimately the writing is still alone, but I spend more time communicating about the books in a way that is public, in a way that is not alone.

TV: Has this infraction on your aloneness been a negative influence?

VL: I think there’s some, that as a writer I have to be careful to manage. At first I was very busy and saying “yes” to everything, and then I began to realize that meant there was less alone mental space, while also balancing a medical career and family life.

TV: Do you have any advice for students who want to be writers, or who are trying to decide between writing and a professional career?

VL: I would say that it’s not totally necessary to decide between them. Even before I went into medical school, what I said was I wanted to write and I wanted to do medicine, and a lot of people were skeptical. I don’t think that it’s necessary to feel that one has to be in place of the other. And I don’t think that I’m alone, you know. There are quite a number of doctor-writers, lawyerwriters, engineer-writers who are out there. If you scratch the surface you’ll find a lot of other things going on.

The tricky thing once you have a profession is that you do have the potential to earn a fair bit of money, in some professions, and so it can be very tempting to not do your art, and to make money. Actually, people who do have a profession should look on that as an opportunity to work less, earn a little bit less, and have time to consider art.