Football inflation

At a time when inflation is a headline issue across continents
and economic strata, it seems that not even football
clubs with their millions are exempt from sudden price rise.
Manchester United’s estimated £17 million capture of David
de Gea from Spain’s Athletico Madrid is only the latest move
in Sir Alex Ferguson’s latest rebuilding project. Ferguson’s attempt
to improve the quality available to him has already seen
a £30 million outlay on teenage defender Phil Jones (see my
last entry, ‘Buying Local’) and winger Ashley Young.

De Gea, however, could be the most important United summer
arrival. Ferguson has an iffy record with goalkeepers. The
just-retired Edwin van der Sar proved a worth successor to
Peter Schmeichel, but only after ten other goalkeepers, including
the likes of Fabian Barthez, Roy Carroll and Tim Howard,
had lined up in goal for United. United’s defense is solid but
needs an equally good ‘keeper to provide backup.

So De Gea has to deliver, and his price tag will only add to
the pressure. Especially since it represents a £17 million increase
on the fee that Wigan Athletic, a club that nearly suffered
relegation from the EPL, nearly paid for him a few seasons
ago. Roberto Martinez, Wigan’s manager, was reportedly
hours away from signing the now-United ‘keeper on loan from
Athletico, a move that would have seen De Gea arrive in the
EPL for a grand total of nothing. It’s impossible to calculate a
percentage inflation on nada, so suffice it to say that De Gea
has seen his footballing worth skyrocket in a very short space
of time.

Could-have-been moves for unlikely figures are not restricted
to young Spanish goalkeepers, and United’s Ferguson
seems to have a particular fondness for them. Last summer,
in addition to United’s breakout sensation Javier Hernandez,
Ferguson signed a Portuguese forward named Bebe from Vitoria
de Guimaraes. Seemingly normal, given Ferguson’s past
success with fellow Portuguese forwards Nani and Cristiano
Ronaldo (who I’ll get to in a moment). However, Bebe’s £7.4
million transfer fee was almost 60 times the £125000 that he
had been available for only months earlier.

Not only did Bebe move to United for 60,000 percent of what
he had earlier been valued at, but the Portuguese forward has
now been loaned out to Turkish club Besiktas, which will be
able to buy him for £2 million at the end of the coming season.
The set transfer fee at the end of his loan is a 370 per cent drop
in his value, meaning that not only has Bebe’s value inflated
wildly over the last 12-odd months, but it has deflated unbelievably
as well!

Liverpool’s Andy Carroll is another player who has seen a
remarkable rise in transfer value. At the end of the 2008–2009
EPL season, Carroll was valued at a mere £1 million by relegated-
to-the-Championship Newcastle United. After topping the
goal scoring charts in the following Championship season,
then scoring 12 goals in the first half of the last EPL one, Carroll
replaced Fernando Torres at Liverpool for £35 million.
De Gea took two excellent seasons at Athletico to go from almost-
loaned to the £17 million great-United-goalkeeping-hope.
Carroll took almost that long to cause Newcastle to demand
35 times their previous asking-price for his services. Bebe’s
ridiculous inflation in value happened over a few months. But
perhaps the most sudden increase in a footballer’s value involved
two clubs already mentioned in this blog entry — Manchester
United and Liverpool.

Cristiano Ronaldo, not long ago the best player in the world,
was offered to Liverpool by his then-club Sporting Lisbon of
Portugal for £4 million. Literally days later, after Ronaldo had
almost single-footedly defeated Manchester United in a friendly,
he moved there for £12.24 million. A few seasons on, he
moved again, this time to Real Madrid for a world-record £80
million, a 2000 percent increase from his original proposed
cost to Liverpool.

The crazy transfer fees that football clubs pay each other
for players are a constant source of surprise. The ridiculous
inflation of players’ values, whether it be over days, months or
seasons only reinforces that!

Construction of new athletic facility underway at UTSC

A state-of-the-art athletic centre will be constructed
UTSC in time for the 2015 Pan Am Games.
Efforts are well underway at Morningside
Avenue and Military Trail. Three construction
companies were pre-qualified to help design
and build the facility at the beginning of June.
Soil is undergoing remediation until December,
but major work on the facility’s infrastructure
is on track to start before the end
of the year.

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The athletic centre is expected to be completed
between May and June 2014 according
to Bob O’Doherty, Senior Vice President of
Sport and Venue at the Games.

The construction of the centre is estimated
to cost $170 million, and according to
O’Doherty, the Federal and Provincial governments,
City of Toronto, and U of T will all
play a role in funding it.

“Its not too often that a university has the
opportunity to get involved in a project like
this,” O’Doherty said.

The state-of-the-art facility will is set to
include the Pan American Aquatics Centre
(PAAC), the Field House, and the Canadian
Sports Institute Ontario (CSIO) Project.
According to O’Doherty, the Aquatics Centre
will be a “world class facility,” consisting of
“two 50m pools and a five-metre-deep diving
tank” will host aquatic events such as swimming,
synchronized swimming and diving.

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The Field House is a gym facility. According
to O’Doherty, it will be equivalent in size to
four baske tball courts and have a recreational
track for running. During the Games, the Field
House will host fencing competitions.

The Canadian Sports Institute Ontario (CSIO)
will serve as a national high performance centre
after the games close, providing “things
like sports science, sports medicine, coaching,
training and a testing facility [for] high-performance
athletes in Ontario.”

Heidi Calder, the Co-Director of Athletics and
Recreation for UTSC, believes that this new facility
will help expand the sporting life of U of T.
“Programming-wise, we will more than quadruple
the amount of opportunities for fitness
and athletics our students have,” Calder said,
noting the facility could have other potential
benefits in academic life such as masters programs
in sports and sports management.

Calder also acknowledged that with this
new facility, varsity sports and varsity programming
“can be decentralized.”

Varsity swimmers, for instance, could train
out in Scarborough instead of being confined
to the St. George campus.

Pagalavan Thavarajah, president of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union, believes the facility will be beneficial to students,
faculty and the broader Scarborough
community but shares public concern about
the accessibility of the centre.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has, however, acknowledged
the issue, stating in numerous reports
that his public transportation plans will
be realized in time to accommodate the Games.
Ultimately, the athletics centre will hopefully
not only be a world class venue for the
2015 Pan Am Games, but a legacy that will
affect generations to come at UTSC and the
Scarborough community.


FUN FACTS ABOUT THE PAN AM GAMES

The Games are held
every four years and
usually one year before
the Olympic Summer
Games.

The first Pan Am Games
were hosted in 1951 in
Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Toronto will be hosting the
Pan Am Games in 2015.

The Games have struggled
recently to get the same
attention from the media
and top athletes as the
Olympics.

They feature over 42
participating countries
from all over the Americas
with an average of 5000
athletes competing.

Sports Briefs

Blues recruit new talent

New recruits have been locked down
for the Varsity Blues 2011–2012 season.
Leading the pack is swimmer Graham
Hawes, who medalled in both
the 50- and 200m backstroke at the
2010 Canada Cup, is set to start at
UTSC in the fall.

International superstar Fiona
McKee will be joining the badminton
team. A decorated player, McKee
won back-to-back titles at the
2007 and 2008 Pan Am Badminton
Championships in women’s and
mixed doubles respectively.
Tyler Weber, top-scorer for the
Etobicoke Collegiate Rams for the
last three seasons running, turning
out for the Varsity Blues men’s lacrosse
team.

-ZOHAIR MASOOD


Witmer, Jewett medal at
Canadian Track and Field
Championships

Varsity Blues Tamara Jewett and
Alex Witmer both won silver medals
at the 2011 Canadian Track and
Field Championships, held in Calgary
in June.

Finishing the women’s 5000m just
four seconds behind winnner Leslie
Sexton, Jewett ran the race in
16:59.16.

Like men’s high jump title-winner
and Blues alumni Mark Dillon, Witmer
2.19m, but with more misses
overall, he was forced to settle for
second place.

Witmer is the current CIS champion.
He jumped 2.16m at the 2011
CIS Track and Field Championships
in April.

-ZM

Playing with the big boys

Making it as a pro athlete isn’t easy. Even with tons of practice,
raw talent, and a little bit of luck, playing in the big leagues is
often nothing more than a pipe dream for many.

Two talented former Blues have beat the odds. Football players
Hugo Lopez and Chris Kowalczuk have signed with CFL
teams for the 2011 season.

While at first it seems the hard part is over, the work is actually
just beginning for Lopez and Kowalczuk.

Lopez, a defensive back who played for the Waterloo Warriors
from 2007 to 2009, joined the Varsity Blues in 2010 after
the Warriors announced they would not be competing in the
2010 OUA season following a steroid scandal involving nine
players on the team.

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Although Lopez posted 22 tackles and one interception in just
one season with the Blues and was selected 14th overall in
the CFL draft by the Edmonton Eskimos, he failed to make any
tackles or interceptions in his first game as a pro.

Kowalczuk played for the Varsity Blues his entire collegiate
career. He switched intermittently between guard and tackle
during his time with the Blues, starting 24 straight games from
2007 to 2009.

Kowalczuk signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on October
28, 2009, following his last game as a Blue. He spent the final
two weeks of the 2009 CFL season on their practice roster.
In 2010, Kowalczuk signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers,
but again didn’t make it onto the active roster. For the 2011 season,
Kowalczuck was moved up, but never got the chance to
see the field in his first game with the big boys.

But the fact that neither Lopez nor Kowalczuk
didn’t really contribute in their first days as pros
hardly speaks to their futures in league. The
Eskimos wouldn’t waste such a high draft
pick on a player they didn’t believe in, just
like the Blue Bombers wouldn’t waste
valuable team money on someone they
didn’t expect to ever play the game.

Edmonton beat the Saskatchewan
Roughriders 42–28 in it’s season-opener
while Winnipeg won its 24–16 against
the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. There are a
number of reasons why Lopez and
Kowalczuk did not have an impact
in these games, the main one being
that the two players are rookies.

A rookie isn’t likely to make
an impact right away, because
there are only eight teams in
the CFL and as a result, the
talent pool is spread out
less than it is in other
sports. It’s harder for a
rookie to claw his way to
the top past the scores of
veterans that are going
to be on the field. With
time, however, they will
get the chance to prove
themselves in practices
and games, and to show the coaching staff that they are
ready to make the jump to a role with more responsibility.

Both Lopez and Kowalczuk play positions that their respective
teams are well-stocked in. Lopez is one of ten defensive
backs on the Eskimos’ active roster and of them, eight have
more experience than he does. The one other rookie that plays
the position also made a negligible impact on the Eskimos’ first
game.

When there are a large number of defensive backs, rookies
typically start on special teams coverage before moving up to
actual defense. Lopez is likely to mostly play on special teams
in the near future.

Kowalczuk plays offensive lineman, and is listed as a guard.
The Blue Bombers have four guards in total, and the other
three are more experienced than Kowalczuk. Offensive lineman,
whether guard or tackle, is a position that rookies rarely
step into right away.

So while Lopez and Kowalczuk have their respective teams’
faith as pieces for the future, they have their work cut out for
them if they want to make their mark in the big leagues.

Science in Brief

The Shape of Matter

After the Big Bang an equal amount of
matter and antimatter should have been
produced. The particles of antimatter,
called antiparticles, have the opposite
charge of ordinary particles of matter and
to date only cosmic rays and some types
of radiation have been shown to contain
antimatter. So where has all the antimatter
gone?

One way to approach this question is to
study any potential differences between
matter and antimatter, including any difference
in shape that may exist between
the two particles. Researchers at the
Imperial College of London set out to determine
the exact shape of the electron
and have shown that it deviates by only
0.000000000000000000000000001 cm
from a perfect sphere.

This finding rules out a few possible explanations
regarding the disappearance
of antimatter and the technology being
developed to answer these questions has
applications to studying other complex
systems. It’s also satisfying to know that
one of life’s building blocks is (nearly) a
perfect sphere.

—MINA PARK


The cow left water on the
moon

Scientists have known for years that a
miniscule trace of water exists on the
moon. This amount, however, has been
turned on its head by a study published in
the July issue of Science which revealed
that there is up to 100 times more water
on the moon than studies previously
indicated. A collaborative research
team measured the amount of water in
lunar soil samples collected during the
Apollo 17 mission. They used standard
petrographic methods to measure
the water content within lunar melt
inclusions, tiny parcels of magma trapped
within crystals that grow prior to volcanic
emission. Since melt inclusions are
formed at such high pressures, they can
preserve the state of the magma trapped
inside. This allowed the team to study
the magma’s unaltered composition. The
water content found indicates that some
of the lunar interior contains just as much
water as the upper mantle of the Earth.

—CHRISTOPHER SMITH


Geometry for everyone

Whether you loved or hated Euclidean geometry
classes, it turns out you didn’t really
need them! A recent study conducted
in a secluded area of the Amazon basin
suggests that understanding basic Euclidean
geometry is an innate quality.

The Mundurucu Indians’ responses to
geometry problems were compared to
French and North American participants
of the same age. At first glance, the native
Amazon Indians seem disadvantaged
since most have never attended school.
However, results showed that their understanding
of infinite straight lines and
parallel properties of lines matched those
of the more educated participants.

How long does it take a North American
student to conceptualize that the
sum of all angles in a triangle is always
180 degrees? The Amazon natives did
just as well on this task and even outperformed
the North American and French
participants in answering basic problems
regarding spherical objects. This performance
is partly due to the increased focus
on planar geometry in civilized schooling
systems. Mixed results were found
in North American children between
5-6 years old, leading to the assumption
that understanding geometric concepts
begins around 6-7 years old. This study
furthers the important link between geometry
skills and survival.

—ALBERT RAZVAN GHEORGHITA

Source: Science Daily

Vision predicts audition

Why do we feel uneasy when we think someone will say a certain
word but we hear something else? The issue was raised in a Nature
Neuroscience article this past June that investigated a study by Arnal
and colleagues that showed how we use vision to predict what
we hear using MEG technology. As it turns out, our brains naturally
create speech predictions based on visual representations. In other
words, the brain guesstimates what others will say before it hears
them say it.

This is possible since we produce facial movements faster than
we do sounds with our vocal cords. Our brains use these facial
movements to predict the subsequent sounds a person may make.
In addition, as it is well known in linguistics, there are certain lip
movements associated with phonemes that are significantly better
speech predictors than others. For instance, readily visible sounds
like /p/ and /m/ are much easier to predict than less visible phonemes
like /k/ and /g/, which are produced at the back of the mouth.
Researchers in the study investigated patterns of brain activation
involved in this phenomenon by showing subjects videos of actors
producing a particular sound (for example, /pa/) paired with a vocal
mismatched sound (for example, /ka/). The researchers altered
the match between visuals and sounds by choosing vocal sounds
that ranged from low to high oral visibility. For example, the /ka/
sound is less visible than the /ga/ sound. Therefore, a visual of /pa/
paired with /ka/ should be harder to predict than /pa/ paired with /
ga/, since /ga/ visually resembles /pa/ more than /ka/ does.

Results showed differences in brain rhythms based on the degree
of matching between the visual stimuli and sounds. High frequency
brain patterns were evident when the prediction error was large (i.e.
the visual cues did not match the subsequent speech). In contrast,
low frequencies were present in the brain when prediction error was
low. Investigators believe that the high frequency in the former situation
is due to enhanced brain activity attempting to resolve the error.
This demonstrates the brain’s ability to continually re-shape its
neuronal connections. In a similar way, most incorrect predictions
occur late in the cognitive response. This result is consistent with
current predictive coding theories that say the brain is consistently
scanning new information to make updates about its external surroundings.
However, the problem of locating these rhythms in the brain remains.
For example, beta activity (the normal brainwaves of an awake
and alert person) can increase in certain regions of the brain such as
the visual cortex yet decrease in the frontal cortex (the area of higher
reasoning and planning). Additionally, the timing of the prediction errors
is hard to pinpoint since it seems that multiple prediction errors
can occur simultaneously.

So how does the brain interpret a connection between visual
stimuli and speech? The assumption is that there is a cortical hierarchy:
the higher order area predicts an upcoming sensory signal
and transmits this prediction to a lower order area. When the lower
order area picks up the sensory signal it sends it to the higher order
area. The circuit then calculates a mismatch between the prediction
and the incoming sensory signal as result of this higher order/lower
order cortical communication.

Predictive coding is a new area of research that has triggered
much interest within the scientific community and further investigation
seems promising. The valuable research of Arnal and his colleagues
provides the first insights into how such coding in audiovisual
speech works and exposes the complex interdependent nature
of visual and auditory systems.
 

Physiology Day

On May 10, the doors of the Medical Science
building were opened to local GTA grade 11
students for the second annual Physiology
Day. The event, hosted by Let’s Talk Science
and the Graduate Association for Students
in Physiology, was broken into one morning
and one afternoon session. In each session,
students rotated between three lab stations
where they were taught
an overview of the activity
lesson by graduate student
volunteers. Students
then broke up into small
groups and participated
in short activities that
forced them to engage
with the material like real
scientists: pipettes were
diligently pressed, spirometers
were breathed into,
and sphygmometers were
squeezed. After gaining
familiarity with the equipment,
students bonded
with their group members
and discussions about academic
interests could be
heard within the labs.

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Although this event may
seem small-scale (less
than 80 students took
part), its goal is to hit a
broad audience of prospective
university students about the value
of translational research in physiology.

What is translational research? Pretty much
what it sounds like: translating scientific research.
The purpose is to transfer advances
in the scientific literature and apply them in
practice to the creation of medical technology
and treatment. The topic has been critically
explored in a highly cited commentary by Steven
H. Woolf in the Journal of the American
Medical Association that investigates how advances
in scientific knowledge a) are used to
develop new products and b) translates into
the practice of health care. Although there is
some controversy over which aspect of translational
research has higher financial priority,
the main point of translational research remains:
it is essential that scholars take interest
in research contribution to increase the
amount of helpful medical resources available.

These medical resources are cultivated in
several scientific disciplines. Interestingly,
each of the three lab stations cleverly reflected
a facet of physiology-related research. One
of the labs focused on the cardiovascular system
and had students measure the effects of
position and exercise on blood pressure. This
activity may be worthwhile since diseases of
the heart were the second leading cause of
death in Canada in 2007. The second lab was
on the respiratory system, in which students
had to calculate lung volumes and analyze the
effects of physical fitness. Similarly, chronic
lower respiratory diseases were the fourth
leading cause of death in Canada in 2007 and
are among the most expensive to treat. The
last lab explored DNA extraction and DNA
fingerprinting through hands-on experimentation
and the recreation of the solution to a
real-life criminal case. Studies on DNA are invaluable
and increasingly stir interest in the
informational power of
DNA. As anyone can see,
each of these activities
harbours information that
translates into beneficial
medical resources.

Excellent examples of
scholars invested in the
value of translational research
can be found in
GASP itself. The president
of GASP, Keith Ho,
is a Ph.D. candidate in
Neuroscience and studies
Parkinson’s Disease at the
U of T Tanz Centre for Research
in Neurodegenerative
Diseases. Ho and all
of the members of GASP
engage in some form of rigorous
research to advance
the field of physiology.

Translational research
leaves a resounding impact
that spreads throughout
the scientific community. It is important for
both prospective as well as current life science
students at U of T to keep in mind that medical
school is not necessarily the be-all-end-all of
a rewarding scientific career. According to organizations
supporting translational research,
events like Physiology Day hone in on this message
and aid an inaccurate perception of the
academic world by encouraging students to
investigate life-changing alternatives.

Electronic Age

The abundance of technology emerging
each day poses a serious question
to the youth: “which new technology
do I want?” Apple has catered
to tech kids by introducing new “generations”
of their famous iPods and
Mac computers. Microsoft is not far
behind in releasing faster and more
efficient products each year — like
the allegedly almighty Windows 7.
The hardest question of the technophile’s
day may be which Intel Core
Duo 2 Processor (whatever that is) is
better, but environmentalists say we
have bigger problems when it comes
to our electronics.

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Many people in developed countries
remember the dawn of the Internet
and the rise of the computer,
but this rise in electronics came with
a few repercussions. As technology
advanced, improved electronics
entered the global market and
settled into homes all over. When
asked whether they’d recycle their
old electronics, most U of T students
replied negatively. One student, Michael
Galang said, “I usually pass
on my old electronics to my brother
and sister. [Laptops], iPods, etc.” Although
a great way to reuse old electronics,
it is important to realize that
they can be put to other uses.

According to the United Nations
Environment Program (UNEP) the
rate of recycling metal is far below
its potential. This is correlated with a
dramatic decrease in resources, predominantly
metals. UNEP states that
lead is among the most recycled metals,
which is not surprising as it is
commonly found in batteries. Other
metals that see a rate of recycling of
over 50% are gold, aluminum, silver,
tin, nickel, etc.

Eighteen metals see these higher
recycling rates, but 34 are recycled
less than one per cent of the time, including
boron, geranium, selenium,
and lithium.

This is a disappointment because
although some of these are unheard
of, they are frequently used in the
manufacturing of steel, glass, ceramics,
electronics, plastics, and medical
equipment.

Even though some of these metals
yield higher recycling rates, all elements
have seen a dramatic increase
in demand, followed by a dramatic decrease
in supply. Metals have become
an important resource in any economy,
especially in places like China
that need these resources to expand.
Mining for new elements has become
costly and environmentally
harmful. Creating new mines has
many environmental impacts, ranging
from water use to ecosystem
damage and air pollution emitted
from machinery and transportation.

Most people are unaware of how
many recycling plants exist in their
neighbourhoods, and how many
benefits are derived from their use.
Paulo Bettencourt, a student working
for his uncle’s contracting business,
explains that recycling is an
important part of the business. “I
recycle metals every day after work.
One time I got $300 from one bag of
aluminum. It’s really easy and there
are more recycling plants in your
area than you are even aware of so
it’s really convenient.”

Keep in mind however that the
quality of the metals is taken into
consideration before compensation.
“If the metals are mixed you
won’t get much money back. What
they are looking for are clean metals
which are just the original element,”
Bettencourt explained. By recycling
metals frequently and being more
responsible about what and how
much we consume, we can build
metal reserves that will last us well
into the future. Metal is what drives
our economies and our cities, but if
we are not careful we will not be able
to drive, communicate, and play the
way we are accustomed to.