Sorrow in the sea

A destructive transformation is approaching, and its seeds are germinating in our oceans. These are the warnings of Alanna Mitchell, associate of the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the 2008 Atkinson fellow for public policy, in her most recent contribution to the war against climate change, Sea Sick: The Global Oceans in Crisis. We must heed these admonitions because, as Mitchell writes, “the vital signs of this critical medium of life are showing clear signs of distress.”

Yes, that big pool in our backyard is in peril. It has fallen into misuse and neglect, without much concern from its land-dwelling assailants. It’s unfortunate that the oceans are so easy to ignore, Mitchell points out, even though they make up 99 per cent of the living space on the planet.

Overfishing, chemical dumping, rising sea levels, carbon in the atmosphere, coral bleaching—we’ve all heard of these phenomena, but never have they been combined into a single unified picture of the ocean’s health. Indeed, this is what makes Sea Sick so unique; as a former Globe and Mail environmental reporter, Mitchell’s journalistic expertise makes all the pieces fit.

It’s a complex puzzle stemming from her global travels, combining interviews with leading marine scientists with her first-hand experience in the depths of the ocean.

In a recent interview with The Varsity, Mitchell describes one such journey to the Dry Tortugas, 914 metres into the deep blue. She traveled with a group of marine biologists in search of genetic material for a potential cancer treatment. Enclosed in a metallic shell that served as her only protection from the crushing pressure, her fear was palpable. “It was part of the planet that no one had ever seen before,” she says. “It was transformational—an almost otherworldly experience. It was mind altering, game changing.”

Mitchell explains that the ocean can be directly connected to our health. However, the relationship is reciprocal. The ocean will lose its ability to offer us its bounty if we continue on our current ruinous path.

Evidence of a colossal change in the chemistry of the ocean is mounting. Mitchell describes it to me as a “switch of life”—as the mechanisms of the global ocean change, life as we know it will simply die out, making way for an entirely new system. This is a terrifying prospect because, as she reiterates multiple times, “most of life is in the ocean.”

One concern which could lead to this “switch” is the rising level of acidity in the ocean, something that has remained relatively constant for millions of years. “Putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which then gets absorbed into the ocean, is changing the pH of the whole global ocean. It’s critically important because life exists within a narrow range of pH,” Mitchell explains. “We’re getting to the point where the life that exists in our ocean is going to be disconnected from its evolutionary pH.” Though it’s now been widely accepted, this theory was controversial as little as three years ago.

Another problem is fish farming practices. “If you’re going to do fish farming, which a lot of people say is the answer to the protein crisis that is coming to the planet, you’ll have to think of local species that are low on the food chain and how not to damage the ecosystem,” she says. “And that’s what’s happening in China, a country that produces half of the world’s farmed fish. They’re taking a huge bunches of the mangroves [and destroying them]. It’s much like slash and burn agriculture in the ocean. This part of the ecosystem is being damaged for short term aquaculture profit.”

However, Mitchell doesn’t entirely share her contemporaries’ opinions of China. In his most recent book, Hot, Flat and Crowded, Thomas Friedman expresses a fear of China’s growing economy and their budding propensity to be more “American.” He claims that their destructive path—specifically the unrestrained usage of coal burning power plants—will determine the fate of the planet, provided the west doesn’t set a proper example.

“They have green policies, but [whether] they’re on the path to actually implementing these policies has yet to be seen,” Mitchell explains. “Conceptually, [China is] much further ahead than we are in Canada. You read their policies and it’s like reading a manifesto from an environmental NGO. Our government policies are nowhere near as advanced as the policies in China. If there’s a hope in the world, that’s where it is.”

Despite the book’s gloomy forecasting, Mitchell is somewhat optimistic; for her, the election of Barack Obama seems to indicate a positive turn in the effort to protect the environment. “The key point will be at the climate talks in Copenhagen in December of this year—that’s when the world will have to decide what will happen after Kyoto. What the U.S. will agree to will be critical.”

According to Mitchell, the consequences of the conference will be staggering. “I honestly believe that the drop dead point is December 2009,” she asserts. “I think something dramatic has to have happened by the time those leaders come out of that conference. It has to be big, it has to be substantial, it has to be reachable, people have to actually believe it, and it’s going to have to be a lot more than what they’re talking about now for anything significant to happen.”

U of T plans to rake in profits from ancillary fees

U of T’s ancillary services are losing money, but the university has ambitious plans to turn a profit in three years’ time. The University Affairs Board met on Tuesday, March 17, to discuss the numbers for ancillary services, which cover residences, food and beverage services, parking, conference services, and Hart House.

With a forecasted net loss of $1.9 million for the 2008-09 budget, the university outlined plans to break even by 2011 and generate a net income of $1.5 million in 2012. Residences project a revenue growth of three to six per cent, with the exception of UTM, Innis College, and New College, according to the UAB report.

Ancillary services were once paid for by the university as part of its operating budget. In 1993, Governing Council approved the motion that these fees were non-academic and passed them on to students.

“It’s a bad idea because education is not supposed to be a commodity,” said UTSU president Sandy Hudson. “By downloading these costs onto students, they are saying that the university, and therefore, the government, no longer has the responsibility to pay for it. And by making a profit, they are saying that there is no expectation that the government should be giving them money.”

The UAB report says the planned 15 per cent revenue growth from 2010 to 2014 will be mainly due to revenue increases from residences and conference operations. Parking is expected to bring in $1.1 million, while Hart House has a projected net loss of $1.5 million.

APUS executive Joeita Gupta criticized the move to make ancillary services profitable. “You find there’s an increase in ancillary fees but a decrease in the amount of student space available for housing, because they took two floors of the [New College] residence and converted that to admin offices. So students pay more for less.” The 20 per cent rate increase at the New College residence bumped U of T’s 2009 revenue by $900,000.

The director of business services at New College, Ron Vander Kraats, said the conversion made residence more affordable. “If we hadn’t rented out that space, then students would have to absorb a higher fee increase for the financials of the residence to be the same. This is because the market value of downtown office space is higher than what we can charge our students for residence space.”

“Often profits of this nature go into general university revenue to benefit all of our students and not just those in residence,” added Vander Kraats, referring to the projected revenue.

Jason Marin, president of the New College Student Association said students should look to the province rather than U of T when it comes to fee increases. Hudson suggested a similar course of action, but said it will require a collaborative effort between students and the administration.

Free the music

Marketed as a film about the art of audio collage, RiP: a Remix Manifesto is a populist political documentary about the application of outmoded copyright models to new technologies. It’s a documentary that practically crackles with righteous anger, showing how the plight of the lowly copy criminal is quickly becoming a global struggle between human creativity and the conservative forces trying to stop it.

Brett Gaylor’s film is less a remix than a mashup, flirting with the many ideas and individuals wrapped up in the battle over restrictive copyright laws in the new millennium. The film takes a wide view of the “Copy Left” movement; it’s as much about remixes as filesharing, the corporatization of culture, and global poverty.

Gaylor is content to rage against many machines at once, and the results are largely eviscerating. He’s armed with a strong historical perspective on the issue—calling out The Rolling Stones, twentieth century blues musicians, and Walt Disney for their piracy of ideas (and subsequent attempts to stop others from doing the same thing).

The director’s roving camera follows Pittsburgh mashup DJ Girl Talk, Creative Commons inventor Lawrence Lessig, and even children in the slums of Sao Paulo to show how copyright law is inhibiting creative potential.

The film is at its best when it allows copy reform advocates to argue their case. One particularly affecting sequence involves Lessig giving a lecture on how copyright criminalizes nearly everyone with a computer. The consumption and production of art is changing, he argues, so why isn’t the world changing with it? It’s a difficult point to refute.

Yet while the film forwards an important idea, its director falls prey to familiar temptations faced by many recent popular documentaries. One scene in which Gaylor ambushes an older patent office employee to show her a Girl Talk video practically reeks of Michael Moore, though he fails to secure the same humiliating payoff.

Like too many left wing docs, the film presents a portrait of what’s wrong without allowing for a way forward. Sure, the business models of yesterday may not suit the current music industry, but what kind of industry will be created to replace it? Gaylor places too much faith in the Radiohead model of distribution, suggesting that free, open downloading marks a way forward for all artists, while record companies will have to accept their coming obsolesce as part of cultural evolution. This conclusion is far too idealistic, but an attempted prescription is at least welcome.

That said, RiP provides a searing depiction of how yesterday’s copyright laws are hindering today’s creativity. The point is vitally important, and it’s not given the political attention it’s due. Anyone concerned with the future of culture—let alone copyright—should at least consider the film’s thesis.

Flat fees proposed for Arts and Science faculty

All full-time first-year Arts and Science students will have to pay a set fee for five courses starting next September, regardless of their actual course load, if a proposal from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is passed. Current students will pay on a per-course basis for the next five years.

“This is the commoditization of education. It’s creating yet another barrier for students,” said Colum Grove-White, president of the Arts and Science Students’ Union.

The implementation of flat fees was first raised as an option a few weeks ago, when the Faculty of Arts and Science realized it won’t receive endowment payouts, and will be facing a $9 million deficit. Ten out of the 20 Ontario universities already have flat fees.

“We are trying to find ways to protect the quality of our undergraduate programs when budget cuts and loss of endowments pose a significant threat,” said Meric Gertler, dean of Arts and Science. “Many student union leaders don’t see how fixed tuition rates will benefit students.”

“The administration has always maintained that they want to better the student experience, but if you look at those students who are engaged in campus life, very few of them have a full course load,” said Sandy Hudson, president of the University of Toronto Students’ Union.

When asked about other funding options, Gertler said the faculty has opted for flat fees because higher tuition rates generate more government funding.

The faculty has been researching flat fees since the summer. But in a March 6 memorandum where Gerlter addresses the faculty’s deficit, there is no mention of program fees.

Both student union presidents agreed the proposal is being rushed through.

“Other options need to be explored. We don’t know how these fees will affect students,” said Grove-White.

“Students take fewer courses for a variety of reasons. Many want to take three to four courses and work full-time so that they can pay for university without having to take any loans.”

Under the new program, students will now have to decide whether they want to drop down to part-time status with 2.5 courses or increase their course load and get more bang for their buck.

Gertler said U of T will be in a better position to hand out financial aid, with the university generating more revenue from tuition fees, and possibly getting a larger cut of provincial funding.

“We will certainly respond positively to students’ needs. As student tuition costs go up, the full program fee will be in a student’s cost structure, making them eligible for more financial assistance,” he said.

Expected benefits include smaller classroom sizes and more pay for teaching assistants. But no timeline is set as to when these benefits will come into play.

To be implemented, the proposal will have to pass at the Faculty of Arts and Science council on April 6. It will then head to the Governing Council Business Board, and finally the Governing Council at the end of May.

UTSU and ASSU are holding an information session for students at noon on Thursday, March 26, in the UTSU building at 12 Hart House Circle.

Capturing science

Dr. Shree K. Nayar of Columbia University recently gave the final lecture at the Faculty of Computer Science’s Distinguished Lecturer series. Nayar discussed his work on the computational camera, an innovation that combines the properties of a camera and a computer to improve the quality of photography.

Unlike the traditional camera, the computational camera captures various imaging dimensions, including temporal resolution, spectral resolution, spatial resolution, dynamic range, field of view, and depth. This enables every detail in a picture to be captured with high-resolution clarity. The computational camera captures light rays differently than a traditional camera, and is capable of assigning rays to different pixels by modifying colour and brightness before the ray reaches the detector. In a traditional camera, the ray passes directly through the detector to produce an image, without any modification. In a computational camera, the ray passes from the detector into the computational module, where it is stored and can be modified, allowing for the production of a myriad of unique images.

The computational camera and the traditional camera comprise different technologies including field of view. The traditional camera has a very narrow field of view that is unable to capture minute details. On the contrary, the computational camera has various mirror-lens combinations—an approach called catadioptrics—which allows it to obtain wide-angle images while maintaining a single viewpoint. This single viewpoint in the wide-angle camera produces an image that appears to have been taken by a rotating camera. The wide-angle camera, with a 220-degree vertical field of view and a 360-degree horizontal field of view, exhibits advantages over a traditional rotating camera. The scene does not have to be static in order to take the picture; one shot using the wide-angle camera is enough to clearly capture an entire dynamic scene. Video surveillance and video-conferencing are two applications of this wide-angle field of view.

Another improvement over the traditional camera is the computational camera’s dynamic range—the ratio between the maximum and minimum light intensities. Digital cameras are incapable of measuring a wide range of brightness values and cannot capture the nuances of colour in a photo. The computational camera resolves this issue by having an assortment of pixels with different light sensitivities (all of the pixels in a traditional digital camera have the same sensitivity). A high dynamic range is achieved after the data undergoes image reconstruction to produce the optimal image.

A 3D version of an image can be obtained using a computational camera. Using a mirrored cone placed in front of both the detector and the lens on the camera’s optical axis, three distinct perspectives are produced: the direct scene point, as well as two reflections that lie on the same plane as the optical axis and the direct scene point. A matching algorithm is able to pick out the similarities in these perspectives and compose a 3D image. This 3D imaging can be used to determine the texture and reflectance of materials in the image.

The computational camera has a programmable imaging system, which allows images to be altered and particular facets of the image highlighted. The digital micromirror device (DMD) is used in tandem with the programmable imaging system. It uses a micromirror array that can be switched between a maximum of +10 and a minimum -10 degrees. At +10, the detector is exposed to the scene point while at -10 the detector receives no light. The DMD can switch between the maximum and minimum within microseconds. This system enables exposure duration of individual pixels to be altered, changing the overall exposure pattern of the micromirror array. The programmable imaging system has applications in feature detection and object recognition.

In addition to the DMD, a 3D (volumetric) aperture can be placed in front of the detector in the programmable imaging system to capture more 4D light rays from the surrounding scene. These are modulated before they reach the 2D detector. With this volumetric aperture, it is possible to have a high resolution split field-of-view to more accurately focus on specific points in a scene.

A programmable flash is key to the success of a computational camera. While traditional cameras originally used flashes to take pictures of dimly lit scenes, the computational camera uses a 2D projector light, which illuminates all of the points visible to the camera, captures these points, computing what is in the scene. The programmable flash uses a technique called the temporal defocus method, which utilizes the projector’s narrow depth of field to obtain a different depth associated with each independent pixel. The depth map created as a result of the temporal defocus method allows the photographer to alter the depth of the image as per their personal preference.

The 2D projector light combines global and direct illumination to create a more accurate representation of a scene. Direct illumination refers to the light received directly from the source, whereas global illumination is the light from all points in the scene. While a photo taken with direct illumination only captures the light reflected off an object, global illumination captures the subsurface scattering of light in addition to the colours of objects in the scene. However, a photo taken only with global illumination often looks unrealistic and artificial. Combining the two types of illumination in the computational module can fix this problem and produce a more accurate image.

Many novel principles are at work in the computational camera. It is able to capture all of the details in a scene with the utmost precision. The camera’s applications are endless, although its success depends on individual advances in the areas of image detectors, digital projectors, and imaging optics. Regardless, it is clear that the computational camera will dramatically improve the way we see our world.

Images taken with a wide-angle catadioptric camera, which “has a 220-degree field of view in the vertical plane and a 360-degree field of view in the horizontal plane.”

CFS brass accused of interfering in student union elections

Update: The previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Renew Slate at Ryerson ran in 2009; in fact, they ran in 2008.

High-up individuals in the Canadian Federation of Students and its provincial divisions are under fire for recent election controversies.

Zannah Matson, who ran for VP Equity on the Change slate in this month’s UTSU elections, has accused York Federation of Students executives of meddling in UTSU politics.

Matson told The Varsity that she saw Hamid Osman, president of the York Federation of Students, campaigning for the Demand Access slate at UTM on March 10, along with Gilary Massa, YFS VP external.

Matson said Osman introduced himself as a UTM student named “Ahmed” when she spoke to him, and that the two prevented her from taking a photo. She added that a Change slate campaigner told her Osman had bullied him and threatened demerit points for having campaign flyers in his pocket while going to vote.

“It was a pretty jarring experience in campaigning, and a really disillusioning experience,” said Matson, who describes the experience as disempowering for U of T students. “What it’s doing is intimidating people from participating in the democratic process.”

Matson said she and the other Change slate candidates decided to stop campaigning at UTM after the confrontation. She heard that Access campaigners approached campus groups prior to the campaign period, telling higher-ups that the slate was immature, not diverse, careerist, and would change the accords between UTM and St. George campuses.

The Change slate claimed the election results, to be published next week, will show that they won St. George campus by a wide margin and lost UTM.

The slate filed a complaint with CRO Lydia Treadwell. While photos are permitted as evidence of wrongdoing, only the CRO can enforce the elections procedure code. If someone other than the CRO steps in to stop a possible infraction, as Matson alleges Osman had, they can be fined demerit points.

Treadwell told the Change slate in an email that the complaint was not substantiated.

“There is hearsay on both sides,” wrote Treadwell in an email. “This complaint is dismissed.”

Osman is the delegate chosen by YFS executives to represent the union at CFS-O meetings. He did not reply to The Varsity’s emails, phone calls, and text messages over the past two weeks asking for comment. When asked if he would deny campaigning at UTM, he refused to answer.

Osman has faced demands and petitions for his impeachment after leaving York in the middle of the TA strike to campaign at the University of Ottawa during its referendum to join the CFS. Osman has yet to explain who paid for his travel and accommodations, and why he did not inform students he would be traveling to Ottawa.

Last year, York University student newspaper the Excalibur reported that Osman, Massa, and YFS VP campus life Loveleen Kang were seen campaigning at Ryerson Student Union’s elections for the Renew slate. CFS membership was contested in this year’s election and the Renew slate said it would ensure the union remained part of the CFS. Osman said YFS-ers were there during their reading week because they strongly supported the slate’s platform.

“The federation does not interfere in local student union elections,” said Shelley Melanson, CFS-Ontario chairperson. “We don’t believe that any outside group should be interfering in that process.”

Melanson also clarified the role the CFS plays with students and their unions.

“Our relationship isn’t necessarily with the students’ union; it’s in fact with the individual students at a particular union local. We’re a membership driven-organization,” said Melanson. “That relationship doesn’t exist between the student union and the CFS.”

CFS’s BC division has brought in student union executives to help out in membership votes at other universities. Last year, UTSU president-elect Sandy Hudson and other execs flew to Victoria for a referendum at Simon Fraser University to withdraw from the CFS. Hudson, who ran on the Demand Access slate, is a Students of Colour Representative on CFS national.

CFS-Québec is facing criticism after a Feb. 8 video surfaced, featuring deputy chair-elect Noah Stewart-Ornstein tearing down seven campaign posters during elections at Concordia University. He was CFS-Q spokesperson and Québec Representative for CFS’s national division at the time.

In an email to The Varsity, CFS spokesperson Ben Lewis said that Stewart-Ornstein was acting as an individual, and that his actions should not tarnish the reputation of organizations he is involved with.

Did you know that mysticism was once more highly regarded than science?

“Why do the stars not fall down at our feet?” Our ancestors asked themselves this very question. The average person living in sixthcentury B.C. speculated that invisible powers held the stars up in the night sky, with one supernatural power and god for each and every star. They believed it was the anger of these gods that caused diseases and natural catastrophes on Earth. But not everyone thought this way.

During this time, there was an impressive intellectual awakening on the Greek island of Samos. It was first proposed that the earth revolves around the sun, and that animals and human beings evolved from simpler forms. It was where thinkers realized that everything was made out of smaller particles, diseases have a biological cause, there is order to nature, and the secrets of the universe are discoverable. However, these crucial insights sat dormant for many centuries, waiting to be rediscovered by Copernicus, proven by Charles Darwin, and investigated by other legendary scientists. Why?

The answer lies in one simple fact: mysticism and irrationality once held more importance than science and rationality. Thales was the first man who attempted to explain the existence of land within water without any intervention of the supernatural. His student, Anaximander, used a stick and its shadow to measure time, the length of the year, and the seasons. Yet Democritus argued for the existence of atoms, as many other proceeding thinkers were prosecuted for their thoughts. Other intellectual inhabitants of the Greek islands favoured the magical worldview, founded by Pythagoras. Though he was perhaps the first individual to propose that the earth was a sphere and revolutionized the mathematics of his time, Pythagoras believed that order in nature could only be explained through supernatural causes. He and his followers favoured belief over experiments and suppressed their findings. They later reasoned that the laws of nature would never be understood except through mystics, a contradiction to their earlier viewpoint. This way of thinking later dominated Western philosophy.

It is thought that mysticism overthrew science because, as Carl Sagan explains, “Mystical explanations provided intellectually respectable justifications for a corrupt social order.” Spirituality supported the idea of slavery, and Greek society had a large population of slaves during Plato and Aristotle’s time. They believed science should be kept for a small population of elite, and not the public. Mysticism dominated Western thought for more than twenty centuries. It is only recently that we have rediscovered the mindset of the first Greek scientists.

WCSA seeks levy increase

Update: The previous version of this article incorrectly stated that WCSA finance director Stefan Etarsky said a car accident cost thousands of dollars. Etarsky quoted hundreds of dollars.

Update: WCSA gets a resounding ‘no’ [unofficial results]

Question 1: Should the Woodsworth College Students’ Association get a $2.5 more in levies for Fall/Winter and Spring semesters:

yes: 109

no: 526

spoilt: 2

Question 2: Should the WCSA levy by tied to the Consumer Price Index:

yes: 94

no: 453

spoilt: 19

The board of directors will vote to ratify these results on April 15.

As Woodsworth College Students’ Association asks students for a $2.50 levy increase, citing a projected budget deficit, execs face questions about their spending.

At last Tuesday’s annual general meeting, former VP external Danielle Sandhu asked president Athmika Punja to explain a $2,100 cheque WCSA made out to her for UTSU’s Vendetta Club Night, which she organized as VP of campus life at UTSU. The club night on Oct. 30, 2008, was a collaboration between UTSU and the colleges. According to the budget, the event cost WCSA just $800.

WCSA finance director Stefan Etarsky said that the cheque reimbursed Punja for upfront expenditures on the event. Etarsky said he sent UTSU an invoice and used Punja’s position at UTSU to ask for the money back. He produced no receipts for Punja’s expenses.

“I am not aware of any invoice from Woodsworth College,” said UTSU executive director Angela Regnier. “If Woodsworth College paid for it, we don’t know where the money went.”

Etarsky presented a forecasted $28,113 deficit for the 2008-09 year as justification for the levy increase, which is expected to bring in an additional $39,000. This year WCSA spent $4,700 on a retreat for its 18 board members in September. Sandhu asked the board to justify that amount after last year’s board spent $4,000 and decided it was excessive.

“We got into a car accident,” said Etarsky, adding to this cost several hundred dollars. Punja defended the decision to go to Algonquin Park, saying that it was necessary for the board’s productivity. Sandhu said that going to the Hart House farm instead would have cost far less.

When asked, Pujna denied that WCSA paid for alcohol for the retreat. Alice Wu, an UTSU staffer who used to work at WCSA, then produced a $156 receipt from LCBO dated the day of the retreat. She said it was paid for from the association’s “petty cash” budget.

“I am in charge of the petty cash,” Etarsky said, “That did not happen.” He could not recall the purchase, calling it “a random receipt” stolen from the office and that the matter would be cleared up in an audit. Wu said she had obtained the receipt legitimately from the VP assembly affairs, Yin Cheng, who could not be reached for comment at press time.

Joeita Gupta, VP external of the Association of Part-Time Students, accused the board of not doing enough for mature and part-time students. She pointed out that the budget allocation for mature students is small in comparison to other portions.

WCSA spent $85,676 on regular Frosh Week programming, and only $1,144 on a program for mature students. In 2007-08, WCSA had a $54,000 deficit, spending $43,000 on an open bar gala and $81,500 on Frosh Week.

“We do as much as we humanly can,” Etarsky responded. He said the association never tries to cater to one specific group and that only so much can be done with a volunteer force.

Summer retreat to Algonquin Park for board directors:

Personalized green sweatshirts for board directors:

Boat cruise:

Open-bar gala

Forecasted deficit:

Proposed levy:
per Fall/Spring semester

Voting on the referendum is open from 9 a.m. on March 30 to 4 p.m. on April 3 on