It’s Not Rocket Science

Put the beat down on cancer

An informative article from Men’s Health magazine suggests eight ways you can protect your body from cancer. Strategies discussed include eating foods high in anti-oxidants and spending time (but not too much) in the sun to ensure an adequate supply of vitamin D. Although a little obvious, the article gives extremely sound advice that everyone can benefit from. Considering one in three people will get cancer in their lifetime, it’s probably wise to start protecting yourself now.

We seem to leave crap wherever we go

(NASA should be fined for littering): An interesting Wikipedia entry (titled “list of artificial objects on the moon”) describes in detail all the junk we have left on the moon—all 170,000 kilograms of it stashed over the years. Smaller objects, like the golf balls hit by Alan Shepard during his lunar golf practice and the numerous flags left behind by several missions, are not listed. (Also absent from the list is a book of Russian cosmonaut jokes dropped by Buzz Aldrin after using the lunar portapotty on the Apollo 11 mission).

Speaking of crap

Ever wonder why poo is brown? (I know I sure do.) The answer is that orangebrown bilirubin and yellowish bile are both released from the liver and combine in feces to give it its distinctive colour. I am currently working on a proposal for Crayola to include ‘poo brown’ in their crayon boxes, but they are not receptive to my idea. You know the kids would love it.

A fishy story

Scientists have developed a technique that allows salmon to give birth to trout offspring. Apparently bored with doing regular experiments, the Japanese research team injected trout sex cells into salmon embryos, allowing the salmon to give birth to normal trout fish that were capable of reproducing. This could prove to be a useful technique for breeding endangered fish species in an economical and effective manner. There are no reports on the effect of the trout offspring on the parent salmon’s marriages. (Though I suspect there is a consortium of sushi restaurants funding this research).

A clear diagram showing how circular reasoning works

(and how I win any argument I am in): Check out this link:

Save the environment and look ridiculous at the same time:

As much as it is our responsibility to save our already critically-injured planet, some eco-friendly ideas are definitely lacking in the aesthetics department. This funny device is a miniature (and somewhat) portable windmill that can power your laptop or cell phone. I don’t think the public is yet convinced of its practicality, as the first comment attached to the article suggests: “How many people would actually carry that thing around when we won’t even carry around a solar cell 1/10th that size? Impractical.” To paraphrase that anonymous commenter: Worst. Invention. Ever. (And why didn’t the Dutch come up with this sooner?)

Did you hear the one about Jack Hanna and a flamingo at the airport?

Turns out famous animal expert Jack Hanna got stuck in an Ohio airport turnstile with an 11- month-old flamingo in a carrying container. The flamingo was eventually freed, but it took three firemen to rescue the trapped bird. The Department of Homeland Security held the bird for questioning and released it later after it was determined it wasn’t on the no-fly list. Unfortunately the penguin that was with the group was held for further questioning. (Although it’s ridiculous this item makes the news, the fact that I found it on CNN makes sense).

Looking down from above

As the International Space Station orbited above Dubai, it snapped an incredible shot of The Palm Jumeirah island resort project. It seems like Dubai is going to be the new Las Vegas pretty soon. I wonder how long it will be until they beat out Disney World.

Finally, science brings us something useful

(so that we can be cool like the Jetsons): It’s about time the self-chilling drink was invented. No more lugging around ice and coolers on those hot summer days. Although speculative in nature, an article from suggests that we could soon see soft drinks (and conceivably, beer) with built-in cooling technology that works by using a vacuum and heat sink to absorb warmth from the drink, bringing its temperature down. I can envision news reports of exploding cans taking out the eyes of several people once this product comes out — but at least they will be refreshed!

Inaccurate sayings that piss me off

“Shoot for the moon, because if you miss, you will at least land among the stars.” This quaint and encouraging proverb is greatly lacking in scientific accuracy. The moon is only 405, 696 kilometres from the Earth compared to the closest star, Proxima Centauri, at 4.22 light years away. If you convert that distance into kilometres, it equals 39 trillion (3.9 x 1013) kilometres. You would have to overshoot very, very badly in order to land among the stars if your original target was the moon. The children that hear this saying will grow up to be shoddy astrophysicists.

Organism of the week

Class scyphozoa — commonly known as jellyfish. These alien-looking, generally amorphous blobs are found in every ocean on the Earth. Their name is somewhat inaccurate, as they are invertebrates and do not have backbones (whereas fish do). Jellyfish are interesting in that they lack a brain, but are able to perceive and respond to their environment using their basic nervous system. An adult jellyfish is made up of 94 to 98 per cent water and generally feeds on small fish and plankton. Many species are capable of delivering a nasty sting using numerous small cells known as cnidocytes that can contain a small amount of venom. Although the venom in most jellyfish stings is not fatal, some jellyfish do carry venom strong enough to kill. The best-known example is the box jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri), which is responsible for at least 5, 567 recorded deaths since 1884. If stung by a jellyfish, the best course of action is to pour vinegar on the area to deactivate any cnidocytes that have not yet injected their venom and carefully remove any remaining tentacles using protective gloves or clothing. The tentacles can still sting even if the jellyfish is dead. An extremely useful protein known as green fluorescent protein (GFP) was first isolated from the species Aequorea victoria and has been used in countless biological experiments due to its ability to glow green when exposed to blue light. A group of jellyfish is known as a ‘smuck’ of jellyfish. Contrary to popular belief, jellyfish are not the source of fruit jelly.

The crazy things we used to believe #2

Phrenology: Back in the good old days of the 19th century, a German physician named Franz Joseph Gall developed an odd theory that stuck around for far too long. He believed that a person’s intelligence, personality, and future behaviour (things such as the likelihood of them performing criminal activities) could be determined by carefully measuring the shape of the head. Phrenology was based on the notion that specific areas of the brain handled certain functions. Furthermore, it was thought that these areas would be larger if the person was skilled in that particular mental faculty.

To practice phrenology, one would feel the bumps of the subject’s skull and draw conclusions on the supposed 27 areas that made up their personality and beliefs. As well, measurements of head size would be taken with callipers. The phrenologist could then predict what kind of behaviour the subject was prone to and other speculative information. Some people had so much faith in the ridiculous practice that it was even used as a type of background check for job applicants.

Phrenology became increasingly popular in Victorian England and in the United States through the 19th century. Although some ‘scientists’ wrote serious papers on the subject, it was considered to be a pseudo-science by most in the scientific community.

Regardless, phrenology has had adherents even up until the end of the 20th century. Its use as a tool to promote racism in a seemingly scientific way has been seen several times, including by Nazi scientists claiming that there was a biological basis for the supposed superiority of the Aryan race.

Thankfully, the dawn of neuroscience killed any serious interest in phrenology. People born with bumpy heads today need not fear phrenologists telling them that they have a lifetime ahead as a career criminal.

Rotman shuts up CIUT

U of T’s campus radio station CIUT-FM is preparing to vacate its familiar house across from Robarts and move south of College street. The station’s current home is slated for “selective demolition” as part of a plan to add a huge expansion to the Rotman School of Business. Only the building’s façade will be left intact.

The $92 million plan—the figure includes $204,000 for moving CIUT to a different location— was approved Tuesday by Governing Council’s planning and budget committee.

Students, faculty and staff at Rotman were thrilled at the project.

“Having a good business education is really good for the Canadian economy. Rotman is a responsible institution that teaches about environmental issues and social issues. The project is really a good one for the country. This is the largest gift we’ve ever received,” gushed Alex Kenjeev, Juris Doctor/MBA combined program.

Rotman vice-dean Peter Pauly said the construction would provide space needed to increase Rotman’s enrolment.

“We’re already at the max,” he told planning and budget committee.

The expansion program aims to bring Rotman in line with space guidelines set by the Council of Ontario Universities. U of T’s three campuses are all overcrowded, according to the COU standards.

At this time, it is unclear where CIUT’s new permanent home will be.

Planning documents suggest the station could eventually find space in the proposed Student Commons, a campus hub that has been in the early planning stages for years.

Before the vote, station manager Brian Burchell urged committee members to better consider how last November in an interim planning report on the Rotman project, will affect CIUT.

He found no security in the suggestion that CIUT move to the Student Commons, which has no guarantee of being built any time soon. Burchell, who last year sat on the committee that produced the latest, most realistic plan for the commons, cast doubt on whether student groups and administrative representatives would be able to reconcile “drastically conflicting visions” of the project.

“In any case, the whole thing is dependent on a successful student levy referendum, by no means a sure thing,” he reminded the governors.

For the foreseeable future, after construction of the new Rotman building begins in 2009, the radio station will be moved to a building at 256 McCaul Street, south of College, in a space 30 per cent smaller than their current facility.

Andréa Armborst, president of the University of Toronto Students Union, commented on the relocation.

“There has been this weird trend with student spaces on campus over the last six months: initially APUS, then Sidney Smith and now SEC and CIUT are being displaced,” Armborst said.

Though Burchell did not object to the relocation itself, he expressed serious misgivings about the new location.

The move squeezes CIUT in with the building’s current occupant, U of T’s custodial services, located across the street from a homeless shelter. Burchell said he worried that volunteers leaving the building late at night could be at risk.

Burchell also argued that CIUT’s central location on campus was critical to the station’s role both as a media outlet and a part of the campus community. CIUT has often staged concerts and community events on the front lawn of their St. George and Huron house.

“Once we evict U of T’s radio to south of St. George, will it ever return to its core?” demanded Burchell.

He went on to complain that CIUT had not been consulted on the relocation, prompting U of T’s vice president and provost Vivek Goel to object.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say you haven’t been consulted,” Goel told Burchell at the committee meeting. “We’ve been meeting with you over the past six months.”

Asked to clarify whether consultations had taken place, Burchell later told The Varsity, “I think [Goel and I] have both been using that word ‘consultations,’ but meaning different things.”

According to Goel, Burchell himself had suggested moving CIUT to another building on McCaul, but not enough space was available there.

Assassins lurking in your backyard

You may not know it, but assassins could be hiding in your flowerbed. They’re not out to get you — in fact, they may be helping you get rid of unwanted pests.

Assassin bugs of the family Reduviidae can range in size from 4 to over 40 millimetres. They feed in a spectacularly gory way, similar to spiders, by capturing prey in their hairy, sticky legs and sucking their insides out. Their saliva turns their victims’ insides into liquid, making an easy meal that can be sucked up through their straw-like proboscises. This deadly saliva allows these little bugs to kill much larger insects, with some species able to feed off cockroaches, hornets or even bumblebees. Assassin bugs’ front claws are well designed for capturing and holding prey, most likely helped by generations of selective evolutionary pressure.

Bug bites can be painful for humans and may cause an allergic reaction. Certain species of assassin bug in Central and South America can transmit a serious illness known as chagas disease through their bite. If untreated, this parasitic disease can be fatal, leading to heart disease and malformation of the intestinal tract.

The species shown here is of the genus Phymata and can be found in Southern Ontario. Commonly known as ambush bugs, these yellow- and-black insects have evolved to look like their surroundings, blending in best among the yellow flowers of the goldenrod plant. They have even developed a pointy body shape that mimics the goldenrod’s buds and a yellow eye that does not betray their location to nearby insects. Younger, less-developed ambush bugs have been observed camouflaging themselves with pieces of debris or the remains of dead insects. The male of the species tends to be smaller and can often be seen hitching a ride on the female’s back during mating.

These particular ambush bugs were collected at U of T’s Koffler Scientific Reserve at Joker’s Hill. They can be useful in gardens for reducing the number of unwanted pests, but require goldenrod to be planted where they are most comfortable hunting and feeding.

CFS-Québec self-destructs in election fiasco

A feud between combative factions of the Canadian Federation of Students- Quebec has blown into a full-scale legal battle, resulting in impeachment, political scandal, jealousy, and thousands of dollars in legal fees, paid with students’ money.

The dispute began over the summer, when the Dawson Student Union and the Students’ Society of McGill University were allowed to run candidates in the June elections. Both are prospective members of CFS-Q, whose bylaws are unclear as to whether prospective members are allowed to elect executives.

The Concordia Students’ Union initially accepted Mehdi Al-Talibi from the DSU and Nina Amrov from the SSMU as executives on CFS-Q. A few weeks later, however, CSU execs realized that Al-Talibi and Amrov’s undergraduate unions don’t pay fees to the CFS-Q, which disqualifies them from holding office, and called for their removal from office.

In an interview, Al-Talibi expressed suspicions that CSU was simply upset because one of their candidates for CFS-Q failed to win a position in June.

“They had a candidate who didn’t get his position in the end, and it took them a couple of weeks after that to find a flaw and point it out.”

A meeting between McGill, Concordia, and Dawson on Aug. 3 reportedly exploded into a shouting match full of racial slurs, dividing the DSU. Emma Boma-Savas, VP external of the DSU, was sent to defend Amrov and Al-Talibi, while other representatives demanded their impeachment. Brent Farrington went on to chair an ad hoc special general meeting of the remaining unions, and the leadership of the CFS-Q was subsequently impeached.

“There was nothing legitimate about it,” said Al-Talibi regarding the SMG. Al-Talibi questioned Farrington’s right to chair a CFS-Q meeting, as Farrington is a member of the national CFS caucus, not the Quebecois.

Over the next few weeks, the locks to CFS-Q’s office were changed multiple times as the two sides battled for control over the group’s bank account. The CFS-Q account was then frozen and an injunction was sent to the bank, prompting the Quebec Superior Court to take notice. Lack of access to their office and money has been a serious blow to the general day-to-day operations of CFS-Q. “For now the organization is really crippled and we’re working from outside the office, trying to get as much as we can done” Al-Talibi said.

Amanda Aziz, chairperson of CFS-National, informed DSU and SSMU that they could run for CFSQ executive positions even though they were prospective members. Justice Mark Peacock, however, suggested that the opposite was the case and that prospective members are not allowed to run for office, a recommendation Aziz will not challenge.

Will CFS-Q get its act together to challenge the lifting of the tuition fee freeze?

“In my opinion, it’s already too ate,” said Farrington. “The real victory would’ve been to prevent this implementation.” Farrington estimated that by September of next year, it will be impossible to do anything about the defreeze of Quebec tuition without 80% public support. “There’s a lot of divide, my hope is that students will remain united,” Farrington added.

In addition to leaving students without a representative voice, the feud is also costing students thousands of dollars. A trial will be held in Quebec Superior Court on Dec. 14 to decide the legitimate executives of CFS-Q. Patrice Blais, lawyer and executive director for the Concordia Graduate Students’ Association, estimated that the combined legal fees for both sides will top $100,000.

Can-Con 2007: Part I

It’s Christmas in September as NHL teams take to the ice.

Yup, it’s that time of year again: NHL training camps are underway. We’re getting our first glimpse of pre-season highlights and soon the puck will drop on a brand new season. Here’s a look at what at the Canadian teams in the Eastern Conference have been up to over the summer and what you can expect from them this season. Stay tuned to the Varsity for a preview of Canada’s western teams.

Montreal Canadiens

This summer, Canadiens captain Saku Koivu was quoted as saying that the Habs would likely not be a Cup contender this season.While it is ill-advised for a captain to say such a thing from a PR standpoint, only the most optimistic Habs fans would disagree with his appraisal. GM Bob Gainey was reportedly pursuing free agents Daniel Brière and Ryan Smyth but came up empty in the bigname free agent sweepstakes. The Habs had the best power play in the league last year but with the departure of blue-liner Sheldon Souray who scored a Conference-best 19 goals with the man-advantage, their power play production is likely to drop off significantly. On the plus side (literally), newly-acquired defenseman Roman Hamrlik’s plus-22 plus/minus rating is a significant improvement over Souray’s abysmal minus-28, and should help the team’s even strength play, which was among the worst in the league. Gainey cleared cap space by shipping Sergei Samsonov and his $3.525 million contract to Chicago and added scoring depth by signing free agent forwards Tom Kostopoulos and Bryan Smolinski. The team is still short on elite-level scoring, and will need right winger Michael Ryder to have another 30-goal campaign and the underachieving Alex Kovalev to step up in a big way. Goaltending will be solid as long as Cristobal Huet can stay healthy. Montreal barely missed the playoffs last year, and given improvements in other Eastern Confer- ence teams, the Habs seem likely to miss the playoffs by a wider margin this year.

Ottawa Senators

After making it to the Stanley Cup Finals last season and (possibly) shedding their reputation as perennial chokers, the Ottawa Senators kept their core intact and made only minor adjustments to their lineup in the off season. Head coach Bryan Murray replaced John Muckler as GM and promoted assistant coach John Paddock to his place behind the Ottawa bench. Paddock worked with a number of the Sens’ current players while head coach of Ottawa’s AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Senators, making the transition from assistant to head coach hopefully go fairly smoothly. As for on-ice changes, the loss of free agent defenseman Tom Preissing and his plus-40 rating – -fourth-best in the league – will hurt, as defenseman/ winger Christoph Schubert is likely to be called upon to fill the hole. As one of Murray’s first acts as GM, he dealt second-line forward Peter Schaefer to Boston for speedy forechecking winger Shean Donovan to give the Sens a little more room under the salary cap. While the roster changes might be a slight downgrade, the experience the team gained during their Cup run could help, and fans are hoping it’ll be enough to take them one final step further this year. Look for Murray to upgrade his team during the season, using the almost four million in cap space he has remaining. So with the Buffalo Sabres loss of co-captains Daniel Brière and Chris Drury, the Sens are likely the team to beat in the Northeast division.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Last year, newly minted head coach Paul Maurice frankly stated that his team would be in a dog fight to make the playoffs. That prediction turned out to be accurate, with the Leafs falling just one point out of eighth place in the east. With a more optimistic Maurice predicting that his team will “make the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup” this season, Leafs nation is hoping Maurice’s words will ring true once again. GM John Ferguson signed speedy 34-year-old winger Jason Blake to a five-year, twenty million dollar contract, a risky deal in the long term with a chance to improve the team for the upcomming season. Blake is coming off an impressive 40-goal campaign and is expected to play top line with Mats Sundin and Nik Antropov, who the team hopes will finally shed his injury troubles and play a full season. The Leafs’ only off season trade brought in goaltender Vesa Toskala and troubled forward Mark Bell from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for three draft picks. Toskala could prove to be the most significant addition to this year’s team if he lives up to expectations. He has not played a full season as a number one goalie, sharing time with Evgeni Nabokov in San Jose, but has shown flashes of brilliance. Toronto was tied for sixth in the league in goals for but 25th in goals against after Andrew Raycroft failed to return to his Calder Trophy-winning form in his first season between the pipes for the Leafs, and Toskala is the Leafs’ best chance at changing those stats. Bell who was suspended after pleading no contest to drunk driving and hit-and-run charges will be forced to miss the first 15 games of the season.. Maurice is also counting on improved off season training regimen to help some of the team’s young players. While expecting the Leafs to be contenders this season might be a bit of a stretch, the team seems likely to take the spot in the playoffs the New York Islanders held last year.

Campus crash

The corner of Morningside and Ellesmere was the scene of a bloody, gunshot-riddled car crash Wednesday morning. The crime scene was one block away from UTSC directly across from the Centennial College HP Campus, meaning that many students living near campus, like Chris Smith, a fifth-year political science student at UTSC who heard the shots firsthand.

“All I heard was gunshots—bang, bang, bang—like that. And not long after I heard a lot of sirens… it was pretty intense. Normally you only see a couple of cop cars, not 15 or 20.” Early that morning over a dozen police cars were still lined up along the street next to a crashed compact car—the result of a late-night highspeed chase involving gunshots, a helicopter scan and a call for help to cruisers from multiple divisions.

The chase began after a man was shot near Wellesley and Parliament and two suspects were seen attempting to make a getaway in a small green vehicle. It quickly escalated into a multi-car chase for more than 40 kilometers, finally ending when the vehicle lost control and swerved into a guardrail on the side of the road. One suspect fled the vehicle into nearby Morningside Park, while the other refused to get out of the car. An Emergency Task Force and K-9 Unit were both brought in to subdue the uncooperative suspect, and eventually escorted him out of the vehicle. Police quickly surrounded the area of the park and soon found the fleeing suspect hiding in a ravine.

While two individual patients were taken to Sunnybrook hospital, it is uncertain whether the injuries sustained were from the car accident or shots fired by police.

As of early yesterday morning, more than a dozen white bullet casing markers littered the ground around the suspect vehicle, which was lying across the sidewalk of the opposite lane with the trunk and driver side door open. The green compact sustained extensive damage, with both headlights smashed in, a broken window, and bullet holes across the driver’s-side door. The police cruiser closest to the suspect vehicle had its driver’s side window shot out.

Price to play

The NFL season opener for the Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos on September 9 was a game that many would like to file away in the category of unforgettable. Not only because of the last second field goal that gave the Broncos the victory but more so because of the life-threatening injury that Bills tight-end Kevin Everett sustained during the opening of the second half. Everett fell lifelessly to the field after attempting to tackle Broncos player Domenik Hixon. Players huddled together to say a prayer for Everett as medical personnel prepared him to be taken away in an ambulance.

Everett underwent successful surgery and was sedated with the assistance of a respirator in the immediate days following the procedure. Doctors characterized the trauma as a cervical spine injury that had the possible effect of leaving the player paralyzed for the remainder of his life. Most recently, Everett has regained feeling and movement in some parts of his body and doctor’s now believe that the 25 year old may be able to walk again due to his remarkable progress thus far.

The fact that Everett may fully recuperate is a great piece of news. More importantly this event has allowed athletes to question whether their profession of choice is worth taking part in. Many would define the worthiness of a profession by various standards such as compensation and liesure time. But in the realm of professional sports one has various other concerns that are not considered by those in “regular” occupations. For example, an athlete that is asked to make high risk plays only a few times a game, may have to rethink his career options because of the unlikely possibility of earning more playing time and overall exposure. On the other hand, it can be argued that the risk of bodily injury is worthwhile for players that are able to showcase their talents more prominently on the field for greater compensation and media exposure. Oddly, those that get more playing time are at a greater statistical risk of serious injury but are less likely to consider this possibility due to their overarching responsibilities on and off the field.

Cliché or not, the intangible factor of passion for the game may be a valid reason to the risk injury in athletics. Everett for example, struggled with injuries from the very start of his career and was primarily a special teams player in 2006. The fact that he was on his way to more playing time provides some insight to his continued dedication to the game even when he faced impediments earlier on. At the end of the day, professional athletes embark on career paths that provide for lucrative opportunities must understand that with every snap of the ball they may have to fight for their lives in the very next moment.

It appears that Kevin Everett has won the battle for his life and can now focus on the goal of learning to walk again one day. Let this be a lesson to others.

Veni, vidi, Vaccharino

When he was hanging out at the Blind Duck as an undergraduate at U of T’s Erindale campus, Franco Vaccarino never thought he’d end up in charge.

But following his official installation ceremony on Monday, the 51-year-old psychologist is the ninth principal to lead the Scarborough campus in its 40-year history.

In one sense, not much has changed in the two decades since he first set foot on UTSC as an assistant professor in 1984.

“I think we only had two buildings there at the time…what was interesting is that we had a real sense of energy and passion at UTSC back then, and that’s continued over the years,” said Vaccarino, who was slotted early in the year for the position vacated by Professor Kwong-loi Shun.

A slew of new buildings and unique co-op programs have defined UTSC’s development since Vaccarino took the reins. A new emphasis on graduate programs will also continue to be developed under his watch.

“Traditionally UTSC has been more of an undergraduate-focused campus and that’s still the case, but you’re now seeing the emergence of more emphasis on graduate training. In many sectors the masters degree is quickly becoming the educational credential of demand,” he said.

To balance the needs of a large undergraduate population with the emphasis on post-grad studies, Vaccarino plans to feel out “the pulse of the community” and get a sense of direction by the end of the year through consultations with students and faculty: “We need to be thinking not only about the present and the kinds of needs that have emerged, but we also have to be anticipating the future.”

Vaccarino’s vision for his five-year term at the campus will be influenced by his view on how modern economy is changing in its “unprecedented interconnectivity between peoples and nations.”

“I think in some ways UTSC is a reflection of the world at large,” said Vaccarino, who points to courses such as City Studies, which can’t be pinned down to one specific discipline.

“When campuses are smaller you also have more of an opportunity to connect with people, but I think there’s something to be said for a campus on the one hand being small enough to maintain a sense of community, but at the same time also large enough to have an impact and be recognized beyond the local community,” Vaccarino said.

“I see us building on these kinds of strengths.”