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Thursday, January 6, 2005

  • Alumni readers told about informatics
  • Mechatronics student is featured
  • Notes in a northern land
Chris Redmond

The twelfth day of Christmas

[Orange ribbon]

Ribbon sales aid tsunami victims

Dana Evans of the Federation of Students staff writes that "a student-generated effort to raise funds for the tsunami relief effort in Southeast Asia" is starting today with the sale of orange ribbons by Federation volunteers and many student clubs. Ribbons cost $1 apiece, with all the funds going to relief work organized by World Vision Canada.

Says Evans: "On Thursday and Friday an information booth with the first batch of orange ribbons will be set up amongst the clubs booths in the SLC great hall. Starting on Monday of next week, booths will be set up in highly trafficked buildings around campus. Everyone, students, staff and faculty, are encouraged to participate. As a community, we can make a huge difference if we work together. This is a very simple way to get involved and make a difference. People are encouraged to give generously today. The Canadian government will match dollar-for-dollar all donations made through World Vision before January 11."

Larger donations to World Vision can be made online.

The flags at the university's main entrance continue to fly at half-staff as part of Canada's national mourning for the tsunami victims.

Alumni readers told about informatics

Something called the "comprehensive electronic health record", EHR for short, is "the holy grail of health informatics", says the cover story in the current issue of the UW Magazine, sent to some 100,000 Waterloo alumni.

The article, by Pat Bow of the communications and public affairs office, is a roundup of UW work in the health informatics field, from hospital performance indicators to improvements in radiation therapy for cancer.

Researchers at Waterloo are also looking at computerized ways to assess rehabilitation of elderly patients, improvements to medical imaging, even the quality of health information that's available to the public on the Web. The article quotes Dominic Covvey, director of the Waterloo Institute for Health Informatics Research: "Information is the lifeblood of the health care system."

The article note that electronic health records were "singled out for special attention" in the federal government's 2002 "Romanow report" on health care, which called the EHR "one of the keys to modernizing Canada's health system". It's expected to give patients control of their own health records, allow health care givers and institutions to smoothly coordinate care, and ensure patients receive the right drugs. "Alberta introduced a provincial EHR for prescription drugs and lab test data this year," the article continues, "but researchers agree a truly comprehensive national EHR is still many years away."

The reason is partly technical. "It's a wonderful idea, but easier said than done," says Ian McKillop. A professor in health studies and gerontology with a cross-appointment to computer science, he holds the J.W. Graham Research Chair in Health Informatics. "We are still developing standardized ways to capture data," because different people use different language and choose different information to capture even when aiming at the same result, he says.

[Blue cover; lead story is 'body of evidence'] The article goes on: "One group looking for answers to this problem is based at Waterloo. Led by Dominic Covvey, they are beginning a project aimed at drafting a formal method for choosing what data should be in the EHR, depending on who will be using it and in what circumstances it will be used -- you arrive at the hospital unconscious, to be treated by an emergency doctor, or you have a first meeting with your family physician.

"Equally strong, and perhaps stronger, is the psychological resistance to a comprehensive EHR. Jose Arocha, Health Studies and Gerontology, points out that much of the technology needed to apply informatics to our health care system already exists. We use invisible computers every day, embedded in doors, cars, and DVD players. You can send your child to daycare with a sensor in his shirt to detect fever. In Japan, you can use a toilet that analyzes your urine for sugar levels.

"Smart health cards that store your medical and pharmaceutical information have already been tried-and in some cases dropped, not because of any technical glitch, but because people didn't like the idea of their entire medical history cached in one place: they worried their private lives might no longer be private."

Arocha asks: "Can we live with the technology and make use of it? Do we want to?"

Mechatronics student is featured

[Charles at COM DEV] A student in the new mechatronics program is featured on the front page of UW's newsletter for co-op employers this term. Employers are introduced to mechatronics ("a multidisciplinary program that integrates mechanical and electrical engineering, systems design, and computer science into the design of computer-controlled electro-mechanical systems") through a profile of James (Ash) Charles (right) as he finishes his second work term with COM DEV Ltd. in Cambridge.

The article, by Esther Chen, points out that a key element in mechatronics is its "emphasis on design teamwork and practical application knowledge gained through co-op experience".

Chen (herself a third-year sociology student who worked for the co-op department as her co-op job this past term) writes: "Ash chose Mechatronics at UW specifically because it is an exciting combination of engineering programs. Even though it's a long way from his home in Vancouver, like many other students from outside Ontario or even Canada, Ash was also looking for experience at companies like COM DEV, which is possible through UW's co-op program.

"Right from the very first academic term, Mechatronics students work on various hands-on projects. In his first year, Ash built a robot using Lego and programmed it to complete an obstacle course as part of his engineering project work. Mechatronics students are given a solid foundation in mechanical design, and a good knowledge of systems, electrical, and computer engineering. This gives Mechatronics students a breadth of knowledge that is helpful in working in the real world, as they are familiar with the different tools and methods used in each field. At the same time, these students remain in a good position to learn more because they are highly flexible."

Junior students in the program have AutoCAD, freehand, programming, oral communication, and teamwork skills gained through course project work. Intermediate students have knowledge of circuits, systems, mechanics, and programming at the microprocessor level. Seniors will have electromechanical machine design, digital and analog control knowledge, and more, says the article, which reaches employers (and potential employers) both online and in the printed UW Recruiter newsletter.


Becoming associate dean (graduate studies and research) in the faculty of environmental studies is Jean Andrey of the department of geography. She took on the associate dean's job as of January 1, succeeding Geoff Wall, also of geography.

It continues: "During Ash's first work term at Dana Corporation, he built prototypes in the fuel cell research group. Currently as part of COM DEV's engineering R&D team, Ash is optimizing an actuator design for a switch matrix that will eventually be used for satellite communications. In addition to this, he is designing a tool that allows Matlab optimization routines to control simulator programs. Future co-op students will be able, with minor modifications, to adapt this code to solve a variety of design problems."

Charles is the first co-op student to work for Klaus Engel, of COM DEV's technical staff, and he's impressed, calling the experience "quite beneficial." He says he'll definitely continue to hire students from mechatronics.

Notes in a northern land

"Ready for the big storm?" somebody asked me as I trudged to the office this morning. Well, uh, no; but it serves as a reminder of the university's storm closing procedure, which was last invoked on January 27 of last year. The procedure says that UW will close for the day if, and only if, the Waterloo Region District School Board closes all its schools (not just the buses but the schools). On a blustery morning, staff, students and faculty can check local radio stations for a school closing announcement, and be confident that UW will be doing the same as the public schools are doing. Storm closing news also appears on the UW web home page as early in the morning as possible.

[French horn] There's an open rehearsal tonight for Orchestra@UWaterloo, the all-volunteer group that was formed last term. The orchestra gave its first concert in the Humanities Theatre in early December, and drew "a full house, maybe 600 people", says Anna Lubiw of the computer science department, who has been the chief organizer of the new venture and plays in its violin section. The concert was recorded, she reports, but the recordings aren't available yet. For this term, a concert is planned on March 31. "A good number of players are off on co-op job terms," says Lubiw, "so we're busy recruiting new players." Students, faculty and staff are all welcome.

Auditions continue tonight for this year's show from the FASS Theatre Company, one of UW's oldest and most eccentric traditions. The show will be titled "Superheroes", and although exact dates don't seem to have been announced yet, FASS will hit the stage at the beginning of February. Auditions will be held tonight and tomorrow, 7 to 9 p.m. in Humanities room 334, and a first read-through of the script is scheduled for Sunday afternoon, says producer Alice Pfeifer. Organizers are looking for "superhero, supervillain and techie wannabes" from among Faculty, Alumni, Staff and Students: "Come out on any of the nights to sing, dance and act your heart out for the director and his creative staff and become part of the adventure that will be this year's FASS."

Clement (Clem) Sochasky, who holds a key spot in UW's history, died December 22, aged 82. Originally a staff member in the physics department, where he started in 1970, he took on responsibility for the administration of Waterloo's correspondence (now "distance education") program, which had begun there a few years earlier. By the time of his retirement in 1987, he was manager of course offerings in the correspondence office.

The Imaginus poster sale continues today and tomorrow in the Student Life Centre. . . . The term's first sessions of Co-op 101, briefings for students who will soon be applying for their first co-op jobs, start today. . . . A "Positions Available" sheet for yesterday was circulated, a bit behind schedule, and shows just one job, for a food services assistant. . . .

And here's a final reminder that the "President's Colloquium on Teaching and Learning", which was scheduled to be held today, has been cancelled because the keynote figure, Ken Bain of New York University, is unable to be here. Organizers say they hope to reschedule.


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