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Thursday, May 12, 2005

  • Universities cheer Ontario budget
  • The night the electrons stopped
  • 'Greylists' to help block spam
  • Workshop explores air pollution tools
Editor:
Chris Redmond
credmond@uwaterloo.ca

Canada Health Day


[Four in the Flex lab]

Camp Cloe, they call it -- CLOE being the Co-operative Learning Object Exchange, based at UW as a network for university and college instructors to share learning materials. The week-long "camp" involves faculty, staff and students doing a crash course in how interactive learning objects are created. Kevin Harrigan, of applied health sciences and the Centre for Learning and Teaching Through Technology, is director of the camp, which this year involves 33 people from all over Ontario as well as Manitoba, Newfoundland, Thailand and Indonesia.

Universities cheer Ontario budget

University leaders in Ontario are smiling this morning after a big boost for the funding of post-secondary education was announced in the provincial budget yesterday. Finance minister Greg Sorbara summed up the plan as a total increase of $6.2 billion over five years, and the experts quickly started working out the impact on student aid, university operations and enrolment growth.

"This is a most welcome budget," says UW's president, David Johnston, who spoke of "a clear statement about the province's renewed commitment to higher learning" and said the province had adopted much of what former premier Bob Rae had recommended in his extensive review of Ontario colleges and universities this winter. "It is a pleasure," said Johnston, "to see our current premier, Mr. McGuinty, sharing the vision of earlier premiers like Davis, Robarts and Mowat with such an emphasis on education."

Reactions

Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations: 'A major boost'

Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance: 'Thanks for keeping your promise'

Association of Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology of Ontario: 'An important commitment'

A Council of Ontario Universities release spoke of "an enthusiastic response . . . significant investments  . . . access, quality and excellence . . . a turning point in preparing for Ontario's future prosperity".

"The substantial investments in the day-to-day operations of our universities will provide the platform to restore excellence in students' experiences in the classroom, the laboratory and beyond," said COU. " The multiyear nature of those investments will greatly enhance universities' ability to plan for the future. The addition of $130 million in 2004-2005 for repairs to university buildings will improve the overall quality of students' learning experiences.

"With full funding for all students, Ontario universities will be in a much stronger position to serve the growing numbers of students who are seeking university education. The new student financial assistance initiatives -- including the low-income tuition grant -- will help ensure that qualified students will not be deprived of the opportunity to pursue a university degree because of inadequate funds.

"The commitment to fund an additional 14,000 graduate students by 2009-2010 will substantially increase Ontario's competitiveness. The $100 million for endowments for graduate scholarships will help Ontario attract and retain more of the best and the brightest graduate students. . . . Ontario universities will also have increased capacity to address public policy issues that are of social importance and are vital to economic prosperity, with the announcement of the $25 million Ontario Research Chairs."

Yesterday's announcements include $447 million this year in new operating funding for colleges and universities, $192 million for student assistance, and $44 million for training, apprenticeship and other initiatives. Special funding is provided to expand medical schools.

There's also a program of grants for low-income students, an increase to the weekly minimum allowance that better reflects the actual costs of study, and a $50 million ongoing allocation for the Ontario Trust for Student Support (OTSS), as well as a new allocation of these funds among the various universities.

The tuition free freeze stays in place until 2006, and new funding will compensate the universities for the money they lose as a result of not being able to boost fees.

The budget announced plans for a new Council on Higher Education to help set targets for growth in participation and quality improvements, and report publicly on progress and performance. Universities and colleges will be expected to produce multi-year plans, including performance indicators. Also planned: a Research Council of Ontario to advise on research priorities and raise Ontario's profile as an international research centre.

The budget includes promises (and money) stretching ahead to 2010, and universities still face "challenges", those in the know are saying this morning. UW will likely continue to push for "flexibility" on tuition fees, a system by which each university can set its own fees and operate its own aid system for lower-income students. Another continuing issue for Waterloo is the extra cost of year-round operation under the co-op system, something Rae and Sorbara have not addressed.

The night the electrons stopped

Electrical power went out across the main campus about 5:00 last night, and across most of the city of Waterloo, thanks to what was tentatively identified as an explosion in a Hydro One transmission station on Conestogo Road in north Waterloo. The outage lasted around two hours in some areas, including UW, but as much as five hours in parts of the city.

It was still daylight, but with interior lights not working and computers and networks out of operation, many evening activities were cancelled, from classes to the Math Society's games night at the Cove in the Student Life Centre. An Engineering Society was moved outdoors onto the Carl Pollock Hall patio, where it was "a little more disorganized than usual", I'm told.

The Davis Centre and Dana Porter libraries closed at 6:00 and didn't reopen until this morning. One staff member in Dana Porter was trapped in an elevator until he wrenched the doors open and escaped.

A computer science student sent this report late last night: "I encountered the odd situation of having the power at my house at Columbia and Albert totally unaffected, while being surrounded by unlit streetlights, silenced construction equipment, and students in other houses forced out onto front lawns listening to car stereos. The power outage seemed very weird in Hagey Hall as well, with certain circuits within the same office knocking out at significantly different times."

Similarly, I had time to be sending and reading e-mail about the power failure before the computing systems I was using went down. "Fortunately the power went off before everyone had left for the day," says Martin Timmerman of IST. "Staff hustled into IST's central computing facility to take care of the servers still running on backup power. Upon hearing this was a major outage, they performed an orderly shutdown of all the equipment instead of waiting for the batteries to run down. Shortly after 7:00, power was restored to campus and an IST team was called back into campus to get everything operational again. With recent experience from a planned shutdown in April, the startup of networks and servers was completed before morning."

The university telephone system, including voicemail, was unaffected all evening -- "but then everyone expects phones to work when the power is out," says Bruce Uttley of IST.

Also unaffected were the traffic lights on University Avenue, although traffic was pretty snarled in parts of the city. The student-built Formula SAE car took a spin in parking lot C in mid-evening -- "kinda neat to watch", one spectator told me by e-mail.

For many people in engineering, the power failure was the second big interruption of the day. Earlier, engineering buildings were evacuated for about an hour and a half as the result of a smelly but (it turned out) harmless chemical spill in a laboratory.

'Greylists' to help block spam

A new technique for blocking spam e-mail will be in use across most of the campus starting May 25, says an announcement from information systems and technology.

"A spam reduction technique called greylisting will be implemented on the IST mail services cluster," says an announcement from Paul Snyder of IST's client services unit. He explains: "Greylisting challenges off-campus e-mail servers by enforcing a slight delay in e-mail delivery. Spammers like to blast hundreds of thousands of messages at a time, and very few are able to cope with the response, 'I won't accept your e-mail now, you'll have to wait for 5 minutes.'"

Martin Timmerman, also of IST, notes that his department has been trying out greylisting, and in a sample interval, "of the 40,582 e-mails that were sent to IST staff from off campus and sendmail said 'go away for 5 minutes and try again later,' just 2,442 were delivered. We assume that's over 38,000 pieces of spam that did not arrive."

Staff in UW's library have also been testing the system in recent weeks, and found it "very successful", Snyder says. Two weeks from now, the 5-minute delay system will be applied to "the IST mail services cluster", the central point that processes all e-mail addressed in the form userid@uwaterloo.ca. E-mail to many of the other mail servers on campus, such as admmail and artsmail, is first directed to the cluster and will also be affected by this change.

IST explains that messages from inside UW, or from Wilfrid Laurier University, are not delayed by the new system. Other "known non-spammers" can be added to a "whitelist". "The Library implemented server whitelisting for all Ontario universities plus other selected e-mail servers. The mailservices team will monitor the system logs to see if there are some external servers that should be whitelisted."

There's also an "autowhitelist", an ever-changing list of external addresses that have been found to be legitimate. Once a piece of mail has been found not to be spam, and properly delivered, other mail from the same source will be delivered without the 5-minute delay for the following eight days. "The intent is that if the recipient gets regular weekly e-mail from an external source the system will remember to pass it through without delay."

WHEN AND WHERE
Clubs Days 10 to 4 today and tomorrow, Student Life Centre.

Leather Jacket Day at the UW Shop, South Campus Hall, 11:00 to 3:00.

Colloque Margot: "Dix ans de recherche sur les femmes écrivains de l'Ancien Régime", conference hosted by department of French studies, through Saturday, program online.

Electrical and computer engineering seminar: Toshishige Yamada, NASA Ames Center for Nanotechnology, "System Testing and Fault-Tolerance Models for Nanotechnology", 11:00, CEIT room 3142.

Arthur Hills, computer science computing facility, retirement reception 3:45, Davis Centre room 1301.

Dance Dance Dance festival today through Sunday, Humanities Theatre.

Arriscraft Lecture: Will Alsop, London, "Architectural Behaviour," 7 p.m., Architecture building lecture hall.

Aboriginal studies public lecture: Dean Jacobs, chief of the Walpole Island First Nation, on water issues, 7:30, MacKirdy Hall, St. Paul's College.

LaunchPad $50K Venture Creation Competition, announcement of three winning teams, Friday 4 p.m., Schlegel Centre, Wilfrid Laurier University.

Canada's role in Afghanistan: International conference today through Saturday, sponsored by Centre for International Governance Innovation. William Maley, Australian National University, "Democratising Afghanistan", today 7:00, 57 Erb Street West; Bill Graham, minister of national defence, speaks at Friday dinner event at WLU.

CS4U@Waterloo Day open house for grade 9 and 10 students, parents and teachers, Saturday 9:30 to 4:30, Davis Centre, information online.

Friends of the Library annual lecture and authors' celebration: Howard Burton, Perimeter Institute, "Creativity Unbound", Tuesday 12 noon, Theatre of the Arts.

By the time a message is delayed, sent back to the source and received again, the average delay is expected to be about 30 minutes. (In a recent test, two-thirds of messages arrived within an hour.) Says IST: "While we believe that most people will enjoy the benefits of reduced spam using greylisting, some will not want the median 30 minute delay in the receipt of e-mail from off campus. To opt-out of the greylisting service, simply send your request to request@ist. Opt-out lists will be updated daily."

Snyder warns that greylisting "is likely only a temporary reprieve until they can code their mailers to deal with this delay." There's more information on IST's web site.

Workshop explores air pollution tools -- from the UW media relations office

The value of analytical tools for assessing the impact of air pollution on health will be examined at a workshop this month in Toronto, hosted by Pollution Probe and the UW-based Network for Risk Assessment and Management.

The Policy Analysis Tools for Air Quality and Health workshop aims to encourage communication among policy-makers, scientists, modellers and other stakeholders to identify critical policy needs, key issues and gaps in knowledge for policy analysis. It will be held Thursday, May 19, at the Toronto Metro Hall. Sponsors include the Toronto Board of Health, Lakes Environmental, Pollution Probe, UW's Institute for Risk Research, Health Canada, Environment Canada, Dofasco, RWDI and Cantox Environmental, and the Ontario ministry of the environment.

"It is now universally recognized that poor air quality has adverse impacts on human health, and research confirms that residents in Southern Ontario and other parts of Canada are exposed to levels of air pollutants associated with morbidity and mortality," said UW professor emeritus John Shortreed, executive director of both NERAM and the IRR. "However, the total impact of current levels and trends of air pollution alongside current policies and those slated to be implemented in the near future is not well known."

Quentin Chiotti, air program director and senior scientist at Pollution Probe, said: "Our understanding of models and other tools is somewhat limited. We do not fully appreciate how they can be used to inform policy needs or assess policy outcomes."

The workshop will examine three main questions: What is the health significance of air pollution? Are there available models and analysis adequate to inform policy at some level? What are the key policy questions that should be addressed by analysis? "It is important to consider these questions from both the high policy level and the local grass roots perspective," Chiotti said.

The workshop will include presentations by experts providing updates on current knowledge of air pollution levels and related health effects from national and local perspectives. Also, there will be presentations of specific examples by experienced modellers who have tackled the problems of estimating health impacts of air pollution and policies affecting air quality, along with predicting the potential impacts of future policies.

CAR


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