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May 15, 2003

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Computing super powerfully
Vancouver Province, May 9

Imagine being able to forecast exactly where a tornado is going to touch down, or identify overnight the structure of a mutating virus. These feats of science aren't possible yet, but a grid supercomputer that is to be built in B.C. and Alberta could play a role in moving that technology forward. The $48 million WestGrid project will feature an inter-operable set of research facilities spanning eight institutions across Canada. “Whether it's weather forecasting or viral genomes, I'd be hard put to think of a field where this will not be relevant,” says SFU mathematics professor Jonathan Borwein, one of the project's leaders. “It's hard to quantify what the payoff will be, but it's big,” he says, noting that WestGrid will put Canada in the “big leagues” of research.

Murder rate on the decline
Vancouver Sun, May 8

Serial murders, gang slayings, drug killings and youth violence notwithstanding, Canadians are a relatively peaceful lot, and we're getting more so. Canada's homicide rate has generally been declining since the mid-1970s and in 2001 was 1.8 per 100,000 population. Compare that with the U.S, where the murder rate is three times that of Canada. “We tend to sit back and gloat, and talk about what a peaceable kingdom we are, how this can be so, given that we're only an hour from the border, and what is so different about Canada,” says Robert Gordon, director of SFU's school of criminology. He attributes the massive gap in murder rates to more holes in the U.S. social safety net, the presence of more disadvantaged ethnic groups, and the greater availability of firearms south of the border.

Zero tolerance misses issue
CanWest News Service, May 2

Upholding zero-tolerance policies designed to rid schools across the country of violence and disrespectful behaviour are proving to be a tough balancing act, setting off a spate of lawsuits by parents, some as school boards fail to protect their bullied children, others in protest against unfair suspensions. “Zero tolerance policies give the appearance of effectiveness, but they are not effective,” notes education professor Wanda Cassidy, director of the centre for education, law and society at SFU. “Zero tolerance policies allow schools to say, ‘we've removed this problem child or that problem child, and therefore there is no problem here.' However, zero tolerance policies result in many, many children being denied access to public education, and without a fair and impartial hearing.”

Airports tighten SARS screening
Victoria Times Colonist, May 1

In an effort to stop SARS from spreading, pilot projects set to begin as early as next week at Vancouver and Toronto airports will use heat-seeking infrared sensors to scan the temperatures of passengers. SFU kinesiology professor James Morrison says there shouldn't be many false positives using the temperature scanners if they are set properly. One of the symptoms of SARS is a fever of 38 degrees or higher. Morrison says there aren't many things likely to crank a passenger's temperature above that level. “If you're exercising, you're burning more energy and that's given off as heat,” he notes. “It would have to be fairly strenuous exercise to reach that level, cycling or jogging. It's highly improbable that someone would be doing that just before getting on an airplane.”

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