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Confronting the Disinformation Age

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The SFU Public Square organized their annual community summit between April 10-18, 2019. This year’s theme was ‘Confronting the Disinformation Age’. There is a growing concern around the world about the manipulation of information and the use of artificial intelligence to customize messaging and communications to individuals.

Leading thinkers and activists were invited by the SFU Public Square for a talk on this topic at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on April 16th in the evening. The speakers for this signature event were David Frum political commentator, Sue Gardener ex Director of the Wikimedia Foundation and Christopher Wylie, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, in a conversation moderated by the CBC’s Ian Hanomansing.

From the start the discussion was highly informative and engaging. David Frum gave examples of the pervasive fake news in the news cycle. “For instance a story broke that the Pope of Vatican endorsed the winning candidate during the 2016 American election. This was a powerfully persuasive news piece for some potential voters but it was completely untrue “explained Frum.

Ian Hanomansing asked how disinformation is affecting Canadians. The panelists suggested that Canadian politics is currently not as polarised as in some other countries. However disinformation campaigns may seek to divide and disengage the public for example through ethnic language media. Sue Gardener and David Frum reminded that such news is often planted on the screens of individuals in the community that are most likely to believe it and take disruptive action to threaten our social fabric as a result of the fake news stories.

For instance during recent negotiations regarding the extradition of the CFO of the Chinese company Huawei Technologies there have been fake news stories targeting the ethnic Chinese community in Canada. These and other examples demonstrate the ease with which inexpensive but potent fake news campaigns can effectively sway public opinion said the panelists. Such targeted messaging can therefore incite disharmony and destruction of the public trust in public institutions, the media and the government itself.

Other examples given during their conversation included the ‘anti vaccination myths’ spreading among local communities. This can also contribute to public health issues such as the measles outbreak in Vancouver. The speakers considered another powerful example of fabricated facts spread by the climate change deniers and their efforts to thwart united action to mitigate the effects of climate change. Christopher Wylie further gave the example of the NAFTA trade negotiations during which Canadians were vulnerable to some propaganda pertaining to particular dairy products or other agricultural products.

Touching on his experiences at Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie outlined the potentially dangerous outcomes of modern technological advances that could promote ‘surveillance capitalism’. Modern technology has enabled fast communication. But as people ring or text or email their friends and colleagues, the content of their communication is deciphered by algorithms that use artificial intelligence and then seemingly relevant news stories populate their screen space. Unfortunately mis-use of this technology can mislead readers by taking advantage of their confirmation bias perhaps i.e. people’s tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses.

David Frum warned against viewing this whole topic through the lens of ‘where technology went wrong’. He reiterated that this is a demand problem not a supply problem. He was referring to the fact that people continue to demonstrate an appetite for disinformation even when it sows division among communities based on gender, ethnicity, race, age or other such factors due to personal discontent. He reminded that in order to resist such campaigns people have to be supported and a robust middle class would be more likely withstand and question such disinformation campaigns.

Event organizer Kady Wong explained the context and history of the annual summits emphasizing the collective impact of the community Summit. She shared information about the ‘conversation circles’ that were planned after the Talk that evening. These were facilitated discussions planned as three breakout sessions that enabled attending audiences to give their views and engage with the topic actively. The event attracted a wide range of people with many different interests, professions and perspectives.

One of the visitors who chose to remain anonymous talked about the breach of privacy resulting from when information about individuals is recorded. “I am a librarian and therefore a custodian of information. Young people especially are not thinking about how long data is stored now a days and what information about them will still be in the public domain when they are much older”.

The event attracted audiences of all ages. Ted, a young man was keen to attend the Talk to learn more about tech trends and to get a perspective on how to handle the shifting interface with media. “Youth are used to the ubiquitous data collection ., It is so ingrained in our daily lives. I continue to use Facebook everyday as my main source of communication.

I don’t really think about it. It probably does not influence me” he opined. A couple of high school students were attending courtesy of the ‘Young Entrepreneur Leadership Lunch Bag’ Charity. They were attending to gain a better understanding of the impact of smart technologies. Their own business idea was to create a ‘smart food system’ where devices and appliances that are part of the food chain could record food usage and assist in preventing waste.

The young girls Isabella and Taryn acknowledged that “there was an ongoing discussion about who can access the database regarding nutritional value in the food consumed by the users and the tradeoff had to be accurately outlined in our business plan”

Mike Larsen, President of the ‘BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association’ was attending the event. He gave his views on the blurring lines between private communication, social networking and access of information from public sources.

He acknowledged that the same technology which was perceived as intrusive by the older generation is now becoming an inevitable aspect of daily life. But he suggested that as citizens we must be vigilant against misuse and overreach.

The Association was formed in 1991 and advocated for the Freedom of Information Protection Act that was passed in BC. Prior to the Talk there was an opportunity for attendees to attend a small exhibition in the foyer titled ‘The Glass Room’ which informed visitors of how technology is pervasive and sometimes invasive.

When people use gadgets as devices such as a smart TV or a smart Vacuum Cleaner they are giving away information about individual lifestyle choices and tastes which can then be used to personalize the messaging and advertisements sent their way. Volunteers were assigned to assist attendees at the Exhbition. Volunteers like Pat have been attending since over three years and mentioned that this year’s theme was particularly relevant. She echoed concerns about big brother watching which could lead to an Orwellian society. “It has been informative and it has got me thinking. I am likely to change some of my lifestyle as a result of what I learnt today “said another volunteer attending the event.


Educate yourself: Check out this recommended reading list from SFU’s 2019 Community Summit: Confronting the Disinformation Age.

Asmita has been blogging for several years about food security, travels, faith, arts and culture. She enjoys community reporting to participate in the local conversation. She founded ‘Culture Chats’ promoting social connections through shared interests in literary and other arts. Asmita has over ten years’ experience in marketing and communications. Her professional interests include business strategy and relations, research and community development. Her family and two little ones are the center of her world.

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Surrey Students Awarded Scholarships, New Scholarship Created By Cloverdale Rodeo Youth Initiative Foundation.

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CLOVERDALE, BC: In June 2020, while the world came to a halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Cloverdale Rodeo & Country Fair postponed, one of the things that didn’t stop was the Cloverdale Rodeo Youth Initiative Foundation annual scholarship. Seven grade 12 students from across the city of Surrey were awarded $1000.00 scholarships for post-secondary education by the Cloverdale Rodeo Youth Initiative Foundation.

“As a Board we collectively agreed to proceed with awarding scholarships during the pandemic, whether there was a rodeo or not, because people are in a time of financial need more than ever, and this is not a time to hold back, but to give and lend a helping hand”, says Foundation Chair Nicole Reader.”

The recipients, all of whom were part of the graduating class of 2020, will use their $1000.00 scholarships for a variety of post secondary institutions across British Columbia.

The 2020 Cloverdale Rodeo Youth Foundation recipients:

  • Vincent Labador – Johnston Heights Secondary
  • Nisha Niijar – Fleetwood Park Secondary
  • Aashna Thapar – North Surrey Secondary
  • Natasha Kalinic – Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary
  • Alexander Thornton – Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary
  • Taya Suttill – Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary
  • Skye Graham – Clayton Heights Secondary

“Each of these graduates are incredibly deserving of these awards,” says Foundation Chair Nicole Reader. “The entire community should be proud of these young people.”

The foundation adjusted its scholarship criteria, so applicants did not require having previous volunteer experience at the Cloverdale Rodeo in order to be eligible, as long as they had volunteer experience with another organization.

The Cloverdale Rodeo Youth Initiative Foundation will also be awarding scholarships this year under its new criteria. The application deadline for the 2021 scholarships is Friday, May 21st, 2021.

Scholarship applications can be found here.

Not only has the Cloverdale Rodeo Youth Initiative Foundation continued to support the youth community throughout the pandemic, but the organization has also been provided the opportunity to establish an additional scholarship through its organization called The Isabella Olson Scholarship Award “Rising Above”.

The “Rising Above” scholarship was established in loving memory of a Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary student, Isabella Olson, on behalf of her loving family. Isabella was an extraordinary and inspirational young individual who strived to ‘Rise Above’ the various obstacles she faced while always remaining determined to succeed.

To honour Isabella’s legacy a $2,000.00 scholarship has been created to recognize an inspiring Lord Tweedsmuir grade 12 student who is “Rising Above” obstacles, whether personal, mental health, bullying, or family related complications.

A student who has the determination to continue doing well in school, who may participate in school activities community services and/or may have work experience.

“Isabella’s inspiring spirit was a source of strength to all who knew her, and it is our esteemed honour to be able to present this award and assisting inspiring students in achieving their dreams, says Foundation Chair Reader.”

The application deadline for the 2021 Isabella Olson Scholarship Award “Rising Above” is Friday, May 21st, 2021.

Scholarship application can be found here.

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Fossil Discovery Deepens Snakefly Mystery

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Fossil discoveries often help answer long-standing questions about how our modern world came to be. However, sometimes they only deepen the mystery—as a recent discovery of four new species of ancient insects in British Columbia and Washington state is proving.

The fossil species, recently discovered by paleontologists Bruce Archibald of Simon Fraser University and Vladimir Makarkin of the Russian Academy of Sciences, are from a group of insects known as snakeflies, now shown to have lived in the region some 50 million years ago.

The findings, published in Zootaxa, raise more questions about the evolutionary history of the distinctly elongated insects and why they live where they do today.

Snakeflies are slender, predatory insects that are native to the Northern Hemisphere and noticeably absent from tropical regions. Scientists have traditionally believed that they require cold winters to trigger development into adults, restricting them almost exclusively to regions that experience winter frost days or colder. However, the fossil sites where the ancient species were found experienced a climate that doesn’t fit with this explanation.

“The average yearly climate was moderate like Vancouver or Seattle today, but importantly, with very mild winters of few or no frost days,” says Archibald. “We can see this by the presence of frost intolerant plants like palms living in these forests along with more northerly plants like spruce.”

The fossil sites where the ancient species were discovered span 1,000 kilometers of an ancient upland from Driftwood Canyon in northwest B.C. to the McAbee fossil site in southern B.C., and all the way to the city of Republic in northern Washington.

Archibald at Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park
Archibald at Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park

According to Archibald, the paleontologists found species of two families of snakeflies in these fossil sites, both of which had previously been thought to require cold winters to survive. Each family appears to have independently adapted to cold winters after these fossil species lived.

“Now we know that earlier in their evolutionary history, snakeflies were living in climates with very mild winters and so the question becomes why didn’t they keep their ability to live in such regions? Why aren’t snakeflies found in the tropics today?”

Pervious fossil insect discoveries in these sites have shown connections with Europe, Pacific coastal Russia, and even Australia.

Archibald emphasizes that understanding how life adapts to climate by looking deep into the past helps explain why species are distributed across the globe today, and can perhaps help foresee how further change in climate may affect that pattern.

“Such discoveries are coming out of these fossil sites all the time,” says Archibald. “They’re an important part of our heritage.”

Archibald fieldwork at Mcabee

About Simon Fraser University

As Canada’s engaged university, SFU works with communities, organizations and partners to create, share and embrace knowledge that improves life and generates real change.

We deliver a world-class education with lifelong value that shapes change-makers, visionaries and problem-solvers. We connect research and innovation to entrepreneurship and industry to deliver sustainable, relevant solutions to today’s problems.

With campuses in British Columbia’s three largest cities—Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey—SFU has eight faculties that deliver 193 undergraduate degree programs and 127 graduate degree programs to more than 37,000 students. The university now boasts more than 165,000 alumni residing in 143 countries.

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Education

The 5 Best 3D Animation Schools In BC

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Did you know Canada is the ultimate hub of 3D animation productions around the globe? With films like Spider-Man, the Avengers, Black Panther, Jurassic World and Star Wars being animated in Vancouver alone, there is no shortage of talent needed in our booming 3D animation industry!

For a prosperous career in the 3D animation industry, it’s no surprise that students are searching for the perfect school to meet their needs. We’ve assembled a list of the top five best film schools in Canada to help streamline your search.

Course offerings at these schools range from flexible one year programs to Bachelors degree options, allowing students to choose from an array of programs best catered towards their needs.

Vancouver Film School

Vancouver Film School is a powerhouse for BC’s creative economy! VFS offers a 12 month diploma that allows you to graduate with a master demo reel of your final project. The school prides itself on producing alumni who push boundaries and discover new frontiers all around the globe!

Though the school comes with a hefty price tag, if you’re seeking to gain experience with traditional arts, computer animation, and exceptional storytelling skills in a professional, student environment – look no further.

InFocus Film School

InFocus Film School in Vancouver, BC offers arguably one of the most practical, hands-on 3D animation programs on this list. Their 3D animation course encourages students to maintain creative freedom.

Despite being one of the most affordable 3D programs in Canada, InFocus students and staff have found work for major studios like Warner Bros., Marvel, DC and more. If you want to learn 3D modeling, character animation and more in one action-packed year, this 3D course will give you the most bang for your buck!

Vancouver Animation School

VANAS is a humble college in Burnaby, BC specializing in the 3D Animation and VFX Industry! They offer introductory courses for beginners, and advanced diploma programs for artists to enter our digital entertainment industries.

Each program is designed to enable aspiring animation filmmakers to learn the production process of creating high quality animation using 2D and 3D computer software. All of their courses are 12 months or under – perfect for students seeking a fast-paced, practical-based education for their animation career.

Emily Carr University of Art & Design

Emily Carr University of Art and Design is the ideal place to develop the academic and practical skills necessary for entering the animation industry!

If you learn best in the classroom through extensive curriculums, Emily Carr’s education system will be an excellent fit for you. You’ll also be given the opportunity to gain some solid hands-on animation production experience and collaborate with experienced individuals in the animation industry. This four year masters program will enable you to become an exceptional critical thinker while honing your technical skills.

Vancouver Institute of Media Arts

VANArts pledges to transform hungry creative minds into the best in the industry, and their 92% placement upon graduation is a testament to this. They offer several animation programs that cater to specific niches, such as 2D & 3D character animation, video game animation, and more. If you’re a student keen on focusing on your interests while working with industry professionals, VANArts is the place for you!

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The Dangers of Toxic Positivity

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Toxic positivity can be attributed to “insincere” positivity which is detrimental to someone’s mental well being. It is “the assumption, either by one’s self or others, that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset “ as Dr. Zuckerman phrased it. Examples of when toxic positivity in daily phrases can include “it can be worse”, “everything will be fine”, “look at the bright side”, and “just be happy”.

Optimism can be considered an “attractive behavior in people that makes them seem more well-adapted” said Dr. Preston, who specializes in empathy, altruism, and the way emotions affect behavior. As per the research of Dr. Preston and Dr. Carolyn Karol optimism can lead to an issue when people begin to invalidate the range of emotions they experience, or a problem they have encountered.

Carolyn Karoll, a psychotherapist in Baltimore also states that in doing so it is not only counterproductive but “it can give the impression that you are defective when you feel distressed, which can be internalized in a core belief that you are inadequate or weak.”

As per Dr. Zukerman, toxic positivity can constitute consciously or unconsciously as an avoidance strategy “ used to push away and invalidate any internal discomfort” which can lead to disrupted sleep, increased substance abuse, prolonged grief, or even PTSD.

This topic is especially integral to discuss in a time period, where hardships of people during the Pandemic are even more prevalent. It has been stated that 40.9% of respondents for a survey in June 2020 reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder.

During a time period where people are more susceptible to a mental health condition, people must not get persuaded by forms of toxic positivity in their aspirations of recovery.

Social media is unknowingly flooded with toxic positivity, to lift people’s spirits during this time period. People are embraced by quotes such as “pursue a hobby” and “you have so much time make use of it”.

These notions are valuable ways for people to be engaged in their community and stay connected with themselves and their passions during the pandemic. However, “putting one foot in front of the other is an accomplishment for many during this global pandemic.” as Dr. Karoll states.

Being productive can be constituted as something important to consider during the pandemic, but let this not hinder people from validating their emotions and finding the support they need with it.

To refrain from a mindset that is regulated often by toxic positivity, people must first understand the gravity of the situation of their lives during the pandemic, and realize that this pandemic naturally causes interferences in people’s schedules and lives, thus amounting to stress at times.

People must learn to stay in tune with their emotions and reflect on their current state of mind. If a person realizes that they are not able to cope or adapt to the current situation, they should understand that this is natural and that they have the right to be upset.

It is equally important that people full-heartedly experience their emotions, and then take measures to support themselves during this time period. Connecting with mental health resources, therapists, and integrating small habits in their days to consider their mental health is optimal.

As per a UCLA Study writing things down can “be putting feelings into words [and] reduce the intensity of emotions such as sadness, anger, and pain.” This is just one method for people to fully decipher their emotions and find an outlet for it.

In order to support other people during this pandemic as well, Dr. DeSilva states that “it’s [..] healthier to acknowledge the pain a person might be experiencing. Ask what they need. It’s possible to exude a positive attitude and still interact with others in a caring way. That’s when positivity is not toxic.”

Our word choices and thought patterns can greatly effect our approach in supporting others. Instead of using phrases such as “it can be worse”, people should try saying something along the lines of “I know things are currently difficult right now for you, what are some positive things that you can surround yourself with?” Instead of saying “just be happy” say “it’s okay if you can’t be happy right now, that’s normal and part of life. Do you need to talk about it? What are some things you can turn to that will help you feel better?”

These small changes in our wording choices validate and fully experience their emotions, and then reflect on it and work towards a solution, opposed to simply suppressing what they feel.

When these steps are acknowledged in a person’s path to rehabilitation, a person without the hindrance of ‘toxic posiitvity’ can truly digest their experiences, and grow from them.

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Education

Sensing Robot Healthcare Helpers Being Developed At SFU

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Robots that could take on basic healthcare tasks to support the work of doctors and nurses may be the way of the future. Who knows, maybe a medical robot can prescribe your medicine someday?

That’s the idea behind 3D structural-sensing robots being developed and tested at Simon Fraser University by Woo Soo Kim, associate professor in the School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering.

“The recent pandemic demonstrates the need to minimize human-to-human interaction between healthcare workers and patients,” says Kim, who authored two recent papers on the subject – a perspective on the technology and a demonstration of a robots’ usefulness in healthcare. “There’s an opportunity for sensing robots to measure essential healthcare information on behalf of care providers in the future.”

Kim’s research team programmed two robots, a humanoid figure and a robotic arm, to measure human physiological signals, working from Kim’s Additive Manufacturing Lab located in SFU Surrey’s new engineering building.

The robotic arm, created using Kim’s 3D printed origami structures, contains biomedical electrodes on the tip of each finger. When the hand touches a person, it detects physiological signals, including those from an electrocardiogram (which monitors heartbeat), respiration rate, electromyogram (monitoring electrical signals from muscle movements) and temperature.

The humanoid robot can also monitor oxygen levels, which could be used to monitor the condition of those who develop severe COVID-19. The data can be viewed in real-time on the robot’s monitor or sent directly to the healthcare provider.

Kim plans further development and testing of the robot together with healthcare collaborators. At this stage, the robots are capable of passively gathering patient information. But within the next decade, he says it’s conceivable that healthcare robots fitted with artificial intelligence could take a more active role, interacting with the patient, processing the data they have collected and even prescribing medication.

Further study will also need to involve determining acceptance levels for this type of technology among various age groups, from youth to seniors, in a hospital setting.

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