• Students on UTSG not Closing

    ANONYMOUS
    Cannon Contributor

    I am a 2nd year student in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering. I am writing to you today to express my anger and protest at the university’s irresponsible response to today’s extreme weather event.

     

    The winter storm today (Feb 12th), was predicted several days in advance. Furthermore, Environment Canada declared a storm warning in advance, predicting 15-20 cm of snow and possible freezing rain, gusts of wind upto 80 km/h and low visibility. They further advised that all non-essential travel be postponed until after the storm. In accordance with this warning, all university and college campuses in the GTA cancelled all classes on Feb 12th due to unsafe commuting conditions. This cancellation was done early morning, allowing students to safely stay home for the day.

     

    UTSG, however, did nothing until 12pm, and then cancelled classes starting at 4pm or later. This is an empty gesture, devoid of any safety considerations. Very few students have no classes starting before 4pm, meaning that due to UTSG’s irresponsibly late reaction, nearly all students have been forced to come to campus already. They have been put at risk in coming to campus during this storm, and will be put at risk going back. UTSG’s empty gesture does not help anyone.

     

    This is not the first time UTSG has irresponsibly stayed open, only to cancel classes when everyone is already on campus. I ask that my elected representatives, use their platform and institutional power to demand UTSG put policies in place to prevent late, meaningless cancellations from happening again. When there are clear predictions of an adverse weather event and official warnings days in advance, UTSG must cancel classes in advance, before students come to campus. This is not a revolutionary demand. Every single other university and college in the GTA, including UTM and UTSC, seems to have no problem with this. Students should not be forced to choose between their safety and coming to class.

     

  • International Exchange, A Chance to Explore

    EXCHANGES CAN OFTEN TAKE YOU TO FAR FLUNG PLACES LIKE SINGAPORE                  CREDIT: SAMUEL BEGGS

    SAMUEL BEGGS
    Mech 1T8 + PEY

    Students arrive at university with many hopes, ready to go out there and finally live the life they have been dreaming of for at least a couple years. Many have been constantly thinking of what will happen at this crazy place called university: “Maybe I will work for some huge tech company over the summer“, “Perhaps I will join some intramurals”, “ How will I look after the Freshman 15? “, “Damn, I am going to miss Mom”, How about going abroad? “. That last question, seldom posed here at Skule™, is a question that demands further inspection. After all, the classic idea of a university career tends to include some time spent abroad, learning a new culture, taking some coursework at a different university and getting outside of one’s comfort zone. Last year, according to the faculty’s annual report, of the 5300 students in undergraduate engineering, a paltry 10 participated in a semester or year long exchange program for a rate of 0.3% – a dismal number when compared to the overall numbers of Australia (~10%), considering the multitude of benefits linked to student exchange.

    I went on exchange to the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, and at the risk of sounding like the “kid coming back from exchange” meme I can unreservedly say that it was a great decision and all of the exchange students with whom I have discussed this topic have agreed entirely. Although you will surely get a great education in school while abroad, I can promise you that that will make up only half of the experience. The cultural education you receive and the new friends you make are benefits that will be much more valuable, will be much harder to come by later in life, and are the reasons for which you should seize the opportunity in front of you now.

    With that being said, as a Skule™ student myself, I understand the weight of stress one feels just getting through the semester. The same pressure that stops many students from ever considering studying abroad, despite the well-researched benefits of going on exchange. Chief among these benefits is the opportunity to experience a new place without feeling like a tourist and instead experiencing the life of the locals firsthand. The rapid development of cross cultural understanding is personally enriching. Think of your life as a student at UofT. Chances are you have gotten to experience some pretty cool things in Toronto that only a local could take advantage of. Now imagine having the same advantages but as a student in London, Singapore, Sydney or Paris. Not to mention that while abroad, you also will have the ability to travel to places completely inaccessible to you while in Toronto. Most popular exchange destinations, like South East Asia, Australia, and Europe, have tons of tourist centres packed tightly together that are easily accessible by cheap modes of transport. The experience gained while abroad is also very attractive to potential employers. A fact that should not be lost on any student looking to find a PEY placement after their second or third year. The ability to adapt rapidly to a new culture and pedagogical environment, as one does on exchange, is a key skill with benefits in any industry and position.

    Compare all of the aforementioned benefits to the work that needs to be completed for a student to study abroad. Applying for exchange requires very little time and is non-committal until late in the process. It typically begins in second semester of second year in preparation for exchange during third year. Luckily engineering students have the Centre for International Experience (CIE) who can help guide them on the exchange process. The entire application process is well detailed on the CIE website and requires, among other things, a short statement of purpose and budget for your time abroad. After checking out the process, many still fear things such as messing up their graduation or the prohibitive price, but from personal experience most students who go on exchange end up not having too many issues and do not regret a thing. The majority of students do not ending up taking any extra courses at UofT. Instead, they typically have an untraditional fourth year because they complete their requirements in a different order. In terms of cost, going on exchange is not as expensive as you might think and can even be cheaper than living in Toronto, especially when considering the fact that you are combining the costs of getting an education and travelling in an entirely new part of the world. Exchange opens you up to a lot of scholarships only for exchange students from the engineering Faculty, UofT, the CIE and often the destination school, which sometimes help offset any extra expenses incurred from the travel. Among other things, the fact that Toronto is already one of the most expensive places to live in the world provides enough of a reason to leave!

    If this article has inspired you to take a look into international opportunities of any kind (research, PEY, summer courses), please do not hesitate to contact me or check out a CIE workshop and the newly released learningabroad.utoronto.ca website where you can find a wide array of information on the basics of learning abroad with helpful tips on the application process, upcoming events, and budgeting for exchange.

     

  • 7 Myths About Mental Health

    ALYSON ALLEN
    Cannon Contributor

    Being in an extracurricular with things that I love should be easy, right? I should be motivated and inspired, especially when it comes to writing an article to share with the Skule™ community. Except, that is not the case. This was a constant battle between me wanting to do something and not being able to do so: my mind did not want to let me. Other things I love in life also end up being a drag, despite my constant fear of failure or that my life is not going as planned. I never show up to events that have a lot of people and even missed out on my own F!rosh Week from being too overwhelmed. I thought I had no reason for this; then I learned that I experience mental illness.

    Mental illness is any disorder that affects mood, thinking, and behaviour, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder and more. According to Youth Mental Health Canada, all Canadians will know someone or have mental illness and 15-24-year olds are most likely to have them. A study done in 2016 by the National College Health Assessment on post-secondary students in Ontario, found that 46% had depression symptoms that affected their life and 65% had overwhelming anxiety in the past year.

    Overall, it is easy noticeable that students are those who may experience this the most, and yet there are still stigmas and misconceptions surrounding it all. We need to make sure that it becomes easier to speak of these topics, and to get help. To accomplish that, we must uncover facts and myths:

    Myth: People with mental illness are “crazy”
    Reality: Those who experience mental health problems are people who are part of your everyday life. You should not perceive them differently. Another misconception is that those who experience schizophrenia are violent, but they are not and rather may just act unpredictably.

    Myth: You need to have a reason to have mental health complications
    Reality: Anyone can get affected for different reasons, through genetics or experiences. For mood disorders, a shift in mood can happen unexpectedly. You are valid for your experiences and there is no need to compare yourself to others.

    Myth: Depression is just sadness
    Reality: Depression symptoms vary from person to person and can include trouble concentrating, lack of motivation, feeling of helplessness and physical symptoms including fatigue, appetite changes, constant aches and pains.

    Myth: Anxiety is just improper stress management
    Reality: Anxiety includes extreme worry and fear in certain situations for no logical reason. Symptoms are often physical including nausea, shaking, increased breathing. There are many types of anxiety disorders, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Panic Disorder.

    Myth: Being bipolar is just constant mood swings
    Reality: It is instead a cycle between manic periods (high energy and energized behaviour) and depressive periods (hopelessness, sadness) that can last weeks.

    Myth: You are lazy and selfish if you take “mental health days”, or if you claim to not have motivation
    Reality: Mental health can affect productivity, interest in activities and make it difficult to simply get out of bed. There are often no explanations why certain days may be like this, but it is completely okay to take a day off to rest your mind.

    Myth: “Just get help”
    Reality: Almost half of people who have experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression have not seen a professional – mostly due to stigma around it. It is currently not as widely accepted to seek help for mental health as it is physical and takes a lot of courage to seek assistance even if many resources are provided.

    There are many other misconceptions surrounding mental health, and it is incredibly important for us to get informed. With my own experiences, I was always afraid that people would perceive me differently, and that it was selfish to focus on myself. We need to discuss this now in order to help students. Our lives are very busy and stressful, from things surrounding homework, work, living, extracurriculars, and more, but we need to ensure there is time available for our own health. It is necessary to understand that everyone is in a different place in their life and each of us faces challenges differently. We should not compare ourselves to others and are valid for our feelings. Our mental health should always come before school despite how hard it may be to realize that. Checking up on friends and classmates is key to making a step in the right direction. Mental health affects your entire life. Let’s make it a better conversation.

     

     

  • The Villain of Politics: Emotions

    Andrew Zhao
    Cannon Contributor

    On October 2nd, US President Trump’s ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, set off international alarm bells when she proclaimed that, “Washington remained committed to a diplomatic solution but was prepared to consider a military strike if the development of the medium-range system continued”.

    This is a direct example of politicians playing to people’s emotions – though many people remain oblivious to the frequency with which this occurs. Politics has become a battleground where politicians fight more for control of the emotions of the people than for control of the national interests.

    POLITICIANS OFTEN HAVE TO USE EMOTION TO COMMUNICATE THEIR MESSAGE CREDIT: NADYA ABDULLAH

    Beto O’Rourke, a candidate for the United States Senate, has become one of the most popular American politicians today. He became the first Democratic nominee to win a Texan statewide office since 1994, gaining more than half of the votes.

    What is it about him that makes people gravitate towards his vote? He may have a solid platform, but he’s not the only one. What Beto has going for him is that he is a good salesman. At the end of the day, that is what a politician is: a salesman. They have a product that they want you to endorse.

    Any good salesman will tell you that the true essence of the sales industry is that the customer is buying emotions. Beto knows how to communicate with the people in a way to invoke their deepest emotions. If you have watched any of his speeches, you would notice his flamboyant gestures and his thundering tones. You will notice how his passionate speeches always touch on a topic that is very controversial in American society. More often than not, Beto does not even include a detailed plan of action in his speeches! Instead, Beto offers Americans the promise that he will fight for them.

    In a country where the people feel helpless against its democratically stifling government, Beto offers the emotions of hope and a will to renew the fight.

    That’s the winning strategy of a good politician. They gain more emotional support than their competition and turn that emotional support into votes. The path to power lies not in the minds of the people, but in their hearts.

    The same goes for a politician. A politician makes his/her platform not based on what the country needs, but on what he/she thinks the people need to hear.

    A classic example of this can be seen in Donald Trump. It is true that he has been talked about and analyzed over and over, but there is a reason for that. He provides us with an example of how a populace can be swayed by extravagant promises that hold little substance. One of his most well-known mottos, “Make America Great Again”, provokes an emotion in the people of a stagnant country who feel threatened by various developments in the global community. From a paranoia of terrorism, to increasing competition from other countries. However, his vow to make America great again has been delivered with many broken promises. It ranges from increasing the national debt while cutting taxes when he declared that he will lower the national debt, to forcing many Americans to sacrifice basic necessities of life to get medication after he promised that he will ensure every American can still afford golf.

    Psychological studies have shown that the human mind is not actually governed by rational thoughts. Rather, it is always subconsciously influenced by irrational motives. Michael Levine says, in “The Divided Mind”, that 80% of the decisions that Americans make are based on emotions. Only 20% of decisions are made with some degree of objectivity.

    Antonio Damasio did research on people with damage in the part of the brain where emotions are generated. Interestingly enough, he discovered that these people were unable to make decisions. They were able to make rational descriptions of what they should do, but were frequently unable to make even the most simple choices in life, such as what to eat!

    As much as we would like to think that we are rational beings at our core, we are most certainly not. Logic is a wall that we put up around ourselves to make us seem like humanity is a sophisticated species. Unfortunately, it is nothing but a facade. We are emotional beings, and politicians know it. The end result is that we become puppets tied to our own heartstrings. It’s time that we cut those strings. Break free of the grip of political emotions and focus on what is truly important: the continued growth.

  • Thank You Skule™

    ANONYMOUS
    Cannon Contributor

    Dear Skule™,

    You are the most kind, welcoming, and inclusive community I’ve ever encountered. When I first stepped on campus, I was greeted by alarmingly excited purple people, and I wasn’t quite sure what I was in for. Not only did I get a crazy and fantastic week, but an amazing support system through my first year. However, I didn’t realize how good of a support system I truly had until I really needed it.

    During my time here, I’ve been sexually assaulted. I was, in a word, devastated. I felt ashamed and didn’t feel I could confide in anyone, let alone report it. But when I couldn’t speak up for myself, Skule™ stepped up and protected me. Friends and acquaintances tried to do their best in making me feel safe, supported, and welcome on campus. No one ever pried or disrespected my privacy. I can’t express what it meant to me that people in Skule™ would go out of their way to help someone in need. Despite having a lot of self doubt and not believing in myself, they helped me believe I wasn’t alone.

    Recovery is an ongoing process and I’ve experienced some setbacks. One night, I took a knife from the kitchen, locked myself in the bathroom, and had every intention of hurting myself. In my distress, I was interrupted by a Skule™ notification on my phone. It was a seemingly inconsequential thing, but in that moment, I was reminded of the wonderful community of people who had my back.

    Bit by bit, the community in Skule™ has pulled me out of my isolation. I have been surrounded by incredible people who I don’t want to leave. Some days are good, but I still struggle from time to time. I hope to give back to this community which threw me the lifeline I needed while I was drowning at sea. I’m proud to be a Skuligan.

    Thanks for saving my life, Skule™. I owe you one.

  • Is the Grass Really Greener On the Other Side?

    ANONYMOUS
    Cannon Contributor

    A sincere survival guide from past and present PEY students

    Your professional experience year (PEY) is a valuable undertaking. It gives you a chance to use your skills, a taste of what industry is like, a break from school and a steady income for a few months. You may have heard upper-years tell you that their PEY was amazing and they would do anything go back. However, the fact of the matter is that work life is a big change from student life and, like most change, the beginning can be hard.

    CREDIT: TELUS

    Working in a small company, I have always admired people who have the courage to move to Silicon Valley and work for well-known firms. I recently met up with one of my friends who had made this big leap. She still looked the same and as she sat there in the chilly fall weather, it was hard to think that it had been five months since I last saw her. Excited and ready to hear about her adventures and get some top notch tech news, I asked “So, how is your PEY going”?

    “It’s actually not that good”, she looked down and answered hesitantly. “Until recently I had nothing to do, and most of the work I had been doing consisted of changing configuration files. Everyone in my team seemed to be busy and there was little guidance. I really don’t think I was working up to my potential.”

    She talked about how in the beginning of her placement she felt like she was not being given enough work. She said “At the end of one my one-on-one meetings with my manager, I got the message that she didn’t trust me to do any important work at the start of my internship and therefore only gave me simple and repetitive tasks. I was relieved that she had finally communicated this to me because I had been miserably doubting myself and the work I had been doing every single day for the first three months.”

    As she spoke, I let out a sigh of relief because she had been echoing the same concerns I had at my own job. So, it’s not just me?

    I was no different in my own company, a relatively small place that consisted of software developers and finance graduates. I remember staring at the set up documents on my first day, afraid to disturb the developers around me to ask why my compiler was complaining about a missing folder during installation. I remember digging into the code for hours only to change one line of configuration. I remember standing there silently listening to colleagues talking about marriage and kids and something so distant that was almost alien to me.

    From talking to a lot of my fellow classmates, I have heard that a lot of internships start the same way. You have to learn to navigate through new waters and that can be a scary. When you are a student, you are juggling so many things at once. You are used to not having a second to breathe and you struggle to put your best into everything that you do. So, understandably, when you get an internship, you are more than prepared to put your best foot forward, and when you feel like you’re not doing that, you feel disappointed, confused and a little worthless.  

    What happened? This is not what we signed up for. We are Engineering students from the University of Toronto, the top Engineering school in the country. Aren’t we capable of more?

    “Maybe there’s someone out there that’s doing fantastic work for their team, we just haven’t talked to the right PEY student,” she said after I conveyed to her my own experiences at work.

    However, almost six months in to my PEY, I can say that things do get better. I encountered the same problems, but like my friend, I had a conversation with my manager. Maybe it’s the amount of determination in my eyes or he has recognized my hard work, but he recently suggested that I do a side project and has included me in all the design meetings. Things started to get better when I actively pushed for changes and asked why. I signed up to be responsible for system alerts, I proposed organizational improvements, and I will soon host my own meeting to share my findings for our new systems. All my poking around is turning into valuable learnings that will be both useful for me and for the company.

    Unfortunately, our internship may not always live up to our expectations but at least we now have an understanding of what the industry is like. You are given a set amount of tasks and, regardless of whether it is boring or up to your liking, you are obligated to complete them. PEY will not have any value if you are not actively seeking out opportunities and pushing yourself to ask for help and advice. And PEY is the best time for you to take care of yourself instead of coming home to review lecture notes and do assignments. Use that leisure time to develop hobbies, and by the end of it, you will look back and say “That was quite an experience”.

    So, my advice for you? Make sure you have an idea of what you want to get out of your internship experience before you start applying. Applying to as many jobs as possible is good, but definitely ask what the employers’ expectations are during the interview if their description is not clear. Also, do not expect too much work to be given to you on the first day. You are an intern and more work will be given to you once you prove you are capable of it.

     

  • A Summer of Experience

    DHRUV WARRIER
    Cannon Contributor

    Last summer, after my first year in ECE, I worked as a research assistant and simultaneously attempted to start a company! It was an amazing opportunity and I got the chance to experience both entrepreneurship and academic research in four months. Here is how it happened and what I learned through the process.

    I have always been conflicted about what I wanted to do after my degree. I was interested in startups, artificial intelligence, microprocessors, web design, astrophysics, theatre, choir, you name it. Coming to UofT, however, completely changed my perspective. As soon as class started, I was overwhelmed by the flurry of events happening on campus at once. There were hundreds of clubs and an engineering event almost every day, and I wanted to take part in everything! Initially, I did. However, that turned out to be a terrible mistake, because I was soon overwhelmed with more work than I could handle. Eventually, I had to go through the painful process of cutting out what I could not do, and choose only a small set of things to focus on. This immediately made a huge difference. By funnelling all my efforts into just two projects, not only did I have more time for school, but I learned new things at a much faster rate. I learned to not say ‘yes’ to every open opportunity and instead focus on my own projects, and on developing my own skills.

    Having both the opportunity to work on a start-up and research project taught me one thing: you must be willing to take risks. I realized that to take advantage of an opportunity, you have to be willing to gamble with your time and put things on the line. Last year, one of my professors posed a challenge to the students in our section, offering an opportunity to work in his research group. The challenge required us to create a software with an interactive user interface that had to perform a large number of simulations at once. It was far more difficult than anything I had tried before, and my Calculus final exam was just three days away. From the outset, it seemed completely intractable and the chances that I would be able to make it work were zero to none. But I could not pass on an opportunity like that, so I went all in, hoping to at least scratch the surface of the problem. This is where I was able to apply the skills and programming constructs I had learned during first year. Twenty-eight straight, gruelling hours later, my friend and I had solved it, and we wrote the documentation to our first project together. Two days later, we got the research positions.

     

    While I loved working on research, I also wanted to explore the other side of the coin, and for me, that came with the Hatchery NEST. NEST is a startup accelerator/incubator here at UofT. My journey with NEST started with a simple problem: it is difficult to find events on campus that pertain to you. I wanted to solve that with a university-focused events platform that would recommend things for you to do on campus, and keep you constantly updated with networking opportunities. I was passionate about this problem, but it was difficult to motivate myself to work on it alone. In the last lecture of my engineering design course, I mentioned this to my team and they immediately wanted in. I ended up inspiring them to be more passionate about the problem than I was, which was fascinating. I learned to be more open with my ideas. By sharing my ideas, I created a support network around me that encouraged me to try more ambitious things. It was only as a team that we got into the NEST program.

    NEST was a transformative experience. I directed and pitched our product at bi-weekly pitches in front of a panel of mentors and investors. NEST gave me the opportunity to learn about the incremental nature of product development, how to market a software product, what it means to envision an “ideal solution,” and what it takes to design a product around human needs and goals. We were constantly pushed to “grow thick skin” – investor-speak for taking criticism in your stride – as we faced brutally honest mentors, investors and even other teams. The criticisms we received pushed us to further avenues and taught us how to “pivot.” Every day, we were constantly revising our pitch and we learned to tell a compelling story through it. There were multiple points during the four months that I had lost faith in our idea. In those moments, I realized the necessity of a team in keeping an idea afloat. As team members we all motivated each other and kept each other going even through bad times. Sometimes, your team is the only safety net that prevents you from ditching an idea altogether.

    During this summer, I learned the essentials of a startup and the work ethic of a researcher, but more importantly, I gained a sense of how to navigate and take advantage of the immense opportunities available on campus. And you should too! Do the things you are most passionate about, take risks, share your ideas, and never be afraid to fully commit yourself to your interests. With enough passion and time, you can turn your interests into amazing opportunities. Oh, and remember to fail early and fail often!

  • To Live Forever

    NIKOO GIVEHCHIAN
    Cannon Contributor

    Living forever is a scary idea. In many forms have people considered this notion, but for the most part, these are speculative artistic pieces which have not any grounds in reality. But let us consider the very real possibility that humans will develop some sort of technology to artificially enhance the human lifespan within the next century, and even if this doesn’t necessarily mean eternal life, it is possible that we will find a way to live much longer than we currently do.

    There are some who think they would happily embrace such technology, but to many, this idea of enduring almost indefinitely is terrifying. It is interesting, however, to consider the role of such an instinctual reaction, as fear is arguably one of the most important and fundamental aspects of humanity. A fear of rash experimentation is responsible for our preservation in nature. While it may be true that fear can be a hindrance when people are too afraid to take reasonable risks to positively progress, it is undeniable that a protective instinct is essential for survival.

    Another thing about humanity- we tend to make mistakes (and frequently harmful ones at that) when we get curious. We experiment, and we end up wreacking massive destruction on the natural world with our various technologies. We need lots of resources, chief among them trees – and there go the forests. Nuclear power could be the future, and so we fund research projects; destruction follows in the form of nuclear meltdown. Whether these sacrifices will end up proving worthwhile in the future still remains to be seen, however it is also undeniable that while we’ve made some sacrifices, our research has merited much progress and led to much innovation. We now know a lot more about nuclear technologies, for example, and are getting closer to refining nuclear power solutions which could save humanity in the long run. Even so, further progress requires more sacrifice- almost by nature- and we as intelligent beings are responsible for weighing the potential benefits and drawbacks of any such risk we take.

    With such a significant responsibility in our hands, the development of technology leads, almost inevitably, to the rise of conflict. Stubborn conservatives battle it out persistently with the stubborn harborers of innovation about moral correctness, but these days, innovative research is becoming much more popular and prominent in society as opposed to tradition anyway. It’s almost human nature to dream of and try to create a better world, and newer generations tend to be the most passionate about innovating and improving while older generations, who tend to be comfortable in their traditional lives, hold us back and prevent our overstepping implicit societal boundaries. Thus, society progresses, but it progresses slowly. Quickly enough for us to feel excited about the future, but at just a steady enough rate that we are able to build bridges between traditional knowledge and ideals of morality, with the new technologies that require consideration of similar matters. Moderation seems to be working for now, then, but does this mean we must keep technological development limited to a certain rate, and not allow it to progress any faster?

    This issue has become very prominent in these last few years, as the rate of innovating and releasing new technologies to the public is at an all-time high, yet our knowledge about the side effects and moral implications of the technology is still quite low. For example, smartphones are a huge part of society today, but we haven’t yet discovered many of the potential side effects of smartphone usage. Sure, there have been some studies, but there is a lot we cannot know about new technologies and so we have to gamble that the outcome of our using them now will not be drastically negative in the future. For phones this feels like a reasonable gamble, but what about technologies with more significant implications? Technologies always have impacts beyond what we initially imagined, and as we can already speculate that longevity will have a dramatic impact on our society, one can only imagine just how significantly it will actually impact the world, and just how badly we could mess up with such a huge power.

    Introducing the possibility of pseudo eternal life would also result in a far more passionate conflict, for the implications of such technology are much more significant than what we’ve faced thus far and the gap between our current way of life and this proposed idea makes it extremely difficult to decide on general moralities society ought to follow. For example, if this technology is developed, who gets to decide who has access? In a perfect world, we could suggest everyone be given equal opportunity, but in our already disparate society it is very clear that access to such technology could only be given to those who are able to afford it. But is this reasonable? For the rich to not only have access to more resources and have a greater say in the world, but for them to be physically stronger and capable of outlasting by far the poor, whose lives will be much shorter and crueler in comparison? (One could suggest this last idea is exactly how the world is currently modeled, but for now I want to consider the extremes a society with some who live forever would lead us to debates regarding the world as it is are perhaps best left for another day).

    Thus we evoke an image of the sort of dystopia humans love exploring in arts and films, and already we feel less comfortable with the idea of allowing some to elongate their lives.
    And this is just one problem- naturally, there are many other issues we would have to consider with such a technology, overpopulation and psychology (yes it is a real subject XD) being just a few. As one ponders such possibilities, it is natural we will become more and more certain that we want to avoid any of these terrifying futures for humanity.

    People who remain consumed in fear of this possibly terrible world, those who are overwhelmed by the potentially negative outcomes of this new technology – these are the passionate opposition, those who believe it is their moral obligation to humanity to stop at all costs the development of the technologies that could bring about such a cruel world. Nor does their stance seem unreasonable; indeed, it appears to be the morally correct thing to do. Equal opportunity isn’t always possible and life isn’t fair, but what is possible (considering the first scenario) is that we minimize the disadvantages of the poor and common folk, which is exactly what we would be doing if we left human lifespans untampered with.

    Perhaps it’s better for us to spare ourselves the choice of using this technology. If we have it, it’s almost certain we will use it eventually, but perhaps being intelligent humans means we ought to foreshadow this matter and never allow ourselves this choice.

    And by extension, this should mean we prevent ourselves ever gaining the knowledge that would place us in such a morally difficult position. This in turn would suggest an end to any related research, to anything that could possibly enhance our ability to develop human longevity technologies – all for the sake of avoiding disparity and the potential for a dystopian reality.

    However, does fear justify putting an end to research?

    Sure, the possibility exists that we will make a huge mistake somewhere, but there is also the undeniable fact that research has led to the positive progress of humanity in many regards. Not only are human lives longer than they were before the emergence of proper medical procedures, but we are more aware and capable of keeping ourselves healthy and thus, the quality of our lives is greater. How did we reach such a state of medical knowledge, or knowledge about anything for that matter? Research. We experimented with odd procedures, we observed different outcomes, we continued to learn what we could and took some risks – and here we are, a few hundred years later, physically and mentally stronger than ever before. There were more sacrifices than just lab rats, and in the process of medical innovation, many did die before we learned to prevent it. But our ultimate success in learning how to treat previously untreatable illnesses has made this research worth it. We’ve gotten better and better at preserving ourselves, and as we continue to move forward, it makes sense that we want to think up ways to continue improving upon this. Researching methods to keep humans alive doesn’t sound immoral at all- quite to the contrary, everyone loves doctors who save lives. If there is one thing humanity can agree upon, it is that there are too many people whose lives are cruelly cut short. Finding a way to extend their lives and giving them the opportunity to see the future feels moral and completely righteous. And as we research ways to improve upon human life expectancy, it makes sense that we would want to incorporate this technology into our bright vision of the future.

    At the end of the day, there is something that feels completely wrong about limiting people’s ability to investigate, on the feeble basis that what we learn may lead to a morally difficult position and humanity may choose the morally incorrect thing to do. As it currently is, abandoning medical research related to the longevity of humans would be morally incorrect in itself, as we would lose out on many opportunities to learn more about potential processes for aiding people with different illnesses. Medical research as a general is largely interconnected, and limiting one idea or exploration within it would result in suffrage for all the fields. Thus, it appears it actually is unreasonable to try and limit any sort of medical research, even if it has the potential to accumulate into technologies which would possibly enhance longevity.

    At this point, we are left with two conflicting arguments about whether research on longevity ought to end. The debate is far greater than what this one exploration could cover, but even with this limited information it appears humanity is stuck between two extremes, and yet it is content with the current trend of ‘moderation.’ That is, the conflict between the opposition and the pro-researchers has resulted in a world where we do progress, but we must stay in check and justify our causes to those who disagree in order to be allowed to continue our work. Perhaps this is just how it is for now, but perhaps this idea of staying in check will continue on into the future. At the end of the day, we must simply remain open to arguments on all sides of the matter, and be logical and reasonable in our decision making process. As long as we continue to be thoughtful and reflective about what we do, there is no reason humanity should be unable to survive changing technologies. We have endured change thus far, after all, and we can definitely continue on into the future.

  • Procrastination: Possibly Beneficial?

    SIR ISAAC NEWTON. CREDIT: HSWSTATIC

    NIKOO GIVEHCHIAN
    Cannon Contributor

    I can still recall the glorious days when I thought procrastination was, for me, impossible. How naive I was back then…

    I remember once, when my ninth grade teacher assigned us an essay that was to be handed in a week later, and also gave us in class time to work on it. My friends exchanged grins with one another, all sharing in the same not-so-secret joke that they had not been given a week to write the essay, but only the night before. I worked hard in class that first day to finish the essay while my friends guiltily enjoyed the ‘free time’ they had been given by opening a word document, saving it, and pushing their laptops aside so as not to disturb the circle they sat in, on the fluffy carpet we used to have in our class. Flash forward to the next day when I came to school with a finished essay, and without looking at it again, I joined my ring of friends, telling them, to their surprise, that I was done. Thus, I too was able to enjoy time with my friends after getting my work over and done with. Furthermore, I will confess I did find it amusing when the night before it was due, they came to me to proofread their papers.

    The thing is, my essay was not the best either. I wanted to finish it too quickly, and thoughtlessly used the first ideas that came to mind rather than reflecting and structuring the best ones before writing the essay. But, in any case, I was done, and at the time I thought reaching this finish line, and getting there first, was all that mattered. Quality? Nah, and not quantity either just to be done was what I thought of as sufficient.

    So, it is funny that while Procrastination: Possibly Beneficial? extreme procrastination led to a bad essay (as expected), the other extreme of rushing to finish my work as soon as possible also hindered my ability to write a good essay. All of us are familiar with the failure of last-second attempts to do anything. Since the beginning of high school, especially over this past year, I have also switched from being extremely opposed to procrastination, to becoming another who weakly succumbs to this tempting possibility over and over again. This is to my enormous shame. I would never go about promoting procrastination, and the misery I felt every time I saw the results of my putting work off. I am not here to tell you that extreme procrastination is good. However, I do want to draw attention to the negative connotation commonly associated with the term, and question people’s assumptions when they think about procrastination.

    One thing is for sure- It is not just me (and I am not sure if this is a comfort), but procrastination appears to simply be a part of human nature. No matter what, there will always be something we leave to do later. But, the real question stands: Is that so bad?

    To what extent do our procrastinatory tendencies (yes, that’s a term now) allow us to later excel?

    There has been research to indicate that the most successful of us tend to procrastinate a little (check out Adam Grant’s TEDtalk on the matter!), while others with zero or extreme procrastination tend not to be as successful… So clearly, there is hope for we who procrastinate! This is in part due to the fact that moderate procrastination leaves a bit of time between receiving and doing a task, and allows an idea to ‘settle’ a little in a person’s mind before they take action. Thus, ideas have the opportunity to mature and gain potential during this developmental period. In essence, hesitating a bit and leaving some work for later actually creates room for inspiration. Procrastinating a little and planning to return to work later actually allows for reflection, which can really help with developing the best ideas.

    The greatest and most innovative scientists did not come up with their ideas in a rush and on the spot. Nor did they completely and continually push off their desire to innovate an obvious fact when one considers how their accomplishments could not have occurred by accident and without any hard work, even if they did take breaks in between. Time to think was always essential to the greats, and even geniuses such as Newton took years to develop their most famous ideas- in this case, gravity and calculus. However, taking time off does not mean pushing off the activity, and it is not because they completely procrastinated until the last moment. Both rushing and continually procrastinating have the same net effect on a person: a forced neglect of deep thought and consideration. Great figures of history seem to have found a way to balance urgency of work, and a need to go back and forth with ideas for a while.

    Newton is clearly an example of one who was very much accomplished, but even your average undergraduate engineering student could use knowledge of the benefits of moderate procrastination to their advantage. I know I could, and I do not doubt there are many others out there who share my pain in having procrastinated too much or too little. And yes, at this point, I believe we have made a solid case for the hindering properties of minimal procrastination; after all, how accurate would Newton have gotten with his exploration of gravity if he had not given it some thought and considered calculus? If he had rushed to a solution using the quick, convenient, and inaccurate answers of his predecessors, much knowledge and innovation would have been lost- or at the very least, Newton would have failed to be the one to discover it. Much in the same way, if we students attempt to rush through an assignment for the sake of finishing it early, the likelihood of us making simple mistakes increases by a large factor.

    Funny then, that though I used to think getting work done as early as possible was best, this is not exactly the case. What happened in ninth grade reflects the two extremes — no procrastination on my part, and extreme procrastination on my friends’ part. Perhaps the best thing for all of us to have done was to let the topic of the essay sink in for a day and then to finish it in the next couple days. My wanting to finish it immediately left me no room for creative thoughts; my friends’ leaving the essay to the last minute left them no room for creative thought either. The most successful students with the best essays are not those who rush to finish or leave it to the last minute — they are the ones who first take a moment to think, then write it in good time. Thus, one may call this ‘limited’ or ‘moderate’ procrastination, but in any case, it has been the method that yields the most success in my experience.

    Procrastination is inevitable — that, we know. However, we can all work to limit the extreme version of procrastination by planning out our work, while at the same time realizing that there is value to be found in procrastinating just a little bit. That being said, don’t procrastinate too much — trying to find inspiration at 3:00 AM doesn’t work out well, trust me!

  • What Grinds my Gears: Travelling with a peanut allergy?

    By: Dale Gottlieb, Cannon Editor-in-Chief

    Credit: Nadya Abdullah

    In December, my sister and I planned a trip to Asia to visit a friend in Hong Kong and tour Cambodia. Both of us have severe peanut allergies, and despite the warnings from nearly everyone, we figured as long as we were careful we’d be fine. The flight landed at 7:30 in the morning in Hong Kong, and by noon we were in the emergency room after eating a dumpling filled with peanuts. In less than three hours, the trip went to hell.

    What went so wrong? We went to the world-famous Michelin Star restaurant Tim Ho Wan and ordered Chiu Chow style dumplings. My friends tell me that any Chinese native would know that Chiu Chow basically means peanuts, but I can’t speak to the validity of this since I’m not from the area. More importantly, my sister and I went in with the North American assumption that anything containing peanuts would be clearly labelled on the menu. My friends also tell me this was a mistake.

    In Asia – and in the vast majority of the world – people don’t know about allergies. It’s not something common, and it certainly isn’t something life threatening. Hong Kong at least has world class hospitals and is a developed city. If we ate a peanut in Cambodia it would mean almost certain death.

    After this incident, my sister decided to fly home but I continued with the trip.

    I flew from Hong Kong to Bangkok using AirAsia, and nearly had an anxiety attack on the plane. Every surface I touched I imagined was covered in peanut oil. Every 5 minutes I doused my hands with sanitizer. I asked to borrow the pen from the person next to me to fill out the immigration card, and felt terrible when I handed it back and reapplied hand sanitizer right after. I knew it was rude, but if he was from Thailand, I imagined him being coated in a thin layer of Peanut oil.

    I thought Bangkok was the worst place I’ve ever visited. On the taxi ride from the airport, I saw crumbs in the seat cushion, and feared I was sitting on peanut shavings. At the hotel, I pictured the previous tenant lying in bed eating Pad Thai getting peanuts everywhere. Even walking down the streets, I was worried that the air from the food vendors was from peanut oil and I’d enter anaphylaxis.

    I took a trip to the Grand Palace, which was of course closed this one day throughout the whole year because the King was visiting. So it goes. But I took a tuk-tuk to Wat Pho, a nearby temple. After the ride, I shook the drivers hand and immediately gave myself a good washing.

    At night, I went back to the hotel and met with my tour group. I decided to book the trip through Intrepid rather than winging it since I figured a native Cambodian tour guide could keep me safe from peanuts.

    When I announced to the group that I was allergic to peanuts, everyone clearly thought I was an idiot for coming to Cambodia. I didn’t disagree.

    However, nearly two weeks went by without incident. Not a single plate was brought to my table with peanuts, and I was able to eat local food at street vendors. I was even able to eat a tarantula which was fried in vegetable oil. I thought I was immune, and was prepared to write an article about how misunderstanding of Cambodian food we all were and how they almost never used peanuts in cooking. This was until the last meal of the trip.

    We took a round trip from Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, that lasted for a few days. When we returned, we ate at the same restaurant as the week before. With my peanut anxiety in full swing, I ordered the same meal the I got before knowing there were no peanuts in it. I took the photo of it for this article, and right before I took a bite, the tour guide told me to not eat it and he spoke to the waitress in Khmer.

    The meal was taken away, and a new one was brought. This one clearly had different looking oil around the chicken, and no longer contained peanuts. What I only found out on the last day of the trip, right when I thought I was a master of avoiding peanuts in Southeast Asia, was that the tour guide was protecting me the whole time. Little to my knowledge, he was behind my back the whole time protecting me.

    Would I be dead if I toured Cambodia myself and didn’t use a tour group like Intrepid? Almost certainly. I don’t hold my own life in higher regard than my social anxiety to ask a waiter if there’s any peanuts. Even after the whole fiasco in Hong Kong, I didn’t ask if my dinner in Thailand contained any peanuts.

    Would I tour South East Asia again despite the inherent risks involved? In a heartbeat. I think you can’t put a price on the experience of travelling and seeing a new culture. Even my own life is worth exploring the world. Frankly, I’d have a higher chance of death on my way to the airport, and if I die on vacation at least my family gets the travel insurance payout.

    I got plenty of beautiful photos and wonderful memories out of my trip. What grinds my gears is that the fear of injury held me back from ever going to Asia, and made me write it off as a possible destination in my life. I would highly recommend that anyone who has an allergy don’t let it hold you back. I’m not taking responsibility if something happens, but travel responsibly and safely and you’ll be fine.

    My dream place to go for my next destination is Saudi Arabia to participate in the visiting student program at King Abdullah university. This is probably not the safest place in the world for me to travel too, but I hope I’ve learned to be a more responsible traveller in the future. And opportunity like this is worth risking it all to see the culture and talk to people from one of the most well-known kingdoms.  

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