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University of Waterloo -- Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
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Friday, December 13, 1996

Friday the 13th, as exams continue

[WCGR logo] The Waterloo Centre for Groundwater Research is holding its "networking event and annual general meeting" today in the Davis Centre. Expected are people ranging from Waterloo mayor Brian Turnbull to representatives of local environmental industries and interested firms from elsewhere in Ontario. Eva Ligeti, environmental commissioner of Ontario, will speak at 2:30, following the business meeting. "There will be displays of WCGR-subsidized facilities and laboratories," writes Leanne Gelsthorpe from the WCGR offices in the B. F. Goodrich Building on Columbia Street. She notes that the displays "are mainly of interest to commercial environmental companies and other researchers in the same field, most of whom have already been invited". The event isn't really intended for the general public, but last-minute information is available from WCGR at ext. 5003.

The psychology department presents the Kenneth S. Bowers Memorial Lecture at 3:00 this afternoon in the Humanities Theatre. The speaker is John Kihlstrom of Yale University, whose topic will be "The Interaction of Explicit and Implicit Processes in Memory". Bowers, who's being remembered at this event, was a long-time faculty member in psychology who died in July. "This Memorial Lecture," writes Sharon Adams, "is to honour his many years of remarkable research efforts and keen interest in the well-being of psychology graduate students. With the generous support of family, friends and academic colleagues, the first Psychology Memorial Award in memory of Dr. Ken Bowers will be presented to one of our graduate students. A reception will follow."

The talk of the campus

Everyone is welcome to attend a candlelight Christmas service at St. Paul's United College on Sunday evening at 8:00 in the college's Wesley Chapel.

Another of the church colleges, Conrad Grebel, is looking ahead to summer already, with a flyer announcing two summer Elderhostel sessions. The Elderhostel programs ("for people who have retired or are planning retirement") will run June 8-14 and August 3-9, with courses on Ontario Mennonite history, "The New Age of Education", Canadian literature, Canada and Québec "through the looking glass", Hutterite culture, and "Music of the Sphere", a "musical travelogue". Information: 885-0220 ext. 297.

You're already not supposed to connect fax machines to UW extension phone lines, and it won't be possible at all when the new telephone system is introduced in January. Says a memo from information systems and technology:

Current policy requires that fax machines be attached only to direct business lines not routed through the university switchboard. In the past, the reason has been that the statistical properties of calls to and from fax machines are different enough from normal calls that our switchboard and connection to the Bell network are not designed to accommodate any significant number of fax machines. With the new switch, this will become more important since most (analog) fax equipment will not work when connected to a digital extension. Please ensure that fax machines are connected only to separate lines not connected to the UW switchboard.
More information: call ext. 6000.

[Portrait of elf]

Notes on a subordinate Claus

December may be the busy season at the North Pole, but it's Christmas all year round for Egfrth Spleng, vice-elf for research at one of UW's least-known spinoff companies. "Here at WatClaus we develop some of Santa's most popular new toys." says Spleng, who took a degree in recreation and leisure studies at UW before going to work for WatClaus some eight years ago. (This report is largely based on a report published in the Gazette in December 1992.)

Originally the little firm occupied a single igloo on UW's north campus. Now there are more than a dozen snow-houses occupying part of an industrial mall on Phillip Street, and the WatClaus staff has grown from four to 37. It employs only elves and co-op students -- two of the world's most misunderstood life forms.

"Some people think we're little and merry," Spleng comments. "If we were so merry, do you think we'd have managed to carve out such a high-tech niche for ourselves this fast?"

The firm's specialty is toys with a Waterloo flavour. He demonstrates one of the playthings that WatClaus created this year and that thousands of boys and girls will find in their stockings this December 25: a Carolyn Hansson doll that scurries around the house transferring technology from one room to another as long as its AA batteries last.

"That's a terrific example of how our products are based on ideas developed at the university," Spleng beams. "That kind of cross-fertilization makes Waterloo the best place in the world for small-scale high-tech companies to develop. We just thrive in the university environment."

The James Downey doll, with unique mediation features and a vocabulary of more than 250,000 literary quotations, is a perennial best-seller. A less successful product is a scale model of the Davis Centre that glows with the energy of more than 1,500 tiny computer terminals. "Santa loved it, but it never took off with the kids," Spleng said sadly. "The terminals only lit up between midnight and 4 a.m., and most kids are in bed then."

The firm cancelled plans for a companion product, a model Bombshelter, when it became clear that Bacchus and other programs to cut alcohol abuse meant you couldn't get lit up there at any hour.

Coming soon, Spleng promises: a virtual reality system involving a glove, goggles, a joystick and a computer chip that lets you turn your microcomputer or television set into a convincing replica of a faculty of engineering. You can move walls, robotic equipment and teaching assistants with equal ease, and can simulate staff reductions and early retirements in times of "financial cutbacks".


Editor of the Daily Bulletin: Chris Redmond
Information and Public Affairs, University of Waterloo
credmond@watserv1.uwaterloo.ca -- (519) 888-4567 ext. 3004
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Copyright 1996 University of Waterloo