Wednesday, July 15, 2009

  • Affordable Net for the developing world
  • Faculty evaluations: changes suggested
  • Briefs: Grebel plans, environment consults
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

Affordable Net for the developing world

from a UW Media Relations news release

Srinivasan Keshav, Computer Science prof.Researchers at the University of Waterloo led by computer science professor Srinivasan Keshav (left) are making Internet access affordable in the developing world with an innovative combination of cheap, robust hardware and free, open-source software.

Building on ideas initially developed for inter-planetary communication, their 'Vlink' software permits reliable e-mail exchange over unreliable communication links. Where no communication links exist, VLink allows messages to be exchanged using USB memory sticks physically carried between desktop PCs. VLink can also transfer urgent e-mail using cellphone text messages.

Using VLink, governments and non-governmental organizations can disseminate agricultural, educational and financial data to rural residents. By providing access to this data from a rural PC and the ability to consult an expert over e-mail, VLink allows farmers, teachers and nurses in rural areas to get targeted expert help when they need it. Moreover, by moving large amounts of data to and from rural areas, business process outsourcers can use VLink to provide data entry jobs for rural youth, reducing overcrowding in cities.

"Unlike other approaches to rural Internet access, the VLink system is highly reliable because it expects disconnections and gracefully deals with them," explains Keshav, a Canada Research Chair in Tetherless Computing, who guided the development of the VLink system. "VLink is inexpensive and easy to deploy, requiring only two Windows XP Pro PCs and a single USB memory stick to get started." The team is currently testing the system at two locations in India.

How it works

VLink uses a USB memory stick to store encrypted 'frozen packets.' USB memory sticks contain no moving parts and are small, lightweight and removable, making them ideally suited to conditions in developing countries. E-mail and data generated at a rural desktop are stored on a USB memory stick which can then be carried or mailed to a location with Internet access. Here, the packets are 'thawed' and uploaded to the Internet.

pink memory stickThe same USB memory stick also carries e-mail and data back to rural users. This eliminates the need for an end-to-end link, reducing costs. Data stored on a USB memory stick is encrypted, making it suitable for medical or financial information.

Where communication links, such as dial-up lines, already exist, VLink software adds reliability, allowing rural PCs to deal with link failures. Moreover, VLink allows e-mail and short, urgent data to be sent using cellphone text messaging, which is widely available in the developing world.

More than 30 students and research programmers have contributed to the VLink system over the last four years. The beta version was released in June 2009 for testing by interested parties. This version includes an e-mail application that allows rural users to exchange e-mail and attachments with other users anywhere in the world. Several applications relying on the VLink software are under development.

Visit this link for more information, to view a video or download the beta version of the software.

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Faculty evaluations: changes suggested

Some changes in UW’s formal policies, as well as administrative steps that can be taken immediately, will be needed in order to improve the way faculty members’ performance is evaluated, said provost Amit Chakma in a memo sent before his departure for the University of Western Ontario.

Deans’ council, made up of top UW administrators, has reviewed the report of a Working Group on Faculty Annual Performance Evaluation “and endorses the recommendations”, Chakma said. The group was set up last year and submitted its final report to the provost and the president of the faculty association in April.

“Implementing the recommendations of this report will enhance morale, reward, motivate and reinforce productive activity of faculty at the University of Waterloo,” says the report, which acknowledges feedback in writing from about 40 faculty members, as well as comments at three focus group meetings early last fall.

“Compared to other universities,” it says,” the merit process at UW plays an unusually important role in determining annual pay increases for faculty. The salary structure for university faculty has low salaries early in careers, with provisions built into the structure for annual increases so that career average earnings are commensurate with qualifications. The size of these increases is entirely dependent on the faculty member’s merit evaluation.

“The working group feels that there are important advantages to the current system,” says the report. However, “the existing system is not being used as effectively as it might be, there is unfortunate variation in the way it is implemented across campus, and it is poorly understood.”

The report goes on to discuss problems with the system and suggest improvements. The full document is here.

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Briefs: Grebel plans, environment consults

Conrad Grebel University College atriumConrad Grebel University College is building again — or planning to, says Jennifer Konkle, the college’s communication co-ordinator. Grebel has issued a call for proposals “for the provision of architectural consulting services on a feasibility study for a Centre for Mennonite Studies and Culture. The centre might include library and archive space, a recital hall for the music department, seminar rooms, offices, student gathering and study space, a private dining room and an enhanced main entry way.

"The objective is to develop a facility that celebrates and honours Mennonite values, traditions and cultures by creating a focal point for collection, research, and teaching on peace, music, theology and history. The project will bring together Mennonite cultures that represent various immigrant streams (Swiss, Russian, Hmong, Hispanic, Chinese, etc.), thus focusing on the global Mennonite experience. It will architecturally celebrate community and represent a spirit of welcome.”

The study report and schematic designs will be used as a first step to inform the college’s stakeholders of potential building designs and to generate interest in the project among potential donors.

Frito Lay consults with Waterloo sustainability experts

This report from Betty Bax, Faculty of Environment: "A group of internal experts from Frito Lay Canada, a division of PepsiCo Foods Canada, along with external experts in energy conservation, renewable energy generation, water conservation and waste management, gathered at St Paul’s College for several days of meetings last week with a goal of advancing Frito Lay's sustainability mission.

"The goal of this working session, held in partnership with Guelph Food Technology Centre and Faculty of Environment professors Ian Rowlands, Steve Young, Deep Saini, and Geoff Lewis, was to create a ‘road map’ that would enable the company to accelerate its well-established sustainability programs and efforts.

"Already recognized for their environmental initiatives with awards from such groups as Supply Chain and Logistics Association Canada and the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, Frito Lay felt they need to go beyond conservative established methods to a further level of sustainability—‘net zero’ or ‘leave no trace.’

“'It's a bold goal that we are striving for,' says Helmi Ansari, sustainability leader for Frito Lay Canada. 'There’s lots we know but many solutions we still need to find. Ones we hope to develop with the help of partners like UW.'”

Volunteers wanted

"Qualified and eager public relations volunteers" are sought to help with the Cutting Edge Music Festival being held at Bingeman's Camping Resort, Kitchener, on the weekend of August 1-2. Duties may include "assisting senior staff, acting as runners throughout the day, talent co-ordination, directing media throughout the show, assisting with escorting media, assisting with event logistics, media check in and other general tasks." Send letter and resumé to Allison Dunnings of Strut Entertainment, 96 Spadina Ave., Suite 310, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2J6, or email

The CNIB is seeking volunteers to help at the 2009 Globall Golf Tournament being held at Conestoga Golf and Country Club on August 14, 6-11 p.m. "If you have good communication skills, are well organized and would like to participate in a fun event to support the CNIB," contact Simone LeBlanc by email or phone 1-800 265-4127, ext. 5147.

CPA staff

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Link of the day

St. Swithin’s Day, if it be fair

When and where

LIF and PIF funding proposals (Learning Initiatives Fund and Program Initiative Fund) deadline today. Information here (click on Grants.)

Heating will be off in the Davis Centre and CIM block today, 7:30 a.m. - 4 p.m., to allow installation of a gate valve.

Career workshops today: “Career Interest Assessment” 10:30, Tatham Centre room 1112; “Interview Skills: Selling Your Skills” 2:30, Tatham 1208. Details.

Zapatijazz free concert, today, noon to 2 p.m., Student Life Centre Great Hall.

UW Book Club. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, today, 12:05 p.m., Dana Porter Library room 407. Details on UWRC webpage.

Farm market operated by UW food services and volunteers, Thursday, 9 to 1, Environment I courtyard.

Surplus sale of UW furnishings and equipment Thursday, 12:30 to 2 p.m., East Campus Hall.

Orchestra@uwaterloo concert: Rossini, Beethoven, Bizet. Thursday, 1-2 p.m., Student Life Centre Great Hall. Free.

R&T Park charity golf tournament Thursday at Conestoga Golf Club: barbecue noon, shotgun start 1 p.m., dinner and prizes 5 p.m., SOLD OUT. Details.

Career workshop: “Business Etiquette and Professionalism” Thursday, 3:30 p.m., Tatham Centre room 1208. Details.

Strawberry Social by UW Sustainability Project. Baked goods, drinks, local strawberries; plants for sale. Any donations go to the new woodland fern garden. Thursday, 4:30-6:30 p.m., outside EV2 in Rock Circle by Ring Road.

Late Night at the Movies sponsored by WPIRG and Federation of Students: “Motorcycle Diaries”, Thursday, 9 p.m., Humanities building courtyard.

Arts Expressintegrated arts camp” performance Friday, 1:30 p.m., Humanities Theatre.

Kicks for a Cause: five-on-five soccer tournament, Saturday, 9 to 5, at UW CIF Fields. Winning team faces Warriors soccer team. Register by July 16, 7 p.m. Details.

International teaching assistants: “What Successful ITAs Do” workshop organized by Centre for Teaching Excellence, Monday, July 20, noon, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

Reception for Ursula Thoene, computer sciences, retiring after 28 years at UW. RSVP by July 20. Event is Thursday, July 30, 4 to 6 p.m., Davis Centre room 1301.

Falun Gong Club “Sandstorm” Tuesday, July 21, 8 p.m., Humanities Theatre.

PDEng alumni lecture: three recent graduates speak on “Beat the Traffic: from University Avenue to Career Highway” Wednesday, July 22, 11:30 a.m., Davis Centre room 1304.

Institute for Computer Research seminar: Robert Kroeger, Google, “A General-Purpose Caching Architecture for Offline-Capable Web Applications” Wednesday, July 22, noon, Davis Centre room 1302.

‘Dealing with Difficult Students’ workshop organized by Centre for Teaching Excellence, Thursday, July 23, 10:30, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

Shad Valley program open house to show off teenage participants’ achievements, Thursday, July 23, 1:30 to 4, Conrad Grebel University College great hall. Details.

Disorderly Conduct: conference on language and concepts in a shifting model of medical and clinical care, UW and WLU, July 24-25. Details and to register.

Positions available

On this week's list from the human resources department:

• Undergraduate administrative co-ordinator, Environment and Business, Office of the Dean of Environment, USG 5
• Systems support specialist, Information Systems and Technology, CSS Windows Services, USG 10-12
• Research financial analyst, Office of Research, USG 7
• Residence life co-ordinator, Housing and Residences, USG 7

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