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A student union-run microbrewery?

UBC’s Alma Mater Society dreams big, and so should the rest of us

Brian Platt — The Ubyssey (University of British Columbia)

VANCOUVER (CUP) — The University of British Columbia’s Alma Mater Society (AMS) has made national headlines over the past few weeks, including stories in the Toronto StarThe Huffington Post and The Province. Considering the AMS’s history, this would normally mean I’d be writing a column that recaps a hilarious and embarrassing scandal that has swamped the student union.

But this time the buzz is good: the AMS is planning a microbrewery for the new Student Union Building (SUB). According to president Jeremy McElroy and vice-president finance Elin Tayyar, it would be the first brewery operated by a student union anywhere in the world.

If we are to believe the feasibility report that the AMS commissioned, the brewery would make a modest profit, provide students with a cheaper source of alcohol at the AMS’s bars and possibly give beer gardens a local source for their kegs.

This all seems too good to be true, and to a certain extent, it probably is. I’ll be surprised if the brewery ever makes much of a profit. But when examined within the larger context of the AMS’s ambitions, it doesn’t really matter whether the brewery makes wads of cash, breaks even or is a modest money-loser.

The AMS plans to form a company to manage all of the society’s business operations. That company would have a more stable and knowledgeable (but still student-controlled) board of directors, and would focus on making the AMS’s businesses as efficient and profitable as possible. Those profits would then flow back to the AMS to be put into student services.

The main reasons for this plan are practical. The AMS’s business profits have been falling for years, and the society has also received unwelcome attention from the Canada Revenue Agency for being a non-profit society with high levels of business income.

But think for a moment about the path the AMS is embarking on. In a few years, it will have a brand new $103-million building: that means new facilities for all of its businesses. Its bars, which currently sit empty on most nights, will likely be much fuller and will now be selling pitcher after pitcher of AMS-produced beer. This is growing into quite the commercial empire.

A decade from now, when these business profits are combined with the interest produced from the AMS’s endowment fund, a substantial portion of the AMS budget will be independent from student fees. The AMS will be able to keep its student fees among the lowest in Canada while increasing student service levels. It’s brilliant.

The real question is: why are no other student unions doing this? One reason is that they tend to be suspicious of relinquishing control over their business operations; the result is that student politicians with little business sense maintain their food outlets as poorly-run money pits. The AMS has always been smartly focused on giving elected students the final word on business operations, but mostly letting professional staff take care of the details.

The other reason, though, is that other student unions simply haven’t dreamt as ambitiously about what they’re capable of with a bit of long-term planning. For this, the AMS deserves a lot of credit.

Editor’s note: Please note this piece has been updated as the profit projection of the microbrewery has not been confirmed.

Western election hacker confesses, faces charges

Western University graduate Keith Horwood admits to student union voting site hack, re-vote will be held

Lee Richardson — CUP Ontario Bureau Chief

TORONTO (CUP) — The person behind the hacking of a Western University student union voting website has came forward, and now likely faces a criminal charge.

Keith Horwood tweeted a YouTube video to Western’s University Student’s Council (USC) president Andrew Forgione Feb. 17, explaining his motivations and offering an apology.

“None of you guys deserved to be put through any of this grief,” said Horwood in the almost ten-minute long video. “I know it doesn’t mean much, but there it is.”

During the hack, elements of the USC elections website were altered and replaced with references to Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez.

While the case was originally handled by Western’s campus police, it has now been passed to London police, who are considering criminal charges.

“It’s kind of gone beyond our bounds now,” said Keith Marnoch, Western’s director of media relations. “I don’t know how they’re proceeding with the evidence we’ve compiled.”

The video was released by Horwood after police began to consider more than one person as a suspect. During the video, Horwood — a Western alumnus with a double major in biology and biochemistry — explained how he carried out the hacking to highlight a security flaw in the website’s design.

“What I did was not from a technical standpoint representative of… a mastery of computers by any sense,” Horwood said in the video, adding that his actions involved more “luck” and “chance.”

After a decision by the elections committee and the presidential candidates, votes cast for the new Western USC president during the period of Feb. 14 and 15 are now considered invalid, and a re-vote will be held.

“It was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make,” said Forgione, current USC president, in an email. “Being through the process personally, it was especially difficult.”

During the two-day voting period, over 10,000 students cast votes.

“We’ve never had that kind of voter turnout before,” said Claire McArthur, a candidate running for USC president. “But there’s not much we can do now.”

Students will be able to vote again — on the last day of February and the first day of March — following a brief campaigning period, according to USC communications officer Eliot Hong. A media blackout that will last a week has been called into effect to give candidates a break before the new election.

“It was really difficult for all of us to decide that we had to do this, but it was something that had to be done to keep the fairness of the election process,” said Hong.

Since the video has been released, differences of opinion in the Western community have grown in regard to the potential criminal charges Horwood could face.

“I respect Keith for coming forward into the public eye and for being honest,” said Forgione, adding that Horwood might have misunderstood the implications of rewriting elements of the site. “I’m not sure if it appeased students though, who lost money and time throughout the entire elections process.”

“I feel bad for him,” said McArthur. “I think an investigation is needed but it seems like… he really did seem genuine and he explained it in such a way that I understood where he was coming from.”

An interview request sent to Horwood did not get a reply.

It shoots, it scores

U of M home to what may be world’s first hockey-playing robot

Marc Lagace — The Manitoban (University of Manitoba) and Fraser Nelund — The Manitoban (University of Manitoba)

WINNIPEG (CUP) — Programmers working at the Autonomous Agents Laboratory at the University of Manitoba may have developed the world’s first humanoid-robot ice-hockey player.

Chris Iverach-Brereton, a computer science graduate student at the U of M, has been programming Jennifer — a DARwin open platform named after Canadian hockey player Jennifer Botterill — for less than a month.

Thus far the robot is capable of taking a shot, stick handling and taking rudimentary strides on some makeshift skates. She makes her moves with a miniature Bison hockey stick.

Jacky Baltes, professor in the department of computer science and Iverach-Brereton’s supervisor, got his student working on programming the multi-sport capable robot to take on Canada’s game mere weeks ago.

Jennifer doesn’t have her own skates yet. Iverach-Brereton told the Manitoban that a customized set of blades was on the way, but had been delayed by a few days.

Jennifer has six motors in each leg and three in each arm. Iverach-Brereton is looking forward to the addition of new motors in the robot’s arms, which will serve to increase range of motion.

Her practice arena is the Duckworth Quadrangle. She, Baltes and Iverach-Brereton have prepared a video entry to the 2012 DARwin-OP Humanoid Appliance Challenge, a competition to reward the most innovative uses of the platform.

“We don’t know anyone else that has tried doing it,” said Iverach-Brereton. “There [are] other people who’ve worked on aspects of hockey. There [are] robots that make slapshots and stuff. I haven’t actually seen a humanoid robot try to do all of it… Go Canada!”

For video of Jennifer, see:


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