Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Maker Faire

When I spoke to Kim Desveaux this week about our impending makerspace, she mentioned something I didn’t have room for in my article but that I wanted to touch on today.

A makerspace is exactly what it sounds like: a space, equipped with tools and materials, in which people make things. Sydney should have one by next month if Innovacorp’s Momentum Initiative, the program behind it, lives up to its name.

But Desveaux, whose work with Digital Mi’kmaq involves creating makerspaces in First Nations schools, has dreams that extend beyond the opening of the space. She told me she’d like to see Cape Breton host the province’s first “Maker Faire.”

Maker Faires, at their most elaborate, look like this, the World Maker Faire in New York in 2017:

There’s a Maker Faire scheduled for Ottawa in September. But there are also Mini-Maker Faires — Saskatoon hosts one in May and there will be similar events staged in Gibsons, BC; Prince George, BC; Calgary, AB; and Sherbrooke, QC this year — although nothing anywhere in the Atlantic Provinces.

Maker Faire is a company that licenses these events and the price of a license varies (the site says budget a minimum of $1,000 for a volunteer-run event and $2,000 for an event driven by an institution). On the bright side, none of the documentation I read says anything about charging volunteers $100 to cover the costs of their uniforms and appreciation dinner although perhaps, in the spirit of the event, volunteers are expected to make their own uniforms and dinners.

I am undoubtedly biased about this because I want to attend a Maker Faire. It looks like great fun. There’s something about the atmosphere and exhibits that reminds me of art-at-night events (like our own Lumière) with which Maker Faires seem to share some DNA.

I wonder if we can “make” it happen?


Tell me a story

Cape Breton Post, 26 April 2018

Okay, I’ve been trying to avoid this but it’s no longer possible: have you seen the full-page glamour shots of Cape Breton Post reporters in recent editions of the paper?

The first one I noticed was Cindy Day and I assumed it was a one-off to announce the arrival of a “star” contributor, but then reporters Nicole Sullivan and Jeremy Fraser were featured and this Thursday it was the turn of managing editor Carl Fleming himself. (See photo at right. Click to enlarge).

These ads inspire a maelstrom of emotions in me: gratitude that I am my own boss and do not require this of myself; curiosity, as to whether that’s a backdrop or the photos actually are shot in the Old Triangle pub; enlightenment (is that an emotion?) as one  featured employee after another ranks “telling stories” among their key responsibilities. It’s right there in Fleming’s pull-out quote — and he elaborates:

Our work helps bring communities together, celebrates success, chronicles failure and heartache, questions authority, offers a forum for debate and so much more. We provide a reliable, honest and unbiased look at the issues and opportunities that matter to the people in Cape Breton and beyond.

I’m glad “questions authority” at least made the list, but it’s now clear to me why, day after day, the front page of the Post contains little other than human interest stories. (Thursday’s edition, oddly enough, was an exception: it had two news stories on the front page in addition to the required human interest piece.)

It’s not that I don’t appreciate a good human interest story — I can be just as interested as the next human — it’s that what I really appreciate is news. The kind of news that can help me make sense of what is happening around me. The kind that can help me evaluate government decisions and policies. The kind that holds government to account. The kind that has traditionally been found in “newspapers.”

Does it strike anyone else as curious that the word “news” doesn’t appear anywhere in this entire ad?


Sensitive communications

Northern Pulp Mill (book cover photo from Joan Baxter’s Book, The Mill). Photo courtesy of Dr. Gerry Farrell

Northern Pulp Mill (book cover photo from Joan Baxter’s Book, The Mill). Photo courtesy of Dr. Gerry Farrell

“Message control, in whatever form it takes, always has its beneficiaries.”

That’s the moral of reporter Linda Pannozzo’s latest “Dirty Dealing” article for the Halifax Examiner.

The message being controlled, in this case, is the result of a 2017 study by Dalhousie researchers that found that air levels of three volatile organic compounds (VOCs) near the Abercrombie pulp mill in Pictou County “exceeded cancer risk thresholds and ‘are of primary health concern in terms of population risk.'” As Pannozzo explained in Part 3 of her series:

Over an eight-year period (2006-2013), 1,3-butadiene, benzene, and carbon tetrachloride were found to routinely exceed US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cancer-risk levels, which refer to the probability of contracting cancer if exposed to a concentration of a substance every day over the course of a 70-year lifetime. By analyzing the available data, the study authors were able to show that the Abercrombie pulp mill (now called Northern Pulp) was the likely source of the contaminants.

Part 4 explains how Nova Scotia Lands, the provincial crown corporation charged with cleaning up Boat Harbour, played a role in preventing the researchers from discussing their findings publicly.

The article is behind a paywall but don’t despair, it’s available to anyone with a joint Halifax Examiner/Cape Breton Spectator subscription, which can be yours for the low, low price of $15 per month (or $160 per year).


The Proclaimers

The “Proclamations and Resolutions” section of regional council meeting agendas is the part where councilors ask that particular days, weeks, months or even years be designated to honor people or organizations or historical events or diseases or what have you.

It is apparently a “time honored” local government tradition, although I’m not sure when it became a regular part of council agendas here in Cape Breton. I, truth be told, don’t pay much attention to this part of the meetings — I’m usually searching for something to write with. And something to write on. And making sure I have snacks. (I usually watch the livestream from my desk, I don’t bring snacks into the Council Chambers, in case you’re preparing to be suitably appalled).

But it struck me that it would be interesting to keep track of just what days, weeks, months and years we choose to mark in the CBRM this year, so I’ve created a Google calendar to do just that. Sadly, I am not particularly adept with Google calendar and it’s going to take me a little more time to figure out how I can share my beautifully color-coded version with you. (I gave each councilor a different color and used it for all their proclamations so you can tell at a glance who proclaimed what.) For now, unfortunately, everything is displayed in the same, monotonous shade of black and you have to read the explanatory text to see who was behind any particular proclamation.

Still, it’s a handy tool if you’re wondering what just what it is you should be celebrating/honoring/remembering/supporting on any given day. Today, for instance, I’ve just discovered I need to “Press for Progress” on gender parity.

I’m going to get on that right now.


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