Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Mayor’s Notebook

Did you know Mayor Cecil Clarke sends out a handful of pages from his “notebook” quarterly to a mailing list I didn’t know existed and probably won’t be permitted to join? (I’ll try, but his spokesperson has stopped answering my emails.)

Luckily, I have a source who shared their copy of the Spring edition of the “Mayor’s Notebook” which sounds like a Thomas Hardy novel but doesn’t read like one. (I guess it would be like the Mayor Casterbridge if you replaced all the drama with potholes and transit issues.)

Notebook Spring 2020


My favorite part is the laundry list of issues that have been brought up during the mayor’s beloved budget sessions:

Gas tax, side walks, potholes, road lines, active transportation, transit, accessibility, municipal debt, the CAP, garbage, littering, monitoring of known/frequent illegal dump sites, community beautification, community pride, volunteers, the Charter, historical assets in communities, tourist excursion/destination potential for communities, economic strategy leveraging our culture and heritage, renewable energy, watersheds, parking & parking meters in Sydney, comfort centres, poverty reduction, the future of the Central Library, 311 and sustainable grants for community organizations – just to name a few.

(“Just to name a few?” It’s a 25-item list that gives “littering” the same weight as “poverty reduction” — more, if order of appearance counts for anything.)

I’m guessing each and every one of those issues has been brought up during each and every one of these budget consultations over the years, so it’s really interesting to compare that list to the items upon which Mayor Clarke has instigated action: the commercial tax rate (he’s convened a panel of “business leaders”), the CAP (he traveled to Halifax to present to an All-Party Committee in the Legislature), the restoration of Air Canada’s direct flight from Sydney to Montreal (this didn’t even make that 25-item list of issue and priorities, but Clarke has been “meeting with Air Canada representatives” to discuss it. My guess? Those discussions are happening in Toronto.)

Sub-text: My name is Cecil Clarke and I hope I can count on your vote this fall?



Princess Cruises, the poster child for COVID-19 thanks to high-profile outbreaks on two of its ships (the Diamond Princess and the Grand Princess), has canceled operations for two months over concerns about the illness (or more likely, a tidal wave of cancellations).

As I noted earlier this week, Princess is one of the lines that visits the Port of Sydney, but the first Princess vessel of the 2020 season, the Caribbean Princess, is not expected until August 4 (and for what it’s worth, the Caribbean Princess is better known as a polluter than a disease incubator, a fact I just verified with a quick visit to the database of cruise ship outbreaks maintained by the US Centers for Disease Control).

Diamond Princess

Diamond Princess, cruise ship, Sakaiminato, Tottori Prefecture, Japan, 2014. (Photo by mstk east / CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Other lines, though, have apparently not given up trying to convince people to ignore the warnings of the US State Department and Canada’s chief public health officer and take a cruise even, apparently, if they have to lie about it.

Emails leaked to the Miami New Times show a senior manager at Norwegian Cruise Lines’ (NCL) Miami office providing sales staff with canned responses to questions about COVID-19, some of which were “blatantly false”:

“The Coronavirus can only survive in cold temperatures, so the Caribbean is a fantastic choice for your next cruise,” one talking point reads.

“Scientists and medical professionals have confirmed that the warm weather of the spring will be the end of the Coronavirus,” reads a second.

Another line says coronavirus “cannot live in the amazingly warm and tropical temperatures that your cruise will be sailing to.”

As the paper points out, scientists and medical experts don’t know enough about COVID-19 to say how it will react to warmer temperatures.

This sort of naked prioritizing of profits over passenger health is just one of the ugly aspects of the cruise industry being thrown into high relief by the coronavirus. As Politico pointed out in recent article, the industry is basically a law unto itself:

In essence, cruise ships are a regulatory black hole. The cruise industry is insulated by ship registrations in foreign countries and shielded by a powerful lobby with sway in tourism-dependent U.S. states like Florida…

Cruise lines typically register ships under so-called “flags of convenience,” in Panama, the Bahamas and other countries chosen for their low wages, cheap fees and lax regulations.

Seriously, if the US government has no control over these behemoths, what chance does a little port on the east coast of Canada — let alone a little tourist operation in a little port on the east coast of Canada — have against them?


Swarmio Redux

Vijai Karthigesu

Vijai Karthigesu

Vijia Karthigesu, CEO of Swarmio, got back to me after my deadline on Wednesday with an answer to a question about how many people are employed by Swarmio in Sydney:

[W]e have 6 positions in Sydney. Planning to add 4 more for global support operations in Sydney. We  have 10 developers in Halifax and 4 resources (including myself) in Whitby (ON).

We also have operations in Brazil, Singapore, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. We are growing globally. Our global support organization will be in Sydney and the core development/engineering will be in Halifax. Sales/Marketing will be distributed around the globe.

This confirms for me that whatever Swarmio is, it’s not a “Cape Breton” tech company.

Don’t anybody tell ACOA.


Whatever happened to SARS?

Electron micrograph of SARS coronavirus virion

An electron microscopic image of a thin section of SARS-CoV within the cytoplasm of an infected cell, (Source: CDC/C.S. Goldsmith, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

That headline almost makes it sound like I miss severe acute respiratory syndrome, so let me hasten to add that I do not, I was just trying to remember it — and all I came up with was the Rolling Stones cancelling a performance in Toronto which is not actually something that happened.

What actually happened was that SARS infected 375 people in Toronto and killed 44, prompting the WHO (the World Health Organization, not Roger Daltrey and company) to warn people to stay away from the city which had a negative economic impact and so the Stones played a post-SARS recovery concert there in July 2003.

It was after reading about this concert that I found myself wondering, “Whatever happened to SARS?” So I looked it up:

In late July 2003, the World Health Organization concluded the SARS outbreak was over. Since then, nine cases of SARS infections have been reported, but they occurred as a result of laboratory accidents in Singapore and Taiwan and from exposure to an animal source. No other cases of SARS have been identified anywhere else in the world. Research published in 2013 in the Journal of Infectious Diseases concluded that, by all accounts, SARS seemed to be gone.

For the virus to reappear, the World Health Organization stated it would have to come from one of three sources: an animal, another laboratory accident, or from undetected transmission among people. Although the virus may be a thing of the past, experts cautioned that the lessons learned from the global outbreak should not be forgotten.

And that’s what happened to SARS.



The RCGS Resolute, the vessel (bearing the name of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society) chartered by Andrew Prossin’s One Ocean Expeditions, has been bailed out in Argentina, where it’s been under arrest since last October.

Peter Ziobrowski at the Halifax Shipping News (which, in passing, is an excellent source of Maritime news, particularly the Twitter feed, @HfxShippingNews) says the vessel was released after its owners — the unlikely sounding Bunny’s Adventure and Cruise Shipping Company — paid the bills that led the Resolute to debtor’s prison. Writes Ziobrowski:

The ships owner stepped in to pay the outstanding amounts rather then risk loosing the vessel in a court ordered sale…

Francisco J. Venetucci, the Argentine Lawyer who had the ship arrested, told me that his “firm intervened on behalf of 2 bunkers suppliers (European), 3 agencies from Panama, Costa Rica and Argentina, and 22 crew members. What I can say is that owners covered the debt. There were some other claims (3 or 4) and also settled with owners. “

As for OOE, it has yet to officially enter bankruptcy proceedings. Passengers who had already paid for or put down deposits on cruises report (on Facebook) that they’ve been offered “an exclusive discount of 20%” off polar expeditions with the “small but mighty G Expedition.” (Which is, as we speak, canceling tours to the due to the coronavirus.)

There is also talk of legal proceedings against OOE and/or Prossin, although doubts have been expressed as to whether the company has any assets worth pursuing.


Ice, Ice, Baby

I’ve been monitoring the sea ice in our ice-free harbor all winter, but it wasn’t until this morning, when I did a little googling on the subject, that I realized that (with apologies to Joni Mitchell) I really don’t know ice at all.

It turns out there are many types of ice — new ice, nilas (a “thin elastic crust of ice, easily bending on waves and swells”), young ice, first-year ice, old ice  —  and that it can take many forms — pancake ice, brash ice, ice cakes, ice floes, fast ice and more.

I gleaned all that information from the Canadian Ice Service (CIS), which is also the source of these charts. The first shows the concentration of ice in our region (as of March 9):

Ice Concentration East Coast 2020.03.09

Ice Concentration East Coast 2020.03.09 (Canadian Ice Services)


The second shows the stage of ice development as of March 9:

Ice Stage of Development East Coast, 2020.03.09

Ice Stage of Development East Coast, 2020.03.09 (Canadian Ice Services)

The light purple surrounding much of the island is “grey-white ice” which the handy Canadian Ice Services Ice Glossary tells me is: “Young ice 15-30 cm thick. Under pressure it is more likely to ridge than to raft.”

Okay, I had to look up raft — it refers to a:

Pressure process whereby one piece of ice overrides another. Most common in new and young ice.

And while I was at it, I decided I’d better also look up “ridge” in case it had a different meaning in the ice world. Ridge ice is:

A line or wall of broken ice forced up by pressure. It may be fresh or weathered. The submerged volume of broken ice under a ridge, forced downwards by pressure, is termed an ice keel.

I had to stop there because I had opened a veritable Pandora’s ice box — polynya, pinnacled iceberg, shuga, floeberg, there are so many interesting words for ice I could have lost the rest of my morning.