1. New Horizons
New Horizons Baptist Church is looking forward to the first service held in its sanctuary in four years, Matthew Byard reports.
[Pastor Rhonda] Britton said for this year’s Christmas Eve service, they decided to do baptisms rather than the usual candlelight service with carols.
“Since we have been out of the building, we’ve had different people join the church to come forward for baptism, and they wanted to wait until we got back into our church before they were baptized,” Britton said. “And so we decided that coming back in, we would do that for Christmas Eve instead.”
But after delays due to COVID, asbestos, and other causes, there is one more possible wrench in the plans: the church can’t use the building until Halifax Water installs a meter. The congregation should know by tonight if that will happen before Saturday’s planned service.
2. Gail Benoit
“Gail Benoit has won a victory in a Nova Scotia provincial court against the administrator of a Facebook group called ‘STOP Gail Benoit from Ever Dealing with Dogs,'” Jennifer Henderson reports.
Benoit has multiple convictions on animal cruelty charges. Henderson writes:
In a decision published on Wednesday, Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Diane Rowe has ruled the Stop Gail Benoit Facebook site meets the definition of cyber-bullying established by Nova Scotia’s Intimate Images and Cyber-Protection Act. The judge has ordered the administrator of the Facebook group, Elizabeth Langille, to take down the site and have no future contact with Benoit, except through a lawyer.
The group included posts such as this one:
“I would have no issues breaking her legs. This bitch needs to be stopped but it looks like it’s up to us as the law never does a thing to her proof or not.”
Look, I like animals. I have dogs and a cat. We’ve adopted rescue after rescue over the years. I hate cruelty to animals. But I’ve never understood the reactions of animal lovers that promote violence against people. And I’ve seen plenty of them over the years.
This item was written by Jennifer Henderson
Nova Scotia Power says it is making storm preparations based on forecasted high winds and rain that will begin in the western part of the province Friday afternoon and move north to Cape Breton by Friday evening.
In a news release issued Wednesday night, senior communications advisor Jacqueline Foster said Nova Scotia Power will open an Emergency Operations Centre by 10am Friday. Foster said the company is also working closely with the province’s Emergency Management Office.
“No one wants to lose their power, especially heading into the holidays,” said Sean Borden, Nova Scotia Power storm lead. “We have been monitoring the forecasts for several days and are positioning crews across the province so we can respond as safely and quickly as possible. We will do everything we can to try to ensure the least amount of disruption to customers’ holiday plans.”
The news release said that “based on the current forecast, power outages across the province are anticipated.”
People are reminded that crews are unable to restore downed lines until the wind drops to below 80 kilometres an hour. If internet and phone lines aren’t affected, citizens can check outagemap.nspower.ca or call 1-877-428-6004 to report a problem.
Suzanne Rent pointed me to this fine example of copaganda from SaltWire. Headline: “Cop Shop: Yarmouth RCMP members & students have fun shopping for family gifts”
Essentially the story is this: Cops in Yarmouth take kids shopping at Dollarama. The kids can spend 50 bucks. Half of that is donated by Dollarama and half by a local attorney. Unless I’m missing something, I don’t see what the point of having the police there at all is. (There is a similar initiative in Halifax that was breathlessly covered by the Chronicle Herald last week.)
RCMP Const. Karl Raiche also said it was a nice way for the RCMP members to meet and interact with local youth.
“It’s a very good experience with the kids. Picking them up at the school in the cars, it was great,” he said as he walked the store aisles with Grade 3 student Colby Crowell. “So far he knows what he wants. I just follow him and he puts everything in the cart.”
This is the good kind of picked up in police cars at school, I guess.
Anyway, the important thing is that a fun time was had by all, and nothing that would seem at all troubling happened:
[Student Ava Doucet] got to wear a set a handcuffs at one point during the day for a few minutes.
“That was fun,” she said with a laugh.
If you haven’t thrown up in your mouth a little yet, you should know that one of the officers gave Doucet “a special gift” [a Christmas card] “demonstrating that in just a couple of hours, some nice friendships had been made.”
Locals on the Mastodon migration
It’s been nearly two months since Elon Musk bought Twitter and all hell broke loose over at the bird site. It’s been hard for journalists to keep up. Earlier this week, I saw one writer say she was working on a story about Musk banning journalists, but every time she was getting ready to file, something new would happen that dramatically changed the story. She had rewritten her 1,500 word piece five times.
All the uncertainty has driven people to try alternatives. I’m one of the millions of people who have become more active on Mastodon recently. (While I’ve had an account for five years, I made exactly zero posts before November of this year.)
When I mention Mastodon in conversation — don’t worry, I don’t do it too often — whoever I’m talking to will usually ask something like, “Oh, is that the Twitter alternative?” Well, yes and no. Yes, you can use Mastodon in many ways that are similar to Twitter. But no, it is an entirely different model, one that somewhat harkens back to an earlier era of the internet, before it became dominated by the social media giants.
See, Mastodon is not one entity. Nobody owns it. When you sign up, you don’t actually join Mastodon. What you’re joining is a group (called an instance, or a server) with its own set of rules, and that server connects with others to form a wider network. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a good, clear, and more detailed explanation here.
One way to picture this is a network with a variety of nodes. Kind of like in the image above. Let’s say that bright green circle on the right is a server that regularly carries hate speech. Other servers can simply de-federate from it. That’s the equivalent of severing the lines in the image that lead to the green dot, leaving it floating in isolation. And if your server isn’t blocking material you don’t want to see, you can mute both individuals and whole servers yourself easily. Presto. Trolls gone.
Stacey Cornelius runs a Halifax-based online marketing agency that works with “small creative and progressive businesses.” She has a background in visual arts, and was pretty active on the local Twitter scene. But soon after Musk appeared on that scene, she moved over to Mastodon, where she has an account on the Canadian mstdn.ca server.
She’s gone from a couple of thousand Twitter followers to just under 250 on Mastodon, and she is OK with that. Cornelius says:
I’m seeing far more engagement in spite of the lower numbers… What I’m noticing is people are interacting a lot more on Mastodon… I’m seeing better conversations. I mean, I’m not there to grow a big following, and I’m not necessarily there to do business because that’s not the culture there. LinkedIn and Instagram would be more appropriate for me in terms of looking for new clients and connecting for business reasons.
Cornelius says it may seem counterintuitive that, as a marketer, she’s happy with a smaller audience, but she says not everything is about reach. It’s also about ethics:
These out-of-control billionaires — clearly, this is problematic. I mean, we’re in late stage capitalism and it’s just such a nightmare. I’m pro commerce, but capitalism I have a problem with. So, yeah, so [the idea of] federation was definitely something that appealed to me. And someone described Mastodon as the NPR of social, which I thought was really apt. And I like the idea that it is not owned by one big entity, so that we can’t have a situation like Zuckerberg or Musk waltzing in and just basically doing whatever.
It’s interesting that Cornelius would use the NPR analogy, because Mastodon, much like NPR, has been accused of suffering from unbearable whiteness. Black people have found themselves hectored to use content warnings on posts in which they describe racism they have personally faced, and I saw someone tell one leading voice among Black American Mastodonians that he should go back to Africa.
Cornelius sees all this too, and it troubles her. But she also thinks as a larger influx of people arrives, things will change.
It’s not perfect by any stretch, but I was kind of fascinated by how it grew up — that it was programmers, obviously, but it was really a lot of interesting communities: neurodiverse people, queer people, trans people… I noticed a lot of people saying how friendly the place is and how great it was. But I also started noticing that it was very, very white. And then I started looking for Black and brown folks to follow, and Indigenous people.
When you sign up to a Mastodon server, you’re not tied to it for life. Cornelius started off on the original instance, mastodon.social, which is based in Germany, but switched over to mstdn.ca, whose policies she felt aligned better with her values. Of course the idea that you can easily pack up and go somewhere else is empowering, but it can also be used to create further marginalization: Oh, you don’t like it here on my server because you’re facing racism? Go join one that has more people who look like you.
Unlike other social media, there is no Mastodon algorithm. Timelines are chronological. You don’t see posts based on what you share, or what your followers liked, or what an opaque algorithm thinks fits your interests. It’s all just there, in order, not swamped by things the system thinks you might like.
Peter Smith, a programmer based in Bedford, enjoyed following local accounts on Twitter, but found locals were often “getting lost in the crowd.” He’d toyed with the idea of setting up a Mastodon server a few years ago, and ran a Twitter poll to gauge interest. One person responded.
But this year, in early November, he was recovering after he was hit by a car while riding his bike, scrolling through social media, and he decided it was time to revive the server idea:
I was lying around on the couch and scrolling Twitter, basically. And it was just so much Elon Musk promotions, and Elon Musk this, Elon Musk that. I was just really starting to find that too much. And it’s like, I just don’t have any faith that Twitter is going to last anymore. It just feels like a dumpster fire.
And I said, You know what? I’m not doing anything. I’m bored. I’m lying on my bed with a laptop. I know how to buy a virtual machine or a virtual server. I know how to create a domain. Let’s go do this and see what happens. And realistically, you know what, this will never go anywhere. But if not, well, I’ll keep the virtual machine and I’ll repurpose it for something else.
Smith set up a Mastodon instance at halifaxsocial.ca. With help from a couple of folks he knew on Twitter, he created rules for the community, and then he sat back and waited to see what happened. He opened registrations on Friday night. A few dozen people signed up right away.
By the middle of the next week, when The Coast wrote a piece about him, there were 250. Then 550 after the piece ran. Smith says the next big influx came when Tim Bousquet signed up. “I think we went to 800 from 550 last night.” (Hey, whaddaya know, Bousquet is an influencer.)
Because of the decentralized nature of Mastodon, there are no global rules. Each instance is responsible for its own moderation. There is no team of poorly paid content moderators sifting through millions of horrific posts, deciding which ones to flag. It’s all up to Smith and a couple of other volunteers. I asked him if that’s a burden, and he said so far, no, and he has no problem banning people if it starts to become one.
So far, he’s had five moderation issues, including someone complaining that there was too much discussion of US politics.
There are three different feeds on Mastodon. You can see what’s been posted by the people you follow, then there’s the “local” feed, which shows all the posts from others on your server. So, for instance, if you’re on Smith’s Halifax server, you’ll see what other Halifax-based people are sharing. And then there’s the “federated” feed, which shows what people on the servers yours is connected to are sharing. Smith says the federated tab is “great” because of the window it offers onto the much wider world, but that as a moderator, he also has to be careful:
It can be stressful sometimes, and I always will worry a little bit about the bad apples and stuff. But you cross those bridges when you deal with them. And it’s like another Mastodon moderator told me one time: don’t be lenient on the ban hammer because they can go anywhere. There’s lots of other servers if they want to sign up somewhere else.
Aural ephemera: Preserving the sounds of old technology
Click, whir, whir, click. It’s a very simple set of sounds. If I had heard them on their own, without context, I’m not sure I would be able to easily identify their source. But combined with the photo above, they become immensely evocative: the sound of a Polaroid instant cameras.
Polaroids were all the rage for awhile. You can take a photo and see it right away! My dad was an enthusiast. Not sure why, because he was also a terrible photographer (I can hear my mother’s voice going, “Bernard! You’ve got the lens cap on again!” as he took vacation snaps through a cheap camera). But he liked his Polaroids, and kept buying new models. I can’t remember how many we pulled out of his apartment after he died.
Sounds are evocative — and ephemeral. Like other ephemera — travel brochures, gig posters, menus, bus tickets — some sounds immediately evoke an era or a location. When my kids were young, one of them referred to “the national sounds of camping” while we were on holiday. The phrase stuck with me: sounds we would hear when we were camping, but at no other time during the year.
All this brings me to a German website called Conserve the Sound. The main page could not be simpler to navigate. There are photos of various machines and devices. Select one and you see more photos, a brief description and, most importantly, a large “play” button.
There are typewriters of course. Lots and lots of typewriters. Also various models of rotary phones, and many cameras. Not all the items represent old technology. One of the entries is the sound of a map (of Dortmund) being folded. Some are quirky, like the sound of a pencil spooling tape back into a cassette.
In addition to the sounds, the site also features interviews, including one with Nora Young, host of the CBC Radio show Spark.
Young says her favourite sound is a breeze blowing through “leafy trees.” When it comes to household sounds, she is partial to “the sound of the stovetop espresso maker as it bubbles, followed by the steam and frothing of the milk.”
As someone who works in radio, Young is, of course, particularly aware of sounds — their presence, their absence, the atmosphere they create — and she makes this interesting observation about sound and contemporary technologies:
What I mostly notice is how much we need to engineer sounds into technologies that don’t inherently require them. For example, we create sounds for digital technologies like our phones, not because there are physical buttons that make sounds, but just to give us some feedback about how we are using the phone. I find the choices designers make in how to represent these kinds of sounds fascinating.
The site also has an interview with Stuart Fowkes, who lives in Oxford (the one in England) and does a lot of field sound recording. Fowkes speaks to how our perception of sounds changes. Asked about sounds that bring back memories of his childhood, he says this:
For me, this would be the sound of vintage machinery — piston engines, steam engine-powered funfairs and the growl of vintage diesel engines. My childhood involved a lot of following my father in his passion for vintage vehicles, so as I child I spent a lot of time among the sound — and smell — of old, loud and throaty combustion engines, sounds I would now regard as noise pollution for the most part.
Interestingly, he says his day job is ” punctuated by the hellish clacking of keyboards and incoming email notifications.” These are sounds I can easily imagine being preserved in some future version of Conserve the Sound. In fact, at mynoise.net, you can find a vintage office noise generator:
Vintage Office recreates the sounds of an office that could have existed in the nineties, when floppy disks where still a thing, and inkjet printers were state of the art, certainly in comparison with the dot matrix printers that were still in use then. Computers had a memory of 4MB – about the size of a single mp3 file… and browsers would certainly not be able to run a site like myNoise, but were restricted to display textual contents.
Perhaps one day I will feel nostalgic for the loud hectoring beeps of the gas pump (REMOVE CARD, REMOVE CARD, BEGIN FUELING), but I doubt it. Still, maybe I should record them, just in case.
In the harbour
5:00: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk, Virginia
06:00: Thunder Bay, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
06:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
06:45: Augusta Luna, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 27 from Moe, Cuba
08:00: Polar Circle, tug/ice breaker, arrives at anchorage from Boston
10:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for Palm Beach, Florida
10:00: Thorco Legacy, bulker, arrives at Bedford Basin anchorage from Houston
15:30: Don Carlos, car carrier, moves from Autoport to Pier 9
16:30: Augusta Luna sails for Balboa, Spain
17:00: MSC Rossella, container ship, arrives at Berth TBD from Montreal
20:30: Atlantic Sky sails for Hamburg, Germany
23:00: Seaspan Loncomilla, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
Going to get some baking done today before the inevitable power failures.