June subscription drive

I’m going to turn today’s pitch over to Evelyn C. White, who writes:

Wearing a purple jumpsuit accented with a diagonal black zipper, I was leaving the newsroom when my editor at a Northern California daily stopped me and asked: “When are you going to start dressing for success?” 

I held the gaze of the white man and replied: “When you start paying me more money.” And with that, I headed out the door. I later learned from the night city editor with whom I worked during my rookie year that I’d “disappointed” the honchos who’d hired me with hopes that I’d become a major player at the region’s paper of record.

“They didn’t understand why you weren’t ‘career-minded,’” he told me, laughing, one night as we — the sole staffers on the 6pm to 2am shift — left early to secure his sailboat before an impending storm. 

This was an editor who, when departing for his dinner break (whiskey sours), tossed a pager my way and advised: “Don’t beep me unless the Mayor is found in bed with a dead woman or a live boy.” Suffice it to say that we were simpatico.   

While I’m proud of the stories that carried my byline at the paper, I rue the ones that somehow passed me by. How the hell did I not write about Huey Newton? Cover a Grateful Dead concert? Or interview Valerie Solanas? She of SCUM Manifesto and I Shot Andy Warhol fame who lived within walking distance of the newsroom where I also rocked culottes and saddle shoes, on the regular. 

I contribute to the Halifax Examiner because Tim Bousquet has never given me an assignment. On the contrary, he’s afforded me the freedom to write what I want, whenever I want. And I’ll continue to pursue stories that I hope educate, entertain, and rile Examiner readers. Consider my reflections on redwood trees.

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1. Ubique Network / Swarmio Media  

Through the years, the federal government has lavished a lot of cash upon a Nova Scotia-headquartered (first Sydney, then Halifax) gaming tech firm first called Ubique Network and then renamed Swarmio Media. The money flow as best I can track it is:

• July 2015: a $498,000 grant from the National Research Council to “support a firm in the Computer systems design and related services … with a research and development project”
• October 2015: a $500,000 ACOA loan to “Develop a gaming experience with no ‘lag’ time”
• July 2016: a $499,657 grant from the National Research Council to “support a firm in the Computer systems design and related services … with a research and development project”
• January 2017: an additional $468,750 added to the October 2015 ACOA loan, bringing the total loan amount to $968,750
• March 2017: a $50,000 ACOA grant to “Hire a chief revenue officer”
• April 2018: a $500,000 “Conditionally Repayable” ACOA loan to “Execute go to market strategy”
• October 2018: a $50,000 ACOA grant to “Hire a financial controller to streamline financial planning”
• October 2019: a $250,000 loan from ACOA to “Commercialize Swarmio eSports Platform in South Asia”
• February 2020: a $338,369 grant from the National Research Council for an “Edge compute environment that allows infrastructure providers to contribute servers while at the same time allowing online service providers to consume the resources on the available infrastructure.”
• May 2021: a $30,000 grant through the National Research Council’s Youth Employment Program for a program that was described as follows:

Swarmio Matrix is a dedicated edge cloud infrastructure. To scale faster, the network has to burst into public cloud services such as Google, AWS and Azure. This project will design the network and security components for bursting a Docker container in and out of the public cloud. The candidate will follow the proper engineering design process and get approval from the engineering and architecture teams to implement the design. The project will also implement and verify (QA) the design before handing it over to full production. The project will teach new grads the end-to-end infrastructure engineering and architecture methodology, internetworking technologies, network security, and hands-on configuration.

• June 2020: a $100,000 loan from ACOA for COVID assistance
• July 2021: a $30,000 grant through the National Research Council’s Youth Employment Program: “This project for the youth involves data analytics, Power BI dashboard presentations of KPIs, and creation of user flows and story maps and stream statistics management.”
•August 2021: a $50,000 grant ACOA grant to “hire a Vice President, Product Strategy”
• August 2021: a $502,609 grant from the National Research Council for something called the “Unified Payments Platform (Swarmio Pay) project is designed to make the process of integrating new payment processors from multiple global networks more streamlined and efficient”
• July 2022: a $301,000 grant from the National Research Council, with the explanation that:

Swarmio’s Ember Hub platform is built on a distributed microservice architecture that exposes a GraphQL API through a federated gateway for flexibility and efficiency. As traffic on the platform increases, response times and throughput become greater concerns. Horizontal platform scaling can improve performance to a degree, but implementation of a caching layer is almost always required in modern application deployments at scale. Standard HTTP caching does not suffice in this case. This initiative will allow the Ember Hub platform to serve significantly higher user counts, increasing responsiveness while reducing infrastructure costs.

• August 2022: a $500,000 loan from ACOA to “commercialize Swarmio eSports platform in the Philippines”
• January 2023: a $103,353 grant from the National Research Council because “the addition of GraphQL and related API acceleration will allow the Ember Hub platform to serve significantly higher user counts, increasing responsiveness while reducing infrastructure costs.”

Alas, last week Swarmio announced that is filing for creditor protection. The company is hoping to remain viable by finding a buyer.

As Josh Scott with Canadian Startup News explains:

Swarmio first began trading on the Canadian Securities Exchange (CSE) under the symbol ‘SWRM’ in late 2021, following a reverse takeover of a new holding company it created. This holding company secured $5 million via private placement to support Swarmio’s expansion into new geographic markets.

Since then, however, the company has faced difficulties. Its stock price has fallen precipitously — from $0.56 on the CSE when it first went public, to a fraction of $0.01 at the time of publication.

Earlier this year, Swarmio swapped CFOs, bringing on Jonathan Visva in a full-time capacity to replace Kyle Appleby, who was working on a part-time basis. The company claimed this move was in anticipation of a “high-growth phase” following the global deployment of its Ember platform. In March, Swarmio received $1 million in secured debt from an undisclosed existing shareholder.

The filing indicates that Swarmio has been struggling. Per the document, by the end of 2022, Swarmio had assets with a book value of approximately $1.2 million. As of June 10, 2023, Swarmio had total liabilities of nearly $10.3 million. According to the filing, Swarmio has 22 full-time employees and has fallen more than $1 million behind on its payroll obligations.

I don’t know the status of the ACOA loans, but given the above, I’d guess that most of them remain unpaid.

Is there a lesson here? On the surface, no: government “invests” (if “the government” — meaning us — doesn’t get an equity stake in the company, “invest” is a bullshit word) in companies all the time. Sometimes the companies succeed, sometimes not. I’d argue that such government involvement skews all sorts of market incentives, mostly for the worst, but no one listens to me and here we are.

But I’d like a more in-depth picture of what happened here and what the government knew, when. It appears that there was an awful lot of public money going into Swarmio very recently, when the company’s financials must have shown an enormous liability compared to earnings.

And 22 employees are owed $1 million; that’s on average more than $45,000 each. That appears to be a violation of all sorts of labour laws.

How is it possible that government granting agencies weren’t aware of the overall financial picture of the company?

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2. The owner of the Titan aimed to use it for deep sea oil exploration

A white submarine in blue water.
The Titan submersible Credit: OceanGate Expeditions

“To understand how five people died this week in an experimental, uncertified submersible in the North Atlantic, it helps to know that the deadly hubris behind the project was meant to catch the interest of the offshore oil industry,” reports Mitchell Beer for The Energy Mix:

Thanks to a previously obscure interview published in 2017, we know that the macabre tours of the Titanic wreck were just a side gig for OceanGate, Inc. and its founder and CEO, Stockton Rush. The company was just looking for wealthy tourists with more money than common sense to give it the profile and proof of concept to go after the bigger fish.

As Fast Company reported on April 14, 2017:

Eventually, as the pool of wealthy adventure-minded travelers willing to take a dive in a sub dwindles, Rush hopes that his submarine technology will be well proven, and he can start to contract with the biggest of the high rollers: oil and gas companies. “The biggest resource is oil and gas, and they spend about $16 billion a year on robots to service oil and gas platforms,” he explains. “But oil and gas [companies] don’t take new technology. They want it proven, they want it out there.”

The Titanic trips help make the case, showing those oil and gas companies that his technology works, while making a profit—something the company hasn’t quite done yet. “We’ll be profitable with the Titanic trips,” says Rush. “The Titanic is where we go from startup to ongoing business.”

Beer goes on to give an overview of the deep sea oil industry — in short: it’s growing — and then continues:

A common factor across all of these snapshots and so many more is the assumption, stated or tacit, that there’s no need to sort out the details—just let the big megaproject go ahead, wait for someone else to take the consequences, and whatever you do, don’t smother “innovation” in rules and paperwork.

In fairness, the oil and gas industry faces safety standards and certifications as tough as OceanGate ever imagined. But its day-to-day practices have still led to a continuing avalanche of health, safety, and environmental violations. At least one former safety consultant has blown the whistle on industry practices. And the sector’s performance will go from bad to worse as some of the world’s biggest producers move to “decarbonize” their portfolios by selling off their oldest, most marginal operations to smaller companies with even less ability or inclination to operate them safely.

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3. Rockets and climate change

a rocket flying above the Earth
How the world ends, possibly.

On the most recent Quirks and Quarks, host Bob MacDonald took a listener’s question about rocket launches and their impact on climate change; MacDonald took the question to Aaron Boley, co-director of the the Outer Space Institute. You can listen to it here (at the 15:19 mark).

Boley told MacDonald that in terms of climate change, CO2 is not the primary concern of launches:

Boley: Rockets produce the full spectrum of emission products, and kind of one of the things that we really do need to consider is that not just the type of products, but also where the products are actually placed. When we’re thinking about emissions, we’re typically thinking about emissions in the troposphere. That’s where we live. That’s where we have weather. And there’s a lot of mixing that takes place and, you know, certain type of interaction stuff can stay in the troposphere for only so long. But when we’re thinking about rockets, they’re placing material not just in the troposphere, but also placing it into the upper atmosphere. And there the chemistry is going to be different. They’re going to be different types of interactions that we need to consider and different implications for the products. 

MacDonald: What kind of products are we talking about here? 

Boley: So things like soot are a major consideration. They have a much larger climate forcing impact than, say, CO2, kind of per particle. And soot is produced quite a bit by typical rocket fuels. It actually will increase the temperature of the planet with enough soot in the upper atmosphere. And that has implications for things like ozone chemistry, which can lead to higher depletion of ozone, for example...

Rocket motors typically found in things like boosters, produce products like alumina, for example, and alumina, when placed into the upper atmosphere, can have also climate impacts and it can be very nontrivial because it both acts as a greenhouse gas and an anti greenhouse gas. And so it can reflect visible light, but it absorbs the infrared light. Well, one of the other issues is that it creates nucleation sites for chemistry, particularly things like activating inactive chlorine. And so it can have once again a very large ozone impact.

Jennifer Henderson reported on the climate change issues of the proposed Canso spaceport five years ago.

In the scheme of the projected growth of the entire rocket launching industry, whatever happens at Canso will be a tiny contributing factor to the industry’s affect on climate, but ignoring it is along the lines of saying, “Why bother reducing my own greenhouse gas emissions when China is building a new coal plant?” — the underlying math may be true, but adopting the argument kills any chance of making the political and economic changes necessary to combat emissions on a global scale.

Last year, Mark Piesing, reporting for the BBC, looked at the soot produced by rocket launches:

Perhaps the black carbon, or soot, and other emissions didn’t matter when only around 70 commercial rocket launches a year took place. Now that number has doubled; it is expected to increase significantly more over the next two decades due to the growth in demand for services like satellite internet services and space tourism

At least three scientific research papers have already been published this year on the impact of rocket emissions on the atmosphere, temperatures, and the ozone layer. Some scientists are worried that these carbon particles can act like a form of geo-engineering by absorbing heat.

“We have been aware of it for a fair amount of time, but there haven’t been a lot of studies,” says Christopher Maloney, a research scientist at the NOAA Chemical Sciences Laboratory, who is the co-author of one of the papers. “There are studies that go back to the early 2000s, and even a few beforehand, but it’s never been that big of a concern or focus because the number of rockets being launched every year was so small. Now if you look at the trajectory of the industry, or proposals from various governments, then we can expect to see a tenfold increase in rocket launches and emissions within the next 10 to 20 years, and that is why, suddenly, it’s starting to get momentum in terms of scientific research.”

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4. Pedestrian killed

A Halifax police release:

At approximately 11:20 p.m. on June 24, Halifax Regional Police responded to a pedestrian vehicle collision in the area of Main Street and Hartlen Street in Dartmouth. A 70-year-old pedestrian was struck by a vehicle. He was transported to hospital and later died as a result of his injuries.

No other details were provided. The intersection of Main Street and Hartlen Street is a “T” intersection controlled by traffic lights and has crosswalks in each of the three crossing directions.

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Russia and fatalism

Red Square with the Spasskaya Tower (left), Saint Basil’s Cathedral (right) and Ostankino Tower (background) Credit: wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=105454511

I don’t know anything much about Russia, so I have no insights into the whys or hows of what happened over the weekend — go read experts for that. I have three tiny thoughts, however:

First, does Putin not read history? Mercenary armies have brought many an empire down, and there’s no reason to think that dynamic will suddenly change. It’s incredibly foolish to wage wars with mercenary armies.

Second, this can’t be over. Both Prigozhin and Putin are terrible people, and both have made statements that can’t be walked back by whatever this “deal” is (if there even is an actual deal). And surely Prigozhin is aware of Putin’s history of having his adversaries poisoned, tossed out of windows, and otherwise murdered with alarming regularity; it seems unlikely Prigozhin thinks he can simply retire in comfort in Belarus.

But thirdly, what I felt most deeply this weekend was just how precarious the world is. We’ve seen it before. The Soviet Union collapsed in what seemed in those simpler times like the blink of an eye (it was in reality more than two years between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union), but since the start of the 21st century the pace of upending events has quickened with unnerving frequency — 911, the financial collapse, the rise of authoritarian regimes, Jan. 6, and so much more, including climate news I can’t even comprehend.

On a discussion thread about Maritime Launch Services’ stock prices (so a lot of bullshit, but still), someone posted that “The editor [of the Halifax Examiner] has an account called ‘End of Days’ 90% of his rhetoric is on god or the anti christ. Even the uni bomber had followers.”

There are so many candidates for the antiChrist I wouldn’t know where to begin, and I always refer to the supreme being as dog, not god, so we can discount that part of the comment. But I absolutely would subscribe to an account called “End of Days,” if I knew where it was — so point taken, internet stock-pumping commentator!

Probably, people through every era of history have thought of their own time as particularly disruptive and contrary to some imagined established order. Wild and terrible shit, like the Justinianic plague or the flooding of the Yangtze, has always happened, so maybe the present is no different. Still, I can’t help thinking that we’re pressing up against all sorts of limits all at the same time. Who knows what will happen next?

Interesting time, as they say.

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Executive Standing Committee (Monday, 10am, City Hall and online) — agenda

North West Community Council (Monday, 7pm, Acadia Hall, Lower Sackville) — agenda



No meetings


Natural Resources and Economic Development (Tuesday, 1pm, One Government Place and online) — Nova Scotia’s Clean Renewable Energy Sector, Including Green Hydrogen Production and Offshore Wind; with representatives from the Department of Environment and Climate Change, Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, and Invest Nova Scotia

On campus


Pollinator wall planting (Monday, 11am, the forest behind Sherriff Hall) — more info here

Mount Saint Vincent


No events


Exhibitions (Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 3pm, MSVU Art Gallery) — from the listings:

Portals: until September 1

This exhibition of new work by Kayza DeGraff-Ford showcases their recent digital experimentation in virtual reality programming. Part of an ongoing story within DeGraff-Ford’s practice, this immersive installation features a cosmic aqua-portal via the humble entry point of bathroom plumbing. Channelling the literary genre of Magical Realism and exploring African diasporic and trans experiences, Portals takes the viewer through a healing wormhole in time.

Everything We Have Done Is Weather Now: until August 19

Lisa Hirmer’s gorgeous photographs of weather data bridge the divide between everyday conversations about weather and the enormity of the climate crisis, thereby helping to open up possibilities for imagining different futures for our planet. The exhibition is organized and circulated by the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery and is part of The Weather Collection, a network of digital and in-person exhibitions, hands-on art making, research, and artist projects that use visual art to encourage creative perspectives on the environment and build new relationships with the future of the planet.

In the harbour

07:00: Zaandam, cruise ship with up to 1,718 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Bar Harbor, on a seven-day cruise from Boston to Montreal  
15:00: NYK Rumina, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint John
17:45: Zaandam sails for Sydney

Cape Breton
09:00: Tanja, bulker, arrives at Port Hawkesbury Paper from sea


I’ve got nothing.

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Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. This outcome for Swarmio felt evident to relevant stakeholders almost a decade ago when I worked in the building they were based out of and they were just getting started. It was known by people who worked for them and around them. It was known by the various regional elites and gatekeepers who control the flow of funding, access, and information.

    Unfortunately the whole startup ecosystem is rife with an untenable combination of taxpayer funded gambling and capitalist religiosity that nobody wants to talk about for a wide variety of complicated reasons that… nobody wants to talk about.

  2. Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching.
    An Assyrian clay tablet dating to around 2800 B.C. (?)

  3. Everything about the Swarmio story sounds familiar to me. In theory, government, understood as “the representatives of everyone” can invest money in a business and end up with more in its coffers as a result. If the investment, for instance, keeps a dozen highly paid tech people in Nova Scotia who might have emigrated otherwise, then it sounds plausible that their net tax contributions will add up to more than they invested.

    However, with a cool 4.6 million invested, that would have to be a lot of software developers getting paid a lot of money. According to the Fraser institute, NS spends about 12k per year per capita for each and every one of us. A Nova Scotian making $100k a year pays 12k in provincial taxes, but because we don’t work our whole lives, a Nova Scotian probably needs to average $150k a year to receive less from the provincial government than they pay in provincial taxes – thank you equalization payments.

    $150k is a very high salary for tech workers in Canada, let alone Halifax, and it is safe to say that only a few of the senior people at Swarmio got that kind of money. The math simply doesn’t work out – for 4.6 million dollars the government needs to create jobs that pay well over $200k, which is not realistic. And of course this calculation is complicated by equalization payments and the fact that some of the 4.6 million gets instantly recirculated to government coffers through payroll, income and sales taxes.

    However, if you look at it from a national perspective, the retention of skilled workers who are net taxpayers on a federal level can theoretically be a good thing. Although this does sound kind of like trickle down economics, the governments ability to spend on the most needy is dependent on people whose taxes yield a surplus. Of course, if the government didn’t spend so lavishly on the real welfare kings and queens, the income level needed for a taxpayer to pay surplus taxes would be lower.

    In reality most of these subsidy dumpster tech companies go nowhere, the shameless self-promoters and con men in charge collect fat salaries for a time, and then go on to their next thing.