On campus
In the harbour


1. Pipe

Shell's Stena IceMAX drillship.
Shell’s Stena IceMAX drillship.

“When heaving waters in the North Atlantic wrenched a string of massive steel pipes from a drilling ship off Nova Scotia’s coast, one of the 20-tonne sections of the plummeting coil struck the seabed just 12 metres from the top of an undersea oil exploration well,” reports Michael Tutton for the Canadian Press:

The distance is one of several details in a Shell Canada accident report received through access to information legislation, prompting critics to say the entire incident was too close for comfort in an area near one of Atlantic Canada’s richest fishing grounds of the Scotian shelf.

A summary report by the regulator issued earlier this year had said a heavier portion of the drilling system fell 22 metres from the wellhead, but didn’t mention the closer distance of pipes that are coiled and criss-crossed through an area of seabed the size of three football fields in length and breadth.

2. The mean-spiritedness of Community Services

Last year, a woman receiving social assistance — there’s no need to name her, so I’ll just call her Ellen, a pseudonym — asked the Department of Community services for more than the maximum $535 monthly housing allowance. The department turned down her request, and so with the help of Dal Legal Aid, Ellen appealed to the Assistance Appeal Board.

Ellen has Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and provided a letter signed by both an occupational therapist and a doctor documenting her illness. “Doctor Fox indicated that MCS affects the central nervous system by overloading the system of an individual with MCS,” noted Ian Gulliver, the appeal board member who heard the case. “When individuals with MCS encounter physical, emotional, mental, cognitive and environmental stress it results in an increase in sensitivity or reactivity of their central nervous system, which increases their reactivity to stress (i.e. chemical exposure or emotional stress) and increases the severity of the symptoms. In the appellant’s case while under stress re her housing and if placed in an environment where chemical exposure is present or is likely the stress will significantly affect her health.” The bold is in the original document, and sure, that’s a convoluted sentence, but no one has contested Ellen’s medical diagnosis.

On her own, Ellen found an apartment that was MCS-friendly. Monthly rent is $850, and she paid a $425 deposit on it. In order to meet her health needs, she was asking for an increase above the normal $535 limit paid by Community Services.

A student Legal Aid worker, Ashley MacDonald, who assisted Ellen in her appeal, filed a Freedom of Information request with Community Services asking for the number of instances in which the department paid more than the $535 housing allowance permitted in the Employment Support and Income Assistance regulations. Lynn Hartwell, the deputy minister at Community Services, sent the following letter as response:


Here’s the accompanying chart:


That letter and chart were submitted by another student Legal Aid worker, Christina Macdonald, to the Assistance Appeal Board, along with the letter from Dr. Fox. Gulliver, on the appeal board, acknowledged receipt of the housing stats in the “statement of facts” in his ruling, but did not cite them in the “decision” part of the ruling. In part, his decision reads:

Regulation 46 allows for a supervisor to exempt an applicant or recipient from the provisions regarding the calculation of the budget deficit if it is necessary to protect the health and safety of the applicant or recipient. In order for the health of the appellant [Ellen] to be protected due to a unique medical condition that requires specific accommodations.

Gulliver ruled that Community Services should pay Ellen’s $850 monthly rent and retroactively pay her $425 deposit.

But now Community Services is asking the Supreme Court to set aside Gulliver’s ruling. The reason — the housing stats submitted by Legal Aid to the board were “misinterpreted.” In an affidavit submitted to the court, Denise MacDonald-Billard, Community Services’ director of income assistance, writes that:


MacDonald-Billard’s representation is not entirely accurate. Gulliver referred to the housing stats in the “statement of facts” portion of his ruling, which simply lays out what evidence was presented to him. But Gulliver did not refer to the housing stats in the “decision” part of his ruling, which explains the reasoning for the ruling.

Still, Community Services is now saying that because the housing stats were misinterpreted, Ellen should be denied the increase in her housing allowance.

Think about this. A Legal Aid worker asked for documentation showing how many people on assistance receive a housing allowance greater than $535 and received a document showing that more than 11,000 do. The department now says that in reality that’s the number of people who are living in places where rent is more than $535, but the vast majority of those are only receiving $535 in assistance. The real number, the department says, is closer to 100. So therefore Ellen shouldn’t get more than $535.

Ellen still has MCS, and still has rent of $850. But gosh darn it, Community Services is making a point.

I can’t help but wonder how many thousands of dollars in legal costs Community Services is incurring to deny this one woman a $315 increase in her housing allowance so she doesn’t get sick.

3. The Carleton

“The Carleton Music Bar and Grill filed for bankruptcy protection at the end of August, after two back-to-back weekends of poor turnout,” reports Stephanie vanKampen for the CBC:

Owner Mike Campbell blames downtown construction, the MacDonald Bridge closures, and a shrinking appetite for live music for the downturn in business. The bar opened in 2008.

“I’d say we’ve lost $100,000 a year over the last three to four years,” said Campbell, noting the construction of the Nova Centre across the street began about three years ago, in 2013. 

A couple of weekends ago, a Saturday at 5pm, I sat on the Shoe’s patio, utterly alone, watching the garbage blow down the street. Even the tourists are avoiding Argyle Street.

4. Living Wage Ordinance


Council candidates continue to respond, and I continue to update the page with their answers.

5. More bomb threats

On Tuesday there were four bomb threats around the province, reported Jennifer Hoegg for Transcontinental:

All reports came in around 4:30 p.m. Sept. 27 in the communities of Westville, Bible Hill, Kentville and Bridgewater. All four initially involved municipal police forces and all four proved to be hoaxes.

6. Suspicious Packages return

Everybody is worked up about the bomb threats, I guess, so the Suspicious Packages played a surprise gig at the Central Library late yesterday afternoon. “Halifax Regional Police cleared the scene at the library shortly after 1 am,” say the police in an email to reporters. “The located package was deemed safe by the Explosive Disposal Unit and will be further examined in the coming days.” All this led to the cancellation of the Right to Know talk by Freedom of Information Commissioner Catherine Tully. The talk will be rescheduled.

7. Tampered Halloween Candy

Death candy!
Death candy!

’tis the season!

The cops never have gotten back to me with any positive results of their supposed investigations, so I’m just going to assume that each and every report of tampered Halloween candy last year was utter bullshit. If you’re a new reader, there’s background here.

The gist of it is that in coming weeks a bunch of kids will stick needles in their Halloween candy as a stupid joke (kids are dumb!) and then some clueless adults will overreact and call the cops and the media will splash it all over the front pages and Amy Smith will look concerned and everyone will talk about how society is going to hell and how kids can’t even go trick-or-treating anymore unlike in the good old days and we’ll look fondly at Norman Rockwell drawings but we’ll forget about how in decades past open racism and gay-bashing were acceptable and the beer sucked and there were only three channels and you had to change your own oil and you just tossed the old oil on the ground and then we’ll hold our children dearly because you never know that couple next door might be putting poison in the Hershey bars — it was on CBC! — but the kids will squirm out of our unwelcome hugs and instead play with their smart phones.

It’s tradition.


1. Cranky letter of the day

To the Cape Breton Post:

I believe not enough is being done to entertain our cruise ship visitors.

On Sunday, for example, a cruise ship was in town, but there was nothing open. There was nothing to do.

If we do not amuse them we are going to lose them.

Louisbourg lost cruise ships because of this.

Gary LeDrew, Sydney 



Investment policy committee (noon, City Hall) — I often chuckle at the reading list. For today’s meeting, committee members were supposed to bone up on the economics of oil, as if anyone on the planet understands that.


All meetings are being conducted via private email accounts.

On campus


Richard K. Guy (2:30pm, Colloquium Room #319, Chase Building) — It’s mathematician Richard K. Guy’s 100th birthday. Anyone who lives that long should be celebrated simply for the accomplishment, but this, er, guy has actually done stuff in his century.

Guy co-authored his most famous book, Winning Ways for your Mathematical Plays, when he was a mere lad of 66 years“This book has laid the foundation to a mathematical approach to playing games,” says Amazon. “The wise authors wield witty words, which wangle wonderfully winning ways.

Guy is also the big brain behind The Strong Law of Small Numbers, which some (other) guy on the internet explains:

The first strong law of small numbers (Gardner 1980, Guy 1988, 1990) states “There aren’t enough small numbers to meet the many demands made of them.”

The second strong law of small numbers (Guy 1990) states that “When two numbers look equal, it ain’t necessarily so.” Guy (1988) gives 35 examples of this statement, and 40 more in Guy (1990). For example, example 35 notes that the first few values of the interpolating polynomial (n^4-6n^3+23n^2-18n+24)/24 (erroneously given in Guy (1990) with a coefficient 24 instead of 23) for n=1, 2, … are 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, …. Thus, the polynomial appears to give the powers of 2, but then continues 31, 57, 99, … (OEIS A000127). In fact, this sequence gives the maximal number of regions obtained by joining n points around a circle by chords (circle division by chords).

Similarly, example 41 notes the curious fact that the function [e^((n-1)/2)] where [x] is the ceiling function gives the sequence 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, … (i.e., the first few Fibonacci numbers) for n=0, 1, …, although it subsequently continues 91, 149, … (OEIS A005181), which are not Fibonacci numbers.

Another example is provided by a near-identity of trinomial coefficients noticed by Euler.

And if that’s not a knee-slapper, I don’t know what is. Mathematical humour is the best (hi Ken!).

To celebrate Guy’s 100th birthday, Karl Dilcher and Richard Nowakowski will explain that old mathematicians never die, they just lose some of their functions.

Here’s 99-year-old Guy explaining triangles:

YouTube video

Blood cleansing (6pm, Room 127, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Zoran Obradovic, who somehow manages to be simultaneously “an Academician at the Academia Europaea (the Academy of Europe) and a Foreign Academician at the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, a L.H. Carnell Professor of Data Analytics at Temple University, Professor in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences with a secondary appointment in Department of Statistical Science, and Director of the Center for Data Analytics and Biomedical Informatics,” will speak on “Computational methods for early diagnostics and multiple blood cleansing interventions in sepsis.”

Andrew Nikiforuk
Andrew Nikiforuk

Fracking and earthquakes (7pm, Ondaatje Auditorium, McCain Building) — energy reporter Andrew Nikiforuk will speak.

In the harbour

The seas around Nova Scotia, 9:30am. Map:
The seas around Nova Scotia, 9:30am. Map:

7am: Silver Whisper, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 23 from Gaspé, Quebec with up to 466 passengers
7am: Veendam, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 20 from Sydney with up to 1,350 passengers
9:30am: Carnival Sunshine, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 30 from Saint John with up to 3,000 passengers
11:30am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 36 to Autoport
11:45am: Regal Princess, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 22 from Saint John with up to 4,272 passengers
3:30pm: Veendam, cruise ship, sails from Pier 20 for Bar Harbor
3:30pm: NYK Romulus, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Rotterdam
4pm: Silver Whisper, cruise ship, sails from Pier 23 for Portland
7pm: Carnival Sunshine, cruise ship, sails from Pier 30 for New York
9:30pm: Regal Princess, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for New York

8am: Azamara Quest, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 23 with up to 690 passengers
9am: Serenade of the Seas, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 22 from Saint John
9am: Disney Magic, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 23 from New York with up to 2,456 passengers
4:45pm: Disney Magic, cruise ship, sails from Pier 23 for New York
6:30pm: Serenade of the Seas, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for Boston


I’ve been sitting on something too long and need to get it out this morning. Check back on the home page in a couple of hours.

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  1. The ability of Community Services to accurately respond to a request for data (or even put an unambiguous title on the table) should not be their own basis for denying expenses. If the number was more like 100, why didn’t they just put those stats in there?

    Also, why hasn’t anyone commented on the fact that the department of Community Services apparently has a time machine???

  2. Re Offshore drilling – an excellent article about the challenges of a safe BOP (Blow Out Preventer)

    ” The Presidential Commission that studied the Deepwater Horizon tragedy called a BOP the “last line of defense” to prevent a catastrophic release of hydrocarbons into the environment. However, when it comes to this critical barrier that protects the rig and its crew, the industry is still using 90-year-old technology that has simply increased in size, weight, and complexity over time. ”

  3. Regarding housing assistance:

    Everyone in Canada deserves food, shelter and medical care. We may not be able to fix the world, but we can at least keep our own house clean. What bothers me about the sort of faux-socialism that defined the Obama presidency (give just enough money to poor people so that they can keep renting from slumlords and shopping at Wal-Mart, while letting drug companies set arbitrary prices for medicine) is that ultimately the money ends up in the hands of the worst of the capitalist class, people who make money just by owning things.

    I’m not saying the answer is state housing, because well, that’s been tried and it’s a disaster, but I think the answer is more than just paying off the landlord class every month.

  4. Mike Campbell has bent over backwards to create a unique music venue to showcase artists from here and around the country. Playing the Carleton was an aspirational goal for a lot of performers. The Nova Centre development has killed it, along with a number of other businesses in the area, and, to quote Stan Rogers, the “smiling bastards” behind all of that “progress” don’t care.
    In this province we have systematically strangled one of the most precious resources we used to have – and I use the past tense reluctantly – namely our creative industry which includes music, art, film, etc. All of that has a much higher ROI than a convention centre built on the strength of a bunch of cigar chomping back slapping good ole boys who don’t give a rats posterior about contributing to a sustainable business culture in this province.
    Mike Campbell’s loss is not just his as a business person who tried to make a go of it in a very tough industry. It is a major loss to each and every one of us and no one is seeing it.

    1. @Oldie: I’m not exactly a defender of the Nova Centre, but the Carleton isn’t necessarily dead (I hope it pulls through) and if it does die, it can’t necessarily be chalked up solely or even mostly to construction.

      And what other businesses have been “killed” by it? I’m not aware of even one business that has closed and cited it as a principal or even contributing reason, though Argyle and especially Barrington have seen loads of new businesses open in the past tow-three years. Lot Six, Stillwell, Highwayman, Barrington Steakhouse, the Apothercary, all seem to be doing very well. There’s not one for-lease sign anywhere on Argyle.

      Sure, the Nova Centre is too big, and sucked up too much in the way of land and public resources, and its construction was not handled well, and the actual need for a convention centre of this size is dubious at best.

      But it hasn’t killed downtown. Anyone who thinks it has must be living in some alternate-universe Halifax (maybe the same one where our creative industry has been “strangled” out of existence?) because where I live, downtown is livelier than it’s been in ages.

  5. C’mon Tim – Saturday 5pm isn’t exactly prime time for Argyle, which gets most of its traffic from downtown workers during the week, party animals on Friday and Saturday nights, and whenever there’s a game or show at the arena or the Neptune. Also, as I recall, Saturday was a bit chilly for sitting out on a patio for most people.

    I’m not denying that Argyle has been having trouble – and especially the Carleton, due to its dependence on live music audiences coming in from outside of the core – but try a warm sunny Friday at 5pm instead – or about 4 hours later – and you’ll see it isn’t exactly a ghost town.