1. Flood plains and zoning

A drone shot looking down at murky brown flood waters filling parking lots and roadways in Bedford.
Flood waters in Bedford on July 22, 2023, the day after Friday’s historic rainfall event. Credit: Shaun Lowe Photographic

Yvette d’Entremont has been digging deep into questions about zoning and construction in flood plains in Bedford and Sackville, which got some of the worst of last weekend’s flash flooding.

In a new story, d’Entremont reveals that while HRM updated its flood plain maps for the area in 2017, no zoning changes ensued:

The impacts of Friday’s historic flooding in the communities of Bedford and Sackville underscore the urgency of replacing outdated flood plain maps with newer ones found in the 2017 Sackville Rivers Floodplain Study.

That’s the messaging delivered by Walter Regan, past president of the Sackville Rivers Association. He believes the change could’ve helped mitigate some of the flood damage in the Bedford-Sackville area. 

In an interview, Regan said it’s time Halifax Regional Municipality passed and zoned the study’s flood plain maps. The environmental activist has spent more than 35 years advocating for and protecting the Sackville River. 

“I see flood plain zoning the same as why you wear steel toed boots or a hard hat or a seat belt. It’s a preventive measure. And it also saves money, it really does. It saves tax dollars,” Regan said. 

“Because if you’ve got to repair undersized culverts, if you’ve got to repair bridges that blow out, if the taxpayer’s got to pay for new driveways that should not have been built and all these other things, then it pays you to do flood plain mapping and stream gauging.”

Regan said under present flood plain zoning, development isn’t permitted next to the Sackville River. He believes had the 2017 plan been implemented, less housing — and possibly less hard surface — would have been built inside the one-in-20 year and one-in-100 year flood plains.

“So, HRM did the 2017 Sackville River Floodplain Study. Published it, but never implemented it, never zoned it,” Regan said. “That to me is wrong. Now, the flood plain zoning would not have stopped the flood. But it likely would have mitigated some of the damages.”

There is a lot to this story, and I can’t do it justice here, so please read it. It’s an important piece.

Click here to read “Bedford, Sackville councillors, environmental activist call for action on floodplain report.”

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2. Underwater treasure (and trash)

A shirtless white man wearing a baseball hat stands on a dock with a collection of stuff he found in the water. Behind him are some colourful houses on the shore of the cove.
Sean McMullen with a collection of items he collected in Peggy’s Cove. Credit: Sean McMullen

Suzanne Rent profiles Sean McMullen of Fall River, who spends his spare time diving in waterways around the province and bringing up the items he finds there.

It’s a great story:

In spring of 2020, in the midst of pandemic lockdowns, Sean McMullen was looking for something to do when he wondered what might be in the waters of the Northwest Arm. So, he got a wetsuit, dug out his old fins, and a snorkel, and explored the waters off Horseshoe Island where he found some old Pepsi bottles.

“I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I remember how much I loved doing this when I was a kid,’” McMullen said in an interview.

McMullen goes on dives from March to December each year and spends up to 20 hours a week exploring local waters. He lugs everything he finds back to his car to take home. He properly disposes of some of the items, recycles others, gives away some interesting items or keeps them for himself.

“I hate finding modern trash because that really disturbs me. Like, come on. When it’s clearly been dumped, not versus stuff that accidentally floats away,” McMullen said.

He’ll even ask for help from local historians, museums, and archeologists on identifying and dating some of the older finds. He said the “coolest” item he’s ever found was an old torpedo bottle produced by a beverage company run by William James Roué, the naval architect who designed the Bluenose. His most treasured item is a ginger beer bottle produced by late 19th century Halifax brewer Felix J. Quinn. 

McMullen also says he has pulled out tons of garbage, and the odd rarity, from the Sackville River.

Profiles like this one really hit the sweet spot for me as a reader: interesting subject, great writing, person who is really, really into what they are doing.

Click or tap here to read “Searching for treasures and trash in Nova Scotia’s lakes, rivers, and ocean.”

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3. Bullshit meter overdrive

Artists's rendition of a triangular home looking like a glorified tent shelter set right beside the water in a treed landscape.
Artist’s rendition of an amazing place to live out the climate change era. Credit: Sotheby's

Last week, we were yukking it up at the Examiner over this Sotheby’s listing (since closed) for an island on the Eastern Shore. It’s called Leader Island, but that wasn’t going to stop the sellers from listing it as Vollebak Island (named for Vollebak, which is the company that currently owns the place).

The Sotheby’s listing refers to the island as follows:

…a pragmatic utopia conceptualized by the globally renowned architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). Completely self-sufficient, the island boasts a diverse ecosystem of dense forests and over 11 acres of land to explore. Bidders will not only vie for the chance to own the majestic island but will also be granted coveted and exclusive rights to Ingels’ design vision, with planning permission for those designs.

Whenever I see “completely self-sufficient” I think about something I read decades ago about the pointlessness of trying to be a fully self-sufficient homesteader. As I recall, the writer of the piece said nobody is going to be vulcanizing their own rubber for tires.

Sotheby’s said it expected “competitive interest from bidders all over the world.”

The auction did not produce a buyer.

In a story about the property in the Globe and Mail, the Vollebak company is described like this:

The clothing brand that started with relaxation hoodies and moved into planning for life on Mars markets the concept of a compound on the island as “radical, utopian and visionary.”

Here is how the Globe piece describes the current owners’ modest plans:

The plans envision a self-sufficient and carbon neutral cluster of shelters and buildings such as a greenhouse for growing the island’s food and a bath house carved from rock.

The idea is to eventually scale the concept to villages, towns, cities, countries or the entire planet, the founders say.

Well, that seems to have all fallen by the wayside, but enter Bill Spurr, who brings us this SaltWire story called “Most important house in the world planned for Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia.”

Spurr speaks to Vollebak COO Darren Roberts, whose title should perhaps be Chief Bullshit Officer, given how he lays it on thick. Roberts tells Spurr:

After we bought the island, the aim was to team up with somebody to look at how humans can live in the future,” Roberts said of Ingels. “Could we build a building that was almost Viking-esque? There’s a bath house, there’s a star gazing room, there’s a central dwelling with a beautiful fire and everything is made locally, from seaweed, hemp, that sort of stuff.”

The story continues:

The island is the land designated to test Ingels’ theory about building “the world’s first totally self-sustaining house,” made mainly of 3D printed concrete, with one bedroom of boulders and another constructed from a mixture of hemp, lime and sand.

“We don’t need a wind turbine because there are fences that are four feet high, with spirals that generate electricity,” Roberts said of the hundred per cent carbon-neutral home, which, to be clear, is just an idea right now.

This next part of the piece, under the subhead “Red Tape” amused me, especially given that the original plan seems to have been to build a whole community.

Regulations won’t allow the whole island to be developed, which Roberts explained to residents when he went to Jeddore. HRM’s planning department will permit one residential building.

“The footprint is a circle, probably 25 metres across,” said Roberts. “And we’re allowed to put one outbuilding. We’re going to try to do it in a sensitive way, so from the mainland, you can almost not see the house after it’s built.”

Glad to know we have found the solutions to the environmental and housing crises.

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4. Sinéad O’Connor

A woman with a buzz cut, her eyes closed, stands on stage behind a microphone while playing a Fender Stratocaster guitar.
Sinéad O’Connor on stage in the Hague, on June 13, 2008 Credit: By Leah Pritchard from Den Haag, Netherlands – cropped from File:Sinéad O’Connor.jpg, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Sinéad O’Connor has died. I recall being baffled by the reaction when she tore up a picture of the pope on Saturday Night Live. This is because my world was not one in which the Catholic Church had any significant power.

Now, I recognize that this action by someone young, Irish, and a woman was incredibly meaningful and potent. And even though O’Connor was, of course, right about the abuses of the church, she was shunned, ostracized, and worse. There was to be little empathy for her in the years ahead from mainstream culture. She was a weirdo, and an outcast. A crazy woman. (I generally avoid casual use of the word “crazy” but this is how she was cast.)

Here is what Frank Sinatra had to say about her Saturday Night Live appearance: “This must be one stupid broad… I’d kick her ass if she were a guy. She must beat her kids to stay in shape.”

If you look at the credits from the Bob Dylan 30th anniversary celebration concert, held at Madison Square Garden 13 days after the SNL appearance, you’ll notice that O’Connor’s performance of Dylan’s “I Believe in You” was recorded earlier in the day, during rehearsal. The rest of the songs on the recording are from the live performance. Why? Because the crowd at the Dylan celebration show booed her relentlessly.

Here is Andy Greene, writing about it in Rolling Stone in 2021:

Early in the evening, Kris Kristofferson came out to introduce O’Connor. “I’m real proud to introduce this next artist whose name became synonymous with courage and integrity,” he said. “Ladies and gentlemen, Sinead O’Connor.”… A flood of boos filled Madison Square Garden the moment she took the stage. The band eventually began to launch into Dylan’s 1979 classic “I Believe in You,” but they were overpowered by the boos. Kristofferson came out to whisper some encouraging words into her ear and the band tried again, but O’Connor signaled for them to stop. She then sang a portion of Bob Marley’s “War,” just as she had on SNL, before running off the stage and into the arms of Kristofferson.

Sinéad O’Connor meant a lot to so many people, and I know many of my peers are mourning.

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5. Bernie Langille Wants to Know What Happened to Bernie Langille

A middle-aged man peers into a miniature model of an unfinished basement. There is a bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling, boxes are piled on the floor, and what appears to be a bloodstain is on the floor by the bottom of the stairs.
Publicity photo from Bernie Langille Wants To Know What Happened to Bernie Langille. Credit: Peep Media

I am a fan of Jackie Torrens’s work, and I am embarrassed to say that I have not yet seen the feature documentary Bernie Langille Wants to Know What Happened to Bernie Langille, written and directed by Torrens and produced by Jessica Brown. But now that the award-winning film is on CBC Gem, I have no excuse, and neither do you.

Carsten Knox reviewed the film recently on his Flaw in the Iris blog. The two Bernie Langilles of the title are a veteran who died under mysterious circumstances in 1968, and his grandson, who has lived in the shadow of this family mystery his whole life.

Knox writes:

The basic information is this: One winter’s night Bernie’s grandfather went to a mess hall at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick. At some point later he came home. His grandmother awoke and found her husband in bed, bruised, bloodied, and battered. At some point in the night it looks like he fell down the stairs into the basement. Was he thrown down or did he just stumble? When he was taken into care, the doctor on the case allegedly attacked his patient and beat him further. Why? When he was flown to Halifax, the ambulance he was in taking him from Shearwater to the hospital was struck by a train. How did that happen? He died in hospital the following morning from his injuries.

As with many stories, what it’s ostensibly about — figuring out what happened to Bernie Langille the elder — isn’t what it’s really about. Here’s Knox again:

…the film is really about managing uncomfortable legacies, especially around the toxic behaviour of men. These actions may have been the result of trauma related to having served, the veterans who didn’t have the tools to understand their own psychological damage and passed it onto their kids. Or maybe it’s just that anger was one of the few emotions men of that generation were comfortable sharing.

Dramatic reconstructions in documentaries can be dicey, and Torrens and the production teem at Peep Media have come up with a brilliant approach: using miniatures to explore what might have happened.

I look forward to finally watching this.

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What AI gets wrong: process matters, not just results

a woman looking afar
Photo by cottonbro studio on Credit: Photo by cottonbro studio on

That’s a creepy image, isn’t it? During my brief tenure as a marketing person, one of the things we learned was not to mess with people’s faces. But it seems appropriate here.

I’m endlessly saving AI-related articles to read and maybe share later. Stories about the Redditors who created a fake game character and lots of hype about it in a forum, and then sat back and watched as an AI-generated article scraping their forum reported on it. And about the AI-generated Star Wars article full of mistakes. And about how the racism baked into algorithms becomes a self-prophetic loop, reinforcing further racism. And so on and on and on.

But I want to step back from all that for a minute, and talk about process versus results. Because I realized one of the things that really troubles me about the full-on press to automate everything is that we lose sight of the importance of process.

When I was in CEGEP (junior college in Quebec), I had an English teacher, a poet of some note, who would invite students to hang out in his office while he smoked weed and expounded on various topics. He never offered us any weed for ethical reasons, he said, but I suspect the true reason was financial given the number of other ethical lines he had no trouble at all crossing.

One day, he was musing about whether orchestras would become obsolete, and did it matter. If you could use a synthesizer to faithfully simulate a full orchestra, and if a listener could not tell the difference, would it matter? We all thought it would matter. But why? Maybe orchestras would become an (even more) niche thing, I recall him saying. You could just simulate them in most circumstances, but some people would want to pay money to see them live.

I’ve been thinking about this in relation to AI tools, and how I think their creators fundamentally misunderstand part of the joy (and frustration, at times) of being human. Let’s say instant machine translation tools develop to the point that we no longer need to ever learn another language (the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Babel Fish becomes a reality). Well, that would be very practical in some circumstances, but there is also a lot of satisfaction that comes with learning languages. At first, everything is incomprehensible. Then you understand a bit more. It’s like learning an instrument. You plateau, think you’ve peaked, learn more, get better, plateau again, get better, and so on. Language also is more than the literal meaning of words and terms. It encodes culture in ways that instant translation is not going to capture.

What about plant identification? iNaturalist and other tools are great. I’ve used the Merlin bird app to identify birds by their appearance and their calls. (Hello, red-eyed vireo in my front yard.) But my hope is to observe these birds and then later be able to identify them without resorting to my phone.

On Mastodon, I saw a post from someone who said she was in a mushroom identification group chat when a “tech bro friend” suggested using AI. “Taina,” the writer, says:

What a great example of the harm this automation does. The point of identifying something like plants or shrooms ourselves is not just in getting the answer, it’s about what we learn along the way. Little details, differentiating factors, other species that look similar. And so much more.

With something like mushrooms this process of identifying (learning) is what keeps the mushroom picker alive, not just the ready answer. With the answer alone, we learn nothing. There is so much more to human decision making and processes than just the end point. To understand, we need to get there ourselves.

I think spoiler culture is another offshoot of this. The purpose of a book or movie or whatever is not simply its plot. I recently read the incredible novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, by Olga Tokarczuk. In reading something about the novel early on, I inadvertently learned something that the book was supposed to reveal to you slowly. So, I knew the twist. So what? It was still an incredible book, and basing your enjoyment on whether or not you knew about this plot point, or, more accurately, approach, is incredibly reductive.

The poet Milton Acorn wrote:

When my lover looks at me
she stares from a distance
within herself
to a distance in me.
Thus all lovers should look.

I think about this often in relation to art. When I look at a work of art, or listen to a piece of music, I’m not just a consumer; I’m meeting the artist partway. This part of the equation is missing in works generated by prompts. (I do think there are legitimate ways for artists of various stripes to use AI in fulfilling their visions, but that’s another story.)

In short: more emphasis on process, less on pure results, please.

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The world’s last internet cafes

people gaming in an internet cafe
Photo by Ron Lach on

I recently came across an interesting photo essay called “The World’s Last Internet Cafes.”

I’m fascinated by whole businesses and industries that arrive to serve a need that turns out to be temporary. (I know, I know, ultimately everything is temporary.)

In the days before widely available broadband and data plans, internet cafes served a real need. The article, which appears on the website Rest of World (whose logo includes absurd — for English, think the umlauts on Motley Crue, but worse — diacritics which I will not reproduce here).

The essay looks at still-surviving internet cafes in Uganda, Nigeria, Nepal, Hong Kong, Mexico, and Argentina. Each section begins with a short essay on the culture of internet cafes in the country, and then profiles a couple that are still running.

I learned that internet cafes became hugely popular in Lagos, Nigeria, only to then develop a reputation as a place for scammers to hang out:

In the 2000s, it seemed as if there was an internet cafe on practically every Lagos street corner. Inside, young people spent their days looking at pictures of their favorite hip-hop artists, playing online games, tapping away on pay-to-click (PTC) websites, or chatting over Yahoo Messenger. The demand for internet access was so great that eventually cafes sold internet access in bulk. More access meant faster connectivity and increased productivity.

But it also created a springboard for Nigeria’s scammer industry. By the late 2000s, spending long hours at internet cafes became associated with “yahoo yahoo,” local shorthand for Nigerian internet fraudsters who used Yahoo Messenger to swindle unsuspecting foreigners.

In the mid-2000s, Nigerian telecom companies started offering mobile-browsing packages, and the purchase of internet-enabled mobile phones jumped. Suddenly, there was an alternative to the long queues, overstuffed rooms, lack of privacy, and risk of arrest that characterized cybercafes.

More than half of Nigerians use the internet, but only 30% of them own a personal computer, and data can still be prohibitively expensive. That means there’s still a market for internet cafes among low-income families and those who need to print paperwork.

Printing paperwork is what keeps Mexican internet cafes afloat, too. I was also interested in seeing that two profiled Mexican cafes actually opened in the last few years. And they provide other services too. Here’s a description of Rosario Espinosa’s establishment, in a working-class area of Mexico City:

[Espinosa] chose the location because few people in the area have a laptop, internet access, or a printer. She told Rest of World many of her customers are students who come in to type up and print their homework, but she also gets a lot of passersby looking for a place to print documents.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, which started a few months after Espinosa opened her shop, business was booming. “I’m doing okay now, but I was doing better back then. Schools were closed and many kids had to take their classes online,” she said, adding that sometimes, her five computers would be fully booked for hours. Her work station still has the visual hallmarks of the pandemic: clear plastic shields around every cubicle.

In a few months, Espinosa plans to move Emi a couple of blocks away, as the rent at her current location is going up. She’s not concerned about losing her customers — she thinks her regulars will follow her. Espinosa, who’s in her mid-50s, has become close to some of them: Her cafe sometimes acts as an impromptu day-care center.

“There are moms from the neighborhood who leave their kids here to play on the computer while they go run errands. I keep an eye on them,” she said. She charges 20 pesos (a little over $1) per hour to use the computer, so it’s cheaper than a nanny.

Google Maps lists three Internet cafes in the Halifax area, but two are “temporarily closed” and one appears to be a joke listing, i.e., someone’s house in Porter’s Lake.

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Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, online) — agenda


No meetings

On campus


Bridges 2023 Conference on Math and Art public lecture (Thursday, 8pm, Richard Murray Design Building) — Craig Kaplan from the University of Waterloo will talk about “The hat, the turtle and the spectre;” more info here

Raddall Reading: Wonder World (Thursday, 7pm, Glitter Bean Café) — KR Byggdin talks with Cooper Lee Bombardier. POSTPONED. New date TBA.

In the harbour

05:00: NYK Remus, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Antwerp, Belgium 
06:00: ZIM Qingdao, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
06:45: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 31 from Saint-Pierre
08:00: Orion, crane ship, arrives at Woodside from Newport, Rhode Island
09:00: AOPS4, Arctic and offshore patrol ship, sails from Halifax Shipyard for sea
10:30: Tarifa, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
16:30: ZIM Qingdao sails for New York
16:30: One Stork, container ship (145,251 tonnes), sails from Pier 41 for New York 
21:00: Tarifa moves to Pier 9
21:00: NYK Remus sails for Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Cape Breton
08:30: Baie St.Paul, bulker, arrives at Coal Pier (Sydney) from Montreal


  • There’s a sign at the end of the Peggy’s Cove Road in Tantallon saying, “Road closed local traffic only.” But the road is most emphatically not closed, and local traffic seems to include tour buses, so I don’t really get it.
  • I am the CBC Maritime Noon phone-in guest on Monday, July 31, between noon and 1pm, so call in with your fermentation and other food preservation questions.
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Philip Moscovitch is a freelance writer, audio producer, fiction writer, and editor of Write Magazine.

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  1. //What AI gets wrong: process matters, not just results//
    Sophisticated and approaching human-level AI is offering to do to the cognitive journey what cheap transcontinental flights and efficient divided highways did for travel.
    There are likely many recent, as well as ancient, adages that celebrate the journey over the destination. May we collectively retain the wisdom to know which of the two is the important bit when we “set out” while our personal AI whispers in our ear.
    Really enjoyed that piece, thank you.

  2. Bullshit meter overdrive. I read the Bill Spurr article & my 1st thought was as your headline stated “Bullshit meter overdrive ” THANKS