News

1. Santina Rao

“The officers involved are still on the job and Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella had little to say publicly on Monday about the violent arrest of a young Black mother at Walmart last week, citing an ongoing court case and a potential investigation,” reports Zane Woodford:

Kinsella addressed reporters after a meeting of the Halifax board of police commissioners on Monday, which included an in camera briefing on the arrest for the board — referred to as a “Public Security Matter” on the agenda.

“The last thing that we want to happen is what happened last week,” Kinsella told reporters on Monday, calling the incident “disappointing.”

Asked what the officers did wrong, Kinsella wouldn’t say they did anything wrong.

“If there was something to be done differently, we will change our behaviour,” he said. “We just have to get all the facts.”

Asked whether his officers need more training in de-escalation, Kinsella said the technique is “first and foremost” for his officers.

“If the review and investigation and subsequent recommendations show that further training is required, we’ll certainly do that,” he said.

Click here to read “Halifax police officers in Santina Rao case still working, chief waiting for investigation.”

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2. Owls Head

Owls Head. Satellite view from google.

“Several scientists at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax are adding their names to the growing list of people who want the Nova Scotia government to abandon plans to pursue a sale of Owls Head provincial park,” reports Michael Gorman for the CBC:

Caitlin Porter, a biologist in the Saint Mary’s University ecology of plants and communities lab, has been doing field work at Owls Head since 2011 as part of a study examining biodiversity in coastal barrens, or heathlands, across the province.

Porter said her lab first identified the area for study based on aerial photos that showed prominent, tall bedrock ridges.

The types of plants and species reflect those ridges, she said. There’s a lot of bog in the hollows where water can collect from the rain and at the tops of the ridges are plant communities that have adapted to the dry environment. Owls Head is also home to a globally-rare ecosystem and several endangered species, including the piping plover.

3. Syphilis

“Public Health officials in Nova Scotia have declared an outbreak of syphilis in the province, saying the number of reported cases has more than doubled in two years,” reports Andrea Jerrett for CTV:

The Nova Scotia Health Authority says 82 cases of syphilis were reported in the province last year, compared to 50 cases in 2018, and 38 cases in 2017.

The cases have been diagnosed in people aged 20 to 65 and up. While most cases have been reported in men, health officials say there appears to be an increase in reported cases among women, with females accounting for 20 per cent of cases in 2019, compared to 10 per cent in 2018, and 5 per cent in 2017. They say this trend is consistent with the pattern seen in other jurisdictions across Canada.

4. Jim Smith

Jim Smith. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

“Dr. Jim Smith, a physician-turned-politician who held key cabinet portfolios including minister of health under the Nova Scotia Liberal governments of the 1990s, has died at the age of 84,” reports Jean Laroche for the CBC.

Said Laroche on Twitter:

He was a lovely, caring man but could be frustrating for reporters because he almost never finished a sentence without starting another thought. But he was almost always available to answer questions and I never once saw him lash out any anyone or react in anger. RIP Dr Smith. Condolences to his family.

Too funny. I’ve had many an interviewee like that. People with so much information rattling around their head that they want to jump to the next thought before finishing the first. “Hey now, I need a full sentence,” I tell them.

5. J-school

The journalism students are back in session at King’s College, and they’re beginning to post some of their work on The Signal website. Yesterday, there were several new articles up:

Halifax event connects queer voices in STEM” by

Halifax lecture looks at what’s been done since global climate strike” by Sarah Khan.

International rugby set to return to Halifax this summer” by Ben Bogstie.

William Sandeson deserves a new trial, lawyer tells appeal court” by Kristina Pappas.

It’s interesting watching students grow and find their voices. I don’t have any advice except to write, write, write, and write some more — in the unlikely event that my experience offers any sort of roadmap for your future, you’ll be learning new things about writing and reporting and researching well into your bitter dodderhood.

It’s heartening that so many young people still want to get into journalism. The industry is in a state of tremendous flux, and the old predictable career trajectory is shattered. Still, new journalism models are providing opportunities, especially for those young people who are willing to take chances. More important, we need independent news media to have a functioning democracy.

Good luck!


Noticed

Speaking of my bitter dodderhood, a couple of days ago I got all worked up about the “wave your hands” bus doors, and started writing about it this morning, only to find after half an hour that I had completely forgotten that I had written about this two-and-a-half years ago. So like the bitter doddering fool I am, I repeat myself. It’s kind of embarrassing, but I have stuff to add, so not a complete waste. First, what I wrote in 2017:

Last year [that is, in 2016], 99% Invisible and Vox got together to produce a short podcast on “Norman doors,” seen above.

A Norman door is named after Don Norman, who in 1988 wrote a book, The Design of Everyday Things, which among many other things, pointed out a consistent problem with doors: many of them are counterintuitive. You push when you’re supposed to pull, or vice-versa. Ever since I listened to the podcast, I’ve been seeing Norman doors everywhere.

The most frustrating door in my regular experience is the glass security door just inside the main door at City Hall, the door I have to be buzzed through to enter the main hallway in the building. Every time I try to use the door I push instead of pull. This has happened dozens, maybe hundreds of times. I approach the door, knowing I did it wrong last time. I think to myself, there’s probably a fire regulation that says doors leading to an exit have to push outward from the interior of the building, meaning that I’ll have to pull this door. But even then, even with all my experience, even with telling myself I’ll have to pull the door, I get to the damn thing and I … push it.

A related problem occurs at many of the exit doors at buildings around town, where, halfway to better design standards, there’s a bar giving a clear indication that I’m supposed to push the door open. But the push bar on these doors extends all the way across the door, from one edge to the other, so I don’t know which way the door swings open. Inevitably, I push on the edge of the door closest to the hinge, so I appear incompetently weak, and I have to step back and recalibrate my push to the other edge of the door. This wouldn’t happen if the bar only extended out on the side of the door that was supposed to be pushed.

Thanks to the podcast, however, I now realize I’m not an idiot. Rather, the door is designed wrong. The podcast defines a Norman door as one meeting one of two criteria:

1. A door where the design tells you to do the opposite of what you’re actually supposed to do, or,
2. Gives the wrong signal and needs a sign to correct it.

“Why do you need an instruction manual?” asks Norman in the podcast. “Why do you need a sign that says ‘push’ or ‘pull’? Why not make it obvious?”

I was thinking about that second point — needing a sign to tell us how to open a door — when I was on the #7 bus the other day and three people in a row couldn’t figure out how to exit the rear door. I’m talking about the “wave your hand to exit” door that showed up with the most recent bus purchases.

Not only does the door need a sign, which is bad enough, but the sign itself is a confusing mess of contradictory messages. Here it is:

The problem is that you want to exit the bus quickly. You’re in a hurry, the people behind you are pushing towards the exit, the bus needs to get on its way… you don’t have 15 seconds to try to figure out how the thing works. And the immediate visual cues tell you to do the wrong thing.

In English, we read a sign from top to bottom. Therefore, in the split second a passenger has while approaching the door, they first see a green arrow pointing up. Down below there are red bars. In our cultural signing language, green arrows mean “go” and red bars mean “stop” or “don’t go.” So while the words on the sign tell us to wave our hands near the red bar that says “HERE,” most people instead raise their hands towards the roof and wave their hands by the topmost green arrow. I did this myself for months and months, until I spent far too much time thinking about it.

And now I sit on the bus and watch how other people use the doors — three-quarters of them raise their hands towards the ceiling. The door only opens for them if they’re close enough that their elbows happen to be swinging around the red-barred HERE. The rest wave and wave and wave, and the door doesn’t open. Sometimes they yell at the driver to open the damn door. Sometimes they run up to the open front door. Sometimes they miss their stop entirely. I’ve seen this play out thousands of times.

When people incorrectly use a door thousands of times, it’s not the fault of the user, but rather the designer. This is a Norman door.

But the bad design on the bus door goes much deeper than the sign.

Why were the “wave your hand” door installed in the first place? The old push bars, which were used intuitively and didn’t need a sign, worked perfectly well. The switch to the “wave your hand” door was, I’m guessing, a response to the overblown fears of bird flu and our increasing societal germ phobia. Some people, designers anyway, have it in their heads that we shouldn’t touch things with our hands that other people have touched with their hands.

But this is ridiculous. The chances of catching some horrid disease from touching a bus door push bar are slim, and anyway, every other door you’ll use that day — like those confusing building entry doors — requires you to use your hand to push them open. But even if you actually care about this, you didn’t need to place your hand on the old push bars that were on bus doors. You could hit them with your elbow, or a backpack or purse, and they’d open just fine.

Another problem with the “wave your hand” doors is that they take about three seconds to open, and then another three seconds to close after passengers have exited. The previous bus bar doors took maybe half a second on each end, so we’ve increased the bus exiting time by five seconds.

Five seconds may not sound like a lot, but multiply that five seconds by the hundreds of stops that a bus makes through the course of its route, and we’re suddenly adding as much as 10 minutes to the commute time. That’s 10 minutes for tens of thousands of bus passengers, and don’t forget the return commute, so 20 minutes a day, times tens of thousands of passengers equals [calculates] eleventy trillion dollars in lost productivity because of those dog damned doors.

I’m told that the “wave your hand” doors so slowed down the buses that several routes needed to be rescheduled to accommodate the delays in exiting. What used to be an hour route from beginning to end became a 70-minute route, or whatever.

How is it possible that a) the doors were ordered in the first place, and b) they continue to be placed on new buses?

This is a classic case of transit management not testing for themselves a new design before implementing it, and then, once the change was implemented, not using the buses themselves to experience the real-world effects of the change. Because they don’t ride the bus, managers simply don’t know the frustrations caused by the “wave your hand” doors.

Moreover, there doesn’t appear to be an effective way to give management feedback on the doors. When thousands of passengers can’t use the doors properly and word doesn’t get back to management, something is wrong. I also know drivers are extremely frustrated by the “wave your hand” doors, but management either doesn’t hear their complaints or doesn’t listen to them.

The “wave your hand” doors are yet another example of why we should mandate that transit managers and city councillors take the bus on a regular basis. You can’t build and maintain an effective transit system if you’re only building it for other people.

And now to add something new. When I was ranting about this on Twitter the other day, Phil Moscovitch pointed out that the French translation on the signs are in contradictory grammar. The top “Attendez La Lumiere Verte” is properly in the second person formal, but the bottom “Place Ta Main Ici” is in the second person informal, as if it is speaking to a child. “Cleary, no Francophone proofed the signs,” wrote Moscovitch.

I took the first photo above in 2017, and the second one (just above) yesterday. That means that over the course of two-plus years, they’ve actually made the signage worse.

There were quite a few other interesting responses to my Twitter rant:

I’m not comfortable Seig Heiling the door on buses that require a wave.

— Briguy, Human Geofence (@BriguyHFX) January 19, 2020

https://twitter.com/affabletoaster/status/1219062376126984193?s=20

They’re all Norman Doors

— tat benetar 🍂 (@megancox) January 20, 2020

I feel that if any amount of information needs to be printed on a door to instruct how it is to be used (other than “push” or “pull”) it’s a bit of a design failure. pic.twitter.com/vzq7BQgDtz

— ᘜᗩᖇᖇᓰᑢ (@GarricPrime) January 19, 2020

Confusing, especially for the uninitiated but it still unnerves me, will they, won’t they open?

— Portia Clark (@portiaclarkcbc) January 19, 2020

You’re right. The technology isn’t quite there. And…most people taking the bus are either just waking up or exhausted after a long day of work. Needs to be user-friendly because people aren’t at their best.

— Ron Shaw (@Washnor) January 20, 2020

No one at all said they like the “wave your hand” doors.

Still worst — ! — Halifax Transit has now bought a new batch of buses with doors that passengers are to open by placing their hands on a yellow strip. So much for fears of gonorrhea or Ebola or whatever.

But now we have three different door-opening mechanisms on buses: a few of the old intuitive “push the bar” buses still exist, there are the “wave your hand” buses, and now the “press the yellow strip” buses. So people are utterly confused. They wave their hands on the press the yellow strip door. They push on the wave your hand door. But mostly they irritatingly yell “back door!!” over and over again.

I don’t know that I can accomplish much in my life. Pointing out official misdeeds only results in the misdeed-doers getting raises or better paying jobs elsewhere. Railing against convention centres and stadiums seems to breathe new life into the projects. But if there’s a good dog in heaven, maybe, just maybe, someone will hear my bus door plaint and take action to make life just a tiny bit better for tens of thousands of commuters.

Get rid of the gimmicks and bring back the basic bus door.


Government

City

Tuesday

Special Meeting – Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Tuesday, 10am, City Hall) — the federal government is contributing $5.8 million towards the Herring Cove sewage plant. Zane Woodford will be covering the meeting for the Examiner.

Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm, City Hall) — the council is dealing with a bunch of developments.

Wednesday

Budget Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am, City Hall) — a look at the Transit and Library budgets.

Western Common Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 6:30pm, Prospect Road Community Centre, Hatchet Lake) — no action items on the agenda.

Province

Tuesday

Veterans Affairs (Tuesday, 2pm, One Government Place ) — Natasha Jackson, the director of the Legion Capital Assistance Program, will speak.

Wednesday

House of Assembly Management Commission (Wednesday, 11am, One Government Place) — the commission “makes regulations under the act with the purpose of providing resources to members in fulfilling their public duties, to promote accountability and transparency in the spending of public funds, and to aid public understanding of how funds are spent in relation to members’ responsibilities.” That’s worked out really great, hasn’t it?

Special Committee to Review the Estimates of the Auditor General and the Chief Electoral Officer (Wednesday, 11am, One Government Place) — this committee exists to, ah, screw it.


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

Welcome Reception for Deep Saini (Wednesday, 1pm, Atrium, IDEA Building) — Dalhousie’s 12th president and vice-chancellor.

Jillian Rourke. Photo via mta.ca

A high-throughput approach identifies novel nutrient-sensing G protein-coupled receptors (GPCR) (Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — Jillian Rourke from Mount Allison University will talk.

Saint Mary’s

Tuesday

Consent Panel (Tuesday, 7pm, LA 290) — to promote the importance of and encourage conversation about consent. Part of SMU’s Sexual Violence Awareness Week.

Wednesday

Neurobiology of Trauma (Wednesday, 1:30pm, AT 212) — Discussion about the parts of the brain affected by trauma and how to help those impacted by it. More info here.

King’s

Wednesday

Laundry Room Art Gallery Photography Exhibition (Wednesday, no time posted) —work by students and friends of King’s and Dalhousie; more info here.


In the harbour

06:00: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
12:00: Atlantic Sky sails for New York
14:00: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
24:00: APL Dublin, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka


Footnotes

I had the choice between railing against bus doors or complaining about flying. I chose the former.


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Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. “What we need to do is look at these matters in their totality,’ said Kinsella. “Can we do better? Sure and we are committed to doing that. But we do need to respect the process, get all of the information and then make the appropriate change. My message has been clear. We need to work on public trust. It takes a lifetime to build and a moment to lose.’

    GAME OVER. Cue Erykah Badu: “I guess I’ll see you next lifetime.”

  2. Several Walmart customers called the Rick Howe show and described what they witnessed at the store and
    what they said is completely different from what Ms Rao claims.

    1. That may or may not be true. However, she had paid for her goods in electronics and had a receipt. The only things she hadn’t paid for were the few veg, which she had to pay for up front, which was were she was going when she stopped to look at the barbie for her daughter. (and with 2 children -one 3 yr and one 15 mo. – she did as any other shopper does in that situation, put those few things underneath until she got up there. There is no way floor walkers should have ever flagged her as a shop lifter (especially with already paying and having not left the store) , the police should never have been called and with what was, should never have come, let alone escalated the situation. With that many people confronting you, an officer not wanting to look at your receipt, just accusing you wrongly over and over and one trying to grab your child, how do you think you’d react? (three floorwalkers and 2 officers plus more called in… really?) And the injuries she had were beyond unreal.This was wrong on so many levels. It never would have happened if she was white, full stop. Those officers and the store employees should be disciplined and reeducated immediately. And we don’t have to take anyone’s word for it, those cameras recording all in Walmart recorded everything and can be used to verify it. (although it shouldn’t have got to that point, any point.) Funny that hasn’t been released, isn’t it? I hope both store and police get sued. That should be a good incentive for both to make sure this does not happen again.

  3. In New Brunswick, the Law of Doors states that in any public or commercial building with double doors, one of the two doors will always be locked, no matter what may be the crush of the crowd seeking ingress or egress.

  4. Deep Saini graduated from Punjab University in Ludhiana, and Ludhiana is just 186 km from Dalhousie, named after the founder of Dalhousie University.

    1. Dalhousie India is apparently named after James Broun-Ramsay, 1st Marquess of Dalhousie. Dalhousie New Brunswick and Dalhousie University are named after his father, George Ramsay, 9th Earl of Dalhousie.

  5. Somewhat related: I have seen signs at the health authority and in schools that say “hello” or “welcome” or something similar in various languages. I am fluent in one of these languages, Greek. The health authority signs use the wrong letter “S” (there are three forms of “s” in Greek). The sign I saw in a school last week had the first word of its phrase in lower case letters, and the second word in all caps. It can’t be that hard to find someone who speaks one of these languages and ask them if the sign is correct.

  6. When I day-dream about having free time the two “guerrilla projects” that always clang around in my head are designing a better bus door sticker and plastering them all over the existing ones, and buying an old vending machine and setting it up inside the ferry terminal with books of transit tickets for sale.

    1. My dream would be to change the nature of time itself so that it corresponded more closely with the “real time” the transit apps use.

    2. I wish you luck on getting that free time to attend to these projects, Ian. I had not appreciated the challenge re the bus doors or getting tickets. I need to have more concern for one of my co-workers who buses everyday. I have only had empathy for changes in schedule and the uphill walk she has from the bus.