Paul MacNeill on Perspective

Eastern Graphic publisher Paul MacNeill’s column this week is a well-worded call for humility and humanity in journalism and politics both. Paul writes, in part:

Weekly I have the luxury of picking a topic and, more often than not, railing against some government action or lack thereof. When compared to e-gaming or PNP it is obvious not all controversies or scandals are created equal. This space has been far ahead of the curve in arguing for strong measures to deal with our fiscal issues and capacity, educational excellence, regional cooperation, size and focus of government and rural integrity and the demographic challenge we face.

Could some of the arguments be more nuanced or subtle? For sure. But many, if not all of these issues, enjoy a higher level of public awareness in small part because of these ramblings.

Fifty years ago former Island Premier Alex Campbell said in an address focussed on regional cooperation that “such complex concepts as these are very easily simplified, and even more easily promoted; but they are awfully difficult to translate into specific forms of co-ordinated action.”

Those words hold true today. Complex topics can be dramatically simplified in 600 words. PEI is still a leader in promoting regional cooperation. Wade MacLauchlan is doing everything he can to move the file forward, but winning change has as much to do with the willingness of your dance partner as anything else. If Nova Scotia or New Brunswick don’t want to dance, maybe it’s time we look for another partner.

I appreciate, particularly, the invocation of Alex Campbell’s advice, advice that essentially boils down to “ideas are easy, implementation is hard.”

One of the things I encounter frequently in my work in the non-profit world, is the lack of recognition of this fact: there is a common belief that if something is “right,” it should be implemented, and that any barriers to its implementation are barriers introduced by people who simply cannot see the “rightness,” or, worse still, are actively supporting things that are “wrong.”

No more so is this true than in public education: I’ve had scores of one-on-one conversations with teachers, principals, public servants and politicians and, almost universally so, their take on public education is significantly more progressive and enlightened than the education system we have on the ground would suggest. It is not for lack of ideas or inspiration that this is the case: it is because the public education system is a complex system, and we’re not very good, collectively, at changing complex systems. Systems thinking is a rare skill; there are not many who can see the forest for the trees, and even fewer who have any skill at convincing others that there is, in fact, a forest.

At this week’s meeting of the Learning Partners Advisory Council one of the members used the metaphor of “steering the ship” by way of suggesting one way of characterizing the council’s role in learning in Prince Edward Island. I suggested, as an alternative, that we regard learning as a flotilla not a single ship, and that our influence could, at best, be seen as an ability to nudge, not steer.

I think that’s what Alex Campbell was saying, in a different way, 50 years ago, and what Paul MacNeill ruminated on this week: in the grander scheme of things, being convinced of the rightness of your cause is insignificant compared to the challenges of understanding the point of view of those who disagree with you, and understanding the interplay between the components of the system you hope to change.

My Sideline as a Swedish Home Stager

When my friends Olle and Luisa last moved house, in 2014, I was proud to have some of my letterpress work featured in one of the real estate photos taken to help sell their apartment:

Olle and Luisa's Apartment, 2014

This fall it was time for them to pick up and move again, and I was proud again to have some of my work lurking in the background of one of the real estate photos, through the door on the right:

Stenbocksgatan 8b Real Estate Photo

Outside of their apartment-sales value, these photos are, for me, a lovely time capsule of Olle and Luisa’s housing epochs; I spent many happy hours in apartments 2014 and 2016 both, and look forward to spending time in the next one.

The Mystery of the Rectangular Fishing Nets in the Harbour

A few weeks ago, on Oliver’s birthday, we took a drive up to Georgetown to see the Spanish galleon that was in port. As we walked from the parking lot, along the wharf, to the ship, I noticed a rectangular net in the water, tethered to the wharf, about 400 square feet. I wondered what it was.

Then, last week, I noticed a similar net tethered to the end of Confederation Landing Park here in Charlottetown:

Silverside Box Net in Charlottetown Harbour

And yesterday, from the bridge of the Isaac Newton docked at the wharf in Charlottetown, I spotted another net tethered to shore just off the area where gravel is piled after being unloaded from barges:

Another Box Net in Charlottetown

I asked my Twitter followers what these nets might be, and received some helpful replies, including a report of similar nets in Summerside:

Twitter replies to my query

This morning I resolved to get to the bottom of this, and I phoned the main number for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans here in Charlottetown. I talked to a helpful person there who was able to confirm the theory put forward by Sheila Lund-MacDonald on Twitter that these nets are part of the commercial silverside fishery, the season for which opened on October 1, the same day I first spotted the net in Georgetown. I was given the number for the DFO person responsible for this fishery, and talking to that person allowed me to fill out the story.

Silverside is a variety of fish that, these days, is fished commercially to use as lobster bait. The fish that are caught during this fall season, running October 1 to December 31, will be frozen and used as bait during the spring lobster season. A 2009 Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat paper describes the species:

The Atlantic silverside (Menidia menidia Linnaeus 1766), is a small-bodied (length < 12 cm), short-lived fish which is widely distributed in brackish and salt waters from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Florida. In its distribution, some Atlantic silversides overwinter in offshore waters but in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, at least some also overwinter under the ice in bays and estuaries. Silversides are commonly reported to form a substantial portion of the fish community in the coastal habitats they occupy including the bays and estuaries of the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Silversides reproduce in spring with eggs deposited in the intertidal zone, attached to vegetation or to the substrate. From sampling of fall fisheries in PEI, age 0 fish had a mean length of 85.5 mm and a mean weight of 4.6 g, while age 1 fish had a mean length of 113.9 mm and a mean weight of 11.2 g, with generally little size overlap between the age groups. Most (97%) of the silversides sampled were age 0, with the remainder being age 1. Age-2 silversides have not been reported from the few samples collected from the fisheries in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Silversides feed on small planktonic and benthic organisms. Fish-eating birds and fish in estuaries and coastal waters prey on silversides.

The paper goes on to describe the state of the silverside fishery on Prince Edward Island at that point:

In Canada, the silverside fishery is concentrated in Prince Edward Island with low and occasional landings reported from Quebec. The Canadian reported landings between 2000 and 2008 varied between 200 and 650 t, and represented 98% of the total commercial fishery landings for the species in eastern North America.

The PEI silverside fishery showed peak reported landings in the late 1970s, was low in the 1980s and the early 1990s, and began a sharply rising trend in the mid-1990s (Figure 2). The increase in landings coincides with an increased number of licences and the elimination of individual licence quotas. Silverside fisheries are concentrated in Kings County in eastern PEI with 86.6% of total landings since 1973. At the present time, an unknown but likely major part of silverside harvest may be kept for the fisher’s own use, or sold to other fishers. In either case, the harvest may be unregistered in the statistics system.

The modern silverside fishery began in PEI in 1973, first with seines, and in the following year, with traps. This fishery primarily supplied a Japanese food market, but sales subsequently shifted to the U.S., where fish were used as food for birds in zoos, and as angling bait. In the mid 1990s, the PEI silverside market largely shifted to supplying bait in the local lobster fishery. Prior to this change, the market was intolerant of sticklebacks mixed as bycatch with silversides, so trap catches were often released because the catch could not be sold. With the increased demand for the bait market, tolerance of stickleback bycatch increased, so trap releases due to excessive stickleback bycatch became less frequent.

And this 2000 fisheries management plan for the species contains an illustration of the fish:

Silverside Fish

It seems the fishery can be lucrative, given the $22,000 price for a couple of licenses back in 2012 in this ad: Ad from 2012

So, mystery solved.

Aboard the Isaac Newton Cable Laying Ship in Charlottetown

A fortunate set of circumstances led me to be offered a tour of the Isaac Newton cable laying ship this morning, and I happily seized the opportunity.

The ship is here in the Port of Charlottetown for a few days, after a trans-Atlantic voyage from Rotterdam, to provision itself for the laying of two new submarine electricity cables under the Northumberland Strait, connecting New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

The tour began with a double-barreled security check, once on the wharf and once at the top of the gangway, with security badges issued at each:

Isaac Newton and Port of Charlottetown security badges

Before being allowed aboard at all, we needed hard hats, safety glasses, and steel-toed boots; meaning that I wasn’t exactly fetching during the tour, but I was well-protected:

Safety Glasses and Hard Hat

We began the tour on the bridge, which required walking up and up and up and up, all the while navigating see-thru staircases affording a view of down and down and down and down. I’m not afraid of heights; at least I didn’t think I was. But that was a challenge.

Don’t look down. Don’t look down.”

For all the Blade Runner-like qualities of the cable-laying equipment, the bridge was surprisingly office-like (we had to take our boots off and walk around in sock feet):


Even at rest in port it was a beehive of activity, as the ship prepares for the job ahead. Being so high above water provided a stunning view in all directions (the point of being so high above water, I suppose), including back toward the Delta Prince Edward, the Coast Guard Wharf and the Charlottetown Yacht Club:

View from the Bridge of the Isaac Newton

It also provided a close-up view of the cruise ship Seven Seas Mariner, docked at the end of the wharf (what a lucky treat for infrastructure-loving passengers with land-side balconies!):

Seven Seas Mariner

After a tour of the bridge, and a fascinating discussion of the mechanics and logistics of laying a cable across the Strait, we donned our boots, hats and glasses and headed to the deck to see the cable-laying machinery.

There are two cables on board, 37 km in all; one stored above-deck and one below-deck, in cable-feeding systems that are largely independent of each other. Each of the two cables will extend across the Strait, and each will be laid in a separate operation. The most striking view of the above-deck cable is from the bridge:

Cable Laying Above Deck

Inside that cylindrical corral you see the black-and-yellow electrical cable, 10 inches in diameter, coiled and ready for spooling out. The cylinder rotates, driven by motors that ring the bottom:

Cylinder Drives

Below-deck there’s a similar arrangement, but because of the way the area is set up, you can get right up close to the cable and get a sense of both how enormous it is, and why specialized equipment like this is required to load, unload, and install it:

Below Deck Cable

Back above-deck, we got a look at the ROV – a remotely-operated submarine – that is deployed to allow the installation crew to see the ocean floor and monitor the cable-installation up close:


And, higher up on the deck, the trench-digging machine that both digs the trench the cable will sit in and arranges it in the trench:

Trench Digger

Located in among these massive pieces of cable-laying machinery are spare parts for almost every aspect of the ship – it travels the globe, on tight schedules, and once cable is being laid it can’t stop and back up! – as well as everything else you might need. Like a hack saw and wrenches:


Lots of wrenches:


It boggles my mind to think that the cable I was standing just a few feet away from will, later this fall, be sitting under the ocean floor carrying electricity to my house. And that it will continue to do so until long after I’m gone.

Me and the Cable

It was a lovely and unexpected chance to get a rare glimpse behind the scenes of one of the more complex machines I’ll ever see. I look forward to learning of its progress as it makes its way to Borden later this week for the start of its cable-laying work. Thanks to the crew for being so generous and accommodating.

Last Email from my Grandmother

My grandmother Nettie was born in 1915 and died in 1999, missing the millennium by 9 months, and Oliver’s birth by 18.

Sometime in the mid-1990s, my father equipped her with an older computer and set up on an email account for her — she was

While she was an curious person (which is why she would abide the computer in the first place), she never quiet took to the medium, and so I don’t think we exchanged more than a few messages.

Looking through an old backup disk from the late 1990s, I found a copy of the last email she went me, and my reply:

Date: Sun, 15 Dec 1996 19:49:45 -0400 (AST)
From: Peter Rukavina 
To: Natalie Rukavina 
Subject: Re: Catherine's birthday

Catherine's birthday is June 18th.  She was born in 1963 and
so will be 34 in 1997.


On Sat, 14 Dec 1996, Natalie Rukavina wrote:

> I don't the date of Catharine's birthday.
> Would you please let me know.
> Natalie

My favourite part of this exchange is that she signed her name Natalie, which is a name we never called her and, as far as I know, she never called herself.

Isaac Newton Lays Cable

The cable-laying ship Isaac Newton pulled into the Port of Charlottetown late last night in advance of its work to lay the new submarine electricity cables under the Northumberland Strait to New Brunswick. It’s a massive ship (it has to be: it’s carrying 37 km of cable that’s 10 inches in diameter). Drop down to see it before it leaves: the best vantage point is from the lot where they pile the gravel at the foot of Hillsborough Street; if you get to close at the potato wharf you will be scared off by port security.

Isaac Newton in Port

This video from the ship’s owners provides a good overview of how the ship works.

Resuming Pushing to Twitter

Three months ago, with a lot of hullabaloo, I stopped pushing links to new posts here on the blog to Facebook and Twitter.

While the change hasn’t affected my relationship with Facebook at all (other than to make me feel less icky all over), I’ve found myself continuing to use Twitter, directly, at pretty much the same pace. And because I wasn’t auto-posting from here to Twitter, I started to post to Twitter directly more than I was before and, in so doing, losing a POSSE-style permanent home here.

So I’m recanting, partially: still no Facebook, but I’m resuming push-to-Twitter, and shifting my focus back to being the mother ship and Twitter being a remote and regrettably commercial satellite operation.

Kingston Cows

Back in late 1990s, Peter Richards, Kevin O’Brien and I went thirdsies on an Apple QuickTake digital camera. It was among the first of its kind, and it was amazing. One day I took a bunch of photos of the cows next door to our house out on the Kingston Road; I’d thought the photos were lost until this afternoon when I found a CD-ROM marked “My Documents Backup — 2000.” And there they were. You can see all of them here.


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