"It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time"

I awoke this morning to the news that Charlottetown City Police is to install “somewhere between 60 and 80 video cameras” in my neighbourhood to, it says, “assist in the protection of the public.”

While it may be intellectually lazy to quote 1984 at the drop of a hat, it would appear that this is one situation where it is unfortunately appropriate:

The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

Which is to say: what’s missing from the police department’s triangulation is the oppressive effects on the residents of downtown Charlottetown resulting from the the feeling of being constantly under surveillance.

No matter your feelings about the police – generally I’m happy they’re there, and I’ve always received pleasant, helpful service from them when I’ve had to call – and no matter whether the crime-reducing claims police make for the cameras are true or false, there are more important, larger issues at play here that deserve consideration.

Deputy Police Chief Gary McGuigan is quoted as saying “They are not hidden surveillance cameras. People will be able to see them and know that they’re there.”  Which is surely the issue: having a camera pointed at you wherever you go, a camera that’s obvious and all-seeing, is precisely the chill that Orwell was warning us about.

This move is an egregious violation of our civil liberties, and yet it appears to have proceeded without any opportunity for public debate or comment.

Set all lofty philosophizing aside: moves like this make Charlottetown a less livable city, a city I am now forced to think twice about my decision to call home.

If you feel similarly, I encourage you to let public officials know: Councillor Jason Coady is chair of the Protective and Emergency Services Committee and you can write to him, with copies to the Mayor and to Ward One Councillor Eddie Rice, at P.O. Box 98, Charlottetown, PE, C1A 7K2. I’ve sent my own letter off this morning.

The Island Fringe Festival

When I moved to Prince Edward Island, in the early 1990s, I was 27 years old.

And as near as I could tell, every other person on the Island was older than 50 or younger than 15. It was as if a reverse-Logan’s Run-like event had occurred, sucking all the cool young rockers out of the city.

If there’s any demographic change that’s happened in the intervening 20 years, it’s that the young, creative minds are, more and more, choosing to stay here at home. And you can see the result in the art, the food, the film, the music, the theatre, the coffee, the fashion. It’s a change that makes the city, and the Island, ever-more-liveable.

One of the events that’s an obvious expression of this demographic retention is The Island Fringe Festival, which runs next week here in Charlottetown, from August 6 to 9, 2015.

Apparently I was a sponsor of the festival in a previous year – all memory of this has escaped me – which prompted Josh Coles (one of the selfsame didn’t-leave-the-Island-for-Toronto young) to snag me on the street this afternoon and as if I was willing to re-up.

How could I say no.

And so we of Reinvented Inc. are now officially (re)minted corporate sponsors of the festival. Not at Maritime Electric-level “Rising Star” level, I imagine. Perhaps at “Muddled Star in Deep Space” level?

As a result, I doubly-encourage you to attend all of the events under the festival’s banner that you can: you will enjoy yourself, and you’ll be sending a clear signal to the teetering youth that the Island is the place to stay to make interesting fringyness of all sorts.

Island Fringe Festival

Lucy Angus Dives Deep into Samuel Holland's Map

You might think, pressing “play” on this video of conservator Lucy Angus, speaking at the Confederation Centre of the Arts on July 6, 2015, that you’ve missed a bit at the beginning.

But you haven’t: she just dove right in, without any of the “I had an uncle who grew up in Tryon” pleasantries that an Island speaker would spend the first 15 minutes of their talk on.

It was a pleasant change from the everyday.

Angus has a compelling enthusiasm about her project – the restoration of Samuel Holland’s 1765 map of Prince Edward Island for The National Archives, United Kingdom. Perhaps no person since 1765 has been on such an intimate basis with the map over an extended period. The result is a stunning restoration, involving the removal of years worth of grunge, some simply related to time, some the result of bad restorations-past.

I encourage you to watch the video through, and then to visit the map itself, on display in the Confederation Centre Art Gallery until January 2016.

A SIM Card Primer for Canadians Traveling in the USA

These days the go-to solution for a Canadian traveling to the USA and needing a short-term prepaid SIM card for their mobile phone is Roam Mobility. They’re a Canadian company in the business of providing SIM cards to Canadians traveling in the US and Mexico. They’re flexible, cheap (compared the the high cost of roaming on your Canadian mobile account) and, in my experience, everything just works as it should.

Except if your travel to the US happens to be to southern New Hampshire and, specifically, to a Roam Mobility dead zone between Milford and Marlborough along Route 101, a dead zone that my client, Yankee Publishing, happens to be exactly in the middle of:

Roam Mobility Dead Zone in New Hampshire

Roam Mobility doesn’t actually operate its own mobile network in the US, they resell service from T-Mobile, so it’s really a T-Mobile dead zone that they’re inheriting. But, regardless, it means that Roam Mobility is useless to me if I want to have mobile coverage while visiting Yankee.

Plan B, in my case, is based on a scheme well-documented by Dan James back in 2011 involving an AT&T GoPhone SIM.

AT&T’s coverage of southern New Hampshire is, in theory, much more complete and dead-zone-free than T-Mobile’s:

AT&T Coverage Map of Southern New Hampshire

Armed with this knowledge, I stopped in at the Burlington Mall AT&T store (note that there are two in the mall and the upstairs one, by the food court, is smaller and less well-known so you might get quicker service there). I explained my situation to the helpful clerk there, and once she’d established that I knew exactly what I was looking for, she happily dispensed with any attempt to up-sell me to a lifetime mobile contract and a new phone. She went into the back room and emerged with a SIM, activated it while standing in front of me using a tablet, and I was up and ready to go. Before I left, she made sure I had service; we shook hands, and I was off.

I purchased $20 of credit on the SIM, and the SIM itself was free.  I signed up for the “$2/day” plan, which debits $2 on any day in which I make a phone call or send a text (and debits nothing on days that I don’t). There’s a handy $1/day data package add-on that provides 100MB of data; it’s a little clunky because you have to sign up for it every day but that sign-up process is something that can be done on the phone itself, before signing up for the package; and the “day” lasts until midnight on the next day, so it’s effectively a 48 hour window (compared that to Virgin Mobile’s $20/100 MB US Travel Data Pass – 20 times the price for the same data).

I was in the US for 7 days, and when I left I still had $9 of my original $20 in credit. I consumed the $11 as:

  • 5 days worth of $1/day data package for a total of $5.
  • 3 days worth of $2/day voice/text for a total of $6.

I ran out of data once, somewhat inconveniently while using Waze to navigate in Massachusetts on Saturday, but I was able to pull over and top-up without issue.

The coverage in southern New Hampshire wasn’t quite as rosy as AT&T’s coverage map makes it out to be: I had no signal at all from the Jack Daniels Motor Inn in Peterborough, which was inconvenient as that’s one of the places I wanted to be able to receive calls and texts. And the coverage up the hill at Yankee was spotty: there was signal in some parts of the building and not others.

Otherwise, though, I had coverage throughout my trip, from Burlington across southern New Hampshire to Brattleboro, Vermont, down to Chicopee, Massachusetts, over to Hillsdale, New York and back through to Boston. I navigated using Waze and Google Maps. I used Google Now to control my phone in the car hands-free, a checked in on Foursquare, I updated Twitter and Instagram, I used Google Hangouts to talk to home. And I sent and received a couple of text messages.

Dan pointed out a few downsides of the AT&T GoPhone system in his original post:

  • Topping up the account for Canadians was difficult: AT&T now points to prepaid.com directly from its own site as the solution to this. I didn’t need to use this, as I never extinguished my credit. I also found that AT&T top-up cards were for sale in almost every gas station and convenience store I stopped at while I was traveling.
  • The SIM expires: depending on how much credit you purchase, the SIM will expire anywhere between 30 days (< $25 credit) to a year ($100+ credit). Once it expires, your telephone number expires with it. So in my case, unless I top the SIM up in the next 20 days, it will expire in late August and the next time I visit the USA I’ll need to go through the same SIM purchase process as though it was a new day.

The really good coverage in southern New Hampshire, my colleagues tell me, is from Verizon; unfortunately Verizon uses the older CDMA network which doesn’t work with my Canadian GSM phone, so I can’t take advantage of that.

All that being said, AT&T GoPhone proved an inexpensive, mostly-working way of staying online and in touch on this trip, and I’m likely to use the same solution again when I return in the autumn.