Cat Eradication

Coming up this Friday on CBC Prince Edward Island’s Main Street: The Marion Island Cat Eradication Program. This is story of how 5 house cats were introduced to remote Marion Island in 1949, multiplying to 3,400 cats by 1977, and how it took 19 years to rid the island of them. Listen live on Friday, Sept. 22 at 4:30 p.m. AST, or watch here for a RealAudio link.

The CA Domain Debacle

I’ve spent the balance of the day trying to re-register Internet names in the CA domain (i.e. Up until recently registration in the CA domain was free, and was maintained by an arm of UBC. Administration of the domain is in the process of being switched to a new organization called CIRA (which seems to just be CANARIE in disguise). The process is not going well. I opted to use webnames to do the re-registration — they’re one of the new “CIRA-accredited” private outfits that process registrations for a fee. Everything went pretty smoothly on the webnames website — I selected and paid for the domain names in question and got a receipt along with a password to take me to a special page on the CIRA website where I’m supposed to read and agree to abide by an [insane] multi-page [316K!] document. This is where the “fun” starts. CIRA was obviously woefully unprepared for this exercise, and their software was under-tested, for I received a variety of errors throughout the day ranging from SQL server “too many connections” errors to scripting errors to simply having my connection to their webserver refused. To quote a technical support person from webnames, when asked about CIRA: “their website’s basically fucked.” At this point, I’ve managed to process three of four domains. It’s taken about 8 hours. Sigh.

The 12 minute box of envelopes

A sad and interesting visit to the planet They Just Don’t Get It this morning to buy a box of envelopes. I used to buy all of our office supplies at Carters in Charlottetown. This was when they were located in a spledid historic building on Queen St., and had a store with all the good characteristics of an old time stationer. And then they moved. In what seemed like an odd move, Carters gave up their Queen St. location and moved to the old Zellers store on Kent St., into what amounts to a modern piece of innocuous architecture; accompanying this was a rapid descent into mediocrity. Since they moved, I’ve [rather sheepishly] been shopping at Staples, the new bigbox-stationer cum computer store in the suburbs. With our recent move downtown, I thought I should give Carters another try, and so when the need arose to purchase a box of envelopes, off I went.
I shouldn’t have bothered.
I quickly found my box of envelopes and walked up to the cash, where I spent 5 minutes in line waiting for the clerk to complete a complex series of tasks with another customer (to her credit, she may have been assisting NASA with Space Shuttle operations). Once it was my turn to pay, I spent another 3 or 4 minutes waiting for her to enter a complex series of commands into her computer that would, I presume, release title to the envelopes to me (I lost track after about 50 keystrokes). When this was completed, I received a giant 8 by 10 receipt and my envelopes.
Now I have never been a stationer myself, and perhaps I am unaware of the subtle data processing demands of the profession, but it seems like a more logical customer service path to strive might be something like: “I walk in, pick up a box of envelopes, pay, leave.” I that in a sane world this would take about 42 seconds. And if it did, Carters would have my stationery business forever.

Island Tel Billing Insanity

Okay. I just wrote four cheques to the various heads of the beast that is Island Tel. One cheque for my residential telephone line. One cheque for my business telephone line. One cheque for my cellular telephone. One cheque for my high-speed Internet service.
Does this make any sense? Shouldn’t the smart people at Island Tel be able to figure out how to consolidate all of this into one bill? And why would I hire Island Tel to solve my business problems if they can’t appear to solve this simple problem?
Oddly enough, the friendly customer service agent told me that I can get my high-speed Internet and residential telephone service on the same bill, but only if I sign up for a PrimePak. Weird.


After 8 months of searching for names, this one takes the cake. How about ‘Otit’ or ‘Idanhg’ or even ‘Uaedurt?’

The Other Prince Edward Island

A CBC “Off the Beaten Track” episode in which I talk about the other Prince Edward Island, in the southern Indian ocean. Originally aired on September 8, 2000 on CBC Radio’s Mainstreet program in Prince Edward Island.

Introduction: There is another Prince Edward Island, or rather “Prince Edward Islands,” located in the southern Indian Ocean and part of South Africa since 1949.  Marion Island, one of the two Prince Edward Islands is current home to a meteorological station, and former home to some 3,400 feral cats.  Prince Edward Island, the other of the two, is uninhabited and, indeed, people aren’t allowed on it without a special permit.  This is their story.

Imagine a Prince Edward Island where…

  • …it’s cool and stormy most of the year, with an average temperature of  4 degrees.
  • …there are gale force winds 100 days of the year.
  • …the soil isn’t red and soft, but craggy and volcanic.
  • …the dominant vegetable isn’t the potato, but the cabbage.
  • …there’s so much concern for the environment, and a fear of mice, that you need a special permit from the government just to visit.
  • …chief impediments to tourism are danger from aggressive male seals and the possibility of having your boat smashed on the rocks while landing.

This is the “other” Prince Edward Island…

  • This is the “other” Prince Edward Island, and could very well be the “Bizarro” Prince Edward Island in for “Bizarro Superman” it is so opposite to ours.
  • In fact they are located at 46 degrees south while we’re located at 46 degrees north and are called “the jewel of the Southern Ocean” (rather than the “Garden of the Gulf”).
  • Located about 1900 km off the coast of South Africa in the southern Indian Ocean, the “other” Prince Edward Island is one of a pair of sister Islands – the other is Marion Island – collectively called, oddly enough, “the Prince Edward Islands.”
  • Prince Edward Island, South Africa, is 45 square kilometers in size, while it’s sister Marion Island is 290 square kilometers.  
  • They’re both craggy volcanic islands, windswept, cold, rainy and quite unlike the Prince Edward Island we know and love.

Lost, then Found…

  • In 1663, Dutchman Barent Lam discovered the two islands on his way east; he named them Dina and Maerseveen (after his ship).
  • Some time after this, the Dutch tried to find the islands again, but couldn’t (Lam had recorded the wrong latitude) and they were given up for lost.
  • 100 years later in 1772 the islands were rediscovered by a French naval officer Marion du Fresne, who named them le de la Caverne and le de l’Esperance
  • In 1776, explorer Captain James Cook – only a decade after he spent five years based in Halifax, and three years before he died – visited the islands, and renamed them collectively the Prince Edward Islands.
  • Over the following 175 years the larger of the two islands came to be known as Marion Island by sealers who used the islands as a base.
  • In 1949 South Africa annexed the islands, and the weird Prince Edward Island / Prince Edward Islands / Marion Island naming scheme stuck.

Prince Edward Island Today

  • Since 1949, South Africa has had a presence on the Island when it established a permanent weather office.
  • I exchanged email with Chris de Wet, who is the team leader of “Marion 57,” which is the 57th expedition from South Africa.
  • They’re a motley group of 10 people, meteorologists, biologists, a radio technician, a diesel mechanic and a medic.
  • They’ve got a fully stocked hospital, complete with dentist’s chair and x-ray machine, telephone and Internet hookups, laboratories, and a gymnasium.
  • In addition to the weather station, which is staffed 24 hours a day, there’s research monitoring seal populations, sea bird populations, the effects on longline fishing on birds, and the impact of feral house mice on the Island.
  • I asked Chris what inspired him to take such a remote posting and he said he jumped at the opportunity – he says he’s an outdoor fanatic, and welcomed the opportunity to get away from the “rat race.”

Tourism on the Islands

  • During my research, I found an interesting paper called “Environmental impact assessment of possible tourism at Marion Island,” published by the South African Government, which looked at how tourism on the Islands would affect the environment.
  • I asked Chris about the possibility of tourism, and he suggested that because of the hard environment and lack of infrastructure, he didn’t think there’s was much chance of this happening, and if it did, it would be more of a “friendly outdoor laboratory” for scientists as opposed to something for “holiday makers.”
  • I also asked Chris is the members of his team had ever heard of “our” Prince Edward Island and I was surprised to find they hadn’t – but they found us on the globe!
  • He added that he doesn’t think that most people in South Africa have never heard of “his” Prince Edward Island, so we shouldn’t feel so bad if we haven’t.

Next Time on “Off the Beaten Track”

  • Remember I mentioned that there’s research going on about the “impact of feral house mice” on the Island?
  • That’s a longstanding problem: house mice aren’t native to the Islands — sealers introduced them sometime over the last century.
  • In 1949, in an attempt to rid the islands of house mice, five house cats were introduced.
  • By 1977 these five cats had multiplied to some 3,400 cats.
  • Next time we’ll hear their story, and the story of the “Marion Island Cat Eradication Program.”

Wal-Mart: Saved from the evil beast

I searched for many hours this afternoon for a simple wooden stool. Leon’s. Home Hardware. Birt’s. Large’s. None of them had anything close. Finally, with my tail between my legs, I went to Wal-Mart, Charlottetown’s newest urban sprawl, which I had heretofore managed to avoid patronizing. I needn’t have bothered. I actually believed that, if one could set aside the evil mega-corporate ugliness of Wal-Mart one would find excellent, friendly service. I imagined that I would gallop through the door and be greeted by a helpful senior greeter who would guide me lovingly to the stool section. The reality, however, was as bleak as Zellers: no senior at the door, no directions to the furniture section, no staff in the furniture section, no stools in the furniture section. So I left. Never to return. I finally found a stool, nice but expensive, at Bass River Chairs. I bought it.

My old colleague Mavis works at Bass River Chairs in the Charlottetown Mall. She’s great. Too bad they have such a horrible website!

John Prine and Purity Dairy

John Prine I can’t imagine a better person to run a dairy than Tom Cullen. We ran into Tom and his wife Beth tonight while wandering the streets of downtown Charlottetown and this feeling was only confirmed.

We first met Tom and Beth several years ago at a dinner party, and I spent a large chunk of that evening questioning Tom about various and sundry aspects of the dairy world; he seemed surprising unannoyed by this and, indeed, seemed to revel in talking about his world.

At that point in history, and probably still, (and sensibly so) Tom was quite unacquainted with the Internet; and so at the time in the evening when the fiddles would have been taken out were we more culturally capable, out came the laptop and a connection to the Internet, and a challenge to Tom to name a topic that he wanted to know something about. “How about John Prine,” he said daringly, “try and find out what he’s up to these days.” (Tom is a fan, you see.)

And so off we went. We were lucky enough to quickly stumble upon the official John Prine website and, on a lark, we sent a note of greetings to John Prine’s manager. Although not completely converted by this experience, Tom seemed a little more open at least to seeing some possibility in all of this newfangledness. And even more so when, a few days later, an email arrived from John Prine’s manager sending greetings back, wishing us well, and updating us on John’s life.

Purity Dairy Jug

In any case, Tom runs Purity Dairy just around the corner and up the street a bit from us in Charlottetown. Purity is one of the last independent dairys on the Island. In the milk business it’s awfully hard to differentiate your product from the other guy’s — it’s “just milk” after all — and so it’s really a business built on service and personality.

Tom knows this, and you can see and feel the result in everything that Purity does. In jaunty design of their new delivery truck. In their new recyclable packaging (pictured above). And in the simple fact that they’re all very nice people, genuinely interested in what they do.

It’s heartening to know that in this world where everyone is amalgamating and merging and comglomerating you can still operate a small-scale, family-run business.

Purity Dairy products are available in stores across Prince Edward Island, including Eddie’s Lunch. You can hear Tom and Beth’s son Timothy on Island Morning on CBC Prince Edward Island. Remember: Parents Prefer Purity Products.