Category: Design

The confounding power of simple signage

 

It’s just 19 characters (22 if you count the spaces) in all-caps Helvetica, painted Highway Yellow against an industrial green girder. Yet, somehow, the “Welcome to Cape Breton” sign on the Canso Causeway swing bridge maintains a deep iconic grip on Cape Bretoners.

Just this morning, it showed up in my Facebook feed when Megan MacDonald, a CB ex-pat home from Toronto for a few days’ R&R, re-posted this meme from the “Meanwhile in Cape Breton” group:

 

Turn Signals

 

Years ago, riding a bus from Halifax to Cape Breton, I compared notes with the woman in the next seat about the point in the journey when it finally feels like we’re home.

I said, “When I get to the Bras d’Or look-off, and see Boularderie Island splayed out below.”

She said, “When I see the sign at the Causeway.”

No need to ask what sign she meant. Do an image search for “Welcome to Cape Breton,” and photos of the girder take up 11 of the first dozen frames.

 

Welcome to Cape Breton

 

See that fancy billboard at the bottom right? Municipalities, tourist agencies, service clubs, industry associations, and Gaelic societies have spent untold tens of thousands commissioning graphics design firms and sign manufacturers to welcome visitors to our island in beautifully inventive ways. Not one has the power of those four unadorned words, unassumingly wrought on a plain steel beam.

Just the right words. In just the right place.

 

2014 Halifax version of the colored entrance

Colored Entrance

A childhood friend found this disturbing 1956 photograph by the late Life Magazine photographer Gordon Parks on the Facebook page of the African-American history group BlackPast.org. She reposted it on her own Facebook page, and I reposted to to mine, adding, “It’s worth remembering that this was less than 60 years ago.”

Epicurious Morsels

It didn’t take long for Gus Reed to post this photo of the posh Hydrostone restaurant Epicurious Morsels, adding:

60 years ago there was a separate entrance for African Americans at the Birmingham bus station. 60 seconds ago, this was the wheelchair entrance at a restaurant in Halifax. One of hundreds of retail establishments like this, by the way. Can you explain the difference?

It’s not the difference that should bother us, but the similarity. White southerners didn’t bat an eye at segregationist signs in the 1950s. Mobile Canadians don’t bat an eye at respectable establishments that exclude users of wheelchairs in the 20-teens.

Can I explain the difference? Yes. Canada lacks the public and political will to extend to people in wheel chairs the same civil rights we would be appalled to deny African Americans or Jews. After repeated protestations from Gus and others, HRM’s all-powerful building code enforcers have begun insisting new businesses include wheelchair accessibility, but heaven forfend a ramp should intrude on a square inch of the city’s notoriously wheelchair unfriendly sidewalks.

By the way, Epicurious Morsels and a lot of other Halifax establishments could solve this problem for less than $100 with a portable threshold ramp.

Ever from the sparkles of ideas sprouts… found poetry!

To make sport of bad English translations by non-English speakers is to flirt with, nay dive headfirst into, unbecoming condescension. But sometimes, it’s irresistible.

“Please use it referring to as equipped,” has been an all-purpose mantra in my house ever since those words arrived on the wrapper of a Honda Civic air filter sometime in the 1980s.

Last weekend, my son Silas received a set of Chinese-made Edifier speakers he had ordered on line. Among the packaging, he found this poetic brand testimonial:

edifier-mod

I believe this can only be fully appreciated as blank verse:

Big surprise, astonishment, and enjoyment.

Ever from the sparkles of ideas sprouts
out of designer’s sketch.
Every piece of edifier’s works
breathes with a vivid life,
palpitating with the spirit of music.
For music is a spiritual thing,
and youth hood is creed.

In the domain of music,
we promenade hand in hand.
Edifier is not only a product,
but also a harmonious attitude to life.

Silas gave the speakers three stars out of five. Please use it referring to as equipped.

Post-Christmas book suggestion

This is a must-have for anyone living along the Strait of Canso superport, and for 14 residents of Goldboro, soon to be the site of an LNG terminal. Denizens of HRM may also want to bone up in anticipation of warships soon to be flying off the assembly line at the Irving Shipyard.

HowToAvoidHugeShips

Be sure to read the reviews, especially the third one down.

H/T: Sue, via Jane Kansas

Edward Snowden’s Christmas message: asking is cheaper than spying.

Every Christmas since 1993, British Television’s Channel 4 asks a noteworthy figure to record an “alternative” to starchy pieties of Her Majesty’s annual Christmas message to her subjects.

This year, Channel 4 tapped whistleblower Edward Snowden. From his temporary asylum in Russia, Snowden sounded a pithy, 1 minute, 43 second, warning about the dangers of government spying:

A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves — an unrecorded, unanalysed thought….

Remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.

H/T: A.C.H. Noskwith

How seriously did Canada Post consider people less mobile than they

CanadaPostPetition

Susan Dixon has started a petition:

Has anyone at Canada Post ever tried to to push a stroller or a wheelchair or a walker through the snow? I don’t think they realize the impact of ending door-to-door mail delivery when it comes to the parents of young children, to the disabled, and to the elderly, especially in winter…

Did the government or Canada Post really consider how people in difficult circumstances might be affected? I am the mother of two young boys. My youngest has cerebral palsy and uses a walker or wheelchair to get around. For me, Canada Post’s decision would mean having to bundle them up and struggle through the snow with a wheelchair just to get our mail. And I am just one of thousands of Canadians who must already overcome mobility challenges on a daily basis.

That’s why I started this petition urging Canada Post to reconsider the plan to end door-to-door delivery, and think about how all Canadians would be affected. Please sign it and share it with your friends.

2013 Sable Update: a peaceable kingdom

SableUpdate The three Parks Canada bureaucrats who tag-teamed an illustrated talk at tonight’s ninth annual Sable Island Update faced a skeptical, though not overtly hostile, audience.

The first time Canadians heard about plans to turn Sable Island into a National Park, Jim Prentice, environment minister at the time, launched into an addle-pated discourse on how great a park would be for private businesses that could could ferry boatloads of tourists out to Sable and put them up for the night in hotels.

You want to hope this was a spontaneous outburst by a know-nothing minister, but with Harper’s crew, who can be sure? Parks Canada bureaucrats have struggled ever since to convince Sable’s large, passionate constituency that they are not the advance guard for a mob of gun-toting Reform Party vandals bent on paving Sable and putting up Ferris wheels.

In the process, they appear to have persuaded the naturalist and longtime Sable champion Zoe Lucas. (Disclosure: Zoe and I have been friends for years.)

zoe_lucas copyIn her talk last night, Zoe, who is principal organizer of the meeting, gave her usual fascinating and witty précis of events on Sable over the last 18 months—a spell-binding catalog of weather highlights, scientific discoveries, critter strandings, beach debris, and whatnot. She followed this with a useful history of tourism to the island, gently driving home the point that people have always visited Sable (albeit in small numbers) and properly managed, such visits cause little damage while helping build the passionate constituency for conservation that is Sable’s best protection from Cretins like Prentice.

Zoe and I have not spoken about this, but it appeared to me that she and the Parks Canada officials charged with setting up the new park have established a productive and mutually respectful relationship. This has not always been the case. Zoe is a woman of strong views and a willingness to express them. She has not always enjoyed a blissful rapport with Sable’s federal overseers.

In their presentation, the Parks Canada officials made the obligatory gestures you would expect toward Zoe’s revered role as unofficial steward of the island, including the invaluable scientific work she has carried out over nearly four decades. Beyond that, they peppered their inventory of preparations for park status with signals they have been listening, and thinking about imaginative ways to fulfill Parks Canada’s mandate to provide visitor opportunities without wrecking the place.

Two small examples: They hope to get Google to carry out Street View mapping of the island, so Sable buffs can treat themselves to virtual tours from the comfort of their living rooms. When challenged about regulations that ban petroleum drilling on the island, but permit seismic testing, they agreed with a marine geologist in the audience that sufficient seismic testing has already been carried out, and it’s unlikely future tests would be permitted.

I don’t want to go overboard here. The trio of officials did sometimes lapse into practiced talking points whose purpose was to mollify, rather than inform. They professed not to remember what the park’s annual budget was, but when pressed (by me) they agreed to give Zoe this information for publication on her Green Horse Society website (specifically, the park’s 2013-2014 annual budget, and the annual operating budget they expect once startup costs are behind them).

I’m no @Tim_Bousquet, but I did my best to live-tweet the event. With occasional help from seat-mate Alan Ruffman, I think I did capture the gist of most, if not all, the questions. You can find these tweets by searching for my Twitter handle (@kempthead) or the hashtag #Sable. Those outside the Twitter realm can view the live-tweets in bullet form after the jump. If you are unfamiliar with Twitter, reading from the bottom up will give you my account in chronological order. Errors and omissions are mine.

Read more »

Unintended consequences of making voting easier

Like me, Contrarian reader Stan Jones voted at one of the continuous advance polling stations his riding (though presumably he did so sans caméra).  These polls were among the innovations Elections Nova Scotia introduced to combat flagging turnout, by making it easier for people to vote. They proved popular, but as Jones points out, they had the unintended consequence of lessening the analytical usefulness of poll-by-poll returns:

[I]t does seem to complicate poll-by-poll analysis, since it looks to me as if all those votes are reported with the Returning Office as the poll, rather than some district poll.

For example, in Yarmouth, some 1,660 votes were recorded at the RO, about 19 percent of the total. Another 685 were recorded at the two scheduled advance polls. In all, 27 percent of the votes can’t be associated with a particular area poll.

This didn’t matter too much in Yarmouth, where Zach Churchill copped 82 percent of the votes cast—as Jones points out, he had more votes at the advance polls than the second place finisher, Tory John Cunningham had in the entire district—but it would make analysis more difficult in ridings where the vote was closer.

Jones thinks the relative compactness of the Yarmouth riding may have increased take-up at the continuous poll, aided by some special factors:

Lots (and lots) of people were on Main Street in downtown Yarmouth for the street hockey tournament during the election and the RO is just a block off Main Street. It was easy to drop in to the RO between games (that’s what I did). It might also have helped that the Yarmouth Corral (a very popular local mobile food truck) was parked right across of the RO during the tournament – I had a pulled pork sandwich right after I voted.

Truly, all politics is local, right down to the pulled pork sandwich. Turnout in Yarmouth was 65 percent, versus 59 percent province-wide.

In the ridings I checked, a significant portion of the ballots were cast at riding offices, continuous polls, or scheduled advance polls where they could not be tied to a geographic location. In Sydney-Whitney Pier, where the contest was thought to be close, 30 percent voted in non-geotagged polling stations.  In vast Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie, 20 percent; equally far-flung Victoria the Lakes, also 20 percent; Antigonish, 37 percent; Argyle, 17 percent.; Glace Bay, 34 percent.

Go ahead. Park here. We dare you.

The CBRM Works Department has made improvements at 322 George St….

hydrant-1

… but prudent motorists would do well to remember this antique internet chestnut:

Hydrant2

H/T: Tara Camus and Framework Cycle and Fitness

Trick or treat on Duncan Street — by the numbers

Dan Conlin has kept track of the trick-or-treaters who called at his Duncan St., Halifax, home for the last 17 years. Yesterday’s numbers showed a modest uptick, but the overall trend is dramatic and downward:

TrickOrTreat

This year’s visitors began arriving at 5:35 pm, peaked at 7 p.m., and had vanished into the night by 8:15. Vampires, Princesses, and Ninjas led the parade, at six each.

Only one cat made an appearance, likely the one pictured, feline fancier Rosa Eileen Barss Donham, who lives one street over from Dan.

Conlin gives his Best Overall Costume Award to an eight-year-old walking box of Ritz Crackers, English in front, Français au verso, with nutritional information on the side. Nutritional information about lard pills—what a card!

Complete details on yesterday’s West End Halifax’s confectionary extortionists here; For comparison purposes, see designer Kinnon Elliot’s infographic about Hallowe’en costumes here .

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