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Canada’s prison book clubs, closed by COVID-19, pick up where they left off

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A prisoner at Joyceville Institution takes a copy of The River, a novel by Peter Heller, at a monthly meeting of the federal prison’s book club.Photography by Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The first two rules of prison book club are read the book and take part in the debate.

On this late November morning, there are a few violations.

More than 25 guys – they are not referred to as inmates or offenders in book club – signed up, but only eight have shown. Of those, just four have read this month’s selection, The River by Peter Heller.

When everyone is seated, the discussion leader lays out the first question: What word would you use to describe this month’s book? Silence fills the bright activity room deep within the bowels of Joyceville Institution, a federal prison near Kingston, Ont.

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Several of the guys gaze downwards at their generic black sneakers and rolled-up blue jeans.

These book clubbers can’t help it if they’re out of practice.

For much of the last two-and-a-half years, COVID-19 forced prisons across Canada to cancel most outside visits.

Prisoners couldn’t meet with family or the many volunteer-led charities that offer tutoring, legal advice, religious studies and myriad other services to prisoners.

Among the groups barred from entry was Book Clubs for Inmates, a 14-year-old charity that operates in 36 federal penitentiaries, where it has become a literary lifeline to hundreds of prisoners.

Now, the clubs are re-launching. Sort of. The Joyceville book club had a session in September only to have its October date cancelled by another COVID-19 outbreak within the facility.

Book-club participants had been assigned to read The River a month earlier, and must now share what they thought of it.

At 9 a.m., the Joyceville club got rolling again with Peter Heller’s modern-day survival tale set in the Hudson Bay watershed. Just as the silence among the group begins to verge on awkward, a 37-year-old participant named Wick speaks up. “It was suspenseful?” he answers.

The nervousness evaporates.

“A wilderness thriller,” says Josh, another participant.

“A reflection of life,” says Kevin.

Then one of the guys snuffs the vibe. “It’s useless to be here if I haven’t read the book, eh?” says Jesse, arms crossed. “I’m not contributing anything.”

Rule four of book club – they’re actually called ‘norms’ rather than rules on club handouts – is to maintain a welcoming atmosphere. Kevin, the oldest participant at age 52, steps into the breach. “I can help with that,” he says, and perfectly summarizes the plot in five minutes flat, spoilers and all. The disruptor seems satisfied.

A sign at Joyceville tells prisoners how they can get involved in the book club.

Book Clubs for Inmates started in the late 2000s when retired Anglican priest Carol Finlay went to Collins Bay Institution in Kingston, intending to pray with segregated prisoners. She soon realized prisoners needed a sense of community more than they needed evangelizing.

With the consent of Correctional Service Canada, she launched the first book club with a dozen or so prisoners in 2008. By 2010, she was expanding the program to other penitentiaries.

The value is immediately apparent in the Joyceville activity room.

The book’s outdoor setting gives Kevin a chance to talk about the dangers he faced on his many canoeing trips, including one that required an escape from a wildfire, much like the characters in the book. “I’ve never told anyone here about that side of my life,” Kevin marvels later.

Wick opines that one of the protagonists secretly loves a secondary character. Margaret Ford, one of the volunteers facilitating the club, disagrees. But there are no hurt feelings. That’s rule six of book club – all views are to be respected. The approach instills the importance of civil debate, a practice that can be lacking in prison, where studies show half the population experienced violence and abuse in childhood.

“The book club offers an opportunity to have a discussion where you can agree or disagree,” says Ms. Ford. “That social aspect is so important for these guys because they will all be going back into society eventually.”

Volunteer Margaret Ford she says the book club helps participants build social skills they’ll need when they are released.

Copies of the club’s next assignment are piled up for them to read.

After a solid hour-and-a-half discussion, there’s little discord. All agree they would recommend the book to a friend. Those who haven’t read it scramble for spare copies. As the session breaks, the guys thank the volunteers, shake hands and pick up next month’s read: The Spy and the Traitor by Ben McIntyre.

The titles run from popular pot-boilers to challenging speculative fiction, written by the likes of Stephen King, Kazuo Ishiguro, Omar El Akkad and perennial favourite Richard Wagamese. One participant says he finishes each selection in a single sitting.

“I crush about 500 pages a day,” says Glen. “I didn’t used to read much but I got here and I blew through the Game of Thrones series and now another one called Red Rising. This gives us a chance to talk about it. It’s really helped.”

Several participants said the perpetual pandemic lockdowns kindled a love of books, the stories making up for the loss of mental stimulation. “I never used to read, but I’ve probably done 15 books the last five months,” says Wick.

The guys explain that the low attendance today doesn’t reflect a lack of enthusiasm. This part of the prison operates as a regional assessment unit. Guys generally spend a few months here before being shipped out. Many will sign up for book club only to be transferred before they can attend.

The club, say prisoners, cuts through the “con code” of prison life, where there’s a strict pecking order starting with guys on life sentences at the top and sex offenders at the very bottom. Within the four walls of the book club, they’re all equal for a couple hours.

If some dislike the book and others love it, it makes for a better discussion, says Ashley, who lives in Joyceville’s minimum-security confines and has attended book club for more than a decade. “You’re forced to see how someone else came to like the book and understand someone else’s point of view and how they came to it.”

An announcement comes over the intercom. Everyone has to return to their beds for noon count. Ashley heads for the door, then pauses to clarify his last statement. There are some viewpoints he will not tolerate, he says. “I hate Stephen King.”

Recommended reading: More from Globe Books

Illustration by Meegan Lim

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A Quick Guide to Better CMM Maintenance

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CMM

A coordinate-measuring machine, also known as a CMM, is a specialized piece of equipment common in high-precision manufacturing. It uses coordinate technology to measure and replicate the dimensions of particular objects.

CMMs are a lot more accurate than regular measurement gauges. This characteristic makes them the equipment of choice for quality assurance in certain industries, like aerospace, defense, and medical manufacturing.

Despite being a powerful piece of equipment and the most versatile measuring tool in the metrology industry, CMMs can also be quite delicate. They require the right environment and proper maintenance practices to maintain accuracy and reliability.

The Importance of Proper CMM Maintenance

It’s essential to clean and inspect each part of your machine to ensure it stays efficient and accurate. Preventative maintenance ensures that your CMM remains accurate and performs at its best. It also improves your machine’s longevity.

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Without proper CMM maintenance, you could risk damaging your CMM. Repairs would involve operational delays and additional costs.

CMM Preventative Maintenance Tips

Preventative maintenance practices are ones your team could do by yourselves. It’s best to schedule regular maintenance checks for your CMM daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly. These checks can alert you immediately to possible problems with your CMM.

Remove dust and dirt regularly

Clean and well-maintained air bearings ensure your CMM works as it should. These frictionless and stable bearings help ensure accuracy and efficiency. Dust and dirt can clog your machine’s air bearings, affecting its overall performance.

Aside from your machine’s air bearings, dust could also get into other surfaces and crevices. These tiny particles could affect your machine’s accuracy.

Handle Stylus Tips Properly

The stylus is the tip that makes contact with the object you want to measure with your CMM. Despite this significant role, the stylus can be fragile and require careful handling. Too much force could cause it to bend or break.

Clean your stylus with a cleaning agent and a lint-free cloth. Make sure to remove any residue from workplace materials.

Ensure Good Air Quality

Most CMMs use air bearings, and good air quality is essential to keep them running smoothly. Various air quality issues could affect machine performance and even burn out machine motors.

For air quality maintenance, ask and address the following questions:

  • Do the lines have condensation, oil, or other contaminants?
  • Is the airflow constant?
  • Are you using the proper pressure?

When To Call a Professional

Most preventative maintenance practices are simple enough to be performed internally. However, some issues require professional attention. You can also conduct regular professional maintenance checks to ensure you don’t miss anything.

Below are some procedures that require professional assistance. Many CMM suppliers also offer maintenance services alongside their machinery.

Conducting CMM Training

CMMs are highly specialized pieces of equipment. To handle them properly, your staff needs professional training.

Training courses allow you to get trained by CMM experts on the tools and knowledge necessary within your industry. Regular training sessions also help keep you updated on industry trends and standards.

Sensor Malfunctions

CMM sensors are critical to your machine’s speed and accuracy. They should be professionally inspected and calibrated annually.

Routine sensor maintenance can significantly improve the efficiency and accuracy of your machine. CMM sensors include the following:

  • Scanning probe
  • Single point laser
  • Line laser
  • Electronic touch trigger probe
  • Video camera

Faulty Bearings

Neglected air bearings could cause them to falter in their accuracy and stability. Properly maintained air bearings ensure a smooth, stable, and accurate measurement process.

A professional metrology company can thoroughly inspect your air bearings to prevent further machine damage.

A CMM is a significant investment for any business. Good maintenance practices help your machine last and perform at its best, thus making the most out of this investment.

 

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Nintendo’s discounted Switch game vouchers are back

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Nintendo’s Switch Online service has become a better deal over time, offering more perks than just the ability to play games online. On top of getting access to SNES and NES classics, and cloud save backups (for most games, save a couple dozen), Nintendo announced an even bigger perk yesterday: discounted game vouchers.

All subscribers can buy a two-pack of these vouchers for $99.98, and a huge range of first-party (in other words, typically discount-averse) Nintendo games are looped in. I encourage you to check out the full list, but some highlights include the brand-new Fire Emblem Engage, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe, Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon, Metroid Dread, Splatoon 3, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. Important note: you both have to be a subscriber to buy and use these vouchers.

It’s great that this list is more expansive than Nintendo’s first swing at this deal in 2019. But this perk could actually turn Switch Online into a must-have service because it allows you to pre-purchase up to four sets of vouchers (totaling eight games), and keep them for 12 months from the date of purchase. With $20 in savings with each pair of vouchers, buying four bundles will save you up to $80, assuming that each title normally costs $59.99. If you buy a lot of games, this is a smart way to save a little bit of money on every forthcoming purchase.

I know what you might be thinking: “Can I use one on The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom?” Nintendo has not currently listed the deliriously anticipated sequel to Breath of the Wild, which is set to release on May 12th, 2023. Polygon has reached out to Nintendo to see if it’ll eventually become eligible, but did not hear back in time for publication.

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You can get a free seven-day trial for Switch Online here, and you can easily subscribe to the service directly from the Switch’s eShop (it costs $3.99 per month, $7.99 for three months, or $19.99 per year). However, you can purchase (or gift) a one-year subscription with a digital code via Best Buy for $19.99. With a family subscription that costs $34.99 per year, up to eight Switch accounts can reap the perks of Switch Online.

For players who want all the perks, access to Goldeneye 007 and other N64 and Sega Genesis games, and complimentary DLC for some Switch games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, you’ll need Nintendo’s Switch Online plus the Expansion Pack tier, which costs $49.99 per year for one account, or $79.99 per year for a family subscription.

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Canadian discovery could help batteries last longer

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A chance discovery in a Canadian laboratory could help extend the life of laptop, phone and electric car batteries.

According to scientists from Dalhousie University in Halifax, common adhesive tape in batteries may be the reason many devices lose some of their power while off or not being used, which is a phenomenon known as self-discharge.

“In our laboratory we do many highly complex experiments to improve batteries, but this time we discovered a very simple thing,” Michael Metzger, an assistant professor in Dalhousie University’s physics and atmospheric science department, said in a news release. “In commercial battery cells there is tape—like Scotch tape—that holds the electrodes together and there is a chemical decomposition of this tape, which creates a molecule that leads to the self-discharge.”

The solution is simple, too, Metzger says: replace the polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, plastic tape commonly used inside batteries with something more durable and stable.

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“It’s a commercially relevant discovery,” Metzger said. “It’s a small thing but it can definitely help improve battery cells.”

Metzger and his team have been trying to understand why lithium-ion battery cells in inactive devices tend to lose some of their power and self-discharge, something that has long frustrated consumers and manufacturers alike.

“Every manufacturer of lithium-ion cells in the world wants to make self-discharge as small as possible,” Metzger told CTVNews.ca in a joint statement with graduate student Anu Adamson. “In every battery there is a small rate of self-discharge that slowly drains the battery. This is very inconvenient for users and a big headache for industry.”

The electrodes that power batteries are separated by an electrolyte solution that is usually a form of lithium. After exposing several battery cells to different temperatures, researchers were surprised to see that electrolyte solution had turned bright red when it normally should be clear, which was something they had never encountered. The discovery was made by Adamson and two other students.

Chemical analysis of the red electrolyte solution revealed that at higher temperatures, a new molecule had been created inside the battery through the decomposition of common PET adhesive tape, which is often used to hold components together inside batteries. Strong and lightweight, PET is also frequently used for plastic packaging, drink bottles, clothing fibres and more.

Researchers realized that the red molecule, dimethyl terephthalate, was acting as a redox shuttle, meaning that it can transport electrons between a battery’s positive and negative electrodes, creating self-discharge and depleting power even when a battery is not in use. Ideally, the shuttling of electrons within a battery should only happen when a device is on.

“It’s a very simple thing—it is in every plastic bottle and no one would have thought that this has such a huge impact on how the lithium-ion cells degrade,” Metzger said in the news release. “It’s something we never expected because no one looks at these inactive components, these tapes and plastic foils in the battery cell, but it really needs to be considered if you want to limit side-reactions in the battery cell.”

The findings are outlined in a pair of studies published on Jan. 20 and Jan. 23 in the peer-reviewed Journal of The Electrochemical Society. The researchers are now testing PET tape substitutes.

“Since the PET in the tape is the culprit that creates the redox shuttle, we need to replace it with a polymer that is more stable and does not decompose in the harsh chemistry of a lithium-ion battery,” Metzger and Adamson told CTVNews.ca. “So far, the results look very promising, and we plan to publish a new research paper on improved polymers for lithium-ion battery tapes soon.”

According to the researchers, their work has been attracting interest from “some of the world’s largest computer hardware companies and electric vehicle manufacturers,” which are eager to reduce self-discharge and improve battery performance.

“We visited some of these companies and they are planning to implement more stable polymers in their battery cells,” Metzger said.

In the release, Metzger noted: “One of the engineers said, ‘I heard you guys found out something is wrong with PET tape.’ So, I explained to him that it’s causing this self-discharge and asked him, ‘What are you using in your cells?’ He said, ‘PET tape.'”

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