Friday, May 31, 2013

The Invention of Staff Fracking


Many things have been invented in Toronto, but this year we can add a new item to the list. I'm going to call it "Staff Fracking".

The technique with this similar to normal shale gas fracking where you inject water at high pressure into rocks until they shatter and the pressure forces gas to the surface, except here you inject lots of scandalous hot air then increase the pressure until senior staff start streaming out.

It appears to be rather effective, judging by the constant stream of ex-city hall workers it's generating

Living in Toronto right now is akin to the fabled curse "May you live in interesting times".

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Facebook and Censorship


An article this morning had a fairly interesting argument for saying that Facebook should not be censoring hate speech.

My take is everyone has the right to free speech - and it's true that this should not be censored, however, that doesn't mean I should be seeing everything by default.  Things that are against the law (hate speech) should be removed - that much is clear.  But Facebook is rapidly filling up with new material that's not hate speech, but still should be censored into an adult category.

An example is my timeline often gets filled with pictures of shocking things that I don't want to have to see on my phone in public, but people feel the need to perpetuate this stuff and so it ends up being queued for me to look at.  This week a picture of a dumped dead baby corpse was going around that thousands of people quite rightly found outrageous.  Yes, it's outrageous, but I don't want it appearing on my timeline when I'm sitting on transit and some nine year old is sitting next to me and possibly sneaking in a peek of what's on my device.  

It's one thing to be able to check out this stuff in the privacy of your own home, but there's no mechanism to stop this by default.  It needs to be categorized and locked out of sight.  

This means there is still a need for a modicum of censorship.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Putting a back flow preventer on the internet - An update.

You may remember a previous technical article (here if you need it) where I tried putting a backflow preventer on the internet.  Well, whilst I slightly changed the end project before implementing it, last night it all ended in disaster.  

We had a heavy rain storm last night, and the sensor failed...  

The reason it failed was the whole assembly got submerged under water.  In short, the hole it was down (where it could ping the mainline back flow preventer with the IR sensor to see if the trap was up or down) filled up with water as the ground got overloaded with rainwater and the water table rose as a result.  This filled up the hole and damaged the sensor.

Probably time for a sump pump to be installed as well now.

$$$ - Ker-ching!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Programming Toronto Hydro's PeakSaver Plus Meter - The Easier Way

TL;DR - Scroll down if you want to skip the background and just get to the instructions.

I've not long had what Toronto Hydro call the "PeakSaver Plus Meter" (really, it's a BlueLine PowerCost meter), and less than a week after someone from Toronto Hydro came and installed it whilst I was at work, the TOU (Time of use) rates changed.  I asked Toronto hydro about this on twitter, and they pointed me at this video.  A week or two went by and eventually, I got around to watching it - then I went to my blueline meter and tried to reprogram it, and for about the past three weeks the meter has sat on the window sill showing the wrong information whilst the rest of family life takes priority.

Last night, I finally got around to fixing this and given what I've learned, here's the bits that are missing in the instructions and that will likely get you back on track quicker.

Instructions
I'm going to assume that you've royally screwed with the device and you've no idea what you've done, or how to undo whatever it was you did...  If you haven't screwed up the device, just follow along anyway, that way we know where you are at.

First, get the current TOU rates and scribble them down.  As of writing this, they are:
  • On-Peak:  12.40 c/kWh
  • Mid-Rate:  10.40 c/kWh
  • Off-Peak:  6.70 c/kWh
Note that I've put an extra zero on the end of the prices.  You will be entering the prices in this format.  (so, "10.4" c/kWh becomes "10.40" for example).

Second, get the tier start times and scribble them down as well.  As of writing this, they are:
  • Tier 1 - Mid Peak - 7am
  • Tier 2 - On-Peak - 11am
  • Tier 3 - Mid Peak - 5pm
  • Tier 4 - Off Peak - 7pm
(I didn't bunch the prices and times together like Toronto Hydro did in their video, as you don't enter it all together, so it's easier to split things up like this - into rates and then times).

Before we get started:  
If you suddenly need to stop this, because maybe the dog has just run into the house covered in skunk spray (or for any other sane/insane reason) just hold PROG/SYNC on top of the device until you hear one beep, to save where you got to. 

When you are ready to resume this process later, start at item #3 below.  Then, just keep pressing PROG/SYNC until you reach the point where you had to stop previously.

  1. Press and hold both CLEAR and PROG/SYNC till you hear 3 beeps and the entire display flashes every LCD segment.  Your device is now reset.  
  2. Wait about 5 seconds and you'll hear one more beep as the unit starts to work using the new blank settings.  Now, we can put in our own settings.
  3. Press PROG/SYNC until you hear a short beep. The time (likely 12:01 by now) will be flashing the hour segment.  Use the up/down arrows to select the correct hour.  When ready, press PROG/SYNC.
  4. Now the minutes are flashing.  Press up/down to get the correct minutes.  Press PROG/SYNC.
  5. Select (using up/down) the time format you prefer. Press PROG/SYNC.
  6. You should see "sun" flashing in the corner.  Select (using up/down) the current day.   Press PROG/SYNC.
  7. Now the temperature gauge is flashing.  Using up/down, select Fahrenheit or Celsius.  Press PROG/SYNC.
  8. You will see "1.0" flashing. (No need to change this - it's a usage multiplier) Press PROG/SYNC.  [At this point, your device settings are done]
  9. "Tier" is now flashing.  Press "up" twice so you see "3-Peak".  Press PROG/SYNC.
  10. Now, "Sun" and "Sat" are flashing.  This means they are both off-peak.  Just press PROG/SYNC.
  11. Now the big number is flashing.  Set this (up/down buttons) to your off peak rate.  Press PROG/SYNC.
  12. Now the big number is flashing again.  Set this (up/down buttons) to your mid-rate number.  Press PROG/SYNC.
  13. One last time, the big number is flashing. Set this (up/down buttons) to your on-peak rate. Press PROG/SYNC.  [At this point, your rate prices are done]
  14. You now see a big "1" and time flashing.  Summer Mid-Peak starts at 7:00am.  Set this (up/down buttons).  Press PROG/SYNC.
  15. Now the peak is flashing.  Set this (up/down) to Mid-Peak.  Press PROG/SYNC.
  16. You now see a big "2" and time flashing. Summer On-Peak starts at 11:00am.  Set this (up/down buttons).  Press PROG/SYNC.
  17. You now see a big "3" and time flashing. The afternoon mid-Peak starts at 5:00pm.  Set this (up/down buttons).  Press PROG/SYNC.
  18. You now see a big "4" and time flashing. Summer Off-peak starts at 7:00pm.  Set this (up/down buttons).  Press PROG/SYNC.  [At this point, your tier starting times are done]
  19. You now see a big "5" and time flashing. Press and hold PROG/SYNC till you hear a beep to save and exit.
You're done.  

Friday, May 24, 2013

Why Britain is heading towards unrest again.


It was 15 years ago that I landed in Toronto.  Having arrived from the UK, I was obviously quite culture-shocked by the comparatively restrictive nature of the place when compared to where I just came from.  You couldn't smoke whilst you walked around the shopping centre… or grab a beer and walk through the park with it… or buy alcohol at the corner shop because it's restricted… or cross the street wherever you felt it most convenient.  Whilst I'm now a non-smoker, I was here and smoking when the laws changed about smoking in bars.  This just further enhanced my perception of the overly aggressive laws that the people here have to put up with.

Yes, to a (then) 25 year old, Toronto came across as the ultimate nanny state.

Now I'm 40 and just came back from my latest trip home.  Whilst Toronto hasn't given up on any of it's regulations, and still rapidly adds to the list of "thou shalt not's" (thou shalt not have free plastic shopping bags (repealed), thou shalt not sell plastic bottles of water in municipal areas, thou shalt not buy puppies in pet stores, thou shalt not build a 2000 sq meter building without a green roof, thou shalt not put weed killer on your lawn), it seems to have a remarkable air of "relaxation" about it when you compare it with the UK, currently.

The biggest thing you notice in the UK right now is how tense everything is.  You're constantly reminded that "CCTV is in operation on this [train/subway platform/shopping mall/etc] for your safety".  You're also told that if you leave a bag unattended for more than a microsecond then you run the risk of bomb disposal experts coming in and blowing up your shopping or laptop bag.  You're reminded that "if you see something, say something".  And, of course, there are the cameras.  Yes, the cameras are EVERYWHERE.

You might say "well, that's just the measures put in place post the 7/7 attacks", but remember that terrorism has been around for quite some time and wasn't a term invented by George Bush after 9/11.  Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, it was not uncommon to go to London and have to spend 2 hours being diverted away from where you wanted to be because of some IRA coded warning.

No, what has happened is the UK is mimicking the USA's efforts since they had their 9/11 attacks - the big difference being that whilst the public sees this stuff in the form of the TSA and it's security measures in the USA, in Britiain, it's integrated slowly onto the streets and general public life.  To put it another way, whilst the USA play's "whack-a-mole" with it's threats in a perceived isolated manner, the UK is openly carpet-bombing society to cover every threat angle.  

As you can guess, it doesn't feel too good there; People are getting tense, angry, and agitated.  If you make millions of people feel like they're under threat then they will act like it.  So what we're seeing now is a tinderbox of emotions ranging from religious hatred due to extremist actions, anger against the police, and a general distrust for anyone and anything that looks different.  Given what's been going on over there for the past few days, you can almost feel that the UK is rapidly speeding towards riots and other civil unrests.  

The big question is what will the spark be, that sets this off?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Subway Safety Issue That Remains Unaddressed


For two days now, I've had my TTC Subway commute hampered by two things "at track level" that should not have been there.  Yesterday was an "injury at track level" (someone jumped at College Station), and today it was "smoke at track level" - so we had to stop and wait for the fire service to turn up with a fire extinguisher and put out the burning newspaper or whatever the junk was that had blown onto the track and ignited.

Both are, unfortunately, fairly regular occurrances.

The astute will realise that there's a connection here:  Both issues are easily prevented by not allowing things to get onto the track in the first place.  

The solution is to put up safety barriers on the platform - like they do in other cities.

I think the City of Toronto needs to wake up and stop arguing about how to expand the service, when clearly they need to address the safety of the existing service.  If you think I'm being harsh here, take a look at the suicide statistics provided by the TTC themselves.

We've all heard about the "every five seconds a child dies of hunger" issue, but in Toronto, consider this:  On average, every two weeks someone dies in front of a subway train - and yet the councillors and politicians are ignoring safety and instead arguing about above ground or underground routes and scoring points for their wards.

Someone clearly has their priorities wrong here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Subway Suicides and News Restrictions


This morning, there was more pandemonium on the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) subway lines after someone had an "injury at track level".  It used to be that in order to not inspire more people to jump in front of subway trains, the media didn't broadcast "jumper" events when they happen.  Everyone at the scene still understood approximately what was happening when you heard an announcement that there was an injury at track level and the power was being shut off, but the news was largely self-contained.

Of course, today if you inconvenience a few hundred people on a single train, the story will break on Twitter or Facebook within minutes for those looking for it.  Inconvenience tens of thousands and everyone in the city will know within a very short time.    This traditional type of news ban has thus totally gone out of the window as it's now irrelevant because the public is making the news, not the traditional news media companies.

What now happens is the news media keeps quiet, until the story breaks on Social Media.  Then it's fair game.

Given that the story is now already in the public domain, you have to question why the TTC doesn't just put it's hands up and come clean in order to expedite communications and increase transparency and trust?  Instead, they perpetuate this air of secrecy and restricted communications like they're some crazy brotherhood, which just looks old-fashioned and prudish when the public has already inferred what's happening anyway.

I think it's time the news restrictions on this type of event is lifted so that communication with the public can be expedited, and trust be rebuilt.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

When numbers are no longer meaningful


This morning I saw a headline about how the US budget had exhausted the extra $300bn ceiling that was put on the debt in February.  In my mind, I thought that this is a huge amount of money when considering the NASA budget was around $80bn.  Then I got corrected when I quickly looked up the budget (to make sure I had the right number), and found it was actually 18 - not 80 - billion dollars in 2011.  The 2012 budget was $17.7bn - which makes the exhaustion of the debt ceiling even worse than I'd feared.  And to think that people used to complain about how much NASA cost to run?

I know precisely what happened here. Since 2007, we've gotten used to some very large numbers being bandied about.  So large in fact, that $18bn seems like a puddle to the $800bn ocean of money that was put aside for TARP, or the current military budget of $1-1.4tn.

You can argue that we're just used to inflation eroding the numbers, especially when being a millionaire these days will get you only two normal sized homes.  Back in the day, being a millionaire was a big thing when houses only cost $20,000.  I think this is not the cause though - the increase in numbers is just too staggeringly huge.  What we're seeing is a world that is awash in debts of an unimaginable scale, and government reactions on these same scales.  

The problem for the average person who is exposed to these numbers is we've rarely got experience or benchmarks by which to measure these numbers and make them meaningful.  

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Crowd Management, Black Swans and Subway Stations


This morning, like many mornings, I hit a major subway station at rush hour.  The station I go through (Yonge/Bloor) is so bad in the mornings, that for the past two years or so we have had to pay for people to direct the crowds until a proper crowd management plan is put into place.

Whilst I appreciate that anything is being done to alleviate the madness in this station, I always shake my head and walk out of the station feeling like this temporary solution to a permanent problem is about as good as it'll get.

You get the feeling that when a lot of the stations were first built, people weren't exactly factored into the design, so you end up with a situation that if it were fluid dynamics model would look something like a white-water river with it's eddy's and such.  Given we now understand stations get crowded, I'd love to know how they're taking this into account in the new stations that are being built in more modern times.

Taking a quote from the TTC itself (source: http://www.ttc.ca/Customer_Service/Public_Town_Hall_Meetings/Nov_24_2011_Summary.jsp), we see this:
"An example of how we are trying to improve is the southbound Bloor platform experiment. As some commuters may have noticed, during the morning rush hour, we have comprehensive crowd control measures at Bloor Station that have proven themselves very effective in decreasing the time a train stays in the platform and therefore allows more trains down the line and an increase in our peak capacity."

That was in 2011.  What they did here was have everyone ingress or egress via whatever stairs or escalators they like, and then we pay for men to stand at the top and bottoms of the stairs to act as overflow for the upward-bound escalators.  In addition, a contraflow system exists on the upper-platform so that many people trying to exit the station are sent on a detour of a platform for a train they have no intention of riding.  Remember, this is an improvement over what existed before.

Now, I can complain about Bloor / Yonge Station, but whilst this is a small inconvenience, it's the smaller stations that are normally less busy that I spend more time thinking about because of crowd design.  

Take Toronto's Woodbine station as an example.  If you terminate a train there during rush hour, you can fill the entire platform like this:


If you terminate two trains at once, you can not only fill both platforms, but fill the causeways that lead to the main concourse, as seen in this next image.



Having gotten everyone packed into this area, it quickly becomes jammed, too.  As shown here.


Finally, the entire bottleneck is compounded by an exit design like this:



Now, this may not be the norm, but as shown from these video stills (I shot these) it falls within the realm of possibility.  From here, the packed-in and restricted crowd situation is like a tinderbox that's ready to ignite under any of the following conditions:
  • Passengers spooked at the rear, causing stampede towards front.
  • Passengers restricted from exiting at front, causing a push towards the confused rear.
  • Fire, Smoke or other substances in the air panicking people.
  • Rumour of fire, smoke or other substances in the air panicking people, even if it doesn't exist.

It's this "Black Swan" style of dangerous event that could happen at the smaller stations that bothers me more than the mundane capacity increasing crowd measures at the bigger stations.  I'm just not convinced that there is a plan to have anything done about it.  

Further, if you're a passenger caught in a situation like this and you need to contact the emergency services, you have no chance of getting a signal to dial 911.  

That, to me, is a tragedy just waiting to happen.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Common Failures in Social Media.


Anyone that understands marketing will know that nothing beats word of mouth.  Given that Twitter is effectively the word of mouth mechanism on steroids, it's not surprising that it's used for marketing.  This is especially important, given that people actually choose to listen to other people (follow them), so what comes out of their mouth is amplified to often hundreds or thousands of people simultaneously.

There's another side to this mechanism that I want to point out:  Word of mouth recommendations and information are a result that occurs as a result of a bigger thing happening - which is two way communications.  So, for Twitter to really be of value, it needs to be a two-way process.  

Having established that it needs to be two-way, we can identify two social media strategies that fail:
1)  The "broadcast" strategy is what you see from the likes of @GMCanada.  There's no interaction, and no way for people to interact socially.  This is why despite having multiple big name brands, it's got a paltry 14,000 followers.  Whomever is responsible for their social media strategy needs to be fired.

2)  The "deflect" strategy is what you see from large corporate accounts like @McD_Canada.  Here, there is interaction, but rather than escalate questions and communications to find the answer to customer queries, they deflect you to somewhere else where public accountability and transparency is not so obvious.  In the case of @McD_Canada, one place they deflect people to says that they may not even respond to you anyway.  This leaves the customer questioning what the point is with trying to communicate with them anyway?  I say fire their social media people, too.

Conclusion:  If you're going to run a corporate social media account, you need to do the following:
1)  Escalate, or answer.  Don't deflect.
2)  Listen and answer.  Don't "broadcast".
3)  Be mixed - put out product recall's, not just "look at our latest award".
4)  Treat each account as a proper person - not a mass audience.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Place names with the word "debit" in them

Most mornings on my commute currently, I'm bombarded with a Visa advertising campaign that uses the word "debit" in place names...

(Details of campaign:  http://www.marketingmag.ca/news/marketer-news/visa-promotes-its-debitnations-for-spring-break-74944)

What they did is take a place name like "Orlando" and turn it into "Orlandebit".  Fort Lauderdale becomes "Fort Lauderdebit".  This just infuriates me because a) I find it boringly repetitive, and b) it's not clever, or remotely challenging to the mind.  It did, however, inspire me to go looking for places that actually have the word "debit" (or could be pronounced that way if "de bit") in them.

I found:

  • Endebit (Nafka, Northern Red Sea, Eritrea).
  • Debiti (Ethiopia)
  • Punta De Bitica (Colombia)
  • Commune De Bitam (Algeria)
  • Plaine De Bitenga (Democratic Republic of the Congo).

Conclusion:
The campaign did ultimately repulse me enough into discovering five places I'd never heard of, so I did indirectly learn something as a result of it, other than "their marketing department needs to be fired".

Monday, May 13, 2013

Taking the "social" bit out of social media


I was just looking at the @gmcanada twitter feed…

They aren't talking about a single customer's question or concern, which means this account amounts to nothing approaching two-way communication with the masses or "social media" as they're just treating it like a newspaper advert, or television - it's a one-way pipe of advertising for them.  

It's "media" as there's no "social" aspect to it.

People likely follow @GMCanada to be informed.  Guess how many of the GM recalls in recent history can be found on that account's twitter feed?  

None.  

You can be driving a recalled GM car and be following them on Twitter and they're not communicating with you the most important news you'd probably like to hear from them.

I have to ask myself what's the point in following an account like that?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Social Media and Twitter News Schedules

I was doing some quick poking about on social media and news strategies in Toronto.  

I was really looking for anecdotal evidence, rather than hard facts - just something quick and dirty to look at so I could get a rough sense for comparison.  I used this service (http://www.xefer.com/twitter/) to quickly look up a few accounts.


680 News

Above is the @680News twitter account. As you can see, their distribution is clustered around the 5-am to 11am spots on Tuesday through Friday.  Then again 5pm to 8pm on Monday through Wednesday.  No idea where they are on Monday's or on Friday afternoons.



CBC News

CBC News seems to start at 5am and be done by 2pm... except on Mondays when they keep going until 6PM.  It would be interesting to know what happens on Tuesday's at the CBC - is that "meeting day"?


CityNews
Here we see with CityNews that Monday's are 5am to 5pm in earnest, then like the CBC, they relax on Tuesdays.  Also like the CBC, there's a definitely pattern Wednesday through Friday 5am to 1pm (CBC stops at 2pm).


CTVToronto
This chart for CTV Toronto surprised me most.  They run 7am through 8am, then take a break at 9am.  10am through 1pm is heavy, but they keep going through 4pm and then break again at 5pm.  At 6pm, the third push of the day happens.  What really stand's out is that pattern at CTV Toronto, whilst fainter, is still discernible on weekends.


Tallest Antenna, Structure, Building in Western Hemisphere


Today there was a story in the news about the spire being bolted onto the top of New York's One World Trade Centre.  Accompanying the structure topping process was a passel of incorrect media reports like the following:



Or this tweet from CNN....



Now, the argument about the world's "tallest structure" vs "tallest building" has been ongoing ever since the CN Tower was built.  It stands at 1815.4ft, which is considerably taller than the One WTC height of 1776 ft.

"Ah!" I hear you say, "But, you can't confuse what is essentially a TV antenna with a building!".  To that, I'd say you're correct - which is why the CN Tower says it's the tallest freestanding structure, because there are things taller than it already in the Western Hemisphere…  Take the USA's KVLY-TV mast… At 2063ft, this is very tall indeed… though it still pales considerably when compared to the Burj Khalifa (2722ft).

I have a feeling this jostling for second place in the Western Hemisphere is going to take a few weeks to work itself out…  In the meantime, I'm just going to sit back and watch the fireworks.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Why "Content Is King" is wrong.


It used to be said that "content is king" when dealing with web content…  I now disagree and here's why:

We're seeing a lot more content these days than we used to.   Today, so much content is generated by the media, our friends, colleagues and acquaintances that I don't think many people are aware that subconsciously we're ranking the available content based on trust.

For example, if I go to Facebook and see a list of new postings on my timeline, I'm going to zoom in on the pictures of the friends I know well and trust before I zoom in on the post from some dude that I barely remember from school and if memory serves me correctly, was the class clown. 

The same thing happens with media.  One of the top stories today is regarding the Stephen Hawking non-attendance of an Israeli conference.  Now, there is much "content" but the first thing I do is rank my options by the media names I trust or recognise (shown here in Green), then go to the other names I know but take with a pinch of salt (shown in Yellow) and then finally I may or may not visit the red ones.


What this shows to me is that "content is king" is wrong when you're drowning in content.  The real phrase should be this:  Trust is king.

If you have a social media brand, the question you should be asking yourself is whether people trust you properly.
  

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Social Media and The Future Winds of Change


There's two aspects to social media that I want to highlight today.  The first is something that some people will already have thought about, especially those with a technically minded outlook on the future.   The second is something that likely hasn't shown up on corporate radars yet - but will have to be confronted at some point in the next five years or so.

First is Respect and Social Media.
To some it may be common sense that corporations need to respect social media.  Given that the masses have a voice and can communicate amongst each other as well as with the corporations themselves in a public forum, it behooves these corporations to a) embrace Social Media and b) respect it.

What we see right now in social media is often the equivalent of what we saw in the old Internet, where it wasn't so much of a "two-way communications" means as it was a "broadcast" means.  Corporate websites were often nothing more than an online billboard for their brand or product/service.  

The same often occurs on Facebook and Twitter - but what we are seeing are corporations changing their stance on this, because the if they don't adapt, then the public rips them to pieces for not respecting Social Media as a valid communications tool.


The second item I want to point out is corporate data and the means to access it.
It is invisibly leaking onto the Internet at a very rapid rate.  Whilst big brands have been busy pushing their brand to the punters, they've taken their eye off the ball as to what transformation is taking place.  Information that used to be private to the corporations is now accessible to the masses, if they feel inclined to gather it up.

Let's imagine I want to find out what the biggest problem with some 2010 version of a car from Ford was.  In the old days, only Ford would know the answer to the question, but now I can set up a Facebook page and simply ask the public to submit their opinions… Now the information is public and everyone can see the results - including the competition.

Another example might be that I want to enquire about the quality of animal handling at my local airport.  Whereas in the old days I could only see a public facing customer enquiries department for things like this, now I can go on LinkedIn and find a baggage handler and ask them directly to show me photos of anything that's wrong.

This leakage of corporate information is speeding up quickly.  After all, how often do you think people with a smartphone log in to a service like LinkedIn or Google+ and allow these services to automatically slurp up photos of sensitive work areas, or share contact information that includes private corporate directory contacts so as to help the person find his or her friends, without thinking about the need to keep things separate?

Do you think the average corporation is up to speed on the scale of this issue?

When this second issue finally breaks into the collective conscience in a big way, I think we can expect some interesting "fireworks" as the battle over Social Media goes from a public forum that corporations also participate in, to a forum that the corporations want to control so they can police this information. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Distorted Advertising In Canada


Advertising in Canada is getting highly distorted, to the point where it's difficult to work out what is legitimate advertising, and what is advertising that's masquerading itself under a different disguise.  Most of this is allowed to happen here because the media is largely controlled by only two entities Rogers and Bell - and they aren't really accountable to anyone else, regardless of what you might hear.  The really frustrating thing is the general public is disconnected from the workings of these two giants, and when they are connected in some meaningful way, they get bamboozled by marketing departments.

Here's an example of what I mean:
The World Health Organisation has a World Mental Health Day every year on October 10th.  Large corporations with philanthropic departments raise large sums of money for the cause, and they all use the hashtag "#worldmentalhealthday" …

…except in Canada.

No, what happened here is this:

There was an advertising outfit called Astral Media.  Bell wanted to buy/merge it into their own brand.  As part of the buyouts "tangible benefits" clause, they said to the CRTC that they would donate $3.5million to the "Bell Let's Talk Mental Health" initiative.  What this campaign entailed was getting the public to retweet and text Bell's own hashtag which promoted Bell under the disguise of philanthropy, where Bell would pay 5 cents per tweet.  

Doing the math, everyone in the country would have to send 70 million tweets (so 2 per person - which would never happen) to deplete the money already obligated, regardless of if one tweet only was sent, or 5 million tweets were sent.  To further "promote" the cause, a portion of the more expensive long distance calls and texts made that day would also be donated.

So to rehash what happened in plain English:  
The "benefits clause" would mean Bell knocking off $3.5 million from it's usual advertising budget, and reallocating that money to a new advertising budget (obviously they don't call it that) where Bell would ask everyone else to promote Bell's own initiative, at which point it would ask people to make more expensive long distance calls and texts (so use the services Bell wants you to use) and then hand over a pittance to Mental Health for the services used, whilst simultaneously confusing Canadian's with two mental health days (the real WHO one and Bell's one).

This type of shenanigans annoys the hell out of me because the general public doesn't understand the complicated nature of buyouts and mergers, and given Bell owns half the media, it's not likely to take it upon itself to explain it to the public either.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bell Canada and the Privacy Fiasco

My battle with Bell Canada over privacy questions is still continuing.  We're now into the third month.

You may remember that I recently I found a breached customer of Bell's and took the initiative to substitute their personal details and turned it into the Bell Canada account ID before reporting it on Twitter, because obviously nobody can tell who a person is by their account ID.  

As you can guess, given Bell's propensity to make a bad situation worse, they cautioned me against taking that initiative again.

Now, I'm quite happy to follow their request that I not go through the holes that Bell Canada's security presents, but I equally don't think Bell (or any customer at issue) would like it more if I just reported people's names and phone numbers when I find them.  Bell seems to have forgotten that I'm actually going out of my way to protect their customer - and that's something that I didn't have to do, but chose to do because I think it was the correct course of action in the circumstances, even if I did put Bell in a corporate spin over regulations and rules.  

Additionally, Bell hasn't any other way to report this stuff in private. So, the lesson here is don't report breaches to Bell Canada? 

I've also been informed that Bell now has their security team looking into these issues (this is a good thing), and apparently they are going to be contacting me for help.  However, if demonstrating a hole that they have to fix means I'm going to get slapped for accessing such holes, then I'm effectively not going to be of much help.

Bell likes to quote this paragraph of the rule book to me:

Unauthorized use of computer
42.1 (1) Everyone who, fraudulently and without colour of right, (a) obtains, directly or indirectly, any computer service, (b) by means of an electro-magnetic, acoustic, mechanical or other device, intercepts or causes to be intercepted, directly or indirectly, any function of a computer system, (c) uses or causes to be used, directly or indirectly, a computer system with intent to commit an offence under paragraph (a) or (b) or an offence under section 430 in relation to data or a computer system, or (d) uses, possesses, traffics in or permits another person to have access to a computer password that would enable a person to commit an offence under paragraph (a), (b) or (c) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, or is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.


What the above translates into is this:  When you spot a security hole because they've let Google's bot slurp it their code into Google's cache, you're still on the hook for "indirectly" having unauthorised access to it.  

Bell appears to be using it's own rulebook to paint itself into a very unsecure corner by disallowing people to demonstrate failures to Bell.  

What I have discovered in this exercise so far though, can be outlined as follows:

  • Bell has a lot of customers, and it appears that there are regular breaches.  Whilst I've reported one to Bell, I am already aware of three others.
  • Bell doesn't have a solid way to allow the public to report breaches in confidence.  When you let them know via twitter that there's a breach, it's not dealt with quickly enough.  When you escalate it and demonstrate that the breach was reported (by showing the Twitter Feed) and then prove that it's still wide open and Bell is still failing to close it, they caution you for unauthorised access.
  • Their application of arcane rules are contradictory to the public's own interests, and Bell's own security.  
  • Requests to remove your information from third parties doesn't work:  Three months after pulling details from Canada411 (run by Yellow Pages), 411.ca (also run by Yellow Pages) still has the same details.  Ergo, Bell's requests to YPG to remove information is toothless and ineffective.
  • Bell will not answer the question of who they have given customer details to if you ask them repeatedly.  At this point in time, I'm aware of two sites - and Bell has yet to name either in it's response.
  • Bell doesn't appear to be proactively protecting customer data.  If I can find holes that have been sitting there for 2 years, then what was Bell doing for the rest of the time?

So, that's where things lie currently.  I'll keep you posted if my question ever gets answered.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Ethical Shopping in Canada


I like to consider myself an ethical shopper.  

In my house, a number of brands are banned.  For instance, Nike, who as well as having been caught using child labour in the past, likes to sponsor what they consider "Role Models" such as Tiger Woods, who after everything he did was arrogantly used in this recent commercial.



Another brand that's banned is Victoria's Secret, due to the child labour cotton picking in Burkina Faso.  

Disney is just wrong on so many levels.  The "Princess" indoctrinations just drive me insane because people don't grow out of it…  Just listen to CNN anchors when there's royal wedding and you can't help but wonder what planet they're on.  Add in child labour and animal cruelty and you get the idea why I won't support them.

Now, I can add Joe Fresh to my list of banned brands because, Q.E.D, they source from dangerous factories that kill hundreds in one go.

The problem though is the average person isn't like me.  Sometime people just don't care, as long as it's cheap and affordable.  Other people can't tell where something came from.

And there lies the rub:  Why does Canada not have stipulations on imports being from responsibly run factories?  Or why don't companies like Joe Fresh (or it's parent company Loblaws) not go and check the factories where they make their things?  All the time Canada creates a market for dangerously made goods, other countries like Bangladesh will continue to supply that market.  

Canada needs to pull up it's socks and grow a spine over this:  400 dead people is not worth obtaining a $9 shirt.