Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Canada's GDP and Inflation in May 2013.

This morning, there was a story about Canada's GDP for May 2013 being up 0.2% on the previous month.  

A quick bit of investigation led me to the real figure (unrounded) of 0.24%.  As I looked at that figure, it looked vaguely familiar.  Something else was 0.24% in May this year as well.

Ah, there it is...



Yes, the increase in GDP is equal to the increase that prices went up in the same period.

Enough said.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Cutting the cord on Rogers Cable

The other day I was talking about how television content distributors are buying up the content creators, so that they can continue to charge high cable subscription fees whilst cutting costs at the same time.

One of those content creators I mentioned was sports.

There's a reason for this being important today:  

Whilst normal shows and movies go to Netflix where you can see most of the same content at a discount of some 80% or more compared to cable, sports and live events can't.  If it's not on live, people will look up live scores on the Internet.

The cable companies know this, and so you pay through the nose for the privilege of watching it live.  Just take the 2010 Olympic debacle at NBC to see how far hosing can go.  They delayed the entire Olympics till evening in EST, by which point anyone with an Internet connection had already heard who won which events.

So last night I called Rogers to cut our cable.  After five minutes of explaining that our shows come over the Internet (Netflix, Apple TV, iTunes, etc) and there's no value to paying $70 a month for bundles of channels we don't need and previously had unsuccessfully asked Rogers to unbundle, the Rogers "Customer Retention" guy went to pull out what he thought was his ace cards...

Rogers: "You need news!"
Me: "Twitter points me to the stories on the Internet".
Rogers: "Well", he says with a knowing chuckle, "You gotta have your sports!"
Me:  *goes off on a soapbox lecture about Rogers, the Skydome, the team they own, and how they didn't pay a fair price for the Skydome, the fact that sports is a premium channel, the fact I don't like waiting on hold for ages for Rogers, their crappy service, the high prices, and the fact there's absolutely no value whatsoever to me*
Rogers:  "Ok, well if that's how you feel, we will disconnect - however there is a 30 day notification period on this, so you will be charged one more time."
Me: "Thanks. I fully expected you to shaft me with one last bill for a service I've told you I'm not using and would like to have cancelled immediately."

Yeah, Rogers is a real stellar company like that.


However, I'm just the tip of the iceberg.  Cable TV is just a way to get you to pay for something that used to be free... it's a product of the baby boomers.  If you want to see where the other 4/5ths of the iceberg is that's slowly about to smash into the Rogers Titanic, look at the teens and kids in college.  They already have Netflix and iTunes and so forth.  They've never paid $70 for cable.  

Do you honestly think that they'll start paying $70 for the same content, not on demand and peppered with adverts, when they finally leave home?

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Pope, Gays and Women

Today, I read something in the news that really got my goat.  Not surprisingly, it's tied up in the Catholic Church.  

I'm not a particularly religious person, but I do pay attention to what anyone with a big audience is saying, especially when that person has the ability to affect positive change and chooses not to.

The sentence that set me off was this:
"The Church teaches that it cannot ordain women because Jesus willingly chose only men as his apostles."


Maybe Jesus was gay?  He spent a lot of time hanging out with 12 other guys and I don't remember him being married, or having kids.  By the Pope's logic, he should give up cars, planes and other modes of modern transport because Jesus only travelled on foot or by horse.  He should also stop using modern languages and stick to Hebrew cos that's what Jesus did.


The church is blatantly cherry-picking their facts, and it doesn't stand up to even the simplest tests of hypocrisy in a modern world.  Of course, Jesus picking to only have men in his little club is not the real reason for not picking women to do a job today... 

As with any organisation where sexual discrimination is a problem in the modern workplace, the root cause is these men are scared to lose power to women.

Publicis and Omnicom Merger and chasing Google

This morning, an article on the merger of Publicis and Omnicom mentioned that the new, bigger, agency was chasing Google.

That's a quaint notion...

It's not going to work though, and here's why; they can create a finite number of adverts per year, but Google has a (so far) limitless inventory of places to distribute them - from their agency, and every other agency.

The problem can be viewed like this: when papers and television only had space for a certain number of adverts to reach the public, there was a supply & demand equation that kept prices high.

When Google came along to tap into the ever increasing eyeballs on the web, the demand for advertising space now had no real supply issue - therefore people would pay less for adverts.  The CPM/RPM values went through the floor.

The knock on effect of this is people were no longer willing to pay the higher CPM that the traditional papers and television channels commanded previously. Throw targeted ads that only reach people likely to buy your service (papers and TV can't tell if you're looking for a car or a blender) and the final nail was in that coffin.

So how is this new uber-agency to beat Google when its only able to fulfil traditional agency roles?

It can't... at least it can't by going the route that it is...

Thursday, July 25, 2013

What is my comfort zone?


When you are growing up, it's not the everyday events that mainly shape you, it's the exceptions.  For instance, everything seems safe to touch until one day, you discover something hot and "ouch"...

Black swan events shape you even more profoundly. These come from the story that once upon a time, it was a fact that all swans are white.  Every swan in the world was white - in every country, and you could test and prove this to be the case by going to every country and finding that their swans were white too - it was an axiom… until a little while ago we discovered what would become Australia, and there we found black swans.  

The "fact" was now no longer...

What black swan events do is force you to accept that what you thought can be proven to the case, is actually wrong.

As a regular person, I'm well aware that the biggest shocks in my life are the black swans that continue shaping me going forward... and I've seen some doozies.  But, there's another rather powerful event type that has shaped me just as much - stepping outside my comfort zone.  I can't think of many times that I look back having done it, and think I hated it, but it continues to be a powerful influence on what I do... or don't do.  

Some people might say that it's a protection mechanism to stop you from doing things that are harmful to you, and that might be true to a certain extent.  What I have found so far is that sometimes it's necessary because you don't move forward, or get better at something, or change something that is wrong, by sitting in your own little safe cocoon.  Whatever the reason, I usually find the driving force for this perceived notion of safety to be a fear that comes from within - rather than anything identifiable that is external to my psyche. 

The result of that is the comfort zone ends up being a zone of compromises, energy-sapping frustration and misery at the status quo - but for some reason it's still considered safer than stepping outside of it, so you stay in that zone.

When you look at it that way, the choice becomes "misery or excitement?"

Where I'm at right now... I'll take a cup of excitement - just don't make it too big…

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Fixing the fridge design.


I am one of those people that prepares for emergencies.  I look for potential issues, then I try to mitigate them.  If I can't mitigate the issue, I look to plan procedures to enact when an issue arises.  One such measure I adopted was buying an electricity generator.  My generator has been indispensable for saving everyone else's bacon, but so far, I've never had to use it personally for my own house.

The biggest thing my generator has been used for is to keep people's refrigerators from spoiling food during an extended outage.  When you consider the cost of replacing the contents of the average family fridge-freezer, you're normally in the range of upwards of $400.  So, my generator that itself cost about $400 has probably saved people several thousand dollars.

But there's a problem. The socket to my Frigidaire fridge-freezer is behind the appliance, and when it's loaded with food, it weighs too much to slide out and access the socket.  Such is the problem of fitted appliances.

Then it struck me:  In the same way humanity worked out it was a good idea to move some USB ports from the back of PC's to the front where users can easily access them, the common design of refrigerators is fundamentally in need of a quick change, too.  

If you add a socket to the front of the fridge - down at the bottom next to the air vent - and a power detecting switch (to re-route the input draw current from the rear of the appliance to the front), then now you don't have to move the appliance, and can still run emergency power to it from an extension cord that is plugged into an outside generator.

Someone needs to implement this, given the increase in weather disasters that affect power to so many people on such a regular basis.

Truth, Trust and Inference


Many of Canada's largest companies are running into a large problem.... Nobody trusts them.

This issue is often rooted in policy, misleading advertisements, handling of issues and now social media.  

Yesterday, in light of the SIM card hacking scandal, I asked Rogers how many 56 bit DES cards they expected to recall due to this.  This is a question that normally prompts a numerical response, but they answered "we are confident that our customers and our systems are not at risk and we'll continue to monitor the issue closely."

So what, like 100 cards? 10,000 cards?

I asked them to clarify how close to zero the number is... They gave the exact same answer.

Abstaining from answering a question is usually a form of defence - but you can infer answers from abstinence.  For instance a politician who doesn't vote for a bill can be inferred to disagree with all possible choices, or not wanting to be seen to help or hinder....

So when Rogers refuses to answer a serious safety question, what can be inferred?  
Two possible answers come immediately to mind:
1. They don't have a handle on it and really don't know the number.
2. They do know the number, and think the answer will scare us.

Obviously, if they knew the answer was zero, they'd earn trust and transparency by saying it...which they haven't.

The problem only affects people with older SIM cards, so new SIMs are fine (for now) as it's not practical yet to brute-force crack the cryptography.  But, ask yourself how many people are inclined to be "proud" of running the same sim card for ten years or more?  Yes, it's lots.

Taking all that into account, I personally believe the number can is to be inferred as definitely not zero, and likely in the 4-figure range.  I just hope nobody is using those cards in a smartphone running the Rogers/CIBC mobile payment app.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

An Open Letter To Hampson Hughes


If the UK ISP's are to be installing porn filters and they fail so that a child sees porn accidentally, does the government become a target for secondary liability?

We all know the Hampson Hughes adverts in the UK, so here's my open suggestion to them, where David Cameron's porn crusade and secondary liability is concerned… 

♫"Woke up this morning feeling fine!
Then my kid found porn when he went online.
My kid was fixated at boobs, at it wasn't good.
Something tells me my teen is getting wood!"♫

Porn and Terrorism

If you watched the news in Canada, you'll remember there is a politician called Vic Toews.  This guy is rather unmemorable for me from most angles, but he always comes across to me as a bumbling twit who generally doesn't know his Gluteus Maximus from his Articulatio Cubiti. 

One particularly bumbleworthy episode in Canada involved getting a bill through that was supposed to install Internet Surveillance requests as a legal mechanism for law enforcement.  In short, a few people were up in arms against it, so Toews made sure that it got royally messed up by saying that anyone who was against this bill are siding with "child pornographers".  That then swung pretty much the entire country of Canada into taking an interest in the bill and realising this guy was out to lunch. A quick skirmish with Anonymous jumping in, and it was all over. 

Canada had dodged the surveillance bullet.

In the UK, however, someone else was taking an interest in surveillance.  Yesterday, the UK's David Cameron announced that instead of dealing with the crucial issues of crime, poverty, education, the economy or health, he's been working on porn.

This was hilariously unveiled in a way that sounded as bumbling as Toews had previously sounded, as Cameron said that the ISP's had "rewired their technologies" to filter out porn - making it sound like they re-routed the "porn cable" away from the web page cable, or the internet radio cable. 

Of course, to turn it into a complete circus, the likes of the Daily Mail trumpeted "victory" over obscene material and "childhood corroding" imagery, whilst showing DC on one side of the page, and a passel of scantily clad breasts on the other side.

 

As part of this block on porn, it was unveiled that every account in the land would have the filter applied by default, and you had to opt in to porn if you wanted it. 

Some technology to consider:  To filter, you need to inspect the data and remove the requests and content responses you don't want to have go through to the end user.  This is a form of automated surveillance.

Yes, let's rewind this all back a bit, and paraphrase: 
The UK is installing surveillance on every account in the land "because of porn".

Yeah, right. 

If you opt in, the filters and surveillance is not removed - just the porn requests flow again.

You may remember that not long ago I said this:
"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 Britain, 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."

This "carpet-bombing" approach is actually worrying - not because they're doing it, but because people in the general public aren't putting two and two together.  The public knows that North Korea China and some Middle-East countries monitor every account to filter out content - and they're going to freak when they realise that the UK just joined that club.

I don't mind surveillance when it's warranted, but the UK's rapidly decending into a situation that is wholly unhealthy. 

The question I will leave you with, to mull over, is this: 
Who's controlling the filters?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Canada Post ePost and I...


As a logical person, Canada Post scares me.

I dislike that it has in the past taken over a week to mail something from University Ave to my home, which is very slow.  To put it in relative terms:
11KM = 11,000 metres, travelled in 168 hours = 0.04mph/0.06kph.
Compare with the top speed of a three toed sloth is 0.15mph, or 0.24kph.

The logical process must be something like:
Collect and sort.
Store for 6 days.
Deliver.

Of course, it goes without saying that the postman shortcuts across my grass each day.

I have also had many issues over the years with Canada Post's ePost system.  Each time, Canada Post responded with "Sorry about that - we'll make some changes so that doesn't happen again".  

It often feels like Canada Post is trying to remain relevant with it's ePost system, but in practice I usually just find it another inconvenience.  Everyone else just emails me on the system that I use - like GMail - where the mail comes to me, where I am, on the device I'm using.   ePost, on the other hand, is effectively a remote mailbox that some people (for instance, Ceridian Payroll services) force you to use for electronic paperwork because they won't send to your own email service for whatever political reason, and instead of the mail being delivered to my eyeballs in a convenient way, I have to deliver myself to their site to read anything.  

You can't even access it with a POP/IMAP client.   Worse, it has acted as inspiration for other institutions, like banks, to make it irrelevant as well... So, to get an eStatement, you have to log in to yet another inbox at the bank.

This morning, I got some spam from ePost…. In my Gmail account.  What happened next just added to my paranoia about this system...

I was on my iPad when this spam appeared, so I went to log in to the website to turn off ePost spam, as directed by the spam message's footer.  It asked me whether to login with the mobile site, or full site, so I opted for mobile. I entered my username and password, and hit "log in".

The next page showed me my details, my mother's maiden name, and my phone number.  It had obviously found my info - and the button at the bottom says "Register Account"…

What?

Naturally, I hit back immediately.  I tested logging in with a known bad password, just to see if it was a cookie thing.  It didn't like that.  Phew!

I logged back in with the correct username and password… then time, it dropped me off at my inbox.

The first question on my mind is what the hell was that "Register Account" button all about?  The second question was what did the login at the first prompt do to trigger the one time showing of the "register" screen?  In theory, if I've backed out of the second screen, it should show again, right?  

Not quite.  I can infer that the act of showing that screen did something in the background on the user account, so if you back out it's already too late.

As someone that understands the logical steps the software should do, it's this type of illogical shenanigans that compounds my suspicions of this system.

The problem with the Apple Hack rebuild.


After the intrusion at the Apple Developer portal, Apple said as part of their statement to developers:

"In order to prevent a security threat like this from happening again, we’re completely overhauling our developer systems, updating our server software, and rebuilding our entire database. We apologize for the significant inconvenience that our downtime has caused you and we expect to have the developer website up again soon."

If they're tearing down everything and rebuilding things properly, that shouldn't take "a few days".  Even with the entire company on it, doing things properly would take a few weeks.

This poses a small problem:
Everyone wants it up as quickly as possible, but, if it magically comes up too fast, would developers trust that a proper rebuild has been done?  

As such, I personally want it to remain down for several weeks, so it's done properly.
Short term pain, for long term gain.

The Royal Baby's World


Whilst the news today is going to be full of "important" questions, like what dress Kate wore to the hospital, or did William order wine/champagne to toast the arrival of their child, my mind turns to other things.

Today is a big day.  We find out who potentially is going to be on the throne 50 years from now.  Who is going to be leading the commonwealth.  Who's face is going to be on stamps and banknotes around the world.

Or is it?

Prince William was born in 1982.  That's the year that the world got to grips with the Compact Disc.  As everyone proclaimed back then, the world was now "Digital"…  This is the first time someone in line to the monarchy has been born since the Internet was created.   Today, we're in a much more "digital" world than we were in 1982, but we now realise that we've a long way to go and things are radically changing.

By the time this baby grows up and eventually has to sit through "Zadok The Priest" in front of the world, the technology of the day will be nothing like we can even dream of now.  Quite likely, the world will be watching from the audience when someone realizes that the current way of doing television is still tied to the Pathé-esque style of having cameras at certain points to deliver a story, with some twit rambling on telling us exactly what we already know and can see for ourselves.  (What the viewer really wants to experience is "What would it be like if I was at the coronation?" - but the media hasn't got their head around that yet)….  But I digress…

The only thing we can say with any degree of certainty is that any technology that we have now which survives that long will be delivered differently.  We're seeing it with media where the creation side is battling the distribution side, but the really big battle I think will be healthcare…

The idea that 50 years from now, we're going to go to a pharmacy and buy a small quantity of tablets/ointment that targets a problem in the same way for you as it does for everyone else on the planet is, to me, "quaint" at best…  Sure, the drugs companies will still be the creators, but the distribution will have totally morphed in a three stage process:
1) The drugs delivery will go digital.
2) The drugs will get customized to best fit your body type, race, haplogroup, etc, profile.
3) Someone will think to aggregate these digital assets and become the new Netflix of drugs.

"Based on your previous use of a statin, we suggest new "lipovoid" to help you wean yourself of foods high in cholesterol!"

Whatever the sex of this new royal baby, the real excitement is still over what will be happening by the time it's ready to rule.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Apple Developer Portal Down

My friend said this to me....  

I had to create the image.


Media in Canada - It's Momentum - And Achilles Heel


There's a saying that if you drop a frog into hot water, it'll jump out, but if you put a frog in cool water and heat it up slowly, the frog doesn't notice that it's boiling to death.  This reminds me of media in Canada.  The public tends to notice the quick changes - like a newspaper suddenly throwing up a paywall - but they don't notice the slower changes like the buyouts and mergers that lead to media content creators being swallowed up by the media distributors.

Creating media is an expensive proposition.  You have to pay for journalists, researchers, cameramen, sound engineers, photographers, editors, actresses, make-up departments, studio rentals, printing presses, and the list goes on.  Distributing media on the other hand is not quite so expensive.  It doesn't really cost that much more for Rogers or Bell to as an ISP keep the Internet line open to your home when you're there, versus when you're not.  However, when you hand over your cable or tv subscription money to them, they're handing over a big portion to the content creators.

The content in Toronto is created by the news channels, the movie and music channels, the sports teams that play games, the weather channels, and so forth.  So, for the content distributors to cut their costs whilst still obtaining the content creation, the option they chose was to purchase the content creators.

With very few exceptions, what we're seeing is that if people want to watch something on TV, or read something on the web, the distributors eventually feel compelled to buy it.

This is setting up a situation because whilst we're seeing a consolidation of services (why would Rogers have two content creators creating competing content?), the distributors are now relying increasingly heavier on advertising revenue to pay for the content creation (previously, it largely came from your subscriptions which was passed on - but now they can keep that money and double-dip).  

This situation is getting rather dangerous as it leaves a massive back door open in their plans, which is also wide open to abuse.

Example:
Imagine I create a Canadian media aggregator that leaches off everyone elses content.  Let's say it's news headlines.
People would then come to my site and see my advertising, read through all the headlines from the TV news sites, newspaper sites, local blogs, etc.  I'm now hauling in all that advertising revenue.  A person can scan all the headlines, and click through to the content at CP24, or a newspaper, and only then would the distributor see any revenues that would contribute to the content creation costs.

That would not be sustainable for very long.  What happens when that kicks in?  Well, judging by Washington Post, or NBC in the USA, first they sacrifice staff - then they sacrifice content creation quantity - then they sacrifice quality.  

That's really not in anyone's interests either.

Conclusion:
The scene is being set, but the public don't seem to have noticed it (see frog analogy at the top).  There's multiple back-doors that are gaping wide-open (I've only pointed out one, which is "leach and aggregate" for free) to undermining the whole house of cards.  I wonder how long it'll take for someone to walk through one of those doors?  I know that if I don't do it, someone else eventually will…. but I just have more productive things to do with my time right now.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Bleeding-Edge Technology Process in Toronto


This is a true story, based on my past 18 months experiences.
  • First, you have an excellent technology idea.  
  • You hone it till it's a killer idea.
  • You build a prototype of the idea, to show that it works.
  • You decide that you need help to get the idea to market.  
  • You get support from people who like your idea, and they offer to make small changes, based on the knowledge from their respective fields.
  • They call in "experts" to refine it.   The experts like the idea, and they make some bigger changes to the idea, to make it attractive to Venture Capitalists.
  • The VC's are called in, and they love it.  They demand changes to it, so that it can generate the biggest ROI for their investors.

Now, what was several years ahead of the curve at the start, is resembling last years big idea.  More importantly, it's not your idea any longer.  You've lost sovereignty of the idea, it's impact, purpose and direction.  

It's now a totally different animal.

Adding insult to injury, the original working proof-of-concept you built has to change twenty times over six months, and each time a change is requested, you leave a meeting with some apple seeds in your hands and a week later people are asking "Where's my f***ing apples?", even though you're now doing the work of several people, which the money you were trying to raise was supposed to be paying for in the first place.  Additionally, because the animal was built with legs and now the VC's are trying to make it outpace something with fins and flippers in the water, it's becoming increasingly shaky, unstable and embarrassing to show off.

Deep down, you question why everyone now around you is getting pumped up about being a part of last years ideas and old thinking.  The wind comes out of your sails, when you realise you're now building (for free) someone else's dream in your spare time, with the dangling carrot promises that some money is going to arrive soon so you don't have to do this for too much longer.  

The project stalls.  Oddly, nobody questions why.  It's like they all know you've cottoned on to their game, and they've gone and found some other mug to do free work for them, based on some idea that they've totally cannibalised again.

The next year rolls around and you have been honing a new idea for months, and you're back ahead of the curve.  

This time you do as much as you can yourself.  Rather than go looking for funding to make it commercial, you do it on a zero budget.  You also rope in only close people who you really trust, and who share and understand the identical definition of the final goal as you do.  

Effectively, you go from building a car that has steering and can direction to accommodate other people, to building a drag racer.  You're moving forward… fast… and screw steering, because you're already facing the agreed direction to the finish line and all you need to do is move forward.

That way, stuff actually gets built, it remains exciting and you maintain creative sovereignty.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Free Camouflage - Hiding In Plain Sight


You've all heard the question about if a tree falls in the woods and there's nobody about to witness it, does it make a noise?  This question irks me because what I see in daily life is people who are around to witness things, still don't notice stuff.  It's like they see only what they want to see.

People notice things that are different, which means you can hide a lot of things in plain sight.

Example:  If you take three cars and park them in a row.  The left car is a normal parked car, the middle one is under a protective canvas, and the right hand one is stolen but on plain view - people will nearly always be drawn to concentrate on finding out what's under the canvas.

I see this in business too, where management only see what they want to see, and are oblivious to the actual facts parading around in plain view before their eyes in the bigger picture.  You need a really big anomaly to draw their attention, but the funny thing is they don't go looking for an anomaly, so they often still won't see it.

Just because you can't see something, it doesn't mean it's not happening right in front of your eyes.

Knowing this, gives you an advantage.  For instance, after Bell Canada got annoyed at me showing them how I could bypass their security and see customer info, I still wanted to test how effective their security practices are, so, I put a few "honey-pots" (fake files to attract certain actions from others) out on the Internet to test them.  All the time that those honey-pots remain in plain sight and untouched, I know that Bell Canada has failed (if they were looking properly, they'd be removing the files and I'd then be notified that they're doing a better job).

We see this in social media too.  People choose to follow one side of a coin, or the stuff they want to know about and disregard the rest.  For instance, they might follow one left-leaning newspaper, one local TV news, and maybe one major network.  This means, they miss the information from the right-leaning papers, only see a subset of the local news and if a major network decides to not cover a big national story, they miss that as well.

That's at the macro level.  At the micro level, it's magnified.  People often look more for entertainment value than they do informative value.  This means on systems like twitter, you can put out a lot of information that will go unnoticed by people very close to you, meanwhile lots of people spend inordinate amounts of energy on things like Justin Bieber, or Glee.  Meanwhile, people are signing up to follow spam accounts on Twitter because they look at the picture only and don't look at the link feed that the account is putting out that is full of spam.

The final angle to this is when you look at the societal framework as a whole, the same thing applies.  The economy is giving clear signs that it's not recovering - but only if you look for those signs.  The media is quite happy to repeat soundbites from ministers, politicians, and banks, but only a small number of people will look for the actual picture and what's really happening.

In short, this is all a form of camouflage.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What Did Toronto Learn During Last Week's Floods?


It probably didn't pass your attention that this time last week, we were recovering from a very hectic start to the week with floods and record-breaking torrential rain.

A week later, there's still a number of things that deeply niggle me about how things were handled, and the aftermath.  Questions abound.  Here are some of them:

1)  Why wasn't the Toronto OEM (Office of Emergency Management) on social media during the storm?  
2)  There must be thousands of FRS and GMRS radios in Toronto.  Why is nobody using them with their neighbours?  You'd think the Government would be promoting them as an alternative way to communicate with neighbours.
And speaking of radios in an emergency….
3)  Did anyone out there hear a peep from Toronto ARES?  I know I heard nothing. 
4)  Why is the city silent on how flood plain information is being updated?  Does last week constitute the new "regulatory maximum" for planning purposes going forward? Or is the City going to use the previously predicted information through 2050 to build new flood plan information?  It's gone very quiet on the issue.
5)  Why did the Police send out tiny little dinghies to rescue people from the GO Train when they could have done much quicker rescue's with the hippo buses?  The way it was done is like emptying the oceans with a teaspoon.
6)  What happened to the person who thought it was a good idea to send that GO Train down the valley anyway?  Why hasn't GO said what they new criteria will be moving forward for the safety of passengers to make sure this doesn't happen again?
7)  Nobody has said whether that much water affected where the Gardiner Expressway sits.  That reclaimed land has never seen that much water since it was founded, so did the Gardiner sink at all?
8)  I still haven't seen a valid explanation as to why the TTC doesn't have multiple hydro connections to avoid outages like it experienced.

In conclusion, the thing that really gets my goat right now is this:  
What was previously a hypothetically bad situation has now become an actual proven issue that did happen, but I'm not seeing anything to make me confident that the city of Toronto is learning from what happened.  It's like they're just going back to business as usual talking about new subway tunnels, and we will have to go through more situations like this until someone finally grabs the bull by the horns and steers a proper course to safety.

Branding Fashions - Suffixes and Prefixes


If I asked you to name the time when everything had the suffix "matic" after it, you'd probably say the 1960s.  Everything from the Instamatic Camera to the "Veg-o-matic" vegetable peeler.   

If I asked you to name the time when everything had the word "Turbo" after it, you'd probably say the 1980s.  You had turbo pens, turbo cars, turbo razors, and even turbo hair-dryers.

The 1990s was XL, and Mach.  Some brands like Gillette Razors, mixed older suffixes together, creating the "Mach III Turbo".  Thankfully, they didn't go to "Mach III Turbo-matic", though that might well have been appropriate for the 1970s.   

In the early 2000s, the new suffix was XP.  You had Windows XP, and this gave rise to other things with XP in their name - like motorbikes, Ski-Doo's, and such.  

By the late 2000s, we had transformed everything into "HD".  Cameras, TV's, Vitamin tablets, Sunglasses, and my favourite - the ever so incorrectly named  "Pool Blaster Max HD" pool vacuum cleaner ("blaster" suggests it doesn't suck).  Competing with the "HD", you had the "i" prefix.  iPods, iPhones, i-Sight, and the Toyota i-Foot (which I incidentally saw in Tokyo at Mega-Web).

The question is what defines now?

To me, branding now is like what music was in the 2007-2008 period.  If you don't know what I mean by that, can you hum the tune to these songs:
* "Buy You A Drank" by T-Pain ft Yung Joc.
* "Apologize" by Timbaland ft OneRepublic.
* "Low" by Flo Rida ft T-Pain.

No?  Well, all three of the above are top 5 singles for those years.  For the bonus question, guess which one was number one in it's respective year?  (Answer below) 

Right now it feels like there's no real "mood" for want of a better word that defines the major branding. It's like it's gotten bland.  It feels like there's nothing to describe the zeitgeist.

But is that true?

No.  Here's what's going on.  Whilst there's no one clear wave that defines the moment, the water has a tinge to it that we haven't seen before.  Now, everything is branded "X with Y".  

So, you have this:
Some shampoo "with [insert berry you've never heard of] extract".
Yogurt "with lactobacilli strains that were there before, but now we're advertising it".
Washing Powder "with [insert superhero power of your choice]".

The million dollar question is what's next?  I honestly think that the "flair" has gone from the scene, so whoever makes the new big thing will have it adopted by everyone else that can't come up with their own.


Answer:  "Low" by Flo Rida ft T-Pain.  It was #1 in 2008.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Book Pricing In Canada

Less than one hour ago, I went to Chapters to buy a book.  
I found a book I wanted.  
I had the money for the book I found.  

Yet, I returned empty handed.  The reason was the book was over 125% more expensive to buy in Canadian dollars than it was in USD.  

We've not seen that a 125% CAD/USD currency FX rate in many years (it's currently USD$0.96 to CAD$1), so this is simply price-gouging as far as I'm concerned.  

Naturally, I voted with my wallet and left without parting with my money.


Classifying and Pigeon-Holing People


I look at objects and situations and categorize, pigeon-hole, and classify pretty much everything I encounter.  I'm sure a lot of other people do this too, but probably only a small portion of the population do it to the same extent that I do.  

From an day-to-day standpoint, this serves me well, it could be orienting myself by observing sun-faded paint on south facing storefronts or looking at low clouds moving or landed seagulls out the window to determine the prevailing wind direction.  It could be making ethical purchase decisions using the news and advertising, or it could be identifying a "what will happen next" scenario.

Socially, though, this is mine field.  

We live in a time where it's not "the done thing" to point out, or act on what can be observed.  It's not polite to be accommodating to people who can be classified by ability, gender, class, creed, culture, ethnicity, etc.   If you try to be helpful, you get berated as having poor judgement and if you don't help, you get berated for not being sympathetic to their issue.

Unlike some people who are intolerant of differences, I think it's important to look for, and recognise these differences - as long as the end game is to be tolerant of these differences and be inclusive as a society.  Superficially, it doesn't matter to me whether you have a turban on your head, shoalin monk dots on your head, or a Fez.  It doesn't matter to me whether you pray to a god, a hundred gods, the earth, or you're an atheist.  It doesn't matter if you eat only vegetables, or meat.  

What does matter to me is that I recognise it.  I then make a point of telling the person that I've recognized it.

If I recognise it, then I can understand it.  If I understand it, I can accommodate it…  Like give you a quiet dedicated spot in the office to lay your mat and pray to the east… or when we're ordering in pizza, making sure there's a vegetarian one.  

Categorisation works for me - I don't gloss over things in the name of "equality", because equality doesn't happen until you recognise the differences and then incorporate what you've learned to achieve a working balance.

A few months ago, I was on a TTC subway train.  It was full of different people from different backgrounds, and the carriage was fairly full.  There was some 20-something year old Indian looking guy who wouldn't give up his seat for an elderly woman.  

His argument was that "I don't have to get up, as it's in my culture not to".
Naturally, I jumped in and said "Really?"
He responded, in a smarmy way "Yes, really!".
I then said:  "That's odd, because every culture I've ever known says that we should respect our elders.  So, what is the name of your culture?"
Of course, he couldn't name one and begrudgingly gave up his seat… and he looked like an idiot now.

Conclusion:  People are often too afraid of hurting other peoples feelings.  By my questioning this guys culture in an intelligent way, and pointing out that the woman was old, and he has no respect, I had achieved the correct outcome that most people regardless of religion, race, age, creed, etc, would all have agreed was correct too.  Had I not done it, the asshole would still be in his seat and the old lady would have had to stand….  And that would have been wrong.

I'm not sexist, age-ist, racist, or anything else.  But I think it's equally important to identify differences so we can all get along in harmony.  Glossing over them and pretending it's not there is ultimately doing more harm than good.

Friday, July 12, 2013

National Security and People


There's a huge debate raging all over the world right now about "National Security".  I'm not just talking about the NSA, but with every government and population of every other country too.

The issue with the peoples of each country basically the same:  What they deem as "rights" is often denied by the government in the name of National Security.

Security is thorny issue at the best of times.  The right to access something and the need to access something usually are the basic foundations on what "centralized" security involves.  By centralized, I'm referring to government.  

One side effect of a centralized system is it creates an "us versus them" mentality between populations and their own governments.  The bigger the chasm between those that know, and those that don't, the bigger this issue gets.

So here is my thinking:  
Governments should involve their people.  Educate their people.  Make their people feel like they are protecting their country too.  You can still satisfy the "right to know" and "need to know" rules, but throw a bone to the population so that they feel like they're part of a solution and not victims of a problem.  As an example, according to the 2011 Census in Canada, there's 13.3million households.  That's 13.3million fortresses that the country has at it's disposal, but currently does not use. 

In some ways, this is a step back to the 1950s and 1960s culture, but when you think about it, back then society was more integrated, and they had more respect for their governments.  This feeling of integration and respect is currently lacking in the average household - and hence we have the "big bad meanie" as each country's government.

Yes, it's a utopian concept to many, but remember that we've been here before....  Sometimes it's good to look backwards to make sure you're actually moving forwards.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

CN Railway Did What?


I saw something very uncomfortable in the news here today.

In short, a 22 year old had a fatal vehicle collision with a CN (Canadian National) train, and whilst there was some injuries on the train, the only fatality was the 22 year old.  What happened next was CN decided that as it couldn't sue an adult who was dead, it would go for the mother.

Now, I'm in awe at the callousness, corporate greed and just plain bad public judgement that CN is displaying here.  If they're going for the mother of a dead adult, it's within the realms of possibility that had the mother been dead, they'd probably think it was fine to chase after the grandparents.  Or the family priest.  Or the neighbour's cat.  Oh, the cat is dead? Well, take action against the neighbour's cat's vet. 

CN's actions come across as plainly vile.  I'm really not impressed with their conduct, regardless how how inconvenient fixing a track was for them.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Toronto Fire Trucks


Something I have never understood in Toronto is fire truck sirens.  

The average fire truck siren here appears to be about 115db (+/- 10db) from what I can tell.  It's plenty loud enough, to the point that even if you were deaf, you'd still feel the vibrations going through your body.  Despite this, almost every few days I encounter a fire truck that has to employ a secondary klaxon horn because someone isn't responding to the primary siren.

Without wanting to sound racist, sexist and anything else equally bad, it's usually young people from certain ethnicities that act like they can't hear the siren (often without earphones in), who nonchalantly start crossing the road when the fire truck is about 60ft away and bearing down fast on the intersection with sirens blaring.

Can someone explain this?  Is this small group of people just clueless, or is this a deliberate cultural show of defiance?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The worst thing Toronto can do next with flood information


Some people think I get a little too ahead of myself when it comes to spotting potential issues.  On June 24th this year, I pointed out a jarring issue with Canada's "1 in 100 year" flood planning information that it provides to the public.  In short, I pointed out that it's dumbed-down, retroactive-looking, "cherry-picked" information that uses the data that they want to use, to paint an inaccurate story - because the truth would cause the city a bigger issue where people don't want to live here.  

The main issue, that I pointed out, was that the known rainfall potential for the area and it's subsequent flooding is projected to be higher than the actual retroactive-looking models the city currently bases everything political and financially on.

In other words, the city is in denial.  

Now it's just over two weeks later, and what I previously said could happen, already has.  Last nights storm beat the previous "regulatory event".   The worst possible thing that can happen now, is the city makes last night's storm the new regulatory worst case scenario.  

Here's why:
  1. We had 74mm rain in one hour.  But it could have rained for 90 minutes or even 3 hours at that rate.
  2. What happens if we next have three days in a row with a further 30mm of rain per day landing on this already water-logged soil?  If it cannot drain into the ground then it becomes a compounding issue, even though it's not very heavy rainfall.

It doesn't take a genius to ask the question as to where does it go next?  The answer is up.  It sits on the soil, it sits in higher water-tables, it raises rivers, it goes to above ground flood-plains and so forth.

In conclusion, the city really must not use yesterday as the new "regulatory event".  It needs to look forward 20 or 30 years and use the already predicted data.  

Until the city does that, what I said previously should still stand:  Whatever the city sets the flood plain information at, don't believe them.  Double it at least, instead.


The Toronto Storm of July 8th 2013

It's the day after the storm and I've had one night to adjust from "all hands on deck" mode, to my current state of "I'm really quite angry" mode.

In short, last night's events were a disaster from a planning perspective, both at home and out in society at large.  The information that was available was mixed up.  The feeling that the city was appreciating the mess it's people were in was not there.

Yes, last night was exceptional from a rainfall event standpoint, but let's get serious for a minute - it was known before this storm hit, that it would be bigger than rainfall events that we have experienced recently where lots of damage has occurred, so you'd expect there to be some visible action.

Here's the twitter feed from the city's 311 office.  Note that they didn't once advise people on anything basement flooding related over the past 20 hours, nor did they point to the Toronto OEM feed.



Looking at the Toronto OEM feed, the only information that went out throughout the storm was a single message to do with a power outage.

Finally, whilst on the subject of social media, trying to figure out a) where the information was and b) how old it was, was a challenge.  You have CP24 using #flood24, CityNews using #cityflood and SMEM-related people using #TOStorm.  I have no idea what the municipal services were using.  That information never reached me at least.  When you did see news, it wasn't time-stamped, so we ended up at 8PM seeing "Breaking" news from 5PM still doing the rounds.  


The bulk of the rainfall fell in one hour - approximately 74mm of it.  Put another way - we have a city that is not built to withstand under 3 inches of rain.  Toronto had 121mm during Hurricance Hazel in 1954, so this is something that has happened in living memory - yet 2.9inches in one hour did this much damage?

To compound the infrastructure issues, there was idiotic decision making.  Only a month or so ago, we saw heavy rains take out the DVP when the river Don swelled, yet last night someone thought it a bright and safe idea to let a GO Train travel through the same area, and of course it got stuck with 400 people on board and they had to be rescued by a marine unit.  

Toronto's Pearson International Airport (you know, the one with the logo of a man that's fallen from the sky and splattered on the ground) lost their website servers because they'd put them in the basement and of course, it got flooded.  

Who makes these decisions?

Of course, as a homeowner, I'm equally pissed that we got flooded again.  After last year, which resulted in $23,000 of restoration work when we'd only been in the house less than a year, I've done a lot to improve it's flood-proofing, but this all costs money so only some of it is currently in place.  Whilst we were mostly prepared, I made a simple cock-up in the house plans which meant delays in fixing the issue, but we won't make that mistake twice.

Here's the real thing that makes me angry though:
The water table is cresting the basement floors in our street.  My basement is 130ft higher than the Don River, we had 3 inches of rain, yet the water table came up several feet to flood the basement.  

Think about that for a second.  If you put 3 inches of rain over a bucket, the water rises 3 inches.  If you put three inches of water over some land, you get 3 inches of water soaking into the land, minus what runs off to the sides.  In East York, you put 3 inches of water on the land and your water table goes up some 18 inches or more.

What that points to, is someone else is draining into East York and the City has done bugger-all to fix it!

Is this the model of a city that has a grip on it's own climate?

Toronto Storm - Dealing with the 311 basement flooding people...

When you deal with the City Of Toronto about basement flooding, this is the usual procedure.

1)  You get flooded.
2)  You call 311 and report it.
2-Optional) You call 311 and they tell you to call back from your home.
3)  You wait around for someone to come and look at the flood damage.
4)  They fill out a form that goes to the city, and they leave you the same flooding information package that they left you the last time they came to look at the same flooding problem.

I've largely given up reporting basement flooding, as it's largely a waste of time for me.  If they had a web site where I could fill this out, I'd be more likely to do so, but hanging around on the phone for ages only to be told that you have to call back from the affected property is not a productive use of my time, because the same answers apply regardless of if I'm standing in my basement, or it's the next day and I'm calling from my office.

However, last night we (my better half) hung on the phone and reported it as it happened...

Tonight, two men came and looked at the basement.  Well, I say "looked at it" ... they took one look at one single room, asked no questions, didn't follow the water source or view the water destination, etc, just walked back outside and started filling in their form.

But, I had a question: I wanted to know something about what they thought of the water table raising 18+ inches when only 3 inches fell.

If you ever want to see a city worker flip out and get argumentative and start saying "Go ahead and sue the city, but don't bring me or my opinions into this", this is apparently the question to ask.

He quickly jumped in his van with his attendant, saying "I'm on your side!" before pulling away...

Now, I did not expect that.

Monday, July 8, 2013

An open question to vehicle manufacturers

Your cars beep when we move without seat belts fastened, as you can detect if there's something or someone on the seats.


Your cars can be remotely unlocked by a number of circumstances, including collision, remote keychain, or remote concierge service.


Your cars have temperature gauges that tell us in our preferred scale of Celsius or Fahrenheit, what the temperature is inside as well as outside.

So, what is it precisely that you are waiting for, which is stopping you from helping to prevent children and dogs from dying each summer in your cars because they can't get out and the owners/parents are stupid enough to leave them in there?

The icing on the cake with my CIBC farce

It's a good job I find this so comical.

A quick recap of the situation this far:
  • I wasn't receiving paper statements for a credit card (for like the umpteenth time).
  • I asked CIBC to move me to electronic ones, and after years of saying it wasn't an option, it now was an option.
  • CIBC put me over to Visa Card Services and they enabled electronic statements.
  • I later log into CIBC.com and of course, they'd accidentally enabled electronic statements for my chequing account, but the requested Visa account was not an available option.
  • I complain again to CIBC.  
  • CIBC says it's a problem on their end, and they will fix it.
  • I sit patiently waiting for yet another screw-up.

You'd think that at the end of this comical farce when the bank says they'll fix it, that my CIBC credit card statements would now be available on the requested account as electronic statements? Right?

Wrong...


Let me present the icing on this farcical cake.


Yes, amazingly, they'd enabled the previously missing account to now show up as an option, and somehow undid what Visa was supposedly doing in the first place, by turning off the electronic statements option in the process! 

In short: The one account that needed to be electronic was the one account that they'd knocked back to paper statements, and the one account that wasn't requested is the one account on electronic statements.



The good news was at least this time they've given me the option of fixing it myself through the website, but hopefully I've demonstrated why I previously said I dread dealing with CIBC when it comes to this type of thing.





Smartphone Market Saturation


To me, there's two types of smartphone user:  Those that will pay for a good smartphone experience, and those that won't.  You can then divide these users as follows:

Paying:  Apple, Microsoft and Blackberry
Non-Paying:  Anything Android related (Samsung, HTC, etc).

We've been hearing for quite some time, the argument between the two sides of this divide…  In the one camp, you have people that sit loyally by their chosen brand, be it Blackberry or Apple. In the other camp are those that have no real brand loyalty and they are quite vocal about not understanding why people are willing to pay so much for an iPhone, for instance.

Quite rightly, this larger Android group has been saying for a while that sales of their cheaper phones are outpacing the sales figures of Apple's. 

Quite rightly, they say that the Android platform has put the smartphone in more people's hands as it's more accessible financially to people.  

Quite rightly, they say there is more choice to choose from, as you have brands like HTC, ZTE, Huawei and Samsung clamouring to win over the same group of people.  

Choice is good for the consumer, right?  Well, not quite.

Anyone that pays attention has noticed a few things:
1)  When a new Apple iPhone comes out, the same people are paying a premium and buying the new model.
2)  When a new Android phone comes out, people wonder if they can swing a free upgrade/major discount or not.  

In short, the Android market is saturated by people with cheap phones that they largely didn't pay much for (Canadians excluded, as the carriers will hose them at every opportunity, including staying with them for another few years), and aren't willing to prematurely pay to upgrade from.

This is leading to a totally foreseeable outcome:  Look at the earnings reports now coming out of these manufacturers.

HTC:  In the second quarter of 2013, HTC reported profits of 1.25 billion New Taiwan dollars ($41.6 million), down from NT$7.40 billion the year before and well below analysts' pessimistic expectations. Revenues fell 22 per cent to NT$70.7 billion ($2.33bn) and HTC's shares fell on late trading after the figures were released.

Samsung:  Their flagship subsidiary (which makes TVs, chips, phones and more) is once again expecting record-breaking quarterly results, but its projected £5.4bn ($8bn) operating profit is just not big enough to assuage shareholders' fears: the company's mobile growth is slowing and the stock fell 3.24 per cent to 1.226m won a piece (£715, $1,070).

You can guess how this will continue...