Friday, September 27, 2013

Why NFC in Canada is a joke


Today I spotted something in the news that proclaimed NFC was going to get hammered by Apple's iBeacon and Paypal's BLE payment system.

For me, this is a good thing.  I like technology, but in Canada we always see a good thing get ripped apart and shredded into "camps" and as a consumer, you're forced to be in one or the other.  Anything in Canada with NFC ("Near Field Communications" - sometimes jokingly known in trade rags like the Register as "pay by bonk") as the major component is likely to subjected to this type of degradation of usefulness.  

The usual unholy alliances and arbitrary alienation of huge chunks of customers means that nothing ever becomes a standard.  We saw it with NFC payments and Credit Cards.  "Oh, you have a VISA Paywave card? Sorry, we only accept have MasterCard Paypass".  

We also saw it when Rogers and CIBC teamed up to provide mobile payments - oh, you have ScotiaBank, TD, or RBC bank account?  No mobile payments for you.  Just as bad, if you were a Bell wireless customer with a CIBC account, you still didn't have NFC mobile payments, which begged the question as to why CIBC was even mentioned in this fiasco as it's obviously not a banking payment app, but just another way for Rogers to add line items to it's bills.

Then there was the Presto system.  Yes, here's an NFC system for the masses, right?  No. You can't load up the Presto card with $100, then on your evening commute think "I'll just swing by the shop and pick up a pint of milk" and hope to use this NFC card as payment, because (again) it's walled off (in the trade, known as "a closed-loop" system).  

As you can see, this is all a load of arbitrary crap designed to protect the stakeholders of the entity that's taking the money.  

It's got nothing to do with the customer being able to "efficiently and effortlessly" pay for the things they need.  If it was, you'd be able to wave your MasterCard Paypass card over a Presto sensor to pay for your fare.  No, instead we have to parcel our cash out into little piles… one bit gets loaded onto the Presto card, one bit gets left in the bank to pay Rogers for the groceries I bought in some places…. one bit gets left in the bank to pay for the VISA PayWave bill….  etc, etc.

The comical thing about this is having walled off these little camps, someone one day will have a bright idea of uniting them under some third party so you have one card that can be used anywhere!  After all, how do you think we ended up with Interac in the debit card space? 

Finally, there's the icing on the cake:  It's a well studied and reported fact that Android users spend far less money than Apple users.  Now take a wild, stab-in-the-dark guess at which one doesn't have NFC chips in their phones anyway?

The sooner we abandon it and adopt a scheme that actually works for a sizeable majority of people, the better it will be for the customers - because Q.E.D, the status quo is not in the customer's favour. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Lack of Privacy Leads To Abundance of Accountability

Today on the news was a story in the FT that the Wall St bods are now ditching Blackberry devices and switching to alternatives, further underscoring the problems at Blackberry.

This isn't a surprise as it's only saving grace was it was more secure than the competition, but that argument has a fatal flaw: security is only as strong as the weakest link.  Therefore, if your secure Blackberry is sending an email to a phone that is not a Blackberry (so that's now most of us) that security has multiple places to get compromised along the way by everything from general OS flaws, the NSA or any other number of SOX compliance measures that back up the receivers Android phone or iPhone incase it's tossed in the nearest lake.

When you think about it, the public has been very quick to acknowledge they have zero privacy.  We have known for years that this moment would eventually come, but it's amazing to see how quickly people accepted this status quo with no real protest.

The good news is this could ultimately be used in a positive way. It's now only a matter of time before all this backed up information makes its way to the common man:
"Your honour, the bank claims it never received the instructions from the customer.... So here's 'exhibit A' from their SOX compliancy backup system and a corroborating tail from the NSA to prove it did arrive and try deleted it".

Yes, it's only a matter of time.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Rogers Escalation Procedure Meltdown

As many people know, I have an issue with Rogers that has been festering for a long time, and as it's festered, it's grown.

There are now three departments who know I am a customer with troubles, and I want to escalate:

  • The Credit Recovery Department.
  • The Twitter team
  • The Office of The President.
So far, this has been met with "we will have someone contact you" and nothing happens.  I've even told the twitter team in real-time that I was walking over to their lobby at 333 Bloor and how to find me, and whilst they happily dealt with every other customer, after one hour they had failed to locate a single person who could deal with a customer complaint, Q.E.D., as I left their HQ in the same state as I arrived - with an unresolved complaint. 

The Credit Recovery Department was a joke when they were calling about a 27 day old bill.  They couldn't escalate and said they'd leave a message for someone to contact me the next day at 8am.  That was definitely the biggest over-promise/under-deliver I've seen from them as we're now 6 days down the road.

So when I say my problems have festered and grown, I mean that even the escalation procedure itself has been proven to be so broken that this is now an additional item I wish to raise with them, in addition to the original issue which has so far taken 2 years to remain unresolved.


To see a glaringly obvious example of the underlying problem, take a look at this leadership page at Rogers.  Note that there are people responsible for regulations, people responsible for information, for technology, for legals, even for strategy.  Now, without customers there would be no company, but there's nobody who responsible for customers.

Luckily, for me a new iPhone has just come out and I'm going to upgrade in a few weeks when the queues die down and the supply sorts itself out.  Rogers should understand that if it wants another $2000 out of me to have that serviced by Rogers, they will need to have someone able to fix my issue, then be seen to be doing something to make sure that others don't experience what I have.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Extending Ontario's Smoking Ban

Today in the news there was a story that the provincial meddlers want to extend the Smoking ban to cover more place than it currently does - essentially limiting outdoor smoking to sidewalks.

As an ex-smoker, I clearly remember the battle for the bars and restaurants in the early 2000s.  The government won the battle, which is why all the good pubs and clubs shut down in our entertainment district.  When you look at the entertainment district in Toronto, it's just a severely atrophied version of its former self, consisting of temporary nightclubs that generally can't stay open longer than fruit-fly's lifespan.

The government killed the atmosphere, killed the entertainment district, and killed a large part of the local economy.  Now all the pubs are smoke-free environments where hipster parents complain at people who've had a few pints for swearing in the presence of their toddlers who are still running amok in the bars at 8pm.

Personally, I gave up smoking after the government kept ratcheting up the taxes to hose as much money out of smokers as possible.  They claimed that by increasing the prices, they were helping people - Yeah, I wonder how many people heard that same story from their dealers?

The problem is they think they've not done enough.

Remember that as a smoker you pay a lot of money into the tax coffers, and die early so you don't deplete the pension pot or incur 30yrs of post-retirement care. You're a model citizen, but the government is now considering doing more by extending this persecution, and remember that before you complain that you don't want to go to a smoky environment, you didn't give people the option of having smokers only venues
.

But let's take a step backwards for a second:  


  • The official figure for tobacco related health costs on the Ontario system is $1.93bn (Source: Ontario Government). 
  • For alcohol the figure is $2.9bn (Source: CAMH Study on Alcohol Policy).  To boot, as we're still stuck in the 1920s, the government is also the sole "dealer" of the alcohol that's creating that problem.  Of course, that figure doesn't take into account policing for DUI's, car insurance payouts to victims of drunk driving, etc.

People need to mull this over in their head for a moment....

Monday, September 23, 2013

Cracks in Cracking the iPhone 5S Fingerprint Technology


After the iPhone 5S was announced, people started asking questions about the fingerprint scanner and whether it could read severed fingers.

The security experts quickly weighed in after the release of the device:
“The [RF capacitive sensor] technology is built in a way that the [fingerprint] image has to be taken from a live finger,” says Sebastien Taveau, chief technology officer at Validity Sensors, a California based provider of fingerprint sensor solutions. “No one in biometrics wants to talk about cut fingers and dead bodies, but at the end of the day we are still asked to remove the fears of consumer and make sure that they understand that [a severed finger] will not work.”

Other experts weighed in with this: 
"For reference, the Touch ID scanner uses two methods to identify a user's fingerprint: a capacitive sensor that is activated by the small electrical current that runs through your skin, used by most smartphone touchscreens (and, one would think, at least partially blocked by a layer of non-conductive latex or glue), and a radio frequency sensor that reads the sub-epidermal layers of skin."

So, to recap - According to those sources, it's using radio frequency (RF) sensor technology to read under the fingerprint, not a visual scanner to "look" at a fingerprint.

Now, the CCC claims it can bypass this security using a lifted fingerprint.  
(source: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/09/22/iphone_5_touchid_broken_by_chaos_computer_club/

In short, they claim this method works:
  • Photograph a fingerprint.
  • Clean up the image, invert it and laser print with 1200 dpi on to transparent sheet with a thick toner setting. 
  • Pink latex milk or white wood glue is smeared into the pattern created by the toner on to the transparent sheet. 
  • After it cures, the thin latex sheet is lifted from the sheet, breathed on to make it a tiny bit moist and then placed on to the sensor to unlock the phone.


Two things don't make sense here: 
1.  Latex is non-conductive. That knocks out the capacitative sensor that tells the RF sensor to start scanning.
2.  The sub-epidermal layer theory now doesn't hold true.

The most interesting thing now to see whether this is fake or not, is to see whether the CCC claims one of the prizes that are allocated to the first person/group that can prove the iPhone is crackable in this sense.

Until then, I can only surmise that someone is lying about the facts here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Normal versus Nominal


When you're trying to accomplish something, there's a battle between doing it quickly and doing it right.  Some people might argue that if you don't put pride into your work and do the best you can, then you might as well not do it at all.  Others argue that if you spend all your efforts trying to make things perfect, you'll never get anything done.  This is a well known battle that everyone has fought, and we've all seen projects fall apart because they cannot be completed whilst people argue about perfect scenarios and such, that just haven't been met, and which ultimately cause cost overruns.

I watch a lot of space launches from the ULA, NASA, etc, and one word I hear over and over and over is the word "nominal" and it's quite an important term when lives or billion dollar payloads are on the line and things are not quite perfect.

In normal English, nominal means so small that it exists by name only.  For instance "her friendliness was nominal, as she did at least say hello back to me when I greeted and welcomed her to the event"...

In NASA speak, you have things that work perfectly (i.e. Exactly dead-on and normal), and things that are not normal but still within acceptable and expected ranges - which is the "nominal" status.  

In other words, something can be not normal, but still be nominal.  Using this predetermined parameter system, means stuff gets done despite the propensity to not be exact.

Maybe it's time for you to work out what your definition of "normal" and "nominal" is.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Media and Recovery Stories


Few things wind me up more than news that has gotten it's priorities wrong.  A classic example of this keeps showing up with this supposed "recovery" that the media bleats on about.  

We're told on the one hand that the economy is getting better, yet month after month the Bank of Canada, Bank of England and so on, all keep extending the lowest interest rates in our lifetimes, just to keep some momentum going.  We are also told about how the US job market is recovering, yet the last set of figures had less than 170,000 new jobs when there was over 7 million people on the more conservative U3 employment figure. 

We also see stories that are disconnected from the reality.  We have the US Fed pumping in $85bn in stimulus each month, and the media praising that this is helping keep the stock markets up.  Now, I don't mean to sound callous here, but Wall Street should be left to look after itself.  That $85bn a month could have been better spent on the other 300 million plus more Americans that don't work on Wall Street.  

Given we regularly see news like "Wall Street disappointed at Apple" when it's still raking in billions in profit each quarter, and is currently sitting on a $100bn pile of cash, you have to wonder why the news hasn't actually asked the question "Well how much cash does a company need, for you to call it enough to satisfy Wall Street?"…  Of course, they're not going to ask that as most of the media is now just regurgitating someone else's news, or someone else's press report.

And there lies the problem:  The vast majority of news sources are not taking a step back and asking if this is a good thing or not, and if not, why not?

There was an excellent article in the Guardian about this recovery (source http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/06/bad-economic-stimulus-quantitative-easing), but the biggest thing I see is a parallel between the Internet as seen by Bill Gates where he said "When you're dying of Malaria, I'm not sure how the Internet will help you", and the current situation with Wall Street where I can't see how pumping in huge amounts of money to the rich on Wall Street is helping the average person that cannot get a decent job because the economy has gone to pot.






Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Bell Canada and Yellow Pages Data Issue Is Fixed!


Sometimes, it's very hard to look back on an experience and be able to draw a solid set of conclusions and lessons from it.  This is especially true, after this experience with Bell Canada ("Bell") and Yellow Pages Group ("YPG").

The nutshell of the problem is this:  When you have a Bell Canada phone account, the implied act of Bell putting your number in their phone book isn't just what's going to happen, so your data leaves Bell Canada and heads to third parties like YPG, and possibly other places.  After the data has left Bell's control, you're then left in a very dodgy situation trying to work out exactly who has your data, and how much of it they have, and who are they sharing it with.  

Compounding the issue that Bell gives out your personal info to all and sundry, under the permission of the CRTC rules, and then claims that they're not responsible for cleaning up runaway data, and refuses to tell you who they've given it to - you have YPG's policy where they claim you can't ask YPG to remove your data as that data came from Bell and according to the CRTC rules (again) they're going to use it as they see fit, and if you want it removed then you have to ask Bell.  If you ask Bell to put in the request, they do speak to YPG - that much is clear.  YPG then claim that they've removed the data, but it only comes off two sites - and any other sites that the data has now propagated to are now running away with your data.  

I raised this runaway data flaw with the Office of the Bell Privacy Ombudsman.

This was Bell's response:
"Mr. Coulls as you know, there are several online directories: www.Yellowpages.ca, www.Canada411.ca, www.411.ca and www.411.com.  While Bell has a commercial relationship with Yellowpages and Canada411, it does not with the other three websites that are all operated by the same entity."  

Bell went on to say that you need to contact any sites that you find the data to mop up this spill, before it's passed on to even more parties.  Of course, this "we're following the rules so tough shit" stance to resolving the issue didn't sit well with me.  And I pointed this out to Bell that I didn't see this as a satisfactory resolution.  Bell said that if I didn't like their decision, to go deal with the Federal Privacy Commissioner and use the PIPEDA mechanism to resolve things.  

I advised Bell I would take the PIPEDA route, but that I was going to talk to some people first.

Move forward a week and over 7,000 people know my story, there was an awareness campaign outside Bell's downtown Toronto office at Adelaide Street during rush hour, and a number of influential people in industry have been briefed.  Having gotten everyone's attention focused on how Bell wouldn't resolve the runaway data issue they started, as my PIPEDA due diligence was starting, YPG stepped up to the plate and cooperated.

Now the issue is resolved, we can look at what we can be taken away from this experience.  

* Given the chance to do what's right, or do what the CRTC says they're allowed to do, Bell seems to opt for the latter.  If you tell Bell that you're unhappy with their attempt at a resolution, they will tell you to escalate to government level.  They seem more than happy to walk into a PR disaster with thousands of people, versus picking up a damn phone for two minutes or writing an email to YPG to resolve an issue.

* YPG, whilst stubborn with their policy that you have to go through Bell to start off with, did eventually display a moral compass and picked up the customer resolution process where Bell dropped it.  Their legal department were actually very helpful once engaged over the issue.

I'm feeling quite enlightened by the process as I've heard for years that Bell has customer resolution practices that are as effective as putting an ashtray on a motorbike, but I'd never had to push THIS hard to resolve an issue that they created.  I am glad too, that I didn't have to resort to PIPEDA as that's just more useless government intervention.  Whilst it was good practice to go the route I did, just to see if Bell would resolve the issue using the prescribed resolution path, I won't go that route again.  

If you look at Bell in the traditional sense of a "telco vs customer", it appears they have the upper hand and all the power. However, that's an assumption that is very flawed, and there are faster routes available.

Why I See Native Advertising As Bad

Digital advertising is something that I really take an interest in. Given that everywhere I go I'm being pitched at and attacked to ultimately decide a certain way to vote, or purchase a certain product, or allow someone to do something that others may find objectionable, coupled with the fact i program things - this is probably not a surprise to you.

I read a lot of digital publications, too, and I'm not afraid to admit that I look at the types of advertising and layouts of the pages and I judge these publications accordingly.  So, it's also probably not surprising that I have something against native advertising in the forms I've seen it so far.

If you're not aware of Native Advertising, it's an advert that reads and looks like real journalism the style of the host publication - indistinguishable like a television informercial looks on QVC, for instance.

Whilst the click-through rates are higher and the engagement is more solid than traditional digital ads, it's also tricky to the consumer to work out what is proper research-backed journalism and what is a three page advert until you get to the "call to action" part of the story.

If I cannot see a clear demarcation between advert and content, that means the usefulness and trust of a site is diluted.  If a site's trust and usefulness  is diluted, I will not go there as much.

For this reason, I see native advertising as a scourge.

Monday, September 16, 2013

They're raising the Costa Concordia


It's been a while since I last commented on the Costa Concordia, and now they're trying to raise it, it seems like a good time to come back to it.  

I like boats.  I like big boats, little boats, liners, and commercial boats.  But, I'm not a fan of cruise ships. The Costa Concordia is a great example of why I'm not a fan.  

Here, you have a ship that capsized in such a way as to indicate that below the waterline, it was probably breached badly or just incorrectly compartmentalised (because how else would it capsize with the hole out of the water, if not being pulled over by rampant water running about in the hull).  

Next. modern cruise ships have electrical powered propellers, not the traditional mechanical prop-shaft driven propellers, so they put the generators in this same area where water is first likely to go.  Unlike tankers, where we know to use double-skinned hulls and appropriate reinforcements, it's apparently still quite alright to put 4,000 people on a boat with just a single skin between the these generators and the water that will stifle them and as shown in this case, cause them to lose all control of the vessel and it's sub-systems.

Of course the shallow draft (how far the boat goes into the water, or in the case of cruise ships, doesn't) is a cause for concern too.  Whilst arguments can be made that an unbreached hull will sit safely in the water, once breached, does the same hold true?

Hopefully, this accident will prove to be productive in the long run, by changing standards and safety.



Thursday, September 12, 2013

Bell Canada's Resolution To Runaway Data Issues

So my ongoing data privacy issue with Bell Canada is now in month six.  Here's where we stand, having gone simultaneously through customer service, and the privacy office:

1. Bell Canada is admitting that it has leaked my information to Yellow Pages Group, knowing that YPG is further disseminating it to other subsidiaries and sites that are not under any agreements with Bell, and whom I have no wish to have my personal details on.

2.  Having asked Bell Canada to request YPG to remove my information from their sites, Bell acknowledges that YPG, whilst saying its removed my data is actually holding on to it still and still offering it up on other sites to which Bell Canada now washes its hands of responsibility on.

3.  Bell's best effort at a resolution is not either of the two items I first raised with Bell Canada's customer service in March, being:
A) I want an exhaustive list of everyone that Bell Canada gave my information to.
B) I want cooperation from Bell Canada in getting YPG to remove all my data that it has - in all it's subsidiaries.

Most surprisingly, the final solution that Bell Canada has for its victims in a runaway data privacy issue is to advise the customer to go and do their own detective work to find out what other unknown sites and companies this data may have ended up with as a result of Bell Canada passing on my information, and deal with them directly.

Needless to say, I've advised Bell Canada that this is not a resolution.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How the City of Toronto DDOS's itself.

I'm a firm believer that most people who don't understand something just haven't had it explained to them in a way they understand.  The Internet is such an item that frquently causes people to not understand certain aspects, and especially a thing like DDOS ("Distributed Denial Of Service") attacks - often just shortened to "Denial of Service" attacks.

This morning I witnessed the Toronto Parks and Rec registration process - where thousands of frustrated people are coordinated to hit the limited city resources via phone, web, etc, all in unison at 7am.  Naturally, the city web servers can't cope with this load, the telephone lines are jammed and as a result of this, the original intent of the service is compromised by the sheer weight of simultaneous requests put on it that stops it functioning at all.

That is identical to how DDOS attacks happen, where lots of computers are employed to simultaneously request something from the internet site that activists or hackers want to bring down.

Naturally, as a technology savvy guy, I just observed the entire process with disbelief and shook my head at it as it unfolded, because by running their registration process in this manner, they're causing a DDOS attack to take place on themselves.  Put another way, if you have limited resources, you don't invite everyone to use them all at once - you're just asking for trouble.  


What would have made more sense is you register your name over a long period, then names are drawn by lottery.

Anyway, you should now know what a denial of service attack is if you didn't understand the concept before, so something useful came from this circus of a process.



Monday, September 9, 2013

Terrorist Attacks and Social Media


On Friday, a situation unfolded in the UK's county of Kent (the county that lies south east of London).  It started off with a simple Facebook post from a friend about being stuck in traffic, and within an hour had turned into an attempted terrorist attack. A further hour or two and a second attack was known to be foiled and the police announced they were linked.

The odd thing i noticed was the communication.  Usually, when you've got several tens of thousands of inconvenienced people and they're posting photos of the army, ambulances, bomb disposal teams and police, the services and news are quick to point out that something is going on.

One can conclude from Friday's events that they were trying to enforce a poorly executed media blackout.  Probably to stop info from the first attackers reaching the second.  This is further bolstered by Sky news first announcing a bomb at Dartford, then retracting the statement - which made them look inconsistent, then they went back to saying there was something and then retracting it yet again.  The official line from Dartford being that "a man was acting unusual".

The question therefore becomes how in the event of a coordinated terrorist attack, the media and services can enforce a media blackout in front of an audience of tens of thousands of people, when the bulk of them have social media and are live reporting from the scene where they are are witnessing first hand something happening?

In short, it appears that they currently cannot.  That's not to say, however, that it can't be done.

When the IRA first left a coded warning for a bomb attack at my old high school, the headmaster got a call from the police to evacuate - so they set the fire alarms off.  Later, after we'd had the rest of the day off school and they'd blown up a makeup bag and a few other dodgy looking items, the bomb squad gave the staff hell for this, because the device could have used the fire alarms as the trigger to explode.  So, they came up with a scheme where a person would bang on the classroom doors in each corridor and as we'd all look up at the door's window, there'd be a big sign.  

Unfortunately, the sign was just a big "B" (for "bomb"), so the first time someone banged on the door and we saw this big "B", we didn't evacuate very quickly as we were too busy falling about laughing.  What they should have done is just open the door and say "Bomb alert. Get out".  It's clear. Concise. And there's no messing about.

Going back to terrorist attacks, the UK government should have "a plan" just like this.  The public will largely get on side if they are communicated to properly and are made to understand that when something is going down, to adopt the "blitz spirit" and actually help their country.  The government should just have explained there is a situation, and there is a media blackout to help resolve it quickly, and above all "keep calm".  When you look at what most of Twitter and Facebook was saying, it was a catastrophe of misinformation and rehashed news from hours previously.  

I hope the emergency services and government noticed this, so they can fix it for next time.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Technology and Surprises


One of the recurring themes in technology right now is the tug between what people think we can do soon with technology, versus what we cannot.

A part of the issue is in the past, we were told certain things would happen and they haven't appeared.  We were told technology would give us all this spare free time, and it has done the opposite as we work longer hours from anywhere.  We were told, technology would create new job opportunities, and for many people, it's taken them away.

Another part of the issue is that whilst technology has not done certain things that they expected, it has done other things that weren't even on their radar.  This then shocks people when they see something that already exists, which they thought was impossible.

A final part of the issue is people turn off to the reality around them.  For instance, the average American will forget that every 11 year old in the country has only ever known America to be at war.  The average Canadian 5 yr old has only ever seen employee pricing discount cars or equivalent.  The average UK teenager doesn't remember a time when there wasn't an epidemic of charity shops on the high streets.  

If people don't notice these things, they're not going to question what comes next.  If you don't question what comes next, you get surprised.  For instance, the average person has not considered what might happen if shop leases get too expensive for charity shops, and they decide to go the Amazon route with a central warehouse and online shopping.

Instead of trudging through a day to day routine, you need to ask where things are going.  If you don't do that, you'll get a technology surprise.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

An open suggestion to Canada Post.


It's now 2013.  We have smartphones, email, computers, tablets and all manner of IM and other communications needs that means we can reach (and be reached) 24/7.  As part of the globalization process, we are now working longer hours to account for timezones and other constraints that you have to follow in order to get stuff done.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have government departments.  In an age where your banks are using 2048 bit security so you can message your bank and you can bank 24/7, and we trust our passports to internet connected scanners at the airports that we can fly out of day and night 7 days a week, I get infuriated at the ball-and-chain attitude of the same people that are supposed to be helping the public to succeed.

Let's imagine I want to deal with a tax question.  I get home at 6PM and the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) is shut.  I wake at 6AM and get ready to leave for work, but I can't phone the CRA still as they're still shut.  I can't call them on weekends, as they're shut.  So I think I'll just send them an email.  I should be able to write it at night and they can read it when they saunter into the office the next day. 

I can't do that…  Their excuse is "Email is not secure".

At this point I want to beat my head against the wall…. and here's why:
Canada Post has a secure inbox system used for things like payroll slips, receiving electronic bills, etc.  It's like a bank's email system for their customers, and it's called ePost.  It's also been looking for a reason to be relevant for the longest time (though it misses some great opportunities - like the NSA scandal didn't prompt any advertising of this being a valuable alternative that isn't snooped on).  It's available, 24/7.  Canada Post is a government organization.

Most importantly, if government is unable to drag itself out of the 1990s to keep up with the public, this is an easy springboard that can go a long way to getting them to where the banks got to about 10 years ago.

Conclusion:
Government should be accessible - not inaccessible.  It needs to dump it's legacy thinking and legacy attitudes and it should look at utilizing the tools it already has at it's disposal - after all, this is not a budgeting or technical problem as the service exists already for free. 

I finish with a simple suggestion to Canada Post:  Please go and introduce yourselves to the other government departments and put an end to their "internet prevention desk" policies.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Twelve Months of Blogging...

In September of 2012 I spent a very long week sitting in a children's hospital ward, staring at my partner and twin boys.  Despite being fed the same, living in the same environment, and so forth, one was getting heavier whilst the other was getting unexplainably lighter.  With the odd interruption from a nurse, or the rhythm of the three-hourly feeding schedule, there was nothing to do except watch the monitors going up and down, lights flashing, or listen to things beeping...

For me, this is a rare situation as I totally disconnected from the world.  You can't use your mobile phone in that environment, there's no Internet and I've pretty much found out everything there is to know about anything that's there is possibly to know about where we were standing with our twins.  I'd already scoured and learned every inch of the room we were in.  I knew how to reconnect the sensors to save the nurses from having to do it.  I knew when the shifts were and who was coming on or going home at what times.  I'd said everything I had to say to my other half.

For the first time in a long time, I was facing the spectre of having free time.

I'm a guy that doesn't get bored.  There's always something to do.  Theres always something to fix.  There's always something I want to learn about.  There's always something to think about.

So, given my location I couldn't fix things or do things, and my location also gave me a technology constraint, so I was basically left with the "something to think about" option.  Eventually, I got on to the topic of things I want to do to make me happy...

I have an opinion on most things.  If I don't offer my opinion then I'm normally holding back what I think is going to be an unpopular opinion.  On rare occasions, I will say that I don't know enough on the subject to have an opinion.

I like to write down things - not to force my ideas on other people, but to record where my thinking is or how my observations are forming at a particular time.  The rush of information I process regularly means I'm always taking on new facts and figures that alter my opinions and observations.  Putting it in a blog meant that it was somewhere I can go back to, and also others can read what I see or think.  I also made sure I was tracking metrics - not as a success measure, but just so I could see what happened.  The original intention wasn't to actively grow a readership base.  However, as I said above, my opinions on things can change with new information.

As soon as we were out of that hospital, I started my blog.  It was toward the end of the month by now, so only three posts posts made it in September 2012.  Those garnered me a surprising 205 views.

For the next few months, the viewership figures went up and down a little.  But then I wasn't promoting it.  By February 2013 I was at 421 impressions (28 a day).  In March 2013, I had run across a situation with a so-called technology expert who was having issues with promoting a corporate newsletter.  After much ado, I had given the guy a shed-load of pointers and advice on what I would try if I was in his shoes and the guy basically said that I didn't know what I was talking about.

Now, I don't like it when I'm asked for help and I give it, only to have it throw unceremoniously back in my face.  So, given I already had metrics to look at, I expanded things a bit in a spreadsheet and took a new look at my blog.

My new constraints were time and effort.

  • The posts were to be mainly written during my 20 minute morning commute on the subway train (typed into my iPhone), or quickly typed during a lunch break.  
  • Promotion would be a maximum of two minutes per post at no cost. 
  • Each month would have a goal of 125% of the views in the previous month.
What actually happened is detailed as follows:

To graph the above, it looks like this (The diagonal line is the linear average over time).


As you can see, it was totally achievable.  So, I attached AdSense to it - as I might as well make some money from it if possible.

Now, I'm not writing information that a lot of people would find appealing - arcane projects, data, weather, politics and technology seems to be my mainstay - but then again, that's pretty much me.  I don't know anyone else who has a personal datamart of Canada's weather history with 27 million records of historical data from 18 cities.... I don't know anyone else who tried to put a sewer backflow preventer on the internet...  My friends certainly don't measure the things I do, or have the desire like I do to one day sail the atlantic alone.  

I definitely march to the beat of my own drum on this one... It's not popular content and yet I'm still hitting my numbers.  

So here's what I did, so anyone else can learn something from it:
  • Having written a post, make sure people knows it exists (promote it).
    • Twitter
    • Linkedin (Only if its a proper article and not a rant on something unprofessional)
    • Facebook
    • StumbleUpon
    • Google +
    • Reddit (Occasionally - they're a fickle bunch)
  • Link the blog through other blog promotion services:
    • BlogUpp!
    • Outbrain
  • Look for the long tail.
    • I rarely post on weekends, but I do use these periods to measure what happens if I do nothing.  This gives me a baseline for organic searches that people are arriving by.  About 20% of the backlog of articles now generate their own traffic.  As I add more content, this increases the incoming views accordingly.
    • Look for the popular topics.  For me, this seems to be Toronto's floods, basement issues, and Bell Canada woes.
    • Make sure you got Google Analytics in place to help you pinpoint smaller trends that Blogger analytics misses.
  • Tweaking the blog.
    • Make sure the title of the page has the title of the post replicated in it and the metadata.   That way, Google doesn't see "Blogger" as the title and actually indexes the article properly.
As you can see, I've not begun to do many things I could have done... mainly because I've proven what I set out to prove - which was that I did know my original advice was correct, because if I can achieve a 125% growth target with these oddball posts under those time and budget constraints, I know it would work with a more consistent set of posts and a proper time schedule and budget attached to it.

Where I go from here is the next thing to tackle.  I've gotten several things on the go and so time is the biggest constraint.  But I think I want to try another experiment.

Details will appear on this blog once I've solidified things a bit in my head.

Ministry of Sound vs Spotify - and why it's interesting.


The case between the Ministry of Sound and Spotify is interesting.

In short, users of the spotify service have ordered legally paid for tunes, into a playlist that is identical to the Ministry of Sound compilations.  What you have here is a copyright issue on the playlist order.

What's interesting here is this:
If the court rules this is not a copyright infringement, this would hurt MoS sales, but if the court rules this is a copyright infringement, then just moving one song to a new location would constitute a brand new compilation?

If that's the case, then you can expect to see a lot of compilation albums becoming the base for a "plus one" style of compilation…. like taking a "Now that's what I call music" album and adding a few extra songs to make a totally legal new compilation called "Now that's what I really call music" for example.

Have a break... Have a disjointed KitKat marketing effort.


This KitKat / Android 4.4 tie in has shown up a massive branding divide that is a hangover from the old days.

Most people know that Rowntrees made the KitKat.  When Rowntree Mackintosh of York was purchased by NestlĂ© in 1988, it moved over to their brand.  However, in the 1970s the American company Hershey's licensed the brand from Rowntrees, and that agreement stayed in place after the buyout.

So, move forward to 2013 and the Android tie in:  The whole world sees the KitKat 4.4 spoof take on Android's announcement (www.kitkat.com) where it proclaims "the future of confectionary has arrived. Under its sleek exterior we've ensured maximum breakability in KITKAT 4.4. This is due to the refined praline software, crisp waferware and its unique chocolate unibody."  Meanwhile, the Americans (www.kitkatusa.com) have a more staid and traditional "Coming soon" competition announcement.

Conclusion:
Whilst it is standard practice to have regional variants in marketing, they usually are not as markedly different as the chasm between the KitKat USA and Worldwide KitKat approaches to this tech tie in.  When a global brand is given a gift like Google has bestowed on them, you'd think that a simple licensing arrangement would be put aside to present a global message about this tie in.  But no.