Friday, November 29, 2013

Consumerism Gone Bad

I have a distaste for rampant consumerism.  Easter to me isn't all about chocolate... Christmas isn't all about presents... Yes, I get called a Scrooge because of this.

I also hate crowds.  I fully subscribe to the model that you should never underestimate the stupidity of people in large groups. Anything from mob-rule to misplaced high-jinks can (and does) cause danger.  Add in the "stand-in-a-stupid-place brigade" (they congregate in big groups at tops/bottoms of escalators or shopping centre doorways) and you can rule out any chance of me liking crowds at shopping centres.

I don't mind a sale though, and will often hold out on major purchases until I see them at a price I'm willing to pay.  However, I'm totally in awe at the latest hashtag on Twitter today for #walmartfights, showing just how far things can be taken.

People need to get a grip on themselves - it's not worth setting yourself up for a lifetime of medical issues cause you injured yourself trying to get an LCD TV that you will be replacing again in another ten years or so.

It's at moments like this that humanity just makes me throw my hands up in the air.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Microsoft Debacle - Continued...

Previously, I detailed how difficult it was to get Microsoft to take my money so I could get a full copy of Windows 8.1 on my Mac under Parallels.  

Eventually, I hauled myself out of my office and down to Best Buy.  My logic being that if Microsoft won't take my money, Best Buy surely would.  I checked the Best Buy website to make sure they had what I wanted in stock before I left the office.  

As you can guess, I came back empty handed.  

The reason for this is they appear to be reporting the number of display cards hanging on the shop floor rack, which has no bearing whatsoever on the number of physical boxes out the back.  

After much ado, I did manage to find a "download" option on the Canadian store.  I paid my money and I waited.

After a while, the email arrived to confirm the purchase, and I logged into my Microsoft Store account page.  There under downloads was Windows 8.1.  

Halleluja, right?  Wrong!  Guess what the download is?  Instead of an ISO disc image, it's a Windows setup executable that you run under Windows to setup the full OS.  

Obviously, this isn't the full version I paid for, that I can boot under Parallels, because I need to install Windows first, in order to run this.

So, I'm now back up the proverbial creek without a paddle, having paid for software that can't be installed until the accompanying DVD arrives in the mail.

Why must this be so difficult?


Why won't you take my money?

So yesterday, I decided that it would be really handy to put Visual Studio on my Mac.  This of course, meant I needed to get Windows on my Mac, and then some virtualization software (Parallels, etc) to run it without rebooting.

Parallels I know I could get easily.  Windows on the other hand turned out to be impossible.

This is the "Buy Windows" page at Microsoft.

If you look down this page, there's nowhere to actually click and say "Take my money and give me Windows".  Instead, there's links to hardware that come with Windows pre-installed.

A quick chat with the online sales support didn't help either, so I put out a note on Twitter for @MicrosoftStore explaining that I'd hit their "Order Prevention Desk" again (a frequent occurence - try phoning a Microsoft store and ordering a PC Kinect Sensor and saying you'll be in to pick it up as soon as they have it in stock - this couldn't be done, either).  

Whilst I was then waiting for Microsoft to find out how I can buy Windows online, I went about installing Parallels.  Having downloaded the trial, there was a link to install Windows 8.1...  What I failed to notice is it's the preview - not a trial...  This means after waiting an aeon for it to arrive, I can't activate it or install the software I wanted to use anyway.

This means I'm back to where I started.  If Microsoft can't take my money, then I'll have to just take some time off work to go to Best Buy and purchase a physical DVD, but this really shouldn't be necessary in this day and age.

Why is it always so difficult to get Microsoft to take my money?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In denial, or just deluded?

I am often intrigued by the way people behave and think.  Last night I was in a bar and a debate about Toronto and Mayor Ford broke out.

I was telling how I'd read on Bloomberg that his shenanigans was pushing up the cost of the bonds that Toronto has coming due around 2021 by four basis points.  One of the guys at the table didn't believe it. So, I found the Bloomberg article using my phone and put it in front of him.

He didn't want to see it.  Then claimed it was all lies.

Oddly, whilst my available proof was discounted, a claim from the same guy later was predicated on the fact that some outrageous claim about the mayors wonderful powers of finance can't be disproved and therefore it has merit.

The burden of proof is a dangerous thing in arguments like this. As an example, I can say something really silly like "orbiting the sun are elephants that sing about spaghetti" and then claim that because you can't prove this to be false, it must be a valid statement.

I never studied psychology at school, but this type of behaviour does intrigue me.  Further, I see a lot of people like this and they all seem to follow a similar life path and experience similar outcomes.

I don't know if they're genuinely in denial.  I do know I want to look into this further though.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sports TV and Boomers

Today in the news there was a story that Rogers (a cable company in Canada) had secured a 12yr deal on the rights for the NHL (Ice Hockey) broadcasts here.

This is interesting for two reasons: 

First, it's interesting as the practice of cord-cutting (giving up cable TV as a service) is gaining momentum.  Merits of the model vs "a la carte" TV aside, it's important to remember this is a baby boomer concept.

The second interesting point is the duration.  From a demographics standpoint hardcore sports TV is mostly watched in two places - bars and baby boomers houses.  This 12 yr deal means that by the time the deal expires, the latter portion of those baby boomers are statistically likely to be expiring too.  

It's well known that young people are turning away from sports due to the high cost of tickets to live games, over-saturation of live tv and the fact that they can get the scores on social media in near-live timeframes for free.

Putting the two together, when I cut the cord in our house, I remember the Rogers "customer retention" guy giving the usual "we will discount our charges if you stay" routine and then when that failed, pulling out the "but you need sports!" card.  That failed too.

In some ways, this is the swan song for sports TV as we know it.  Just think in the UK how Sky wouldn't pay the required bid for the soccer... It's not worth the high prices when you're audience is dying...

The bit I'm now interested in is how the sports TV is going to reinvent itself in the 12 yrs from now.  It should be unrecognizable when it's finished.

Monday, November 25, 2013

When dumb questions are not dumb

Today, I read this article on Bloomberg's website:

There was a question, which I've copied here for the purposes of clarity, as it's one of many in that Q&A Session.

Q: It’s really hard to compare or rank companies based on their sustainability strategies. Take Coke and Levi’s. Coca-Cola can make drinks without sugar and caffeine. But Levi’s makes what it calls “waterless jeans,” which comes close to eliminating water use in the last phase of production. So why isn’t there waterless Coke? Does that make Levi’s more sustainable than Coke?

A: That's a really dumb question! Water is needed for every living thing on the planet. It is infinitely renewable. So the issue around water isn't not using water. We all need water. We're a beverage company. We make products that hydrate people and water is obviously essential to that.  The real issue is what do you with the water that you borrow from nature for your business, and how do you make sure you're giving back. In our case we've made a commitment to give back as much as we use by 2020.

This actually annoyed me.  The question being asked seems to be ahead of the mental capacity of the person answering.  

For instance, why can't you just ship the ingredients and mix at home?  That's actually a very "green" way of doing things, primarily because you stop moving about billions of tonnes of water that is already being pumped into the places where it's consumed.  They already ship the condensed "syrup" version to pubs and bars, so where's the consumer version of a soda-stream from Coca Cola?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fixing another CIBC issue with Mint

In a previous post I had mentioned how my experience with CIBC went with trying to get credit card statements emailed to me.  Their interpretation of "Oh, yes, we can email statements" was putting it on their website where I then had to go and log in to see it.  That was not what I was asking for.  

Well, I finally found a solution to get around the bank.

Intuit has a product called Mint. (  You create an account there, tie it back to your bank account and voila! Everything the bank says they can do but didn't, or say can't be done for security reasons, or whatever other excuse they can muster, is suddenly available.

Upside:  It's free, and you can tie in multiple accounts from multiple banks to get a better overview of where you are financially.

Downside:  There's a few areas where it tries to upsell you into switching credit cards.  I just ignore that.  Also, it has a habit of emailing you five times or so, right out of the gate as you sign up. Having signed up, it then quietens down on the email front.  Also, you're sharing your information from a privacy standpoint.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Watching Rocket Launches From Toronto

It's not very often that we get a chance to see a space launch from Toronto, but it does happen from time to time.  A number of variables come in to play, including day versus night time launches (we can only see night from this distance), weather cooperation, and the type of launch.

If a rocket takes off and straight away banks over the Atlantic rather than gaining initial height, then we don't see it for the same reason that when you stand at Niagara Falls and look at Toronto, we're half hidden under the curvature of the earth which is clearly visible looking across Lake Ontario.

The other big variable is where it's taking off from.  If it's Cape Canaveral, you've no chance of seeing it.  Wallops Island on the other hand can (and does) provide Toronto with visible launches.  In the case of tonights, it's theoretically possibly to see it almost as far north as Manatoulin Island.

Here's a map showing the Toronto to Wallops Island facility.  You can see it's a fair distance, but don't use this map to find the launch.  The reason is this map is flat, and the earth is round.  That straight line is over 3 degrees different at the bottom than it is at the top.

Assuming a known location - the CN Tower - You need to look in the direction of 151º 39' 03" (in decimal that's 151.65º).

Visibility is unknown.  At present, the exact launch time is unknown (the window is 7:30pm EST to 9:30pm EST).  Also, bear in mind that it will take about two minutes after launch for Toronto to see it, as it has to get higher than the curvature of the earth - and at our distance that may be only 5 to 10 deg above the horizon anyway.  You'll likely want to use binoculars for this.

Full observation maps are here:

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Visit To Ripley's Aquarium Toronto Canada

This past weekend, I went to the Ripley's Aquarium in Toronto, Canada.

With me, the brand name "Ripley's" doesn't inspire thoughts of quality or educational value - I always think of tawdy, even tasteless, shows of hyperbole and stuff that is probably not there to get your brain-cells working.  Some west-coast American on a studio set straight out of "Entertainment Tonight" telling you about how they're about to show you the most amazing three headed snake, that's really only 6 inches long, but they do some camera and magnification work to make it look longer than the CN Tower is tall, is they type of stuff I associate with that brand... Oh, and paying far too much to see it.

So you can imagine how I felt when I found out we'd bought $100 of tickets ($60 for two adults, $40 for two seniors, and the twinnado, being very young was free) plus taxes to go to this place.  I was waiting for something of a tat parade - all eye candy and not much else.  I left the aquarium in not much of better state of mind than I entered and here's why.

The footprint of the aquarium is clearly too small for the number of people and exhibits inside it.  We went at the time we did, thinking that many people would be at the Santa Claus parade. It was still packed.  If you think about some of the larger plots of land that the Ontario Place discussion has highlighted recently, this is clearly an attraction that would have benefitted from that land.  Instead, it's squeezed in very tightly, and this compounds what goes on inside.

You feel cramped because of the layout and design, and when you add the crowds of spatially-challenged idiots, out of control kids and a smattering of those generally clueless types who you get everywhere, and it's a maddening experience.

The piped music doesn't help either - quite what it's supposed to be is a mystery.  It might be something to make you think "ooh" and "ahh", but after a while you just want it turned off.

Talking of weird music, here's a thought experiment:  Think of a kids movie, in a scene where either pirates are swashbuckling, or people are hunting for something (ie. lots of orchestral brass, lots of string and tonnes of xylophone), that's what's piped outside the aquarium.  No idea why, but it is on a loop and gets very annoying too.

I will give the aquarium some credit where it's due - the livestock looks in good shape, and everything appears to be quite clean and healthy.  That's the good bit over with.

Everything is offset by an overwhelming feeling that the design is fine for the livestock, but it's not designed for people.  In the same way the TTC Bloor/Yonge station feels like it's designed for trains and not commuters - the aquarium has this feel too.

This feeling is backed up by two things:
1. Information issues.
2. Human/Livestock interaction issues.

I'll start with the information issues.  Imagine you're looking at a 18ft high wall of fish and kelp.  You can see the fish, but you can't work out what they are because the fish information are on plaques, which are placed about 1.5ft off the ground at the base of the tank.  Add in enough people that there is a crowd about 4 people deep between these signs and you, and you're just not going to feel inclined to navigate that, to work out what some grey/silver fish is bobbing about in the kelp.  This is a repeating issue, so you come away feeling like you've bugger-all idea what you just spent half your time looking at.

Being an aquarium, you'd expect there to be an educational spin on this.  You can't just be like "Give us your money and we'll give you some eye candy for an hour or so", but throughout the entire experience, I saw just one single LCD screen bolted to a wall outside the gift shop, that talked about the problem of ocean pollution and ecology.

This complete oversight (well, almost as there was that one screen by the gift shop) of educational and ecological information, was ironic because it highlighted the problem that humans and sea creatures generally don't get on, which leads me to the interaction issues.

Throughout the entire exhibit, I saw zero (none, nought) signs to tell people not to bang on the tanks and windows.  It doesn't take a genius to understand that water conducts vibrations better than air, and yet kids are banging the tanks and adults are trying to get livestock over to them by clanking keys against the perspex, tapping with rings, etc.  Again, this goes back to the place being designed without the people fully in mind - if they realized that people do that, they'd stick some signage up to stop it.

It must be hell for the animals to put up with that.

So, I left at the end (about 90 minutes later) feeling mentally exhausted by the crowds and awful audio, frustrated about what I'd seen the livestock having to go through due to the idiocy of the general public, feeling like they really need to have more staff down there to provide information (you feel abandoned after they take your money and shoot you down into the trail) and generally of the opinion that I was right in my previous biases before I'd even entered the place.

I can't see myself returning.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why Checking The Address Bar Is Important

If a person goes to a bank and logs in, they expect to be in the bank at all times unless they’re warned that they’re leaving the bank and going to a third party.  

In this day and age, people are taught to surf safely.  This means you check the address bar to make sure that if you expect to be in a particular site, that you’re actually where you think you should be.  Nobody wants any funny business going on with redirects and such.  

So today I went to order some cheques.  Having logged into my bank, I noticed this unexpected domain and certificate switch from the bank to a third party printer's website.  

(Click image for full size)

I get that the third party printer is used to print the cheques, but there was absolutely no communication from the bank that you’re actually leaving their site.  If you think you've logged into the bank, the expectation is that you're in the bank's website, not someone else's.

Naturally, my initial response for the first few seconds until I remembered who “DH” is (Davis and Henderson), was what am I doing at someone else’s site? Is this a redirect to a scam site?

It’s not a scam, but the bank wasn’t being very clear either.

The Physics of Personal Growth

We all know that time marches on. What also marches on is the process of gathering data from our life experiences.

This process has an observable side-effect in that you might find one in one stage of your life that you look up to certain people and their knowledge and wisdom, and think it's cool. However, in a later stage of your life you realise that whilst your experience and thirst for life has allowed you to progress and form new opinions and update/remove old prejudices and paradigms, these other people sometimes haven't done the same.

This makes those you looked up to eventually appear like intellectual dinosaurs, narrow-minded bigots, or worse.

This got me thinking...  The first paragraph of this article draws a similarity between two things marching on, but there's something else; Einstein pointed out that time is not the same for everything as it's relative to the circumstances of the observer and the observed.

It struck me that the process of gathering information and growing from experience is the same.

The only variable affecting time is velocity, but what I can't reconcile in my head is what's the variable affecting your data gathering process?

Is it how open-minded you are?
Is it how varied your life is?
Is it who you associate with?

I don't know the answer, but it has just intrigued me.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Why Apple Is Using 64bit Processors

There are two reasons why Apple chose to switch to 64bit processors, and why other manufacturers are also about to switch.

First, many of the tasks that we used to use a "proper" computer for are now done on a mobile device, such as a tablet or smartphone.  This means the demands made on the processor are going up as these devices displace the desktop PC.

Secondly, if you need more powerful software to do these tasks, you're going to need more RAM (memory).  A 32bit processor can only see the address range from byte 0 to byte 4,294,967,295 - in other words 4GB of RAM.  If you want to see more RAM, you need more bits on your register - hence the other reason to move to 64 bits.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Silos are great, until they're not necessary.

Today, ServiceOntario asked this question.

It’s a perfectly valid question from their standpoint.  I answered “True” to this, and here’s my reasoning.

I am one person.  I have a single instance of existence.  Commerce knows this - so I have single-sign-on identities, such as my Google ID, which gives me a range of services with different silos of the same entity.  Facebook and Twitter also know this, so they give me single sign-on ID’s that can be used with external services, such as Klout.  Every Government I know of, or have dealt with, however,   hasn’t realized this.  This means that I have a tax number, a passport number, a national insurance number, and a whole host of other numbers that represent the same thing - me.

Now, all governments could argue that this is “a historical legacy” from the old days.  The issue I have with this is most governments are in the process of overhauling systems like their health platforms and such, and you can guarantee that during these rewrites, they’re thinking in terms of “2005 thinking” (and probably more “classic” than that due to the design, funding and approval processes).  

For instance, do you think that you can pump in your Microsoft Health Vault ID into your local authority’s brand new system, so they can see your health live?  Probably not.

Do you think that the health authority is linked through your social media to find out who else you were on vacation with when you picked up and brought back that dangerous virus into the country?  Probably not.

If you change your surname, does it link to your drivers license, health card, and tax records?  Probably not.

The big question in my mind is this:  Why not?

The modern culture of government departments behaving and being funded and run like dismembered limbs on an animal that’s advertised to the public as being “whole and functional” means that commerce is now running rings around it.  This also means that once the current teenagers get into their 30s and 40s and have some clout in government, we’re likely to see this dysfunction addressed - which will streamline and make the governments coherent again.

In search of good beer

This morning I was in a twitter discussion where the topic turned to people relocating and their beer tastes.  

Thankfully, this is something I know a lot about.

I'm not your average beer drinker who swills back big name, bland, lagers.  I like some lagers, but I grew up around bitter and ale.  Furthermore, I was lucky enough to grow up in a small town that until I was around 10yrs old had two breweries, until Whitbread relocated, leaving just Shepherd Neame.

As fate would have it, my regular watering hole would end up being the Sun Inn (built in the 1300s, so it's got some character), which being very close to the brewery, meant it was the flagship pub and was run as such.  

So, to paraphrase the situation:
I grew up in an environment where your classroom at aged 7 smelled of wort and at 11am each day, the building would be enveloped in a steam cloud that smelled unmistakably of beer.  I've had more trips through a brewery than most people have had plane flights. I also drank at what is likely the only pub in the county to hardly ever run dry or have pipes that have not been cleaned in several days, because brewing licenses meant that dignitaries from the big name breweries such as Heineken or Kingfisher might turn up in town to see how their beers were and pop to my pub to try it.  As such, it had to be on tip-top condition.

Yes, I have had a privileged upbringing where beer is concerned.

The other side to this is travel:  I've done the one-way flight to leave your family and friends and leap to somewhere new.  Needless to say, I've had a lot of beer since arriving here.  My attitude is if there's a beer available I haven't tried, that's what I'm having next.  I’d never say the beer here was bad, because it’s not.  But most of it is mass-market grade, cheap, gassy, and not particularly memorable.  

The problems start when small brewers (and sometimes the big ones too) try to create a “craft” beer.  For some reason they often think that drowning a beer in hops makes a craft beer.  The other problematic beer is the “too-strong for more than one bottle” beer.  This is the beer that you like, but after three small bottles it’s either too much to stomach, or you’ve a weird pounding head from it.  The final one is the dark, sugary, beer that often has (as my very good friends says) the “bacon aftertaste”.

Most people know I bake bread.  Beer and bread are very similar.  You’ve some ingredients, water, some sugar sometimes, and some yeast.  Then you mix, ferment and end up with a product.  I see the same problem in beer turn up in bread too.  The “artisan” bread movement over here is basically the bread equivalent of the “over-hopped” beer, in that instead of just concentrating on creating a good loaf of bread, they think that better bread has to have a cornucopia of other ingredients in it.  Most people only have access to commercial bread, so haven’t tasted what normal (i.e. it takes 24 hours to get your starter dough going, then another 4 hours of autolyse, rise, fold, shape and bake) bread should taste like.  I’m sure I can make a plain loaf that people would say tastes better than some 3 hour from start to finish effort with a smorgasbord of nuts and olives in it.

But I digress…

I think the Japanese got it right in Sushi.  The average sushi chef spends an inordinate amount of time on learning to do the rice.  It’s the simplest thing on the plate, but if you can’t get the rice right, then it really doesn’t matter about anything else with it.  This needs to be done with many brewers - get the basic “real” ales and beers correct before you experiment too much with other ingredients.

If you remove all the hundred of millions of dollars of advertising, the hoopla and everything else, the reason I don’t drink the mainstream beer is this:  All I look for is a simple, honest pint, done well.  


Monday, November 11, 2013

Another Odd Consumer Charging Practice

It always strikes me as dishonest that supermarkets in Toronto put a higher price on brown eggs over the white ones.  

If you’re unfamiliar with the reasoning behind the two colours, it’s just down to the colour of the chicken that laid them.  White chickens lay white eggs - red/brown ones lay brown eggs.

This week’s AIMIS report from Agriculture Canada says a dozen Large Grade A eggs in Ontario is currently $1.96 wholesale.  The supermarket prices generally start at $2.69 and generally top-out somewhere in the $3.60 range. Where I buy them (No Frills), you generally see about a $0.30 difference between the brown and white eggs.

It’s the same product.  The wholesale side sees it as the same product, and the government sees it as the same product, yet it’s sold to the consumer in a way that the old wives tales of “brown being better” means that you are basically being charged a premium for your ignorance.  

Now, if you ask any supermarket if it’s wrong to charge people for being ignorant, you’ll probably hear them all decry the practice.  So why does it continue?  Is it literally the case that nobody has questioned this?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Something Good Came Out Of Toronto City Hall.

Anyone that knows anything about me will know I subscribe to the ethos of just being myself, and I'm prone to falling outside of conforming sometimes.  After all, I'm unique - just like everyone else is - and not all these "one size fits all" policies work.

I don't go out of my way to be obnoxious, but I'm more than happy to show authority when what suits 80% of the public doesn't suit me.  If someone is not willing to fix things that I'm paying for, I just go up the ladder until someone has the gumption and sense of responsibility to get it right.

This pays off.

I frequently joke that Toronto's City Hall is like my own personal piñata that I hit with the angry stick until something falls out.  The result of this is I'm probably despised there, but I'm on familiar terms with just about everyone who does anything remotely affecting me, from garbage disposal trucks to water.

As people also know, I'm acutely familiar with basement flooding (and flooding in general) in Toronto, and I'm pretty vocal about it.  Whilst I can't vote for anyone here (I'm not a Canadian - I just live here and pay taxes), I've held court at my home with everyone from the local councillor to program managers and environmental engineers, and I have explained and proven that whilst it's very nice that we have these plans and programs, they sometimes come across as "inadequate in this circumstance".

Because the city caused the problem, and the city has the plans and details of the house, the street it sits on, the underground connections between the house and sewers, I asked them to advise which sewer we were blocking off, having shown where the water ingressed.  That's something they couldn't tell us, but the "guidelines" that fit 80% of the people can now be thrown out as we try to over-engineer a solution.

The reason is the city rebate program only covers one back-flow preventer (BFP) device, up to a maximum cost of $1,250.  As the city had no idea which sewer we needed protection from, we had to do both.  That means I've now fallen outside of the program guidelines.  
Ultimately, this solution still costs me more money personally, but I get peace of mind. 

We discussed this with the city, and they verbally agreed to bend the rules.  I was really happy when I got home last night and found the city people had kept their word to make exceptions and the rebate cheque was adjusted to 200% higher than the maximum amount to reflect my own circumstances - therefore covering both BFPs at the max guideline rate that the program only covers one for.

Whilst not everything coming out of city hall right now is positive, this handling of my flooding experience has been handled very well.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Toronto, Rob Ford and Tourism

For the second time this week, Rob Ford is back on the front page of international news for all the wrong reasons.  Naturally, there are people calling for him to resign.

You just can't by exposure like this, so someone should be capitalizing on this fame to help the city.  As the phrase goes "if life gives you lemons, make lemonade"...  

Here's a graph of Toronto Tourism vs Rob Ford on Google Trends in 2011. 

Here's the same thing for 2013.

As you can see, one man's delinquent behaviour is outstripping talk of tourism to the city by orders of magnitude.

Surely someone should be correcting this?

CIBC and Interac. Yet another surprise.

Those who have been following my farce at CIBC where Interac had to finally get involved to shed light on what happened at CIBC, won't be surprised to learn that today the icing on this cake arrived.

When after CIBC messed up, I was advise by Interac that rather than pay CIBC to cancel the Interac transactions, just let it expire for free. During this same conversation I also learned that Interac didn't actually have my money either, as CIBC was holding it all along - making the whole cause of this issue inexcusable, as it becomes an almost entirely internal issue at CIBC which can't be blamed on a foul-up interfacing with any third party.  The interface that failed was entirely within CIBC itself.

Fast forward two weeks.
Today, I was doing some online banking and noticed that CIBC had not put my money back in my account.  The date of expiry had passed, I looked in the CIBC interac section and found an online notice saying that the remaining Interac transaction (that shouldn't have existed according to CIBC themselves) had finally expired.  


Now, I made the chronic mistake of not taking a screenshot of what the bank was saying this morning, but there's no indication of where the money now was. Sadly, the message changed after reclaiming it, so I have lost the proof of that one.

Long story short:  They don't advise you of this in the expiry message, but you have to go and claim your money back (from the Bank, not Interac) as the bank is quite happy to hold on to your money that they took and have told you wasn't sent (oh the repeating irony).  
This is just plain sneaky, and only adds to my understanding that CIBC is being as transparent as a pint of Guinness when it comes to this whole affair.  

The conclusion

As of today, the CIBC twitter team still hasn't answered or acknowledged the request for customer service to address the problem.  It's been three weeks since they dropped the ball.  Whilst Interac was going to look into escalating why CIBC was putting out false information, that has left a dangling end, too.  

Having said all this, my poking and prodding to work out where the operational wheels fell off this cart has meant that I have a pretty solid understanding of what happened at this point.  Whilst it's all branded as Interac instead of CIBC, it looks like Interac's operational involvement in this farce was minimal and the technological foul-up happened solely within CIBC, and was then compounded by lack of clarity, dependability, further technology failures, abandoning all commitment to customer service, lack of communication and so the list goes on.

Whilst I'm usually very happy to fight small issues in public so that other people are aware of the everyday practices that can affect the average person on the street, this tale has aggravated me enough that having exhausted the usual "proper resolution channels", I'm going to sound the alarm higher within CIBC to stop this ever happening again.  

CIBC needs to drop anchor and do an internal post-mortem on this.  To that end, a dossier that I'm compiling now will be passed to CIBC and Interac in the coming days.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tesco's Facial Recognition Elephant

The new advertising system proposed at the UK supermarket Tesco has generated a very good discussion on privacy.

Whilst the wheels publicly fell off the transparency wagon on twitter when Tesco claimed they could answer certain questions about certain operation aspects, it does raise a number of important questions.

From what little is known, they are using AVA, or "Anonymous Video Advertising".  The concept being it analyses your facial features to determine gender, age, etc.  

The questions start with what happens to the data.  There's two types of data:

  • Visual Data
  • Inferred Data 
Tesco claims that they don't keep the visual facial data, but that fails to assure people how the derived meta-data is being used.  In fact, the focus is so bad on the camera side, the underlying logic of the real threat hasn't really surfaced in general discussion.  Combined with a Tesco Club card, for instance, are they recording that a female in their 40s shops with that card Monday to Friday whilst a mid-40s male shops on that card at weekends?  What else are they inferring?  Is this backed up with other technologies such as mac address scanning of your mobile phone? Given the first half of that is the hardware vendor, you can tell whether that teenage male is flush with cash (has an iPhone) or not (has some old Blackberry or Android device).

It's a slippery slope, and there's no mention of opting in or out.  Maybe Tesco think that you implicitly agree to stereotypical gender discrimination of advertising just through the act of entering their stores?

It can be circumvented though, for time immemorial people have had ways of disguising or obfuscating their face.  The easiest way is just to cover your own face.

It remains to be seen whether the public backlash dies down or Tesco backs down, but for now there is a huge elephant in the room that is clearly not being addressed.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Why “If you’re not paying, then you’re product” is only part of the truth.

We’ve all heard the phrase that “If you’re not paying, then you’re product”.  

Most people understand what this means when it comes to free services like Facebook, or Gmail.  In those circumstances, you’re not the customer as the real customer is the advertiser who is paying your service provider to have access to your time, eyeballs and attention.

Some companies allow you to upgrade your service by paying them a fee.  At this point you might feel like your service provider is now beholden to you, not the advertisers.  This may be true in a small minority of cases, but largely what happens here is your adverts disappear and the service provider switches from pandering to it’s customers (the advertisers) to pandering to it’s stockholders, who may - or may not - have interests that align with your interests.  This means that even if you are paying for a service, there’s something in the small print that says what you are now paying for might still be changed or removed and there’s not a lot you can do about this.  On top of that, your anonymized data is still probably being sold.

I first saw this interest clash in banking.  As a teen, I learned the hard way that you don’t ask the bank to alter your existing accounts to take advantage of new features.  If you need a new feature or service, you open a new account.  That way, the bank can’t use it’s “one-way” migration practices where if you change your account and decide you want it back how you had it, the bank will claim that it can’t be done (remember that as a paying customer, you’re still playing second fiddle to the stockholders).  This also means your older account continues to “grandfather” with privileges that new accounts no longer have, and you can move your funds back into it at any time you want.

But times are changing.

Until recently, you were either a customer or supplier.  In rare cases, you might be both, and when that happened, both parties were normally very aware of this.  Your local bank manager knew you, and knew that you had an account with them, and the bank used your services (let’s say it’s window cleaning).  They also knew that some of their customers might also be your customers, too.  Everything was clear cut and everyone understood this.

Where we are at right now is a different scenario where the common supplier (Bank, Telco, etc) thinks that they have a grip on their customers whilst trying to satisfy their stockholders, but has also totally disengaged from them.  You phone them up and you have speak to someone in India.  If you want to use their service, you don’t visit them - instead you go to a website run out of the other side of the country.  If you apply some common sense to this, you quickly realize that other than “big picture” analytics, they’re losing touch with the reality of modern B2C commerce.

And this “blindness” is being compounded by technological changes.

One of the biggest things I learned this year, around this ethos, very much applies to Bell Canada, who now enjoys a much reduced role in my household.  After the public three-way debacle between them, myself and Yellow Pages Canada, I took what I learned about public protesting, technology and social media, and I realized I also had things slightly wrong.

I was viewing myself as a customer of Bell’s who plays second fiddle to their stockholders.  The result of this was I almost solely used social media to get my message out to other customers - the logic being “Bell is bigger than me, so I need to bulk up with more people” in order to win.  Whilst I lost the first battle with Bell, I did ultimately win the war because Yellow Pages Canada had no intention of standing alongside Bell Canada at the Privacy Commission and undid everything Bell was resolving to have as the status quo.  Everything that was a problem got “magically” fixed.  The entire debacle cost me $12 in advertising, though it cost Bell and YPG Canada a lot more.  

Now, as an iPhone programmer, I have my own personal customers from the things I do in my spare time.  They have iPhones and some of them run on Bell.  So, we’re back to the “My customer is your customer” scenario, just like previously at the banks.  

Unlike the bank situation where everyone is well aware of where they stand, this is not the case any longer.  Further, the telcos have been commoditized to the point that not only are they unaware that customers have access to other customers, they’re also being used as the conduit to enable me to get to their customers, at which point I can display whatever messages I want with no financial gain to themselves.  As another phrase goes:  "The customer is always right until the customer stop paying".

So lets return to the original statement of “If you’re not paying, then you’re product”…Bell’s customers are paying Bell and myself making some of them my customers too.  Bell is giving me access to their customers at no charge.  Does that make me the product of Bell?  

It doesn’t appear so.  

However, the stockholders would probably be somewhat befuddled by what exactly would be going on here because they’d be in the position of being used as enablers for something external to them that they probably don’t want to happen regardless, yet they're the conduit for something that they can't charge for, whilst I can now raise my point much easier than before.  

So to conclude:

This phrase is wrong.
“If you’re not paying, then you’re product”…

A more correct phrase should be.

“If you’re not being paid for what you do, you’re not in control - someone else is.”

Monday, November 4, 2013

Big Data Breaches And The Status Quo

Last night I was doing what I often do; checking that I'm not caught up in a data leak/breach.  My attention last night wasn't on Bell Canada or Rogers or any of my usual suspects - it was Adobe.

Now, I'm not going to link to the breached data, but anyone that wants to go looking for it will find it easy enough. When I found a way to search it, I went trawling through it looking for my details.  What I found was not my details, but one of two distant relatives who have the same name as each other - so this morning a quick Facebook post located the correct one and he was alerted to change his password.

Normally, I found myself having to do this in a somewhat covert manner - the law in most countries is wholly out of date where technology is concerned, so I often conclude before I start that someone somewhere looking at leaked data to see if they're affected is most likely to be told that this is tantamount to handling stolen properly, regardless that your intent to see whether the data has your lost property in it. 

This brings me to my point I want to raise:  why do we still treat people who are potentially the victims as the criminals?

I've said many times that the law is normally comically out of date with technology and the judicial system is a circus, but we hurtling very fast into a scenario where we are not just living with out technological pants down, but the legal system is actively giving us wedgies every time we try to correct the position we get put in.

What I think needs to be done is when a breach happens of sufficient magnitude, say 10 million records or more, the authorities set up a notification/search service to allow us to find out exactly how we are affected, as the status quo is clearly backwards.

What we have right now just isn't helping us.