Friday, 30 December 2011

Lessons from the Power Outage

There is plenty of hot water in the tank, and it will keep reheating as it runs on gas. Unlike the furnace, the water heater does not need mains power for its control or ignition.

The phone does not work. Even though I have corded phones, I use Shaw home phone which relies on a modem on the cable. And that modem has to be powered to work. If you are debating the virtues of buying a package deal between Shaw and Telus, that might be the decider. Telus land lines work in power cuts - as long as you have a simple corded phone.

The cell phone of course works and can also be used for internet connectivity as long as its own battery is charged. I have now bought a spare wall charger and another for use in the car.

The alarm clock-radio still works (it has a back up battery) even though its display is off: so the alarm will sound even though you cannot tell the time from it. I have several clocks which run on batteries and of course an old fashioned wristwatch which winds itself.

I have emergency candles: I have no candlesticks. Saucers work and are essential to catch wax drips. The candles should be kept with the saucers and matches.

The flash light batteries died almost as soon as I turned it on. It uses rechargeable cells, but I also have spare non-rechargeable cells. When the rechargeable fades, it fades fast. I had forgotten that I had put rechargeables in it and had not recharged them as a standard practice.

Skier dies after avalanche in Pemberton, B.C.

Last night I expanded my use of new media. The Vancouver Sun is offering a free download a day on iTunes. This is not a service I have used very much since I do not own an iPod nor do I feel like paying for downloads. The great success of Steve Jobs was getting people to people for downloaded music, which changed the distribution of recorded music and now video too. Up until now I have been limiting the amount of video I watch on my computer, as I regard it as a personal device, though my MacBook Pro has a 15" screen, that is quite small by tv standards. It dies of course play HD - something my tv and DVD cannot do.

For home movies we mostly borrow from the library or rent from who send the discs by mail. But I cancelled my zip subscription since they seem to have fewer and fewer hints I want to watch. I suppose at some stage we will have to consider an HD tv and a device to download or stream from internet, but my partner was persuaded that we could try out this free documentary I had downloaded from the Sun. I was about snowboarding - something one of her sons does, but within the confines of the ski resorts. This was about the extreme stuff. Back country heli-skiing - or rather "riding" - we had seen something rather similar quite recently and the photography of the mountains was spectacular.

"The Art of Flight" is said to be "a new breed of sports action film from Red Bull Media"
"Equal parts action and adventure mix with the inevitable drama encountered along the way. Two years in the making, "The Art of FLIGHT" gives iconic snowboarder Travis Rice and friends the opportunity to redefine what is possible in the mountains. Experience the highs, as new tricks are landed and new zones opened, alongside the lows, where avalanches, accidents and wrong-turns strike. For the first time, viewers are immersed in the sometimes successful, often trying quest to open up new, unexplored mountains in remote corners of the world. "

What Red Bull is doing, of course, is promoting a product to a specific demographic - young, single, adult males. And of course as much youth as they can get too. Young men have excess testosterone and an unshakeable belief in their own invulnerability. They strain against the restrictions and rules of society - and all societies have rituals and activities designed to channel their energies and enthusiasms. Some of which are successful. I will not get into the role of the product Red Bull is selling. In my own view it is unnecessary - but it is not illegal. And the way that we regulate food and drink as well as additives and supplements works in the interests of the producers not the consumers. As one would expect by a state which has been taken over by corporate interests.

Watching the movie we were struck by the avalanches caused by their penetration of back country areas where there are no ski patrol or snow grooming. Indeed in one sequence the young men stamp their boards on the top of a crest and watch as the top surface of the snow below them sheers away and slides for miles, gaining strength as it goes.

The cbc story that the title links to includes details of the very high avalanche risk in BC at present. No-one going into the mountains should be unaware of such risk. I cannot comment on the specifics of the four young men involved in this incident, not am I any kind of winter sportsman. I do not and will not slide on any surface voluntarily. But those who do must understand the risks.

The juxtaposition of the cbc story and Post Media's use of what is really a 1 hour 40 minute Red Bull commercial featuring very dangerous snow boarding in back country areas is possibly unfortunate. But is does cause me to wonder the extent to which corporations should be encouraging young people to put their lives needlessly at risk. And others who may take a more objective editorial stance but would still be happy to accept advertising material - and maybe even programming - material from them.

UPDATE The CBC is now ( 11:45 Dec 30) reporting that the skier who died after being caught in the avalanche was a ski patroller from Whistler

Friday, 16 December 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Last night we finished watching the DVDs (from of the BBC series. The new movie is now showing in Vancouver, and it is on my to do list, but for me George Smiley is Alec Guinness. Just as before the tv series started (many years ago) I re-read the novel, because something once seen cannot be unseen, and if you hear something on the radio first (like The Hitchhiker's Guide) or read it you already have a clear visual memory of what you have not seen, that is going to be replaced.

The six part tv series seemed slow going this time around- even though thanks to DVD we could watch two episodes back to back, and zip was careful to send us the disks in sequence. With the book - and yes I re-read that too, having to buy an new copy (why do otherwise honest people never return the books they've borrowed?) - I often stopped reading to think about how the plot was working. Even though there was no "who dun nit" by then. The movie is going to have to be very compressed to get all that plot in. The book is a bit like a dance of seven veils. The opening chapters of Jim Prideux as a school teacher appear to have nothing to do with spies. Jim just seems paranoid. Or perhaps a bit shell shocked.

If you have not seen the movie I will not spoil it for you. But you should know that there really were moles in the British Secret Service. One of them even turned out be the Keeper of the Queen's Pictures (Anthony Blunt). Kim Philby is the model for le Carre's mole, I think.

I was a lad from the East End. Went to grammar school. Left wing politics were part of my being. When I started encountering the upper classes they were still very snobby about background, and questioned my loyalty simply because I was not a Tory. I spoke BBC English - but not the strangled vowels of the "public schools" (which in England are, in fact, private). "A thizeand pinds in my trizers". Somehow the treachery of the aristocracy - the donkeys who lead the lions - the self serving of every villain in English Literature from Shakespeare onwards - the cruelty of the bullies, the selfishness of the rich, the double standards - "the law is for the guidance of wise men and the instruction of fools" meant that I was hardly surprised at all at the revelations of real double agents, who came from privilege and Oxford.

And besides, Deighton had already covered the territory of the lower class, smart lad in Intelligence in a masterly counterpoint to the myth of James Bond.

Reading le Carre now - especially his newest books - he does seem dated. But one thing that did strike a chord last night was the denunciation by the mole of "the Americans". Substitute "the 1%" or "multinational corporations" or "the elite" and you have a very good justification for why someone who cared about social justice might indeed be willing to spy for the Soviets, and would feel quite justified betraying his colleagues. All of whom have some very unpleasant characteristics. The Circus is populated withe real, fallible human beings and is a much more credible account of the workplace than The Office.

And where did this bit of dialogue come from

"I question your loyalty sometimes"

"I question it all the time"

Saturday, 26 November 2011

All Inclusive Resorts

The front page of the travel section of today's Vancouver Sun is about all inclusive resorts. In fact, most of the section is about Mexico - and as it happens I have just returned from the Mayan Riviera where we stayed in two such resorts - the Hotel Catalonia Yucatan Beach and the Grand Serenis Mayan Beach. In fact both hotels are in large enclosed developments ('gated communities' in US speak) and both have two hotels sharing their sites.

The article claims that all inclusive resorts are now better than they were ten years ago. In the fourth paragraph Celeste Moure states "Neither one of us had ever stayed at an all-inclusive" - yet she has just spent three paragraphs ripping them apart. She also claims that additional charges are a thing of the past. Based on one hotel she has experienced - or two that I have. Both hotels practice the art of up selling from the moment you check in. Whatever standard of room you bought, there is the potential to go better - for an extra charge. At the Hotel Catalonia they also charge extra to use the in room safe ($3 a night) and both charge extra for internet usage (Catalonia's wi fi is at least free in the lobby if you brought your own computer).

Yucatan beach

Serenis is the most aggressive having a "Premium Travellers' Club" they want everyone to join, to get better suites, better booze in the mini bar and a special section on the beach equipped with four poster beds. The sales pitch is more like a time share - and in fact if you do join the club you can use the fee as a downpayment on some swamp land they have for sale. They told us we would get free internet and a beach bag if we listened to a 90 minute presentation - which actually took three hours before we got up and walked out. They were also unable to improve on Corona - why there is choice of all drinks except beer I do not understand.

Mayan Beach

Both hotels will provide special meals at extra cost - the Serenis even has one of its "a la carte" restaurants charge extra. And at any dinner anything other than house wine will cost plenty. Bottles of Chilean wine that retail here for $13 (with BC Liquor mark ups and taxes) are sold for over US$40.

The tips may have been included in the price, but as with cruise ships, if you show willing to hand out dollar bills, service dramatically improves. The tour company's rep also recommended tipping the maids, bell boys and bus drivers.

All that being said, the holidays are still excellent value for money. Serenis does have a new room service menu that it introduced just as we left - again, most of it at extra cost. We did not try that, but I was charmed to find that behind the bar they do have a genuine 12 year single malt. Glennfiddich. And there was no extra charge for that.

Monday, 31 October 2011

"Happy Hallowe'en"? I don't think so

I will not be at home this evening. So when your children come knocking, the door will not be answered. I have now learned by bitter experience that this will be an excuse for the "trick" bit of "trick or treat". Last year the front of the house was comprehensively "egged". I just hope the damage they do this year will be no worse.

I learned this weekend of a day care that now has no toys for their children to play with when outdoors. Some idiot - armed with hallowe'en fireworks - set them alight. They were stored in a locked, fenced compound, so it was an easy matter to poke a firework through the mesh. They would, of course, claim ignorance that a propane cylinder was also stored there. The subsequent fire must have been especially gratifying for their pyromaniac tendency. The damage to adjacent buildings was significant.

The CBC attempted to deter by running a fire department demo of fire crackers - and video of a boy displaying what was left of his fingers after an incident last year. They followed up with the very useful information that legal fireworks - bear deterrents - are sold to anyone by outdoor outfitters. This also included video of how these devices work. They are, of course, explosives.

It seems to me foolish in the extreme to allow the sale of fireworks to the general public, in light of the record in recent years. Quite why fireworks and hallowe'en got associated in the first place baffles me. But then I do not see why we need "celebrate" this odd jumble of old superstitions. It is a bit like getting alarmed by potential zombie invasions. But if there must be fireworks, why not confine them to properly regulated public displays?

For the last couple of nights my sleep has been disturbed. The new generation of firecrackers seem to me to be not only louder but also designed to mimic the firing of automatic weapons. Sadly, this is something we are becoming familiar with here, as the gang wars move into populated areas and even busy streets in broad daylight. Why anyone thinks letting off fireworks past midnight in an urban park is "fun" also defeats me.

On the news tonight there will be yet more reports of the increased load on fire departments and emergency rooms. There will probably also be accounts of property damage - and quite possibly other malfeasances committed under the cover of the "festivities"

We love the scary bits of Hallowe'en. The dreadful warnings of the tainted "treats" are greatly over done. Much more to the point would be the damage that the untainted candies will do, but that of course would offend those who profit so greatly from this over consumption of confectionary.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

REVIEW: Vancouver Opera West Side Story

From the Program Notes "From the beginning, the team [Bernstein, Sondheim, Laurents, Robbins] was adamant that this not be an opera"

Perhaps that might explain the large number of empty seats at last night's performance. Are people put off by the word "opera"? It was a Broadway show - groundbreaking, revolutionary but highly successful - and then a block buster movie. Which was when I discovered it for myself - just as I was entering the teenage phase of dating. This was actually the first time I had seen the stage show - which has many notable differences to the movie, and is in many ways stronger. Though dated, of course. The story is "Romeo and Juliet" reworked but it is the music and lyrics that captured me - and, last night, the dancing.

I got very emotionally involved - really to my own surprise. I thought I was past that, but I felt like a teenager again - anxious, nervous, and emotional all at the same time. Yet this is a very stagey presentation. It makes a virtue of the need to move people on and off the stage and there are no stage hands to move the scenery or props. The cast does that. But it all works brilliantly. There are only four performances left. If you can, you should not miss it.

And, honestly, I would suggest that you ignore the surtitles: they are quite unnecessary and also very inaccurate.

Incidentally the Opera has taken a real risk with this show - see the Globe article

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

"Chef Sampler" sushi from Thrifty Foods

A new store opened today in Sapperton. Thrifty now have seven stores in the Lower Mainland with "more to come". They are no longer the independent Vancouver Island company I got to know when I first moved to Victoria but part of IGA - which means that there are growing numbers of "Compliments" brand goods on their shelves replacing the Alex Campbell brand in some cases. However, it is still a store worth driving a distance for - especially for their fresh foods. In store made sushi been one of the attractions (this selection was $9.69, which compares favourably to most take out places). Indeed the people working the sushi counter recognized me from the Tsawassen store. New Westminster is about the same drive time - and their traffic is no worse than getting stuck on the wrong side of the tunnel in the pm peak. Moreover this store will be open 24/7 which means that is will be relatively convenient for shifts at the bridge - and much to be preferred over Wal-Mart, which is close but unacceptable!

The store is located on the former brewery site and, of course, does not show up yet on Google - so roughly on East Columbia between Alberta and Simpson Streets on the east side of the street. There is underground parking - but you will need to pay and get the ticket "validated" (this was not the case today as a concession on opening) and remember your stall number.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Restaurant Review: Nelson the Seagull

Nelson the Seagull has been open since May of this year. In their own words, they are about bread and coffee - and they do both exceedingly well.


They are located on Carrall between Hastings and Cordova which you might think of as Gastown but is still the Downtown Eastside, and definitely raises the tone. Even so, I would be cautious about parking my bike where I couldn't keep an eye on it, if I were you. Carrall is one of the streets that has seen its cycle facilities upgraded recently.

Nelson the Seagull interior

As you can see the interior is welcoming and does have the air of a home.

Nelson the Seagull menu

The menu is short, but the choices are still adequately varied, though since I like to eat lunch at noon, when I arrived not all of the items - the stew for instance - were ready.

Nelson the Seagull carnivore

This came with a knife and fork, so I ate it that way. It would have been quite a mouthful if I had put the components together. Cilantro pesto is a good idea, but I would have preferred that the cheese be identified. This is going to sound like carping, because the white bread is truly very good. But I try to get as much whole grain into my carbs as I can (to lower the glycemic index) so I am hoping that they will introduce some greater variety of bread in future.

Nelson the Seagull carnivore

I haven't ordered a "flat white" before, since I haven't seen it on a menu, but it turns out that is what I have been making for myself at home. My partner likes to eat the fluffier foam from the top of the pitcher with a spoon - and I am happy to indulge her. Of course, I use a much bigger cup, and I have never managed to produce latte art.

Wikipedia says "A flat white is a coffee beverage from Australia and New Zealand. It is prepared by pouring microfoam (steamed milk from the bottom of a pitcher) over a single shot (30 millilitre) or double shot of espresso. It is similar to the latte and the café au lait and like other espresso based beverages it can be interpreted various ways.

The beverage is typically served in a small, 150–160 millilitre, ceramic cup. Microfoam is used, resulting in a smooth and velvety texture. A flat white may incorporate latte art."

Up to now, when in Gastown I have seen little reason to go beyond the Water Street cafe - but the number and quality of establishments is certainly rapidly increasing. I no longer have kids at home so the Spaghetti Factory has not seen me for a while despite its in house tram. Nelson will certainly see me more often

Monday, 26 September 2011

WINDmobile: The saga

I got a bill in the email from WIND today. I would like to say I am surprised but I am not. You might want to read my reasons why I left WIND before going further.

As far as I am concerned I ended my relationship with WIND on September 13th when I sent them this email (some personal identifying data has been redacted)

I have been on hold for a "cancellation agent" for half an hour. That is beyond unacceptable. Indeed if the customer service agent I had been speaking to had not said "I am going to transfer you and wait on line with you until the cancellation agent answers" I would have hung up sooner. Instead I heard the same tune and the recorded voice promising a "real person" would answer in a minute over and over again. In all that time I heard nothing further from the customer service agent. I assume he was forced to answer other calls and could not wait with me.

My account number is xxxxxxxxx

My phone number was xxxxxxxx

Stephen Rees
xxxxxxxx Highway
Richmond BC
V7x xxx

On Friday of last week I unlocked my phone. Since then the SIM card for WIND will NOT connect to your service. I have therefore gone to a new, more competitive service provider.

The customer service agent told me that my account shows a balance owing of 50c. However, your payment system cannot accept payments under $1.

That, it seems to me, is your problem not mine. I think that a company that expects its customers to go out of their way to make payments in cash is out of touch with current reality. If you had paypal, for instance, I could settle easily. If your on line system for credit cards actually worked - or if the agent could have said either that the amount would be waived as a gesture of good will, or some acceptable payment method suggested, then we would not have an issue.

[here I inserted a link to my previous blog post]

I would also commend the customer service agent for being the first WIND employee who actually tried to win back my business. Sadly, he was too late and had nothing to offer that I wanted. The interminable delay that was imposed on me because I wanted to close my account settles the matter for me. I would not come back to you now even if you paid me to.

When I tried calling WIND's customer service number today on my cell phone I was first cut off, then found that my phone dialler could not select any of the options on their system. So I had to call them on a land line.

When I got through, the customer service agent confirmed that they had a record of my previous conversation, and the email I have quoted above. Note here that they have never replied to that email. She insisted that I had not closed my account since I did not stay on the line after being kept on hold to speak to the "customer loyalty department". She also said that she did not have the ability to cancel my account either. I explained that I was using a land line at work, and that I could not tie up that one while on hold to speak to someone who COULD cancel my account. After some asperity on my part, I suggested that she write down my new cell phone number and ask the cancellation agent to call me on that, since I cannot use their system on my cell (as described above). She agreed that she could ask them to call me. That was an hour ago. I have yet to hear from them, so I decided to start writing this blog post.

As things stand at the moment, I have a cell phone that is incapable of calling the WIND system - even if I put back their SIM card. I am being required to pay for a month of service on this phone that I have not used on their system. Since I have been unable to talk to a cancellation agent, billing will continue until I can. But now I am simply waiting for them to call me.

UPDATE September 27

I had a call today from Kathy at WINDMobile. She said "this should have been handled better. I will take care of it for you." She then "took it off the air" and closed the account, confirming that it now shows a zero balance. She also said "I apologize" and hoped that they would have an opportunity to better in future.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Book Review: Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Sights

Did you see the Bucket List?

"Two terminally ill men escape from a cancer ward and head off on a road trip with a wish list of to-dos before they die."

They have a list of places one of them wants to see before he "kicks the bucket". It helps that the other one is very rich and has no other way to spend his money. Jack Nicholson revels in such roles - not dissimilar to Melvin Udal, for instance.

Lonely Planet publishes the sort of guide books that appeal to me, since if you use one you do not necessarily end up at the same sights as every other tourist. For instance, one of the things I like to do in a new city is seek out local beer - preferably microbrewery stuff or even brew pubs. That and LP is why we ended up one lunchtime in a biker bar in San Francisco - close to downtown but far from the ordinary.

Bike rack Zeitgeist

They have sent me a pdf of a new venture - and also a hard copy - which is I suppose a way of helping you to chose your own bucket list. It is a lavish production but not something you would stuff in your bag to take on a trip. More something to leaf through on a cold evening when there is nothing on tv. The photography is stunning and the quality of reproduction excellent. For each one of the 1,000 sites there is a 100 words summary - and some basic info on how to get there - usually a URL. They are grouped into categories "Greatest Wildlife Spectacles" for instance. Of my personal favourites "Most Interesting Subway Stations" - Baker Street is their first choice (been there) and Montreal (yup) - for its art.

Baker Street - Underground Station

And, of course, even though they have a thousand "ultimates" I expect we will all be in disagreement with some of their choices. I went to Washington but the National Cathedral was not on my list of things to see - they chose it because it has Darth Vader gargoyle! But then think of all those tourists who go to the Louvre because they have read the Da Vinci Code. By the way the only other site in the American capital they mention is the Renoir painting "Luncheon of the Boating Party" at the Phillips Collection. Drat, missed that too.

The index, by the way works as most indeces do by page number, even though each of Sights is numbered sequentially.

Most Iconic Trees mentions nowhere in Canada - much less Cathedral Grove, BC - but of course Sherwood Forest is in there (cross that one off) and California Redwoods get mentioned. Done that too.

Canada does get some mentions: Niagara Falls (been there many times) Green Gables, polar bears in Churchill, Burgess Shale in BC (I have been trying to get there for a while - forest fires stopped me last time) and Drumheller, CN Tower (check). Of Vancouver - nothing at all. Not prettiest baseball field, or greenest city or (of course) most liveable city. I guess we have nothing ultimate to offer - so perhaps we are not world class after all.

Not many people will be able to claim all1,000 but it was intriguing in my first flip through how many I had seen - and also the number that were already on my own bucket list. But mine is much shorter, more eclectic (I think) and more affordable. For instance the upper falls in Cypress Falls Park - this is the lower one, and the lack of a good guide at the time meant we missed the upper one.

A bigger splash

UPDATE Well I had one of those cold evenings so i checked out the Ultimate Sights in Paris - and initially I was impressed that 17 were listed - 18 if you count Versailles. But then I looked at them and found that some appear more than once and some categories are of dubious value. First up the cemetery at Pere Lachaise. That was the first place I visited the first time I went to Paris - but simply because it was the closest to the apartment where I was staying and the 20th arrondissement has not much else to offer. The self same cemetery appears three times "Most Romantic Spots" (tomb of Abelard and Heloise) best music pilgrimage sights (Jim Morrison's grave) and Best Places of Rest. Actually, it does get mentioned in Lonely Planet's Paris guide as the world's most visited cemetery. I just don't get off on graveyards - or gaols.

Most Notorious Prisons: Conciergerie
Best Underground Sights: Catacombs
Art Nouveau Icons: métro entrances (though only one is completely original)
Most Unusual Stadia: Hippodrome d'Auteuil
The Opera (twice)
Tastiest Gourmet Sights: Food Hall Bon Marche
Mona Lisa
Sacre Coeur (Notre Dame doesn't make "most amazing cathedral or church, nor does Chartres, or Salisbury for that matter)
Greatest Bookshops: Shakespeare & Co (Foyle's in London doesn't get in either). Maybe Shakespeare rates as an English bookshop in France - though even those are not as rare as they were once.

Well, you get the idea. Of course the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe are in there.

Targetted ad misses

The screenshot above was taken from my computer this morning. It appeared at the top of the Guardian's web page - but you won't see it if you click the link. You will see something else. You will get to an article which talks about what the Guardian hoped to achieve. The ad gets inserted into a space and is supposed to reflect who you are, where you live and what you buy. It is the technology that has made companies like Google extremely wealthy. These ads are actually from Rogers Digital Media (I know that since a banner from them replaced the one above). I do not know what technology Rogers is using, but it is not very good at doing its job. I have complained about this before when, having bought a cruise holiday, I then got bombarded by ads for Celebrity cruises - at the time before I had had the cruise but when my willingness to buy another one was at its lowest.

I hate the big banks. RBC is no better or worse than any of them. But mostly my french is nothing like as good as it was when I was 14 years old. And Google translate means I no longer worry about that. Ads I usually ignore anyway - ads in french are no worse than ads on tv with the sound muted (as long as the tv does not automatically insert subtitles when you hit the mute button). Anyway the Guardian got a bit of revenue for my page view and the RBC got screwed so that's alright, isn't it?


Monday, 12 September 2011

Mobilicity - teething troubles

On Friday I went to the mall and paid off my WINDmobile bill. I asked the young man to unlock my phone. He declined and said the only way to do that is to call 611. While I was at the mall I checked out the competition. The young woman at Koodoo admitted they were really Telus (end of conversation) and the salesman at Wireless Wave gave me a lot of rather misleading information. I think he really wanted to sell me a phone. He said that there are some outlets in Richmond that will unlock phones for $20, but the practice was "illegal". While there may be such outlets, the illegality seems to me to be unlikely. You can, of course, find out how to unlock phones on the internet.

In any event I could find no better deal currently than Mobilicity's "back to school" offer of $25 for unlimited local calling, text and data. It's that last one that wins me over - since the availability of open wifi seems to have declined very steeply in recent weeks. With WIND I was able to tether my smart phone to my MacBook - but I ran up a data bill very quickly that way. Convenient but expensive.

I visited the nearest Mobilicity store at No 2 Road and Blundell - and while they were willing to unlock my phone it turned out they didn't know how to do it either. So I called 611 and got the unlock code from WIND. They wanted the phone's serial number and to get that you enter *#06# on the phone key pad. That enables them to calculate an unlock code which is of limited validity.

I then walked over to Starbucks for a nice cup of tea, a table with a 110v outlet nearby and (of course) free wifi. So to save you looking up how to unlock a WINDmobile Nokia 5230 smartphone here is the process in 4 easy steps

1. Turn off the phone

2. Remove the SIM card (to do that the battery has to come out too, but you put that back before the next step).

3. Turn on the phone. Since it does not have a SIM card it will not connect

4. Using the phone keypad enter the following #pw+[the unlock code from WIND]+1#

note: do not enter the square brackets. Since you do not have a p or a w on your keypad use the * key

tap *** for P, **** for W and ** for +

The letters and symbols will appear on the screen. If they appear as **** delete (using the C key at bottom right of the pad) and do it again. Once entered correctly the message "SIM Restriction off" will appear. I was a bit surprised that after I had done this, putting the SIM card back did not re-establish a WIND connection. I had not at that time cancelled my account, so it seems that unlocking the phone did that automatically.

So now I had to get a new account somewhere and Mobilicity was closest. They set me me up for the $25 a month deal plus $20 for a new SIM card. The phone worked for voice and text - and they left it at that. I should have stayed and checked some more but I was now running late, so I left. I later determined that the smartphone would not do email or the web. I got the message "Packet data connection not available".

Now, when the phone was connected to the Mobilicity network for the first time, it spent a while sending and receiving text messages which were supposed to reset many things: including the home page of the web browser and so on. I assume that the staff at the store thought that these set up signals would turn my unlocked phone into a replica of the Nokia 5230 model that they sell. That certainly seemed to be the intention - looking at the messages I got on it. But once again I had to spend time talking to someone at a call centre. For Mobilicity this is *611 - and I had to enter the correct WAP information into the phone set up menus manually. Then I had to remove the SIM card and battery and leave the phone like that for five minutes, so that when I reconnected it would reset and a new signal be sent to it.

So now I have internet connectivity and can do email and web on the small screen. Good. By the way, the browser web home page is still WINDmobile! However, talking to Mobilicity support provided all the necessary information about how to change that - and the web page and passwords needed.

What took longer was to tether the Nokia to my MacBook. A call to *611 gave me some information, but not enough to establish a connection initially. Mobilicity does not "support" tethering - because it requires expertise that they think only Nokia or maybe Apple can supply. Indeed, the only way I established tethering in the first place was by using information from the Nokia support web pages (three different ones). I had, foolishly (it seems) assumed that the same settings would work for Mobilicity since none of them were site specific - like a web addresses. But by thinking through what I had done to get web access, the changes I had to make to the Macs connection settings were straightforward. Leave the telephone number as *99# and enter the identity and password as advised by Mobilicity for web access. I took a little while to get this sorted, but it works now.

Friday, 9 September 2011

WINDMobile - I'm leaving

I tried to email them from their webpage. It doesn't work. No surprise there I called them. The person at the other end (after the usual "two minute" wait that always takes much longer) doesn't know who I am from call display, yet I am calling 611 from the phone they supplied.

For several months recently, their web page - and their phone system - has been rejecting my credit cards. It never accepted Amex (of course) but usually if VISA was rejected Mastercard would work. Now even that has stopped. They think it may be because the address record they have for me differs from the one the credit card company has. Of course, the fact that I pay for many other things by credit card on line - and on sites in more than one country I might add (all three cards work faultlessly on sites in the UK and US as well as Canada) does not influence them. Besides, there is only one address. The only possible glitch might be that since I live in a town house some people put the unit number first, ahead of the street address, others afterwards. Every other system seems to cope with that. Not WINDmobile's, apparently. They have been aware of the problem for months - but they just blame the customer. So much easier than coding a web page properly.

They also once had the temerity to insist over the phone that I visit one of their booths in mall and pay by cash! As though my credit was no good!

I was really pleased when WIND came to Canada - and cheered when they won the case about "foreign ownership". Something to do with Egyptian banks. I don't care. I wanted an outbreak of real competition in a market dominated by three players (Telus, Rogers and Bell) and their surrogates - all those other names like FIDO conceal the fact that they are owned by one of the big three. WIND doesn't want a three year contract. Or any contract come to that. It rates are really competitive. You can change your plan for a $20 fee anytime you want to, if your calling pattern changes.

But then there are the inevitable glitches a new entrant to the market is bound to trip up on. In Greater Vancouver, WIND home coverage does not extend to Delta. If I go shopping in Tsawwassen, I get a text message welcoming me to the US - and the roaming charge that goes with that. Oddly, when I first went to San Francisco, my phone worked. It didn't in New York. But everyone recognizes that there will be slip ups, and they were simply helping me to defeat the risk that my phone would get snitched and used to run up a huge bill with overseas calls. Quite a common problem apparently. And easily prevented by putting a password on your phone if you think that is a good idea. Depends if you like to actually answer calls, I think.

Recently my data bill at WIND has risen - because more and more people are protecting their wifi networks, which cuts down on the opportunity for causal use of the laptop away from home. But also because using the smart phone is an easy way to locate a Car2GO. Just not a cheap way. I was seriously thinking about their latest unlimited voice, text and data for $29 a month offer (for 12 months then rises to $45). But if they cannot make it easy to pay my bill - and refuse to accept any responsibility for the problem they are well aware of - then why would I stay with them?

In any relationship based on buying a service, the customer who has a choice to switch service providers needs to feel wanted. It costs eight times more to win a new customer than retain an existing one. And existing customers are reluctant to make a fuss and put up with the inconvenience of switching. But there is a limit and I just passed mine. I am now researching the competition.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Tax - who pays and who doesn't

The story that inspired this post comes from the Guardian - about a campaigner in Britain concerned about tax avoidance, and tax havens.

The following quote that caught my eye

...when this government came into power almost the first thing it did was raise VAT rates so that ordinary people would pay more tax and then cut corporate tax rates.

"What's happening here is that the tax burden is being shifted from capital on to ordinary people."

VAT stands for Value Added Tax which is the UK equivalent of our HST.

Large corporations - and the people who run them - pay very little tax. Indeed the amount they "earn" has been steadily increasing at the same time as the amount they pay in tax has been declining. That is true in general - not just in the UK but nearly everywhere. This is the Bilderberg/Hayek/Ronald Regan effect. It has been adopted enthusiastically by governments all over the world: the places that don't do it are regarded as quaint eccentrics at best. But it was not enough to have the tax regime shifted from progressive (the rich pay more, the poor less) to regressive (the poor pay a lot, the rich pay very little) but the wealthy corporations and the rich have also taken advantage of the growing number of tax havens around the world, and the ease with which money can be moved between them. If the amounts are big enough.

So even though I have found an article about Britain and how little they are doing to fight tax avoidance, I will bet that exactly the same thing is happening here in Canada. CRA will be breathing down your neck if you are on a low income but have little resource to chase after the truly enormous amounts of money that are being shunted off shore to avoid paying tax.

I still don;t know how I am going to vote on the HST, simply because whichever way the decision goes it will cost us, the ordinary tax payers, plenty. But you can be sure that the sort of people who can afford to hire tax specialists will be laughing all the way to their money's hiding places.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Nigiri at Sushi Han

Nigiri at Sushi Han by Stephen Rees
Nigiri at Sushi Han, a photo by Stephen Rees on Flickr.

Top row l to r: Tako Salad (octopus, ginger, green onion) Maguro (tuna) Sake (salmon) Amaebi (sweet shrimp) Toro (tuna belly)
Bottom row l to r: Unagi (bbq eel) Crab Tempura, Hotate (scallop)

This small sushi restaurant has been at the corner of Blundell and No 2 for as long as I have lived in Richmond. It is very popular both for eat in and take away. In my opinion it is one of the best places in terms of sushi quality. Service can often get overwhelmed by the sheer level of demand. Even so, if I am in the neighbourhood close to meal times, I will still head there. If you are in the mood for something other than sushi then I recommend Nabeyaki Udon: the broth alone is worth travelling for - it seems to have some miraculous property that restores me when I am feeling less than cheerful.

By the way the selection above is my own choice of nigiri: their own combos work out a bit cheaper - this came to $13.72 with tax

Friday, 15 April 2011

Canadians: Prime minister should act like a CEO

This story is profoundly depressing. It shows how successful the corporate/right wing mindset has become. Most CEOs have none of the qualities identified "Having vision and leadership" not being exactly necessary. On the other hand most corporations behave like psychopaths - ignoring every human emotion except greed and aggrandizement. A corporation need only deliver one thing - a satisfactory rate of return to its shareholders. Indeed by law that is required of corporations - its only duty of care is to the people who invest in it. At one time successful companies had to take care of their employees and their customers, and there was indeed a careful balancing act. Many great companies even found ways to actually set an example to governments. The first "public housing" for instance was built by the quaker owned chocolate company Cadbury's - whose employee housing was far better when first built than any tied housing seen before. Port Sunlight - built by a soap maker - is still visited by urban planners an an example of best practice in built environments.

These days it is only the bottom line that matters to most CEOs - and the share price. Many companies now simply trade on the basis of the prospects of future earnings. The dot com boom (and bust) seemingly taught investors nothing: huge values are ascribed to enterprises that produce nothing and have nothing like an adequate revenue source.

The psychopath has no empathy. Nor do the companies that send their manufacturing off shore, to exploit workers in sweat shops in conditions that are illegal in the markets where the goods are actually sold. They destroy the environment, acting with callous disregard not just for the health and safety of their employees but everyone in the immediate vicinity - or indeed the whole world. The corporations fund misinformation campaigns, carefully building distrust of scientists or anyone who objectively reviews their operations. The tobacco industry has been found guilty of misrepresentation of the harm its products causes, but they still trade. The same techniques are now employed by big oil and coal companies who fund the climate change denial lobby. They are responsible for the inaction of the world's leaders to deal with the biggest risk that all life as we know it now faces. The fishing industry simply eliminates entire species - throws away much by catch - and then moves on into deeper waters having rendered the best fishing grounds deserts. The only difference between PG&E or Bernie Madoff and most large corporations is that they got caught. Most of the offenders are not even investigated let alone charged. many simply move off shore to avoid paying taxes or being subject to regulation. And desperate small countries offer them shelter in return for pitiful sums to allow them to survive: the flag of convenience comes very cheap to the company but at huge cost to sea farers. All of us pay more taxes (and these days fees and charges too) and suffer from withdrawal of essential services in order that the wealthy and the corporations they operate can get richer. It is possibly very telling that John le Carre - the pen name of an author who used to wrote spy fiction about the evils of the KGB and CIA - now writes about big pharmaceutical companies: if anything their behaviour is worse.

A Prime Minister ought to have regard for the well being of all of the citizens of the country he is elected to govern. He should be scrupulous, and be aware of the problems of other countries and peoples as he is called to represent us on the world stage. Our present PM has been responsible for the catastrophic drop in Canada's reputation. We were once seen as an example. We are now seen as a puppet in the hands of the multinational corporations as these are the only interests that are recognized as valid by what we are taught is no longer "The Government of Canada" but "The Harper Government ".

We do not need as CEO as PM. We need a statesman. Or woman. But of course the only one of them that is running is not even allowed into the debates

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The green thing

This got circulated on an email list I subscribe to. The person who sent it failed to provide the link from where he got it. I did not write this - I stole it. I make no apology for that. I will go do a search to see if there is an authentic original somewhere, but perhaps it is already viral. I hope so.


In the line at the store, the cashier told an older customer: "you know, plastic bags aren't good for the environment". The elderly lady apologized to the young cashier and explained, "You know, we didn't have the green thing back in our day."

That's right, we didn't have the green thing in her day. Back then, we returned our milk bottles, Coke bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, using the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled. But, true, we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

In our day, we walked up stairs, because they didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and we didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But that's right; we didn't have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby's diapers because we didn't have the disposable kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts. Hey, you know, wind and solar power really did dry those clothes. But, no green thing.

Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not all brand-new clothing. But that old lady is right, we didn't have the green thing back in her day.

Back then, we had one TV, or maybe just a radio, in the house - not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a pizza dish, not a screen the size of the state of Montana . In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn't have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up newspaper to cushion it, not fancy Styrofoam or brand-new plastic bubble wrap. But, we didn't have the green thing.

Back then, we didn't fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working, so we didn't need to drive the car to a health club, in order to run on a computerized and electrically powered treadmill . But that old lady's right, we didn't have the green thing back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty, without resorting to a new plastic bottle of mineral water for each new sip. We refilled pens with ink, instead of buying new pens, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But the old lady's right, we didn't have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar and kids rode their bikes to school or rode the school bus, instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from a satellite 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But that old lady is right. We didn't have the green thing back in her day.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Restaurant Review: Jolly's Indian Bistro

I haven't done a restaurant review here for a while - if at all. But I was so impressed last night that I thought I should pass this along. I like Indian food but it has been a while since I went out looking for one. Indeed, it was Groupon that brought me here. I have signed up for their email - but months went by before I saw something I might actually use. Fortunately, this Groupon lasted six months, so we did find a way to use it eventually. Jolly's is small, and very popular already, both for dine in and take out. One Friday night around six or so we saw lines to the door. Obviously no chance of a table that night - but there is plenty of choice a short walk away. Not Indian, but all sorts. Early Tuesday evening it was a different story. The place was nearly empty and the few of us there were regarded as secondary to filling a huge take out order. One guy (presumably Jolly himself) working hard in the kitchen. But when our starter came (we shared) it was very tasty - pakhora. I ordered lamb rogan josh, my partner chicken biryani. That comes with a small salad on the plate, and a pile of basmati rice - even with the order of biryani - a rice dish. And two naan - so quite a blast of carbs. The lamb was tender and tasty - and quite mild. The biryani quite the best I have ever tasted - fragrant might be the best word. There was quite a lot of biryani to pack up for lunch the next day. The bill - including a pint of draft Okanagan Springs IPA - was around $60 - ignoring the coupon and including the tip.

One niggle of mine is the serving of food that is supposed to be hot on cold plates. The lamb came in a metal bowl, and the side salad was already on the plate. That did mean we could easily share - something many people like to do. But maybe it would work better the other way round if they have a plate warmer.

The decor is modern and tasteful - not a sign of red flock wallpaper. And even on Tuesday it was filling up fast by the time we left. Groupon obviously spreads the word across Vancouver, but one thing I have heard from a merchant is that small businesses can quickly get overwhelmed and may not have adequate margins to withstand deep discounts at high volumes.

If you are a Kits local, you probably know all about this place. if not, call ahead and reserve. I will be going back even without a coupon.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Sigh of relief

When I learned about Shaw's limit on bandwidth, and the usage charges, I got worried. I could not find anything on their web page, so I wrote to them - and tweeted about it. This is the reply I got to-day

Good morning Stephen,

Thank you for your email dated January 20, 2011.

After reviewing your account I can confirm that you have not exceeded the limit within the last 6 months (that is as far back as we can see). With our High Speed Internet connection you have a limit of 60 GB/month. You were between 6 GB and 11 GB over the last 6 months and nowhere near the limits. The majority of our customers will never exceed their bandwidth limits. If you continue to use the internet as you have been, you will never have to worry about being billed extra for your internet service.

There is a process in place for customers who exceed their limits. The second consecutive month they go over, they will be notified in your monthly invoice and a monitoring tool will be enabled within our Online Customer Care website The invoice will include a graph that shows the usage over the last few months too. At this point there are no charges for the overage, we will simply work with our customers to reduce the amount of data or adjust the services on the account for more bandwidth to suit their needs. If the usage limits are broken after this point, the account will be billed.

I understand that we may enable the monitoring tool on our website for all customers rather than only for those who exceed after they exceed. I’m hoping this is the case and it will be available shortly.

Please let us know if you have any additional concerns, or feel free to contact us through our Live Chat . Simply go to When sending a reply, please remember to include all previous correspondence. Thank you.

Juanita - 3719
eCare Team

Shaw Cablesystems GP
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Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Oh Canada

The following post is inspired by a tweet - I just could not find a way of getting this down to 140 characters

"Budweiser will be the Official Beer of both Vancouver @WhitecapsFC and the @BCLions #BCPlace"
from miss604 (Rebecca Bollwit)

Frankly I care little about sports - soccer or football mean little to me. I perceive them to be part of a process by which the populace are distracted. The coverage and analysis of sports is part of "news" - and arguably more thorough and certainly more keenly followed.

I grew up near the Boleyn. The home of West Ham FC. And many people I have met have assumed that in some way that must mean I am a "supporter". Actually no. The behaviour of soccer fans in Britain in the sixties and seventies was horrific. Slicing up the competition was taken literally: razors were taken to away games by the InterCity crew.

Local loyalty actually means less and less. Even in places like Green Bay - where (NFL) football is practically a religion.

Budweiser is weak American beer. It resembles only the authentic article - lager brewed in Budvar, in the Czech Republic - only in name. The US brewer has even taken the brewers of Budvar to court to "protect" their brand name - derived from that town but traduced by a drink that could not be sold as beer under the German "Rheinheitsgebot".

"Budweiser has placed an even greater emphasis on its American heritage since early 2009, describing itself as "The Great American Lager". " source

But BC Place, the BC Lions and the Whitecaps are Canadians in a Canadian city. Where we are a bit particular about our beer. In fact I know many Americans who used to come to Canada for the beer. They themselves are increasingly turning to craft beers -which is very good indeed.

Many of our own brewers have been absorbed by international conglomerates. Business only recognizes national boundaries when it suits their marketing purposes.

It is all about money. Anheuser-Busch has plenty of that - and they bought up Labatt.

The one thing that all Canadians have in common when it comes to defining our identity is that we are NOT AMERICANS. Of course, our present government in Ottawa has been very happy to be seen as America's little brother for the last five years. I doubt many Canadians are actually very happy about that. Even the ones who measure our success in terms of the value of our dollar against the greenback because it gives them more buying power when they go cross border shopping.

I won't be attending any Whitecaps or Lions games. I will be surprised if there is anything to attract me back to BC Place, despite its new roof. Been there. Didn't like it. Their choice of beer means that I would not even be able to take solace in something nice to drink while I am being bored. I would like to think that some other Canadians will agree with me.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Book Review "Unbroken"

I have just finished reading a new book. New in the sense of recently published and excerpted in the Observer. I liked the excerpt so much I went in search of the book and was really pleased that not only does the Richmond Public Library have a copy but I could put a hold on it. Which reminds me, I had better take that hold off now, because I have read it. Skimming down the search results, I saw that the library offers ebooks. I suppose I had known that but I hadn't gone there for a new ebook - I usually get old books from Project Gutenberg, and put them on my Palm. Yes, I know, I am a technological dinosaur, but it is more portable than either of my laptops and easier to use than my smart phone - and without any of those data fees. The last two I downloaded were "Howard's End" - because I had at last caught up with the movie (it came out when my children were babies and we didn't get out much then) - and before that "Don Quixote". I had seen the Arts Club dramatisation, and wondered what else might be in such a huge book. Ebooks on a Palm are much more portable than any print edition - and can be read in bed without disturbing anyone since you don't need any additional illumination. Reading at night is one of my preferred methods of dealing with insomnia and books like "Tristram Shandy" seem guaranteed to have me nodding off again quite quickly.

So - back to the topic - "Unbroken" is a remarkable nonfiction book. Hildenbrand's first book "Seabiscuit" was based on the same formula. Extensive research. lots of detail but a writing style more like a novel than a treatise. She is highly readable - not to say addictive. The version available from the library did not appear to be available for Palm - but I could be wrong about that. I downloaded the software (Adobe Digital Editions) to my MacBook and read it on that, seated at my desk. I suppose I could have carried it to an arm chair - but I was hooked, and didn't even think about it. Louis Zamperini grew up as a bit of a tearaway - but became a distance runner. He might have beaten the 4 minute mile long before Bannister, had not the war intervened. He did run at the '36 Berlin Olympics. He served as a bombardier in the US Army Air Force - bailed out over the Pacific - survived a record time in a life raft (it was that bit that I read as the excerpt) but was captured by the Japanese. They did not treat prisoners of war well. That bit was very difficult to read. It was psychologically and physically very damaging to Louie - and he had a very hard time. He was also very famous - so his life story was common knowledge in the US in the post war period. I must admit I had never heard of him - any more than I had heard of Seabiscuit, who was even more famous in his time.

I like reading text and up until now I have preferred paper to electronic editions. I did take advantage of a so called "free offer" on facebook which give me a copy of an audio book. But not only could I not make it work on the Palm - though other "samples" did work - I also found that I could NOT listen to a book and do something else at the same time. I suppose if I copied it to a CD I could play it in the car. After all, I found that the offer was not really free at all and since I did not do something - probably returning to the web page I got it from - my credit card was charged for what I thought was free a month after I got it. So I think I can justifiably make a copy. Audible keep emailing me to try more, but I really don't think they can expect me to fall for the same gag twice.

Downloading a library book presumably means that it has a limited life on my hard drive. I suppose it must auto delete or something. I will update this post if anything interesting happens. But for now not only do I recommend you check out Unbroken, I suggest you try it as a free download.