Friday, 22 November 2013


We went out for dinner this evening, to a place which I will not identify. There's nothing wrong with the place itself, but some of the people who work there do not seem to understand the idea of a service industry.

We were taken to a table, given menus and then left alone. That gave me time to observe the servers. They seemed to congregate at the end of the bar near the cash register. And then each one got their phone out. There are penalties for distracted driving. Maybe there should be a penalty for distracted serving? They were reading or texting. In fact I wondered if the regulars knew the cell phone number of their server and could put in their orders that way.

We did get served, eventually. In fact once we had placed the food order, it actually arrived surprisingly quickly. Perhaps because someone other than our designated server brought it. Why is it that only when your mouth is full does someone stop at your table and ask "How is everything tasting?" And not our server of course. The person who usually tells you their name and says, with absolute sincerity, "I will be looking after you this evening" and then vanishes.

I have sometimes had the feeling that the presence of actual customers gets in the way of the social life of the people who work at bars and restaurants. But if it was not for the paying customers, there would be no pay - or tips. Yet they expect ever more generous tips for what seems to be increasingly slipshod service. Is it too much to ask for someone to pay attention to the needs of the people who come to your establishment to eat and drink?

Monday, 28 October 2013

Upgraded to Mavericks

I have been less than excited about this "upgrade" to my laptop's operating system. My impression is that things are slower - despite everyone else claiming that it is supposed to speed things up. I wait for apps to open that use to be there instantly. There are times when I sit staring at the little spinning multicoloured disk for what seems like far too long. I keep losing interest when new tabs I have opened in Safari to see a linked web page remain completely empty - and the blue colour on the address bar remains stubbornly at 10% across.

I have read in several places how this new system will be able to better to handle multiple displays - including using a tv through AirPlay and Apple TV. Apparently you can set it up so one display shows something different from the other. So I could, in theory, use it to have a Safari window open on my tv showing a video. But no matter what I tried I could not get the display icon to show up at the top of my screen. I even went through a software update on my Apple TV to see if that helped.

The answer apparently is that my MacBookPro is too old.

(Apple says that AirPlay requires a second-generation Apple TV or later and a 2011-era Mac or later.)

So if I wanted to use my HD tv as a display, I need to go out and buy a new Mac. 

I have the strong impression that this upgrade is free because it will push people with older Macs to buy new ones. 

That was certainly the pattern in the days when I ran Windows on PCs. The rate of obsolescence was driven by the system - and was one reason why I started putzing around with Linux. I could keep older machines going for longer with no loss of performance. Now I am inside the Apple walled garden, things seem to be going the same way.

Indeed just recently I learned that I was not the only one who has an older Mac who finds this new OS version has slowed things down. But then that did come from someone who makes a living selling new computers

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Review: Armstrong's War

At the Arts Club Theatre Revue Stage until November 9, 2013

"World Premiere" although it has previously been seen and reviewed as “a fully staged workshop production (prior to its official World Première in October 2013 at the renowned Arts Club Theatre, Vancouver)” at the Finborough Theatre in London (with a different cast).

I had not read anything about this play before I saw it last night, so I had no expectations. In writing this review, I think it would be great if you could share that experience. But because it has received so little attention here so far - it opened on  October 17 - the theatre was mostly empty. It must be terribly dispiriting for actors to p[lay to rows of empty seats. But you wouldn't know that from the performances of the two person cast, who both give it their all. Great performances and really good chemistry. You can get a synopsis of the the plot from the review I linked to above. All you really need to know is that Michael (Mik Byskov) is a wounded Canadian soldier and Halley (Matreya Scarrwener) is the Pathfinder (a sort of superior Girl Scout) who reads to him.

Matreya is a 10th grade student at Kitsilano Secondary School and already has an impressive resume of tv work. It is her professional theatre debut. It is also Mik's debut on the Vancouver stage. And I will be willing to bet that we will be seeing a great deal more of both of them in future - and one day you will be able to say "I saw him/her when they were just starting out ..."

I did not know that Stephen Crane (author of the never out of print "Red Badge of Courage") was born after the Civil War - and indeed never fought in any war prior to writing it. Colleen Murphy has not fought in Afghanistan either, but I felt I understood a lot more about that conflict having seen this play of hers. It also makes you think very hard about the nature of truth and fiction. This play is fictional but has the ring of truth throughout. There are times when the audience laughs. Sometimes I laughed too - but at others I felt like shouting to the rest of them to stop laughing, such is the sensitivity of the subject matter. I have never fought in any war, but that does not reduce my appreciation of its horrors or reduce my desire for peace.

Please go see this play, and then tell your friends about it. It deserves to be seen by a much bigger audience. You will not regret the 90 minutes (no interval) you spend at the Revue Stage. Promise.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Bluetooth to the rescue

It is a very unfortunate development, but CBC Radio 2 now has commercials. This blog post explains why. Blame Stephen Harper & Co for their ritualistic destruction of all that Canadians hold dear.
"Radio 2 gives Canadians a unique listening experience with its distinct format that doesn’t exist anywhere else on the radio dial. "
Which is true, but only to an extent. In terms of what I can pick up on a short length of wire antenna inside my 6th floor apartment, I have to agree. But that does not mean that I cannot find a source of classical music when I want it. And the CBC's earlier decision to limit classical to a few hours of the day (9am to around 2:10pm) means that I have become a user of other services. Just not FM radio through my stereo speakers. I can get music from the internet, which means using the rather tinny speakers on my MacBook Pro or headphones. I don't like wearing headphones. I have yet to find any that are really comfortable for any length of time, even though the sound quality produced by some of the (very expensive) Klipsch ones my son had (they got stolen, of course) are very good indeed. There is also the availability of streaming audio over the tv. Galaxie provides five channels of classical - and on Telus TV they can be found on these channels

Pop Classics 7860
Baroque 7852 
Classic Masters 7856 
Chamber Music 7854

There's opera too, if you like that sort of thing. 

Again the speakers on the tv are not bad but not up to the standard of my stereo system.

Ideally I thought that it should be possible to play the internet through the receiver. I noticed that it does have a DMPORT on the back with a slot that looks similar to a USB or HDMI cable. But different I am sure. Sony did at one time make a cradles/docks that could be plugged into this port for an iPod. Not that I possess an iPod (see my remarks about earphones above). But the only way to acquire such a thing now is through channels like eBay. There are actually quite a variety there but these things are not cheap and many sellers are not willing to send to Canada. 

It occurred to me that even if I could not buy one from Sony there ought to be other makers given the ubiquity of iPods and stereo systems. So I asked in London Drugs, where the salesman said that a dock isn't actually necessary. He showed me how he could play music from his smart phone over some speakers they had set up. All you need, he said, is Bluetooth connection. Plug that into the back of the receiver (it comes with both a jack plug and converter to two audio channels) and the music starts playing.

And, of course, you do not actually need an iPod. Any recent smart phone, tablet or computer has Bluetooth. It took me a little bit longer than that to set up, but not much. I had to do a bit of poking around in Settings, and it took a while for "pairing" to work. But right now I am listening to KING FM Seattle's classic music station through my stereo system speakers and iTunes on my MacBook. I can even control volume from my keyboard. Plus of course I can play anything that has been downloaded to the computer, or streamed. 

And yes there are "messages from our supporters" on KING FM which are only marginally less intrusive than the "four minutes of advertising per hour" permitted on Radio 2 by the CRTC

So quite why people would be willing to cough up $150 plus shipping and duty for an old Sony dock I cannot explain. I have an iHome iBT52 portable USB Bluetooth Receiver and it cost ~$50. And I did not have to wait for a courier to deliver it.

And I can also access the CBC streaming classical channels on line too. At present they don't have ads there except when you start a new stream - and not always then either.

UPDATE January 2, 2015

There are some bugs in Yosemite that might be interfering with Bluetooth.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Review: Unkai Sushi

There are a number of very small sushi restaurants on West Boulevard, south of 41st. The competition ought to be fierce.

Unkai (at 5351 West Boulevard) has a lunch special: 2 items $6.95 or 3 items $9.95 - an item being something like "small chicken udon" or a dynamite roll - or three pieces of the same nigiri. I must admit to be a bit of an enthusiast for nigiri. Last weekend we went to Shota (5688 Yew) - who claim  "the best sushi in Kerrisdale" - because of a coupon we got. When I checked, of course, it was not valid that day. I ended up paying closer to $20 for something not too different, and waited a lot longer. Note that the salmon pictured above is almost certainly farmed Atlantic (places that sell wild Pacific Sockeye charge a premium) but the tuna (maguro) was on this occasion the usually premium priced toro - fatty or belly tuna.

The tiny Unkai was empty at midday, so I got served quickly. Unfortunately the complimentary miso soup was cold - but it came at the same time as the sushi. I also asked for green tea as it was not all clear if that was included (it was) which was also lukewarm. Even so, 9 pieces of nigiri for $10 is a bargain, and this was of high quality. It is also apparent from the picture that it was not a skimpy piece of fish on each piece. The furnishings are basic and the room spartan. At Shota you are in a different class of establishment. We had comfy padded chairs and could admire the calligraphy on display.

For a quick lunch you could go further and fare worse than Unkai. And since the soup is "free" it won't hurt to ignore it.  

Sunday, 15 September 2013

I am not going to sign this petition

Care2 sent me an email

"In response to a lawsuit against Google for snooping through personal Gmail, Google claims that users have "no legitimate expectation of privacy" when it comes to their email."

They are, in my case, absolutely right. I use Gmail for people like care2 to send me petitions, for people who read my blog to let me know something that they don't want to leave as a comment. It is very useful for newsletters and other non-urgent, non-personal stuff. I have another email address I use for personal communications, and that is not paid for by advertising.

Google makes a great deal of money. But no-one pays for their services or software on-line. It is paid for by people who want to reach a targeted audience. It ought to be mean that when I see an ad on blogger or gmail I find it useful. I am surprised how often they miss the mark completely, but then this tells you something about the limitations of even really very smart software. And, by the way, why all that snooping the government is doing - which we pay for handsomely - is not actually making any of us any safer.

When I signed up for Gmail I had wanted it for some time. Because hotmail was so awful. Google actually restricted who could get Gmail. But I was under no illusion that it would not be used by Google to target ads because I knew that was what Google does. If any Gmail user was not aware of that then they do not deserve any sympathy nor can they expect to win a lawsuit. Nor will a petition to Google do any good. All it does is cause a few people to use the facepalm gesture.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Universal Password Manager

It is unusual for me to use this blog to promote any product or service. I do review things now and then, but in this case I have no hesitation in recommending that, if you haven't got something like this, you need it. Really.

This post is actually part of the process of documenting my acquisition of a new smart phone. I got a Google Nexus 4 which runs Android. This is a lot cheaper than going the iPhone route as I have explained elsewhere. It was very rare for me to use my old phone to go to websites. The Nokia is small and not very easy to use. And, when I did need it to find and book a car2go for example, it was remarkably inaccurate. The GPS was hopeless. It was too small to render the next bus information as a map too. But all that has changed.

I got Universal Password Manager when I got the tablet. Back in the old days of the Palm pilot, I carried my passwords on that in an encrypted database. I did not pay much attention to the ability to synchronize across devices, as when I needed a password the tablet was handy to the MacBook. But it won't be when I am out and about with the Nexus 4.

UPM is free and available from Sourceforge. It is cross platform - meaning it can run on most operating systems - in my case OSX and Android but also Windows and Linux. And, since I already have a Dropbox account, syncing across machines is easy. I do not claim to be a technical wizard, and with the aid of the user guides provided, I found the whole process to be easy and straightforward.

Now why do you need this. Well for one thing when looking for the password manager I also came across plenty of webpages offering password hackers. They are also free and easy to use. (Just put "universal password hack" into google to see what I mean. The problem is that you need passwords that are hard for machines to hack, which means for humans they are impossible to remember. You must also have different passwords for different web pages, first because you do not want someone's web page manager knowing how to get into your other accounts and secondly web pages get hacked. Having multiple, gobbledegook pa$$w0rds @ h& is going to be essential for everyone who wants to do something to protect the 3@$3 of use and convenience of doing stuff online. 

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Microsoft to buy Nokia's handset business

I gave up on Microsoft a while ago. For the first few computers I bought, I accepted the notion that it would come pre-loaded with Windows. That's what everyone used. And often there was Office and sometimes additional software like Money. And the most frequent memory that remains is that it was always baffling, needed all kinds of support and not unusually a trip back to the store to have things sorted out. Eventually, I came across the various free "distros" of Linux. They could be downloaded and put on a CD and then you could run the same computer from that. The first one I tried was Knoppix. I still could not do everything I wanted to easily, and spent more time than I wanted to "under the hood." But as it didn't come from a shop, it couldn't go back. Though it could be easily updated or replaced at no, or minimal cost. And Ubuntu even made them look good too.

I also started to use free software. Not software "stolen" or copied but simply available at no charge. Open Office and GIMP have both been steadily improved and replace the very expensive Office and Photoshop, and can produce computer files that interchange with people who still buy that software when necessary.

My children were easy converts to Apple products. Expensive to buy but very easy to use. Eventually I realized that Iw as still spending too much time and effort on geekiness, and got a MacBook Pro.

But my Linux running cheap net book was also not really what I wanted. And when tablets started becoming available I got a Nexus 7 from Google.  Runs Android. Wow what a difference. No cables. Slips in a coat pocket. Works every time. The only thing that is wrong with it is the camera. Which is pointing the wrong way. Selfies only!

I do not use a cell phone very much, but I appreciate that when you need one they are very useful indeed. And increasingly the world seems to expect you to have one: at least the bit of it that I inhabit. I looked for ways to keep the cost down, which meant I avoided the big telcos and iPhones. I got a Nokia smart phone from Wind, and was able to unlock it and take my business to Mobilicity - as reported here. 

Frankly the performance was unreliable at best, useless too often. For instance, car2go use requires a smart phone. You can get by without it but nothing like as conveniently as it ought to be. But my Nokia and its app usually cannot locate me correctly. The contrast to my Google tablet was instructive. So when the price of a Nexus 4 smartphone fell to the same price I once had paid for the Nokia, I ordered one from Google and I am tracking its progress now. I should have it soon.

Nokia abandoned its Symbian operating system and its new phones have been running M$ software for a while. I felt abandoned. The apps that are available still are about as good as the carthago one. Not good enough.

So I feel that the marriage between Nokia and Microsoft is fine. I hope they work nicely together. I doubt I will ever feel it necessary to go back to either.  

What puzzles me are the people who labour on with outdated versions of Microsoft products, simply because they once paid a lot for them. If you could have a newer, better software for free, why would you not cut your losses and dump things that are just frustrating? Life is too short to waste it on bad software and apps.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Public Radio

It is now nearing the deadline. I like listening to classical music on the radio, but soon after 2:10pm CBC Radio Two starts broadcasting something else. That's when I turn the radio off. It is my misfortune that I belong to an undesirable radio demographic: I am white male over 60 with post graduate education. I would understand the logic of this if the CBC were a commercial station, but it isn't. Apparently there are not enough people in Canada who like listening to classical music to broadcast it all day every day.

I find it hard to believe. For one thing Seattle - our nearest neighbour - has a classical station. It used to be commercial, it is now listener supported. Public Radio is available all across the US. In Colorado, where I was recently on vacation, I could listen to classical music on the car radio in most places - despite the mountainous terrain. Actually CPR runs two channels, one actual music (as opposed to mere noise)  and the other talk/news/current events. The United States of course has no such thing as a state broadcaster, nor any tax based funding.

As I am sure you will be aware I spent the first 40 years of my life in England and when I first became aware of radio the BBC was about the only option. It was possible to pick up Radio Luxemburg - which was commercial, but broadcast in English - and stations like Hilversum, which broadcast in Dutch and wasn't. The BBC used to get its funding from mandatory radio licences. Now it is only tv in Britain which needs a license. BBC funding has long been an issue - but Auntie has got much better at finding new sources of revenue. One of the best being selling "quality tv" programs to PBS. Like Masterpiece.

When I got to Canada I fully expected the CBC to be BBC like - only bilingual. Boy was I disillusioned quickly. But there was then at least all day classical music, not just on CBC Radio 2 but also stations like CJRT. And yes I know I can get music over the internet but my laptop has really tinny speakers and I have this really good hifi system - with way to connect to the web. NOr have I ever owned an iPod, dock or anything similar.

There has long been a general assault on public services of all kinds. Health, education, transit,  you name it it has had its funding cut, service reduced and all sorts of fees and charges introduced. The private sector and profit making is now seen as more important than any other consideration. We truly know the price of everything and the value of nothing. PBS tv programming now has commercials - not within the program (yet) but in between them. And of course regular fund raising drives. The CBC has not sunk that low yet, but tv advertising is just as intrusive as on any other commercial station. While the radio is free of adverts and fundraising appeals, the quality of programming is steadily being replaced. What is good gets shunted aside in favour of what is popular.

You have probably never heard of Lord Reith. "Broadcasting as a way of educating the masses" really does not sound very attractive - but then we seem to distrust education as a concept. In a way that we do not distrust commercials. Enough people believe them that companies keep on making them and making profits. There even seemed to be some regret the Joel Matlin lost his job. Even though home alarm systems in reality do nothing to make you safer - but do a great deal to destroy communities and their sense of peace and quiet. Essentially a protection racket. Usurious money lenders advertise widely - yet their practices are actually contrary to the Criminal Code of Canada.

To be fair, only the CBC seems to take seriously the task of defending the public interest. They do investigative journalism seriously - even when commercial interests are at stake. Marketplace for instance. But they also give a bully pulpit to people like Kevin O'Leary, Don Cherry or Rex Murphy. There does, it seems to me, need to be more of a sense of balance. I have never understood why the Conservative Party thinks that the CBC is a nest of commies. If only it were, it would offset the rest of the broadcast spectrum!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Product endorsement: Reactine

I bought these products with my own money. No-one gave them to me and no-one is paying me to write this.

I have seasonal allergies. This year I started allergy season with Reactine and have been coping well. Until that first pack was used and I had to replace it. I went to a supermarket and bought their own brand of antihistamine. It simply did not work. Neither of these medications requires a prescription in Canada.

Today I took a Reactine tablet and within twenty minutes I was symptom free again. It says on the box "can start to work in 20 minutes and lasts 24 hours" - and that is certainly my experience. YMMV

Reactine is 10mg Cetirizine Hydrochloride. The store brand allergy remedy I bought was 10mg Loratidine - and that is what I have been buying in the past. I bought it simply because generic medication is often the same as brand name and usually cheaper. For instance Aspirin is Bayer's brand name but their product is always more expensive than the identical generic acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) . I do not know if any store sells generic cetirizine.

In the past I have out up with the less than satisfactory performance of loratidine. After all it was - it seemed - better than nothing and I thought was probably as good as it gets. Not so.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Review: MobileLite Wireless

When Kingston sent me their press release for this new gadget, I requested a review unit. One of the frustrations I have with tablets, as opposed to laptops or netbooks, is their lack of ports. My partner's iPad and my Nexus 7 rely on wi-fi for very nearly everything except the USB port which can be used for both charging and connectivity. That's fine if what you want is in the cloud and you have access to an open wifi connection, but that is not always the case.

For instance, at my old house, we cut off the cable some time ago as we were not there to use it. But talking about getting rid of furniture with a neighbour I learned he was interested in antiques. My partner has some - and we have pictures. But I wasn't carrying my camera at the time. And even if I could have used my tablet, those particular pictures weren't on the web anywhere. And anyway, the tiny screen on a camera is not really adequate for deciding if you want an antique desk. In the end I printed some postcard sized pictures - and he lost interest in the mean time.

This neat device is about 5"x 2" and less than half an inch deep (OK if you insist - 124.8mm x 59.9mm x 16.65mm) and very light (98g) It comes with a short USB cable and also has a slot for SD cards - as well as adapters. They also suggest that it will be useful as a backup for a cell phone battery. But I suspect that means if you are travelling you need to be very organized to have all the right connectors with you. Just out of curiosity I plugged it into the tablet when that needed charging and it did provide about half a charge for that. It is also very straightforward to use. It comes with the usual get started sheet, but perhaps more useful are the range of YouTube how to videos

I no longer have small children to take on road trips in the back of a minivan so that's one suggested application I won't be needing. But there are occasions - and I am sure you have them too when you are using a tablet - when you are not near an open wifi connection to the 'net, but you wish you had a portable wireless network between your devices. I got the apps for both the iPad and Google Nexus from their respective sources (App Store, Google Play) and installation was a breeze. 

The device is now available in Canada, and I have been planning a trip where I intend to leave behind my MacBook Pro - just because it is so heavy. The idea is that I will use the MobileLite to transfer pictures from my camera's SDHC card to the web. I have been testing that and can report that so far I have been successful uploading pictures to flickr that way. But only when using the iPad. There is an issue with the Google Nexus 7 - which runs Android. And it is not confined using this wifi device (which, by the way does remain connected to the internet and your mobile devices making life easier than I expected). So far I can see pictures on the Nexus but I can't actually do anything with them. The tablet does not load them into its own gallery, which means they cannot be uploaded elsewhere. On the iPad there is a menu which includes both "camera roll" and some social media sites (but not flickr). So using the camera roll in the iPad means I can upload - using the web browser. I haven't managed that yet with the Nexus - but I have asked Kingston to look into that.

The response I got was that there are many varieties of Android out there and they cannot guarantee that the software they provide will work the same way on every device. When my Nexus 7 recently upgraded its operating system I had hoped that might make a difference. It didn't.  

UPDATE  May 28, 2014

I left my MacBook Pro behind on my recent trip to Venice, expecting to be able to use the MobileLite to upload pictures from my camera's SDHC card as reported above using the iPad. The software for both the iPad and Android apps has recently been updated. I can see the pictures from the card on my Nexus tablet. I still cannot do anything with them, like upload to flickr. With the upgraded iPad app I cannot even do that. It simply does not see the card. Useless. 

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Changing the Adsense

When I look at this blog I see an ad at the top of the right hand column. I have both moved up the Googlesense ads and allowed them to include images. I am still not controlling their content at all. Though Google does allow me to do that. So far I see no reason to, unless my readers complain.

This blog has always been different to the one that I have spent most time on. The one about transport and planning and related issues, that is hosted by WordPress. They do insert ads, but they get all the revenue. I could have that one ad free, but would then have to pay for it. My readers there say the ads don't bother them.

On flickr, I continue to pay for a pro account because I do not want to see ads. But I suppose that anyone else looking at my pictures there will now get ads inserted. Yahoo, of course, will no more share that ad revenue with its content creators than WordPress does.

But Google is different. I do have an Adsense account. Since 2007 it has earned me a princely $5. I was only when one of my flickr contacts drew attention to his much bigger stash that I learned of the Google wrinkle. They do not pay out small sums. To get any money from Adsense, my account has to have $100 in it. At this rate, I doubt I will live that long. But I am going to make a point of going to my friends blogs on blogger, and clicking an ad, to see if I can help them get a little cash.

This will never be a Dragon's Den item. It is highly unlikely to make the slightest bit of difference. But then I did win some money with one of my Premium Bonds a while ago. They haven't paid out that either.

Can you click the ad, please? And would you please add a comment below.

There is a poll below. Please use it. I can also get feedback if I see a rise in clicks - or comments telling me I should not be doing this.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Frontier Saga

You will no doubt have seen stories in the mainstream media about how flying from Bellingham is cheaper than flying from YVR. I can attest to that. We have just booked a trip to Denver - and the cost is less than a third than it would be flying from Vancouver. So far so good.

Now for the bad news. The flight is on Frontier Airlines. They fly one plane out of Bellingham four times a week  (M W F Sa) to their hub in Denver. The last time I went that way I connected to another Frontier flight to Kansas City. I recall that clearly since we sat in the plane on the ground because a hatch wouldn't close and they had to send for a replacement door. Took over an hour, but at least we were still hooked up to gate power. We got an apology, nothing more. On the way back the departure was scheduled for the early hours of the morning. I was concerned when I got to the gate to see that the plane had not yet arrived there. It never did. About an hour after it was supposed to depart there was a cancellation announcement. And a bit of a rush on the gate agents. They did indeed rebook people but that takes time. No doubt others did clever things on their smartphones, or went to Starbucks to use their free wifi. I stood in line. Eventually I got to talk to an agent, who - after quite a bit of wrangling - came up with a flight on Alaska that evening which connected through Seattle with one to Bellingham. And some vouchers.

The vouchers are the crux of the story. There were several printed on boarding card stock which bought meals at the airport - breakfast, lunch and dinner. And one that was torn from a printed piece of paper with the title "Electronic Travel Certificate"

Because that is hard to read, here is the bottom section, at full size

For a long time the memory of spending the entire day at Kansas City Airport (there is no transit there or a cheap way to get to any city centre) was enough to deter me from using this voucher. But the chance to use it to cut another $200 from the upcoming trip to Denver seemed good.

But if you compare what you see on the payment screen of the site (note the difference to the reference on the voucher - though that makes no difference to what you see) the wording in front of you is significantly different

The voucher says "when you get to the Add Payment screen" there is no tab with "Add Payment" - but it is easy to work out that the one above is intended. It then says"check mark Voucher" but that is not on this screen. You actually have select "Electronic Travel Certificate". I have to confess that I do not immediately associate a piece of copy paper with some computer printing and hand written scrawl with those words - but as I have pointed out that is on the top of the slip of paper. I was still looking for "voucher" - another screen away. 

So yes indeed, the screen on which I needed to enter my information was there all along, I just couldn't see it where the ETC had told me it ought to be. 

Being wise after the event, I should then have taken a deep breath. But like all airline ticket screens, the validity of the fare you are offered is time limited. You can't go away and come back later and expect the same low price to be available. (The Frontier website has timed out several times on me as I have been writing this.) There is some pressure to "buy now", and I succumbed to it thinking I had little time left. Equally there is a link on the payment page to the terms - which are much more extensive than those printed on the ETC. I now have had time to review those and my expectation that I could use the ETC after I had entered the credit card information was not possible. 

Now all of this could be an unfortunate accident. But I do not think so. I think these systems are carefully designed. Just like gift certificates, and - come to that - reward miles. All of these customer loyalty systems are designed to create a good impression, but their success depends on many of them not being used. That is why Aeroplan miles expire. That is why AirMiles are pushing hard for you to switch to AirMiles Cash from AirMiles Dream rewards. The overhang of frequent flyer miles was enough to push some airlines into bankruptcy.  I am sure Frontier Airlines management are only too aware of this. So the ETC has all kinds of caveats set about it in the expectation that it may well not be used. And not to make it too easy and straightforward for those who are not frequent flyers to actually figure out what is required of them in the time allotted. 

So when someone gives you a gift card (I got a Starbucks card from 1-800 GOT JUNK yesterday) or a voucher for future travel - do your homework first. It is supposed to make you feel better. It doesn't have to be actually useful. I do not go to Starbucks very much. Except in places like airports where they may be the best of a poor range of choices (as in Kansas City airport).  I did get to use two of my three meal vouchers - then the Alaska flight was called, on which of course the dinner voucher was useless. 

As is this Electronic Travel Certificate now. It expires on 10 September, is not transferrable, and it is not likely I will have a trip that way before then.

Perhaps I was expecting too much that I could get some more value of a cut price airline like Frontier. And also explains why the very nice lady I spoke to at Frontier was very patient, very polite but totally unflinching. I expect she hears the same story every shift. More than once. 


Not long after I posted this story, I also posted a link to it on Twitter. Then I got these replies - the way TweetDeck works the one on the bottom arrived just before the one on the top

So I Direct Messaged as requested. Since Tweets like those above are in the public domain, and what follows was not, I will summarize. I was told that I would get a refund of the $200 by adjustments made at Frontier. 


That was six days ago so I sent another DM. And after a further exchange of DMs, two emails arrived with new booking references for the same seats on the same flights.  Essentially they cancelled my erroneous booking, refunding the full amount, and immediately made a new one for the same travel, applied the ETC voucher and then charged my credit card with the balance. Good. I just wish that the "very nice lady" I spoke to had done that in the first place. 

And for the sake of completeness I can now report that my trip to Denver went without a hitch. On time both ways. And I also found that the cabin attendants will give you a glass of water for free. You are not obliged to buy bottled water.  

Monday, 3 June 2013

Cell phone hijack attempt

I got a txt message this morning that appeared to come from Mobilicity

"You are about to receive new settings to your device, to ensure your Samsung SGH-T999V is functioning correctly please accept them. Do not reply to this message."

and sure enough the reply button was disabled.

The slightly incorrect English was a bit odd, but the real warning sign was that bit about my device. I do not have such a thing and the message came on my old Nokia smart phone. Surely, I thought, my service provider knows what device I am using to access its network. The second message did not even have Mobilicity in the From: field but Service Provider. It read

"Select 'Save' from 'Options' to configure al settings. Access points: MoWAP Web settings: Homepage

I did no such thing, but I did call 611. After the usual long wait, I got to speak to someone - probably on the other side of the globe, who knows. But he confirmed that the message did not come from Mobilicity.

Why someone would want to capture my home page, I cannot guess, but I suspect much darker motivations.

Like the old Sarge on used to say on Hill Street Blues "Let's be careful out there."

No, your iPad isn't possessed

There was a very strange and disturbing event yesterday. My partner's iPad screen started shaking - and random apps seemed to open and close with astonishing rapidity including filling in webforms with random gibberish. It was even hard to get the thing to turn off as the usual "swipe to turn off" would not work. I just held the power button down until it turned off.

While it is not impossible for someone to take over an iPad, the circumstances would have to be very unusual. And my partner is not the sort of person to fall for any of the gimmicks I found with a quick Google search. I have just come back from a visit with the genius bar at the Apple store, and they confirmed that what I had done was right.

With any computer (and most peripherals) performing oddly, power down (and unplug from the wall if appropriate) will often reset things. Known in the trade as the "cold boot". Most people leave their systems running - just closing the lid of the laptop or closing the iPad smart cover. It's easy to get an app out of the way by using the close fingers gesture or the home button, but neither actually closes the app. If you use four fingers to swipe upwards you can see how many apps are running. And in this case it was a lot. So close them by holding a finger on the app icon until it wobbles and a "no entry" sign appears on the top left corner. Then tap the icon. It is good practice to shut apps when they are not being used as it frees up resources, and reduces the chance of conflicts.

The genius also ran a diagnostic which showed which app had been crashing. That I uninstalled and replaced with another that does the same thing. It was only a game, after all. To uninstall an app simply hold the icon on the main screen (not the one revealed by the four finger swipe). Once again the icons all wobble and the "no entry" sign appears. Hold the app icon and then follow the prompts.

The strange behaviour was caused simply by overload of the touch screen interface - and probably a conflict between open apps. Clean up is easy and straightforward.


Or so we thought. The problem re-emerged a few days later - when there were only two apps open. So I once again backed up the iPad to the cloud and went back to talk to another genius. By the way, do not use Google to locate the Oakridge store - that's in California. Do it carefully on the address to make sure you get Vancouver BC! This time they said they would reset the iPad to its original condition. I was asked not to restore the backup until I was sure that this had worked. Just as well, because it didn't, which proved we had a hardware problem - not a software conflict. This time my partner took the iPad in herself - and found that they had set aside a brand new iPad, with my name on it, just in case.

Monday, 15 April 2013

The BBC, LSE and North Korea

The are a number of institutions in Britain that I find I still care about deeply. One is the London School of Economics, as I am an alumnus and therefore continue to get news of and from the school. The BBC was part of my life since early childhood. It was then the only broadcaster. (Though my Dad, as a former radio technician in the RAF, could never resist twiddling knobs to bring in stations like Hilversum.) I still regard it as a better and more reliable source than most other mainstream media and I only wish the CBC was half as good. But the Beeb is by no means perfect. These two have recently collided. The rest of this blog item is a copy of an email I got over the weekend from the LSE. It seemed to me that my readers might not otherwise get quite the same view of these events.

BBC Panorama programme on North Korea and LSESU Grimshaw Club

You may be aware of current media reports on a BBC Panorama programme on North Korea, due to be aired this evening in the UK, and its link with a visit to North Korea, which took place in March 2013, in the name of the Grimshaw Club, a student society at LSE.
We wanted to forward on to you an email on this subject that was sent by the School to all current staff and students at LSE on Saturday 13 April, to show you the concerns that the School has raised with the BBC over its conduct and the steps that LSE has taken to deal with the matter.
Yours sincerely
The LSE Alumni Relations Team

All School email (sent to all current LSE staff and students on Saturday 13 April 2013)
The School wishes to alert all staff and students to a serious development which may affect them personally in future. This relates to the conduct of the BBC in respect of a Panorama programme entitled North Korea Undercover, which is due to be shown next Monday evening, 15 April.
The programme has been produced using as cover a visit to North Korea which took place from 23-30 March 2013 in the name of the Grimshaw Club, a student society at LSE. The School authorities had no advance knowledge of the trip or of its planning.
The visiting party included Mr John Sweeney, Mr Alexander Niakaris and Ms Tomiko Sweeney. In advance of the trip it was not known to the rest of the party that they were three journalists working for or with the BBC. Their purpose, posing as tourists, was to film and record covertly during the visit in order to produce the Panorama programme.
LSE’s chief concerns are twofold. First, at no point prior to the trip was it made clear to the students that a BBC team of three had planned to use the trip as cover for a major documentary to be shown on Panorama. BBC staff have admitted that the group was deliberately misled as to the involvement of the BBC in the visit. The line used was that “a journalist” would join the visit. BBC staff have argued that this lack of frankness in denying the genuine members of the group the full details was done for their own benefit in the event of discovery and interrogation by North Korean authorities. It is LSE’s view that the students were not given enough information to enable informed consent, yet were given enough to put them in serious danger if the subterfuge had been uncovered prior to their departure from North Korea.
BBC staff asserted in a meeting with LSE management on 9 April 2013 that the BBC had undertaken its own risk assessment in advance of the trip, which had been approved at the highest level. LSE believes that a reasonable assessor of risk, or indeed any parent contemplating their child’s involvement in such an exercise, could only have concluded that the risks taken were unacceptable.
Our second major concern relates to information that came to light after the meeting on 9 April. This is that John Sweeney gained entry to North Korea by posing as a PhD student. The North Korean authorities allege that he described his occupation for entry control purposes as “LSE student, PhD in History” and gave his address as that of LSE - including a specific office room number which is actually used by a genuine member of LSE staff. Students report that the North Korean guides during the visit repeatedly addressed him as “Professor” and that he actively went along with that. John Sweeney graduated from LSE in 1980 with a BSc in Government. He is not an LSE student. If he has a PhD in History (or anything else), it is not from LSE. He does not work for the LSE.
We have no information about how Mr Niakaris or Ms Sweeney may have described themselves in order to gain entry to North Korea, but no description of them as current LSE students or staff can have been accurate.
While this particular trip was run in the name of a student society, the nature of LSE’s teaching and research means that aspects of North Korea are legitimate objects of study in several of our academic disciplines. Indeed, LSE academics work on aspects of many politically sensitive parts of the world, including by travel to those locations. It is vital that their integrity is taken for granted and their academic freedom preserved. The BBC’s actions may do serious damage to LSE’s reputation for academic integrity and may have seriously compromised the future ability of LSE students and staff to undertake legitimate study of North Korea, and very possibly of other countries where suspicion of independent academic work runs high.
Finally, LSE is aware of grave concerns about the actions of the BBC raised by at least two students who took part in the visit and the parents of one.
In light of all of the above, the Chairman of LSE asked the BBC on 10 April to withdraw the planned programme and issue a full apology to LSE for the actions of BBC staff in using the School and its good reputation as a means of deception. This endangered the students and could endanger academics in the future.
LSE deeply regrets that, earlier this afternoon, the Director-General of the BBC has refused the Chairman's request.
LSE is fully supportive of the principle of investigative journalism in the public interest, and applauds the work of journalists in dangerous parts of the world. We cannot, however, condone the use of our name, or the use of our students, as cover for such activities.
The School stands ready to discuss with any student or member of staff who so wishes how best to address the possible difficulties which the actions of the BBC may entail for them in future.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Canada's new Office of Religious Freedom

Apparently, Canada  - or rather our Prime Minister - is deeply concerned that Christians abroad are getting a rough deal and we should have a specific office to do something about that. I have linked to a CBC story that tries to explain how that will work.

Basically the concern is that some countries - mainly those in "the third world" - persecute Christians. There is nothing in the article that singles out states that have a formal religious component in the governance system. Indeed the only country that is identified is Pakistan.

The CBC story also picks up on the concerns of organizations that represent people who do not profess any religion.

Ambassador Bennett made clear at his first news conference Tuesday that if people face persecution for their lack of belief, they could expect his office to speak out.
"All people of faith and, again, those who choose not to have faith, need to be protected, their rights need to be respected," he said. "That's what this office is about."
Good. So here is a very big job Mr Ambassador. There is a very large and very powerful country to the south of us that persecutes atheists. The constitution of the United States is supposed to uphold a complete separation of church and state. That is because the founding fathers were mostly dissenters. People who objected to the position of the Church of England as the official state church where the monarch replaced the role of the Pope. To get an idea of what it was like to be a heretic in Henry VIII's kingdom, have a read of the recent great historical novels by Hilary Mantel.

What has been happening in the United States is that the conservative Republicans have been very successful in persuading Christians - who used to stay away from politics for fear of being tainted by its less desirable characteristics - to vote and become active in pursuing faith based policies. It is for this reason that issues like abortion and same sex marriage continue to dominate debate, even though the vast majority of Americans have views that these issues have been settled, and in the case of abortion, by a very old Supreme Court decision (Roe v Wade).

Some of the great successes of the Christian right are symbolic. Replacing E Pluribus Unum on the currency with In God We Trust, for instance. But others are direct assaults on civil liberties, such as the prevention of atheists from holding public office in many states. Here are the ten scariest places in the US to be an atheist. No, they don't burn people at the stake.

Bennett ought to be making representations at the highest levels that the Land of the Free should not be denying freedom to its own citizens. Freedom From Religion being as important as Freedom of Religion.

I will be very surprised indeed if a Harper appointee who was formerly  "dean of Augustine College, a small, private Christian liberal arts college in Ottawa, where he taught the history of Christianity there and who was completing a part-time degree in theology" actually does anything at all for atheists in America. But I will be watching.  And I hope he lives up to the commitment he made.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Two tweets

Serendipity at work I think - but Peter Ladner points out the Seattle's art scene attracts rich donors more than Vancouver's does - but at the same time our richest 1% are doing very nicely thank you

And just to make that work better - here are the two links

which points to Crosscut which observes 

"Canadian arts get far more public subsidy than ours, but an awkward amount – not enough to create excellence, but enough to discourage private donations. That funding is also unstable,"

which points to new data from StatsCan 

"The cutoff to be included in Canada's one per cent was $201,400 in 2010. That was a 37 per cent increase from where the cutoff was in the first year of the survey, $147,500 in 1982.
The data also shows the gap between the rich and poor is getting wider. In 1982, the median income of Canada's one per cent was $191,600. That was seven times higher than the $28,000 median for everybody else.
By 2010, that ratio had widened to 10 times, from $28,400 for everybody else to $283,400 for the one per cent.
The report uses 2010 constant dollars, so it's an apples-to-apples comparison. The 99 per cent of people were actually taking in much less than $28,000 in 1982, but in terms of buying power, their share is essentially the same today as it was then.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Review: Blackbird Theatre: Don Juan

This new adaptation of Moliere's classic play ended its month long run at the Cultch last night. So why write a review of it? Because it will be at Richmond's Gateway Theatre in April. And not enough people went to see it - we got tickets thanks to a half price offer, and there were people in the line up for the box office who easily got good seats without booking ahead. I am sad to say there were quite a few empty seats in the balcony - and quite a bit of movement before the performance when it became clear that better views would be available. Gateway has much better sightlines from every seat than Cultch's Historic Theatre - and prices there vary by date rather than location.

It was a small cast but there are lots of characters, achieved with very clever use of masks - and one or two odd accents. Similarly one small set but very clever lighting that was most satisfactory when DJ is dragged off to hell at the end. No that isn't really a spoiler because we are all familiar with the story, which also got got turned into the opera Don Giovanni. As Director/Adapter John Wright notes he has "borrowed freely from all that came before us and interwoven the ancient with the modern". It would be a spoiler if I told about how that happens - and the audience lets you know by its appreciation of familiar material in unfamiliar places. Peter Jorgensen (Don Juan) and Simon Webb (Sganarelle) are the only cast members who have one character throughout - and Sganarelle gets more stage time and a lot more business than the eponymous lead - and steals the show. His performance alone is worth the (full) price of admission. But there is one scene, when the Don actually seduces two women, back to back, at the same time which is not only hilarious but utterly convincing. 

I think that if you have read this far, you would do well to book now, on line, at the link above. More about the Blackbird Theatre Co.


Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Nigiri at Sapporo Sushi

Nigiri by Stephen Rees
Nigiri, a photo by Stephen Rees on Flickr.

Located at Arbutus Village (4255 Arbutus St) a strip mall opposite the Arbutus Club.

This is a small establishment mostly catering to the take out market - and even if you eat there, serves its food on styrofoam. It is the sort of place where you order at the counter, get your own tea (which you could refill if you so desired) from an urn into a styrofoam beaker and pay before you see the food.

The menu is stuck to the counter and there are no translations. I ordered my nigiri by the piece and this came to $16.50 before tax. Most sushi places in this part of town would charge about the same, and there are quite a few along both Arbutus and 41st. In even the smallest "hole in the wall" cafes, they would serve onto real plates - or bento boxes. There would be cheaper sushi too - but not this sort of selection. Sushi specials tend to be rolls, and cheaper kinds of fish. For instance, most California rolls will use imitation crab even though we have plenty of crab in our local waters.

That being said, I think the quality of the fish is excellent and you can judge the presentation for yourself. Given the ambience I doubt I would travel very far to go here. They are opening another outlet on Robson, which might be worth checking out

Optional Car Insurance

While ICBC is always responsible for mandatory coverage (essentially third party) you can chose another insurer for the rest of a the comprehensive package (excess liability, collision and so on). I have used Canadian Direct for the optional part since 2002 and they have always been very competitive. However, I do not take that for granted and when I get the renewal notice from CDI I ask the broker - you have to use one to get the required ICBC renewal anyway - what a private insurer and ICBC would charge for the same coverage. To ensure that I am comparing like with like, I take a printed copy of the declaration with me.

For the last ten years CDI coverage was cheaper than the competition. That is no longer the case. Not only does another private insurer offer a lower premium, so does ICBC! This seemed so unlikely, based on ten years experience, that I called CDI to see if there was a mistake, or if they wanted to make me a better offer. The answer was no and no.

I am not going to reveal my claim record or the quotes I got since your mileage will vary, but I do think that is worth doing your due diligence. You will probably save yourself some money if you get more than one quote for your optional insurance, and it need not take you out of your way or cost you anything to find out.

By the way, when I changed my address from a townhouse in Richmond to a condo in Vancouver, my private insurance premium increased. I thought this a bit odd since at the townhouse it was simply in an open lot, with a roof. Like a common car port for residents, it offered little protection. At the condo it is an underground garage - with locked doors, and a car entrance requiring a programmed remote. So I would have thought better protected against theft or vandalism. Well, I was wrong about that too. One of my neighbours - who has a Mercedes - found the driver's window of her car smashed and the contents rifled. And apparently that is not the first time such a thing has happened here.