Friday, 28 March 2014

Review: Chrome Cast

This device - and many like it - has been available in the United States for a long time, but now it has come to Canada. I got one from the Play store as soon as I saw it announced. It arrived yesterday by UPS.

While most pictures just show you what looks like a fat thumb drive, you need to know that it plugs in to the HDMI port - and has a neat little short cord if it is too chunky to plug directly into your tv. Some older models seem to delight in hiding their input ports. It also has to be plugged in to a power source.

Basically all you have to do is plug it in and switch the input. Again, older tvs tend to have just one HDMI input so I have to manually switch cables between the Apple TV, Telus Optik device and the Chromecast. I use my Nexus 7 tablet with the free app on the play store.  There is no need for a remote control - but you could also use a laptop (I have put the cast extension on the Chrome browser on my MacBook too) or phone. And I have tried it out on more than one tv without any issue.

Then  get some content from the internet. Start with Youtube. The app on the tablet has suggestions for other apps that are Chrome cast compliant.  Apparently it is also possible to use it to put anything from the screen of your laptop on the tv. I have not tried that yet - and it is something I feel I ought to be able to do with Apple TV but cannot because my MacBook is too old.

It also works just as easily with my partner's iPad. You get the chromecast and YouTube apps from the App store. Free.

Very odd that one of the trial programs my new YouTube app offered me as a test was an old tv program at low resolution. Very unimpressive but there is plenty of free HD video out there and mine just works fine. When I bought the (Nexus 7) tablet I got "Transformers 2" for free: it is not the sort of movie I usually watch, but I played enough of it through Chromecast to be be impressed by the special effects. Odd that the Google Play store leaves up the old user reviews of people with M$ operating systems who had trouble back in the days when it was still new and all.

I do not understand why some people are suggesting waiting for Roku. I wouldn't, if I were you.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

My VGH experience

This post is not going to get read by many people. If anyone at all. But I need to get this off my chest. In the great order of things it is probably inconsequential. A First World Problem. But I have the distinct sense that what I am going to write about is far too common. That our health care system is in fact very uncaring - especially in terms of caring about the patient. The best, most efficient hospital, of course, being the one that has no patients.

I am fortunate to have a GP. Not everyone in Vancouver can say that. My GP and I have built up a relationship. We talk. About all sorts of things, not just my condition. She had some concerns about a rare but very dangerous type of drug interaction. I am not going to get into any personal details here, but my partner pointed out that what we learned is probably a pretty good way to commit suicide. Another reason for not writing about that is that when some people learn these things they tend to try them.

So after some discussion, I agreed to see a specialist. And he is located at this place.

So I go there and get examined - and while nothing really new emerges, they ask me to return for a test. Not invasive, no big deal. Just to confirm what was found during the examination. They make an appointment for me about ten days away. At 7am. They tell me to be there fifteen minutes ahead of time. A bit like the way you are told to get to the airport early. Not exactly necessary, but just in case.

So I get there at 6:45 and find the building locked up. The building is not open until 7am. It is a big building covering a whole city block, so I stroll around it. On one side there are notices, so I go check to see if one has any information about people with early appointments. Someone - in scrubs - is hanging around in the lobby and he lets me in. There are quite a few people hanging around in the lobby. The coffee shop is open. I learn that although you can call an elevator and ride up in it, you cannot get off at any floors if you do not have the right electronic card.

Access to the place where the test will take place is not available until 7am. And when I get there of course, the people are just arriving for work. It does indeed take about 15 minutes before they can actually start running the test. And it can be completed before those with 8am appointments start arriving.

When I leave they confirm what is already written on my information sheet. There is a special telephone number to call, in a week's time, to get the results of the test.

I called that number this morning. Yes they have the results. No, I can't have them. They will be given to the specialist, and he will call me when he gets back from Spring Break. At the beginning of April. Once he has had time to review the results. And, of course, all the other tests on other patients that have taken place in his absence.

This is not a life and death matter. It is not like I am under some imminent death sentence until I learn the test result. It is No Big Deal. It is just, in both sets of circumstances I have described, completely unnecessary. They knew when they gave me the appointment that I could not get in at 7am. They knew when they told me to call this number at this time that I would not get the results. But that is what they always tell everyone, every time, so why should they make the effort to tailor the instructions for those times when something different is needed? This cannot be the first time this has happened. Nor can it be the first time that a patient has been given inaccurate information about things like test results or appointment times.

In any other business, outside of health care, this would be regarded as something to correct. To improve the customer experience - or what ever the current buzz phrase is. But at VGH, I do not believe that me saying something to someone is ever likely to change what I think is, fundamentally, an attitude towards patient care. Patients attend on doctors, not the other way around. I am sure that there are similar stories playing out everyday in other hospitals, healthcare facilities of all kinds, in all sorts of places. And probably much worse too.  But for some reason I feel better just for having written this. Blogging as therapy. Could be a book in that.

Monday, 17 March 2014

I think Mr Gates might be wrong about some things

"The U.S. government in general is one of the better governments in the world. It's the best in many, many respects. Lack of corruption, for instance, and a reasonable justice system."

source: Rolling Stone

The US justice system locks up more of its citizens than any other nation on earth. It also executes people - mostly because they are black, could not afford good lawyers and because the prosecutors were more interested in getting speedy "result" than seeing justice served. These practices have been commonplace for many years but only since the development of DNA testing have so many false convictions been so convincingly demonstrated. It is the place where corporate profits determine length of sentences and treatment of prisoners  

It is legal in the US for a police officer to stop you, take your cash - or any property you have - and use it for whatever the department he or she works for sees fit. In a civil suit you then have to prove that they acted unreasonably. Good luck with that.

As for corruption, the US has one of very few "democratic" systems that recognizes corporations as persons and money as free speech. The corporate sector, as a result, now owns the legislatures both federally and at state levels.  Most policy decisions are now driven by the needs of the corporations - as is most of the pressure to reduce government regulations of all kinds. The lack of oversight of the oil and gas and transportation sectors lead to the rash of exploding oil trains recently. At one time there were measures in place that would have prevented these disasters. They were removed at the specific behest of the entities that benefitted financially from their removal.

I wrote the above three paragraphs off the top of my head. Then I went looking for suitable links. That did not take long.

And the next day I came across this from the Sightline Institute

In North America, the amount of actual, law-breaking, vote-buying, quid pro quo corruption—corporate fixers handing sacks of cash to politicians in back alleys—is minimal. But voters are basically right that the political system is thoroughly corrupt. Politicians do not sell their votes, but they represent the views of their donors, and donors are mostly rich. 
This subtler form of corruption, what Harvard Law Professor and democracy crusader Lawrence Lessig calls “systemic corruption,” is ubiquitous. (Lessig’s booke-bookTED talk, and new four-minute video and  are the best introductions to the topic of money in politics, bar none.) Systemic corruption allows participants in the political process to feel virtuous and law-abiding, yet it perfectly perverts representative democracy. Elected representatives speak not for the views of the majority of their constituents but for their contributors.

After publishing this, I found a film clip my son recently shared on Google+

And some days later this is a real headline and story in the Washington Post

FBI conducts raids targeting elected officials in three states

and then there is this story about a "judicial extortion racket"


Friday, 14 March 2014

I thought my Mac was slow ...

...or maybe the internet connection wasn't running at full speed. I got angry at the amount of time I spent staring at the spinning ball symbol. Today, webpages got stuck halfway - when they did load at all. Once I had force quit Safari twice, I decided to use Chrome instead. Guess what. Everything now loads almost instantly. Chrome has now been set as my default browser. I am writing this blog entry in Chrome.

The behaviour that I had been attributing to the latest version of OSX (10.9.2) may well be simply that Safari is not working as well in the new system as it did in the old one. Which, when you think about it, is very strange indeed. I used Safari because it is the native browser for the Mac. Within the walled garden of the operating system if any browser has an advantage it would be the one built by and for the OEM. No? Apparently not.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Farewell World's Biggest Bookstore

I just saw a tweet

World's Biggest Book Store Farewell Sale! After 33 years, we're saying #ThanksToronto, with up to 50% OFF storewide.

That seems only fitting on Throwback Thursday - if I understand the term correctly. The WBBS was a few blocks from the office where I worked in Toronto. Then I got laid off and tried to find work as a freelance consultant. For which, I decided, I would need a computer. An IBM PS/1 - which I could then write-off against tax as a legitimate business expense. It had a built in dialup modem. Now while I had a computer at my last job it was word processing and spread sheets. Some others had something they called email - I had no idea what that was - but they used that to send memos to the Niagara Falls office, I think. I had not heard a modem before. Well I had, I just didn't know what it was.

 In my new home office - ok the corner of the back bedroom - I set up the IBM and tried out the software it came with. I also used the modem to send files to one or two of the consultants I worked with. But the use of the computer changed when I learned that the WBBS had a Bulletin Board. It was free, and if you bought books at the store that got you access to Usenet. They called it "the Internet" and most people - like me - did not know any better. I was a bit hesitant at first, but after a while the on line community started to replace what I missed about work. Socializing at the workplace. Kibbitzing. Schmoozing. Networking. Whatever you want to call it.

wbbs bb was not always available. You could dial up and get a busy signal. Or sometimes it would just ring interminably. And of course every so often the phone line would be needed for actual phone calls. But when it worked you could "chat" or send messages and even download games and pictures. I made friends with people I had never met.

After a while I gave up the idea of being a freelance. I got a job - after intense competition - with the BC Government, in Victoria. I had to go live there on my own for a few months until the family home in Scarborough could be sold and I found somewhere for us to live. In the meantime, I told Mrs Rees, we could chat for free on the computer. Long distance phone calls in the early nineties were still hideously expensive. But we could email any time. I even had an email address at work  But she could log in to and email me.

I would like to report that this worked well and frequently but I had underestimated the power of technology terror. There was, on the other hand, someone on the bulletin board there who still sent me messages all the time. She even had a 1-800 number - for work purposes. That's another story. But the wbbs bbs was where that started - and was one reason why when I got to my new job I was not a complete newbie when it came to computer communications. After a while I realized that bulletin board systems were about as redundant as dialup was soon to become. The computer at work had a program called Mosaic. It could get pages from the World Wide Web. I could even create a home page for myself instead of trying to recall what web pages I had been to, and what they could be used for.

And in Victoria there was a free volunteer run dial up service - which was soon replaced by a Compuserve account and a much faster modem, that the even paid for!

But the WBBS was where it all started for me. So long - and thanks for all the web

See this link for the memories of others

Monday, 3 March 2014

Shaw bets big on WiFi

I apologize in advance if the link gives you problems but it is to the paywalled Globe and Mail which I got through a tweet, yet seems to work.

The story is about how Shaw did not go into the cell phone business but thinks it can retain customer loyalty by offering them wifi. You have probably noticed that when your device detects available wifi it is pointing to Shaw Open. In theory, you should be able to simply enter the same user id and password as you have for Shaw email - if you are a Shaw customer. Up until last May I was a Shaw customer, and never once did Shaw Open work for me. YMMV

I do have Mobilicity and in my package I get free data. And I have found that - within Mobilicity's somewhat limited home area - their data is often as good or better than some of the wifi signals I can get. In fact, if the only open network I see is Shaw Open (which I have told my phone to ignore, but it doesn't) turning off wifi often gets better results. I think the way the Nexus 4 is configured it defaults to wifi for data if there is an open network available - even if I can't log on to it. Turning off wifi means that I can now use Translink's next bus or the car2go app on my phone much more quickly and reliably when wandering around than when in range of Starbucks or London Drugs (two I tried recently in downtown Vancouver).

On the other hand our home Telus Optik does not seem to provide anything like the speeds for our home wifi that I used to get from Shaw. I would be interested to read comments from others on their experience. I am currently getting 14.10 Mbps download from Telus